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Lesson Plans

Re: "I don't have art talent"or "I Can't Draw" vs JUST DO IT!

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Robert Alexander Fromme (rfromme)
Sun, 23 Feb 1997 14:16:30 -0600

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At 10:05 PM 2/22/97 -0500, Charles Gareri wrote: deleted....

> But, if I say I want "drawings" of their ceramic work they
>usually panic and bring them up and say, "I can't draw!" I look at
>their drawings and say, "you just did, what do you mean you can't
>draw?" Usually by the end of the second assignment I never hear " I
>can't draw ", they, JUST DO IT!

After lurking (and learning) for a few weeks and enjoying the exchange of
ideas on the list, I have a few thoughts which I would like to share with
the group. After years of trying to teach in middle school, high school, as
well as college and adult classes I may be able to offer some ideas which
can help when the problematic remarks like "I have no art talent" and "I
can't draw" find a voice in the classroom.

The ability to draw may, or may not, have something to do with artistic
talent. One needs only to look at new directions in the visual arts over
the past forty years to realize that a large portion of recent creative
developments in our field do not, on the surface, depend upon the ability
to draw. However, a majority of the participants in these directions have,
at some time in their lives, made the effort to develop their ability to
communicate with traditional drawing media. The eye, hand,and thought
related skills which they have been able to develop through drawing can be
made to serve their creative objectives in many supporting ways, even if
their finished works do not suggest traditional methods of drawing.
Learning to draw teaches us valuable mental processes and it strengthens
many skills which are used constantly in other forms of visual expression
within the creative process.

The old cliche says "learning to draw is a matter of learning to see", but
learning to draw is also a matter of learning to force the verbal, logical,
dominant side of the brain to accept an intermittent secondary role in the
process. When we draw...

a. we look outward (or inward),
b. we discover (and/or remember) spacial relationships among the elements
in our environment,
c. we intuitively think and explore potential content (meaning) based on
our mental images and on the perception which comes from remembering,
looking and seeing,
d. then we draw selectively from the body of information in the effort to
create a significant organization of line and other elements.

When we teachers ask a student to draw, we have the luxury some experience
in the drawing studio and we hold a concept of a process and a general idea
of a product in mind.

On the other hand, the student may only understand that they are expected to
come up with a product. For the student, the production of most assignments
( products) in our educational system usually to involve a use of
left-brain, memory skills and sequential logic. (Well, at least they
involve an attempt in that direction.) . Even in our early years, drawing
is a matter of learning and then remembering assorted symbols, such as, a
"v" for a distant bird in the sky or an inverted "V" for the roof of a
house. In that world, drawing had little to do with looking, seeing or
intuitive thought. In those years, drawing was a logical system of learning
and organizing aspects of this symbol language to produce a product. It was
similar to learning to read and write. Later, as we grew, variations of
these image symbols were grouped with invented, perhaps "incidented," new
devices to represent the world that we knew. We may have taken pride in our
discovery of new symbols to serve our images and we may have received some
praise for our ability to come up with work which did not conform to that of
the majority of other students. Just about all of us could "Draw" in that

Thinking back, this all worked well for us in the early years....and
then.... all of a sudden, our world could not be trusted anymore. It
changed on us. The safe and happy language of symbols that we used to call
drawing began to look foolish. The, once functional symbol for a distant
bird or for the roof of a house eventually had nothing to do with the world
were seeing. To make matters worse, some of our friends may have been able
to draw images which were closer to the new world. In those years we really
wanted others to have a good opinion of us and of our ability. Perhaps we
did very well in our other classes. From other academic success we could
draw a substantial amount of self-respect, but now, in art class (of all
places) our world has fallen apart. Why is Drawing now so hard? We try but,
the traditional, sequential, logical process of producing an image from
symbols will not work for us here. Now we are confused....we can not trust
this world. A drawing is no longer a drawing. We are frustrated.

In the frustration the left-brain tries in its usual way to deal with the
situation. It can not solve this problem. Nothing will work short of
finding the magic way of putting our usual thought processes to bed. In
this strange new place, we must throw time, logic and verbal communication
out and let the risky right-brain drive our thoughts and lead our hand.

When a drawing assignment forces some students into this situation, it is
like asking them to visit another country with no knowledge of the language
or the culture. It is frightening. For some of us who have faced
frustrating and painful situations in math class or in other disciplines,
we can identify with their situation as they try to draw.

1. Often the student will take the frustration "head-on" with a dramatic,
outward display of anger. Art teachers have noticed that they have an
increased percentage of behavior problems when the assignments depend
heavily upon drawing or other right-brain processes. Think of it, the
disruption takes the frustrated student off task. With a disruption, they
solve the problem for the moment. With the disruption, they will be able to
move beyond frustration and the teacher's expectations. They are back in
control, forcing the teacher to turn from a drawing lesson full of
frustrations to the well warn classroom disciplinary process, familiar
territory for some of them.

Other related "left-brain" attempts by frustrated students to solve the
problem when faced with a drawing assignment take the form of a request to
go to the bathroom, a request to see the councilor, etc.

2. When faced with a drawing assignment in the art room the frustrated
student may retreat to old "kindergarten style" symbol making. In a related
way, they may resort to copying cartoons, sports equipment logos, etc., in
the name of drawing. All of this begins to show up in the classroom in spite
of clear directions for looking at specific still life or other objects
collected for their study in the assignment. No matter how many times you
repeat your expectations and the need for them to study the subject matter,
they act as if they do not hear, they do not understand, they do not see.
After all, their left-brain and its logic tells them that they are producing
a product and it looks kind of like something that might be a drawing. It
is, at least, related to what used to be called a drawing when they were
younger. They may even convince themselves that it is going to be their
drawing " IF THEY SAY IT IS A DRAWING!" Again, their verbal, left-brain,
solutions are used to validate the effort as an acceptable product.
Logically, their product IS a drawing to half of their wit.... the left half.

3. The student may resort to the familiar "left-brained" verbal responses
saying " I have no artistic ability" or "I can not draw". What they really
mean is, they are solving the problem by "throwing in the towel". Again,
with this verbal disruption, they will be able to move beyond frustration
and control the situation away from the assignment and the teacher's

4. These statements by students may have little to do with the drawing
assignment. When a student says, "I have no artistic ability" or "I can not
draw", it may be a way of not saying that they are sleepy and they just
want to lay their head on the table. They may make the statement when they
have a head ache. They may use the words to cover the fact that they have
had a very emotional day with teachers, parents, or other student
relationships and they are not in any position to deal with the mental
concentration which will be expected of them in a drawing assignment. It
could be that the student is just lazy and "I have no artistic ability" or
"I can not draw" are just a couple responses from a multitude of "lazy
tools" that they have accumulated over the years to keep away those who may
try to get them actively evolved in the educational process. Unfortunately,
a few students may use "I have no artistic ability" or "I can not draw" when
they are "high" from something they ate, drank or smoked earlier in the day
and they just want to be left alone.

Now, when a student says "I have no artistic ability" or "I can not draw" !


Next, I try to help the student discover what is "really" going on. I may
ask them if they are tired, or lazy, or frustrated. In spite of the truth,
they usually say that they are frustrated.

If they are frustrated, I say "let me show you WHY you are frustrated".

I pull out an old warn poster with seven or eight years of finger prints,
torn edges, and splattered paint. In addition to the smudges of time,
students see a column of square PATCHES OF COLOR running down the left side
. (blue, red, yellow, green, orange, red, green, violet, orange, blue, etc.
in no particular order) In the center, there is a list of the COLOR NAMES
WRITTEN IN BLACK MARKER. ( yellow, green, blue, red, orange, blue, yellow,
red, green, violet, etc. in no particular order) On the right side there is
also a column of COLOR NAMES but these are WRITTEN IN COLORED MARKERS
blue, orange is written in violet, Yellow is written in red, etc, in no
particular order.)

The student who is frustrated by drawing is asked to:

(1.) Start from the top and tell me the colors that they see in the left
column. They do this quickly.

(2.) Next, I ask them to start at the top and read the color names that
are written in black marker which run down the center of the poster. They do
this even easier.

(3.) Lastly, I point to the right column and ask the student to tell me,
as quickly as possible, the NAME OF EACH OF THE COLORS THAT WERE USED TO
WRITE THE COLOR NAMES. Nearly every student has to fight a dominant
left-brain for each color. The verbal, assertive side of the brain inserts
the seeds of a verbal response based upon the natural tendency to read and
report on the written word each time the student tries to identify and
report the pigmented color of that written color name. They struggle through
the game and often break out laughing to cover their frustration at messing
up something that seems like it should be so easy.

At this point, we have a "teachable moment." I explain that the part of the
brain that is trying to read the word is dominant while the part of the
brain that identifies color pigments is subordinative. Next I point out
that the ability to see SPACE RELATIONSHIPS needed for drawing is also
subordinative. It is a skill that begins in the same area of the brain as
that of color identification. I explain that if they are going to learn to
draw they have to figure out how to turn off the more powerful part of our
brain and learn to see what is really there. I also explain that this is
the reason that we should not talk while we are trying to learn to draw.
After all, once we accomplish the state of mind for drawing the left side of
the brain needs to stay in the background and let us see and draw.

I wish that my methods worked for every student who is frustrated by drawing
assignments, but it does not. I have noticed that the experience often
helps students to have more respect for the drawing process and for a quiet
learning environment. Drawing becomes a bit more understandable and yet
more mysterious for many of the kids who think about the poster and my
"color brain game."

I should mention that I first read about this psychological phenomenon in
"Science News" early in this decade. I do not remember the name of the
individual who first noted the confusion brought on by the contradiction of
the color in the color names. I remember that the fellow's name was quite
long and it was given by the scientific community to the phenomenon. The
article mentioned that the fellow had become a Catholic monk and did not
continue his research after the discovery. Perhaps someone on the list will
know the name of the phenomenon. I have noticed that others have taken an
interest in the phenomenon. "MindWare" ( 2720 Patton Road, Roseville, Mn.
551113, 800-999-0398) recently came out with a sweatshirt with the same
principal of contradiction between color and color name. They call the
product a "True Colors Sweatshirt"

Bob Fromme

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