This book was fascinating on many levels, but one of the things that stuck with me the most is her experience of having only the right brain functioning. She described her experience as one of Nirvana as she understands it. She had no sense of time. She couldn't experience any differences between objects and/or people whom we normally perceive of as separate. Everything she saw was simply matter/atoms/energy all blended together. The only way she could tell the difference between things was if something moved. She was almost unable to speak because her language center was in her left brain, as were her ego functions and all the parts of her brain which organized and schemed and figured things out. Her "personality" was there (on the left side) as well.
She found life on the right side to be extremely compelling and she actually had to make a choice to work to regain functioning of the left side. She did it so she could share with others that Nirvana is available to all of us all the time.
As she worked for 8 years to regain her left brain's functions, she noticed that when she got back some memories or some skills, they would be accompanied by certain feelings and perhaps even personality traits, some of which she found quite unpleasant. She made a choice to regain the skills and memories but to leave the negative traits behind. She learned that emotions come and go, lasting only 90 seconds. She found that if she could simply ride the wave of an emotion such as anger, then it would pass, and she could discipline herself to not let it take over her consciousness. She has three things she chooses to do instead to occupy her brain more positively. I don't remember all three, but two of them are the following: 1) Think of something I am intrigued by and want to know more about. 2) Think of a sensual experience such as smelling baking chocolate chip cookies and focus on that. In other words, she fills her brain with other things and lets the emotions pass. I have been trying it since I read her suggestions and find it more helpful than not. I have some work to do before I'm completely skillful at it, but I find it helpful to be so aware of my feelings and to recognize I have choices about what I do with them rather than letting them do what they want to with me.
The reason I'm writing about this book on my blog about my art is because it has helped me come to an awareness about how I've spent the last six weeks or so art-wise. I've written about how I got great pleasure out of making a sketchbook and playing in it. It is a completely different process from how I'm used to doing art.
I didn't go to art school, and I haven't had many skills-based art classes. I got a MIS (Masters in Interdisciplinary Studies) in Art from VCU in 2003. It consisted of being in class with professors who would give us individual support while we worked on our own projects. (A couple of the classes were skills-based, like one on photo-transfers, but for the most part what I wrote was true.) I enjoyed the support greatly and got a great deal out of it, BUT I didn't have a chance to learn skills like drawing and painting. Ironic, right? I think the (perfectly reasonable) assumption was that most people got those from their BFA degrees, but I don't have one. I majored in German. I am mostly self-taught as an artist, as far as skills go.
This is the process I used to create virtually all the pieces for Not Barbie. It's a terrific way to get details correct and for me to make a person's face look accurate. Of course, I can and do still make mistakes, but it's fairly simple really. In fact, it's so simple that towards the end of preparing for the show, I think I was getting bored. I'd put the piece on canvas then mix my paint then get ready to paint. I'd get distracted. I'd listed to a podcast while I was working. I'd give myself a break to go get some food (I gained weight doing that!). I'd write a blog - I was a very active blogger during this period! What I didn't do, because I was on a deadline and because I knew how I wanted the pieces to look, was allow myself to play or experiment much at all. Once I printed out the photo I was going to work from, I knew pretty much what the final piece would look like. I like to think (and people have told me that appearances indicate this) that I put more than just mechanical skill into the paintings - I certainly felt a great deal of love and compassion for my models as I worked on each painting - but there was a great deal of mechanical work to do on each one. For Scar Belly, for example, I gridded the tattoos on her arms so I could get them just right - I'd never painted a pattern like that before and wanted to get it just right.
The point I'm making is that when I allowed myself to play, rather than just do the rote process, I got much more joy and pleasure out of it. I was able to be more present. I got out of my left brain, or at least accessed my right brain as well.
The last couple of months, working in my sketchbook, I've left my left brain outside the door almost completely and have given myself the chance to play and see what my right brain comes up with. I also signed up for a figure drawing class. I realize that seems odd since I've been working on figures since 2000, but as you just read, I gridded them. I could paint anything on Earth with a grid, no matter how complicated, if I made it detailed enough. I'm taking the class so I can learn to draw from life and to draw using my right brain.
So the work I'm doing now is I'm trying to allow my right brain access to my sketchbook and to my creative process. It seems to be working. I'm having a much more fulfilling time. I'm relaxed and feeling tons of curiosity and pleasure. I burnt myself doing the paintings purely mechanically. My hope now is that I'll develop strong skills to draw from life and can take my art to a completely different level where I am free to experiment and play and can feel confident enough in my skills that I have the freedom to do all that. It's great to have left brain skills - I don't mean to knock them - I'm very grateful to have them - I just want to enhance them greatly by adding creativity and curiosity and observational skills as well.
Have you ever gone through a similar process where you've done something almost exclusively from one side of your brain then worked to integrate the other side? I'd love to hear about it if you have!