I am currently in the middle of this nifty little book called Imagine by Jonathan Lehrer. It’s all about creativity from a neuroscience perspective. I can’t give a full review right now because I’m only about halfway through it, but let’s just say so far so good. The reason I’m writing this is because I have just stumbled into a part of the book that has struck me profoundly. At this point, the author talks about perception and how creativity needs persistence. He uses graphic designer Milton Glaser as a case study in this particular section.
At sixteen, Glaser decided to draw a portrait of his mother. Sitting down with a pencil and paper, he realized that he really had no idea what his mother looked like. Her image had been set in Glaser’s mind at a young age and hadn’t changed.
This phenomena is actually very common. We walk around barely seeing those around us. Our minds just get used to the everyday people and places and carries with it a set image of how they’re supposed to look. Our brain saves its attention for new places and experiences. As Glaser says, “We are always looking, but we never really see.” It’s a little sad, isn’t it? Just think, we don’t really know what our loved ones look like. We just think we do. This is where drawing comes in. Drawing actually forces the brain to pay extremely close attention to the artist’s subject. One will see the lines around the eye or the quirk of the mouth that you could swear was never there before. Drawing is a form of thinking. I’ve noticed this in my own portrait work. I usually consider myself a relatively observant person when I’m not drifting around daydream land. However, I still feel like I’ve not truly seen a person until I’ve drawn them. Maybe this is why I enjoy doing portraits so much. This is also probably why I also hate self-portraits. I’m my own worst critic.
I hope you’ve found this little tidbit interesting. I couldn’t help sharing. So, my challenge to you is this: Draw somebody. I don’t want to hear any of that BS about how you can’t draw a stick figure either. Just sit down with a pencil and paper and really look at somebody. Study the lines of their face. Trace the shape of their nose and mouth. Really, truly SEE them for the first time.