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Right Brain, Left Brain

January 26, 2013

Right Brain, Left Brain

 By Richard McKinley

When we talk about right brain, left brain, we refer to the left and right hemispheres of the human brain, which process information in very different ways. The left side tends to be more linear, sequential, symbolic, logical, verbal and reality-based, while the right side tends to be holistic, random, concrete, intuitive, nonverbal, and fantasy-oriented. Looking over these descriptions, it’s easy to see why artists are often referred to as being right-brained. True, the right side of the brain does heighten the ability to be creative, but engaging the left side from time to time can prove valuable, too, encouraging an artist’s ability to organize, study and analyze. This may lead to greater success.

One of the most useful aspects of the left brain is the linear thinking, or sequential thinking. The brain takes details, lines them up, arranges them in a logical order, and draws conclusions. The left-brain makes lists. It enjoys schedules and daily planning. A sense of accomplishment is achieved when tasks are checked off the list. This process is counter-intuitive to painting, which is based in an emotional, gut-response in a given situation. Logic doesn’t necessarily come into play. Good painters follow their instincts, not lists.

Where left-brain activity does serve an artist well is by providing organization and discipline. A day of painting may begin with linear, sequential, left-brain thinking (gathering materials, organizing the studio, planning technique) and then shift to the right-brain process as the painting unfolds. The very left-brain checklist can be helpful to artists in a number of ways:

~ Track what supplies are required for a workshop or plein air painting excursion. Having eagerly travelled to a painting location only to discover that I forgot my pastel surface or palette is never a rewarding artistic experience. I now keep a checklist and review it before departing.

~ Schedules of upcoming exhibition deadlines and checklists of the requirements for entry is another good use of the left-brain function. I thankfully noticed that the Pastel Society of America exhibition prospectus had a checklist for the required materials placed above the entry form. Seems they understand how the artist’s brain works!

~ After frequently missing entry deadlines, I’ve made it a habit to mark my calendar the minute the notice arrives.

~ It has also proved very helpful to make lists of what may be needed logistically to fulfill certain art related commitments such as: frame orders, shipping schedules, travel requirements, etc.

Disciplining myself to utilize my left-brain function allows me to better let go and slip into my right-brain function when painting. What is imperative is to nurture the creative potential of one and harness the organizational skills of the other. Finding that perfect balance, which leads to a productive artistic experience, is the key; I need to add that to my life checklist before I forget.

Submitted by Janet S.

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