I’ve just returned to Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, after ignoring the book for months. I tried an exercise meant to induce mental conflict between our left and right sides of the brain, but I didn’t feel any conflict. Then I did an upside-down drawing exercise which was meant to reduce conflict, and voilà — conflict produced.

The idea behind the upside-down drawing is that one copies an image while looking at it upside-down. The dominant, verbal, analytical left brain sees the upside-down image, can’t make sense of it, and bows out, allowing the subdominant, visual, perceptual right brain to reproduce the image with surprising accuracy. There’s more info on this here.

I tried copying the first upside-down practice image, Picasso’s sketch of Stravinsky, and it was SO PAINFUL to do. I did complete it, but it was not a pleasurable process. My left brain would not shut up, and it refused to let my right brain do its job. I know this sounds crazy… it felt crazy, and it gave me a headache. As an extremely verbal person, I’ve always been a left-brainer, and in the Drawing book the author quotes one of the leading researchers on brain hemispheres as “[saying]–only partly humorously–that American scientific training through graduate school may entirely destroy the right hemisphere.”(41) I’ve certainly remarked before on how grad school has made it nearly impossible for me to turn off my brain, even when I’m trying to fall asleep. Maybe it was really that grad school has made it difficult for me to turn off my left brain, the part that grad school has trained me to use.

After finishing the Stravinsky exercise, my head was reeling so hard I moved on in the textbook without trying another upside-down drawing. But then the author instructed me to do a second one. Baaah, I thought. But I did it. And guess what? This one wasn’t hard! It was even fun! My right brain drew cheerfully, with a few missteps every time my left brain kicked in and tried to analyze things. I signed the completed drawing and got up for some water. Then I noticed something very weird.

My left brain was completely silent.

I walked around the apartment and there were no words in my brain, no racing to figure out what to do next. I petted Tisha, and I felt as though I were touching each strand of fur, observing each sunbeam on his back. I noticed the carpet under my feet, and the bend of my spine. I heard the sound of the air conditioner and Erik’s fingers ticking away at his keyboard. I went up to Erik, sat down, and stared at him until he glanced up.

“Love,” I said wonderingly, “I have no thoughts.”

Erik has read the book before and he knew what I had been doing. He laughed with great amusement. “You turned your brain off!”

“I turned my brain off! I can’t remember EVER feeling like this before!”

It’s about half an hour later now, and the thoughts are slowly coming back, but even though I’m verbalizing and thinking and articulating, there’s still quite a lot of peaceful silence emanating from my left brain. THIS IS SO WEIRD I CAN’T EVEN TELL YOU.

Oh, and you know what else is really strange? I’m more coordinated, too, without the verbal interference. I could never have predicted that would be a side-effect.

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at]


3 responses to “No-brainer

  1. I did the vase and Stravinsky exercises, but I think I completely missed the punchline each time: nothing happened. What did I do wrong??

    • Maybe you’re just very comfortable with both sides of your brain! 🙂 You could also check out the book from the library and read those chapters to see what you think. The author does a great job of explaining the science as it pertains to drawing and perception.

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