Art and Writing on Both Sides of the Brain
“One definition of a creative person is someone who can combine information directly at hand – the ordinary sensory data available to all of us – in new, socially productive ways” Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Right side of the Brain
Right and left
As most people know, it is the opposite side of the brain which is in control of the other side of your body. For example, the right hand is controlled by the left side of the brain and vice versa. Much like the author of this seminal book, I am a normal, everyday right-handed person who often gets confused over which direction is which (which may mean mixed dominance in the sides of the brain).
However, the ‘dominant’ side is, in much of the population, the left side. Therefore, more people are right handed than left handed. Because of this, left-handedness has been given a bad rap throughout history (being referred to as ‘sinister’ and wrong – the hand of the devil in fact) and has led to many people actively discouraging left-handedness in their children. Luckily, this practice is rarely encountered today.
It is the left side of the brain which is, however, still dominant. This is the side which deals with language; reading and writing, analysis and linear thinking. Logical thought is left-sided; as is numerical, digital and mathematical problem solving. The abstract and symbolic live in this side, as does our relationship to time (timekeeping and temporal awareness).
Conversely, the right side of the brain (still referred to as the ‘minor’ side) is visual; spatial awareness is co-ordinated by this side of the brain. It is intuitive and subjective. The non-verbal and non-temporal live here. Here, everything exists in the moment, imaginative thinking is often mostly associated with this side, and the synthesis of disparate concepts or things takes place here. This leads to holistic Aha! moments occurring, and is why this side of the brain is referred to as the creative and artistic side.
Right-brain activities (such as drawing) have been largely stunted in our left-brain-oriented society, leading to a lack of creative problem-solving ability. However, this is gradually changing.
The shift that takes place from left to right brain thinking can be beneficial as we move from the rational everyday world of timekeeping to the timeless, wordless, focussed and attentive state of art.
Writing on the right side of the brain
Because the left side of the brain created language, and relies on names and definitions to clarify and rationalise, may be one reason why left-handedness was given all the bad names!
The left side is quick to act and takes over most of our day-to-day activities unless we consciously slow down and implement acts such as meditation, drawing, colouring or cloud-gazing to curb its speed.
The fact that left-brain activities include language, both verbal and written, mean that the act of writing (which uses the right hand) is, primarily a left-brain activity. This being the case, how can writing (which is creative) also become a right brain activity?
As an artist who has always loved to write, I feel there is a great deal of overlap in the ways in which the two sides of the brain are connected to specific traits.
I have always considered writing, which is an art, to be much more akin to craft. You must craft the text into the correct form by pruning and editing, cutting, pasting, formatting, etc.
When I write, I can get into flow. I often enter that state which is usually reserved for artistic practice, that productive, timeless state. It is possible to use the right side of the brain to write, just as you use the right brain to draw and paint. Similarly, it is possible to use the left side to paint.
The problem is to overcome the tendency for the dominant left brain to intrude. One way to accomplish this is to listen to music whilst writing; preferably emotional instrumentals when writing fiction. Another is to just write non-stop for a length of time, writing anything that comes into your head, no matter how bad, to get the ‘flow’ going.
Writing as an artist
I find that since starting to write about art, my artistic practice has come on in leaps and bounds. Similarly, my writing generally improves after a day spent painting. In fact, the two complement each other more than I previously thought.
Before I started writing my regular art blog I would occasionally write a poem or two, outline an idea for a story that I would rarely complete, or maybe go to my local writing group and do some exercises. On the days that I would write I would not paint. I felt that I needed a different mind-set for each. Which is true. The left brain dominated my writing mind and the right my art.
Now I find that writing about art and artistic practice actually inspires me to paint and painting gives me ideas for my art blog. The two go hand in hand. I have also continued to write poetry in moments of clarity which come more frequently (right-brain moments), and my paintings are more planned and structured.
I think that what actually happens is an overlapping of brain functions.
When I write my mind goes into analytical mode (left) and when I am finished writing (about art) I paint. When I do, my analytical mind remains active long enough for me to plan the art before I get into the flow of doing it.
Similarly, after a day of painting, when I write, my mind is still right-oriented to some degree, and I find the flow of words comes more easily. Then my mind switches back to analytical mode.
Strangely, I am not one for listening to music when writing; and yet I must have some background sounds when painting.
Writing about art, whether it is my own, another artist’s work, or just art practice in general, allows me to reflect on how the art is made, and which techniques are used. This process of reflection is very beneficial and then becomes part of the art process, as a whole.
One of my favourite topics to write about is art philosophy, and particularly the nature of seeing. When I write in this vein (a very left-brain analytical task) when I come back to painting and drawing afterwards, I find I am more open to experimentation in my art, because of this.
At times, my art can be very methodical and precise, leading me to think I use my left brain more than I like to admit when creating art.
It is like a feedback loop.
I read. (Most of my ideas come from reading). I write about what I have read. I paint. Painting inspires me to write again and writing inspires me to read more.
What it is all about
When I write about an artist I admire, I find that looking at their techniques and style allows me to understand better why I admire them, and also to discover new methods of making art.
Which is what it is all about.
That the left side of the brain has no hand in creative subjects is largely a myth. There is analysis and structure present in most creative pursuits. Science and art are more closely linked than we care to admit.
But at the end of the day, it is all about creating.