Drawing on the Right Side – An Approach to Art, Creativity & Life

This blog is about art, and its connection with the physiology of the brain. I’ve always loved art – all the arts, but especially classical music. My mother was a pianist; and older siblings broadened my tastes. They’d bring friends to dance in our living room, to music by big bands and crooners, like Glenn Miller, Harry James, Gene Krupa, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton (my brother’s favorite) and Frank Sinatra. I listened to these on the radio too, but under the covers, since mother ‘hated’ Jazz.

My family also loved language, and often mimicked people’s manner of  speaking, and corrected announcers and sales commercials. So in addition to the arts, I love language study, and linguistics (though I’m only an amateur). The latter pushed me into foreign languages and overseas travel. A stint in the Army Intelligence Corps advanced these interests and led me to a teaching career in the Humanities, with an emphasis on critical thinking. With all this conglomeration of interests, I was taken by the title of Betty Edwards’ 1979 book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. It’s delightfully ambiguous. It can refer to using the brain’s right hemisphere which is associated with music and art  (whereas the left hemisphere has been associated with speech and intellect). It can also mean the process of drawing as art making. In this regard, one helpful practice I learned in an ‘art-making’ time of life is to turn your subject around or upside down, so you copy what you actually see, not what you think you should see. Moreover, the “right side” means  the correct side – suggesting all the disparate psychological, physiological and philosophical viewpoints that enter into the discussion.

Edwards’ books on the psychology of brain hemispheres have dominated the topic in the popular press. She retired from Cal State U Long Beach, where she was Professor Emeritus, but continues to publish new editions, and papers, at age 95. Not surprisingly there are criticisms of some popular notions that have resulted from her work. The Dana Organization gives a more nuanced description, with relevant data, and suggests that much remains to be researched. In fact, I think the whole topic of psychology and brain physiology needs a new approach,

As a person who grew up surrounding by a musical and artistic family, I tried my hand at various forms, including singing, piano, clarinet, flute, recorder, and guitar, etc, and took lessons in painting and drawing. Alas, always being dissatisfied with my work, and not willing to practice, I abandoned every phase, and ended up teaching philosophy and humanities! But I still sing! So hopefully my haphazard involvement with the arts will be more fruitful in the next life. Yes, although trained in engineering, science and logical thinking, I believe there is a ‘next life’ in the spirit realm.

Emanuel Swedenborg speaks of the symbolic meaning of ‘right’ and ‘left’ in Scripture – namely our will and intellect (or what we intend and believe). The two work together, to produce an outcome or effect. That’s why the human brain has the physiology it does;  it’s a reflection of the real ‘inner’ physiology of a human being – our spirit or soul – from which the external bodily brain is formed. Here’s a brief video introduction to Swedenborg’s thinking.

We all have a masculine and feminine side, as well as an inner and outer person. Carl Jung – a follower of Swedenborg -spoke about that. That doesn’t just apply to our bodily life, which alas takes most of our attention, but also to our spiritual life. Swedenborg says we are all spirits at bottom; life in the here and now is but a blip on the life of eternity. He also says we can choose what that life will be – whether blessed and happy or self-centered and frustrated. Spirits have bodies too; they aren’t just will-o-the-wisps floating about who-knows-where. Indeed, everything we think, feel and do is the result of our inner nature, whose origin is the Ultimate Artist – The Creator.


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