Paint Schoodic

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why do we draw? (Part 1)

Corroboree, 1880s, William Barak, Natural pigments over charcoal on paper
It’s only been in the last few years that drawing has been studied as a cognitive process along the lines of language and mathematics. I have written about the psychological resilience that making art helps to produce and its ability to aid concentration and memory, and I will return to that tomorrow.

In The Visual Language of Comics, Neil Cohn argues that drawing is related to language, and that comics are drawn using a visual language that uses patterns and repetition to support the story being played out in its word balloons. Although we artists think of drawing as primarily spatial, Cohn has demonstrated that reading comics causes the same neural regions to kick in as reading a written sentence.

Yinma - A gathering of people for ceremonial purposes, 1973, Yumpululu Tjungarrayi, Australia
Sand stories among the Warlpiri and the Arandic people of Australia are mostly told by women, and they seamlessly combine words and changing pictures. They use repetitive symbols (which also appear in Aboriginal paintings). Their intended audience understands them as easily as we understand the words on this page.

All toddlers go through a phase where they scribble. When they do this on walls, they’re mostly just irritating, but it does seem that their scribbles are similar from child to child. Are they a precursor to a drawing language, just as babbling is a precursor to a spoken language? And have we cut off the development of that language with our disdain for the visual arts?

 (See Are We Hard-Wired to Doodle, here.)


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