Welcome to the 6th of our 12 weeks of Artful Summer!
Art Idea #6 – Art is a Good Way to Talk to Your Brain!
Forgive my geeky Star Trek reference, but there’s a scene in the pilot episode for Deep Space 9 where troubled young commander Ben Sisko is sent to try to organize the troubled young world of Bajor. We learn that previously, Sisko’s wife was killed in battle and that he found her body buried in rubble. It’s a scene of tragedy that is etched so deeply in his brain that he can’t move past it. He can’t realize his own potential because of the cavernous hole in him that this past event has left.
In our scene, Sisko has a verbal sparring match with the planet’s spiritual leader. He wants her to call for unity. She wants him to find the temple of the prophets. And both want the other to do their thing before they do their own part. Finally, the spiritual leader holds up her hand, silences Sisko, and says,
Where do we find solutions? Answers? Do we look to spirutual leaders and others to give us answers? Or do the answers already exist… within?
Have you heard the idea that we only use 10% of our brain? The 2014 Scarlett Johansson film Lucy, the 2011 Bradley Cooper film Limitless, and many others before them kind of revolve around this idea.
As far as I know, this idea is completely false. You use 100% of your brain! I think the idea comes from some hippie stuff up the California coast in Big Sur in the 60’s.
Even though we do use 100% of our brains, what is true, is that we don’t have conscious access to 100% of our brains.
What is consciousness? What is it used for? We sometimes talk of experiencing the redness of red. The painfulness of pain. The me-fulness of the experience of being me.
The human brain has evolved over millions of years. And unlike a machine where you might scrap the old model and build a new one from the ground up, our brains are add-ons to older brains. To be simplistic, let’s think of 3 brains:
- An Early Reptilian Brain – survive & reproduce – fight or flight
- Limbic System – emotions
- Neocortex – consciousness, the rational mind
Consciousness is typically used for planning. For dealing with novel situations. For familiar situations, consciousness is too slow. It’s faster to use things we’ve already programmed into our brains.
Let’s think about learning to drive stick shift. If you’ve every done this, you might recall that when your parent, sibling, or friend first taught you, it was pretty complicated.
Getting into 1st gear for the 1st time might have been a jerky experience. Depress clutch. Move shift stick. Release clutch. Apply gas. Not too much. Not too little. Then you have to shift from gear to gear. You picked some RPM, like 3,000 or 4,000 or 5,000, and watched for your tachometer to hit that. It was all very complicated. You had to pay a lot of attention. You were programming your brain to perform this complex task.
Today, years later, you can be waiting for the light at a freeway on-ramp and talking to a friend. 60 seconds later you’re in the #1 lane in 6th gear going 60 miles an hour. And the only thing you remember is what you said to your friend. What sequence of hand and foot movements changed all those gears? What RPM did you do it at? You don’t “know”. And by “know” I mean that it isn’t something that you consciously attended to, because it was already programmed in your brain.
Free Will is a Choice
Have you ever had an interaction with someone where you quickly reacted? And then maybe an hour or so later when all that fight-or-flight adrenaline cleared from your system you thought about what happened and asked yourself
Why did I do that?
This may have been a situation where your automatic programming offered a quick response that you later regretted. Why did I get so angry? If you say “that was dumb of me” and forget about it, when the same circumstances come up in the future, you’ll probably do the same thing again.
If you want to do something different next time — if you want to exercise the free will of choosing who you want to be, instead of letting your animal brain or earlier life experiences dictate how you behave — you have to take that event out of automatic transmission, put it into the manual mode of consciousness, and think through how you would like to respond to similar situations in the future. You have to use your conscious brain to program your automatic brain to be the person you choose to be.
In the case of shifting gears in a car, maybe you’ve been doing it at 4,000 RPM and you’ve heard that 3,000 RPM is more fuel efficient. If you want to keep shifting at 4,000 you don’t have to do anything, just keep running your programming as it is. You’ll feel when the car is around 4,000 and execute the hand and foot steps to change gears.
If you want to change to 3,000, you’ll have to bring the activity back into the programmable space of consciousness, watch your tachometer once more, and train (program) yourself to shift at 3,000.
Consciousness & Attention are small
My point with all of this is that the space of Human Consciousness, of Human Attention, is small. Even though we do use 100% of our brain, most of that isn’t conscious. We don’t tell our heart to beat. We don’t tell our lungs to breathe. We don’t tell our limbs to execute the sequence of steps to shift gears. Well, we do tell our body parts all those things, but we don’t consciously do it. Other, non-conscious parts of our brain take care of it.
Consciousness is like a small, tropical island floating in the vast ocean of the unconscious mind. Tiny Hawaiian islands floating in the 9,000 mile width of the vast Pacific Ocean.
Psychologists, Psychics & Priests
Going back to troubled Commander Sisko and his conversation with the spiritual leader. I think when we talk to a Psychologist, a Psychic, a Priest, or even Faculty Office Hours, that in the best of those cases, those people are not telling us the answer. They are helping us access consciously, parts of our brain that are not conscious. They are helping us bring things from the storage rooms of our brain into the lab space of consciousness where we can work with them to build new ways to deal with our lives going forward.
You can also add sleep to that list. I’ve had pretty tough problems one day that seemed quite solvable after the brain integration of a good night’s sleep.
As the spiritual leader told Sisko, the answers are often already within us. But we need help pulling them into the light of consciousness where we can work with them.
And one way to talk to your brain, is Art.
Cognitive Maps & Automatic Drawings
Last week we did some fairly traditional drawing. This week we’re going to try some different things.
ONE: Cognitive Maps
Thanks to the pandemic, not all of us have actually spent time on the Long Beach State campus! For those of you that have, let’s do this for the LBSU campus. For those of you that haven’t, let’s do this for the college or high school you were at before LBSU. Or, of course, if you’re a UOP student, then let’s do this for the UOP campus!
Take a piece of paper, any size will do, and draw a map of the campus. Whatever you do, do not look at a map of the campus! We already have maps of the campus that are technically accurate, what we’re going for now is your map of the campus!
TWO: Automatic Drawing
Stuff you’ll need:
- Another person – even if you are practicing pandemic isolation, hopefully, there’s at least one other person at your place: a parent, sibling, roommate, partner, etc. You’ll need a partner to do this one, LMK if you’re alone and we’ll work something out.
- If you’re out near an art store or stationery store, you might grab a big piece of paper, like 22″ x 30″. If you isolating at home, you do not need to go out. But 8-1/2 x 11 is pretty small. Maybe you can use an unfolded paper bag or the side of a cardboard box. Maybe you can tape 4 sheets of 8-1/2 x 11 together. See what you’re able to come up with.
- A pencil, crayon, or charcoal is good. Pastel is really nice if you happen to have some or go by an art store.
- Some hard surface to tape your paper down on. It could be a drawing board, or the back of a game board, or a piece of cardboard or plywood or drywall. Look around the house and see what you can come up with.
- Put the paper & board between you. I like to sit on the floor cross-legged, facing my partner, with our knees touching. Then we put the board on top of our legs between us. Or it could be on the floor between you. Or you could both sit at a table with the paper on the table between you.
- Put your pencil-crayon-charcoal-pastel on the paper somewhere near the middle. Now put all four hands on the drawing tool: my hand, your hand, my other hand, your other hand.
- Now relax. If you feel silly, it’s OK to laugh. But probably not much interesting will happen while you’re laughing. Give it some time. Maybe play music you like. Maybe turn the lights down. Or light candles. If you’re over 21, maybe have a glass of wine. Anyway, just relax. Chill. Give it time. After a bit, your chalk will just start moving. You don’t have to push it or will it, you can simply allow it. It might take a while for some of you. Honestly, for me, the thing usually just takes off.
- You can let it go for however long feels right. It’s a little bit of a dance. It should feel like it is the end when it’s time. You can stop.
- That could be the end, or you could add another color and do another pass.
Cognitive Maps & Automatic Drawing are not typical business tools! But you could have people draw their physical office layout, or their online workflow to better understand how to organize physical or virtual tasks and layouts for greater efficiency.
Knowing that if we don’t use our free will to program ourselves to be moderate in our responses to people, we might be needlessly set off by someone who’s style just has a way of jerking our chain is a powerful insight for both life and career.
Performing a routine you’ve mastered and don’t have to consciously step through, is also known as being in the zone, or flow. Great athletes often describe this experience. In a small way, if you can get into the zone of the automatic drawing you can be amazed how dramatically and synchronized your and your partner’s arms can move to create something. Perhaps you can find ways to create this kind of flow in your career activities. If you can, you’ll be a happier person, a more productive employee, and an awesome team member.
- Post photos or a video of your Campus Map & Automatic Drawing
- Now that you’ve finished your campus map without looking at a real map, go ahead and pull up a “real” map of the campus. How do the 2 maps differ? Last week I said that John Denver’s “mistakes” in Perhaps Love were where his humanity came through and those “mistakes” are what gave the song it’s emotional power. In your map, your “mistakes” can tell you and us about your experience of the LBSU Campus. An Engineering student might have great detail of the Engineering buildings, but skip the Art buildings completely. An Art student might detail where every sink in the ceramics lab is, but skip half the campus. Someone involved in Student Government might label every desk in the USU and who sits there. What do you learn by comparing your campus map to the official campus map? What did you focus on? What did you forget about? Does this tell you anything about yourself? About your experience of the campus?
- How was your experience of Automatic Drawing? Was it too weird? Were you surprised by the power of it? Was your drawing interesting? Cool? Lame?
- Last week we said that drawing was a language. This week, like the unspoken language of dance, you moved with a partner to create a drawing that you did not discuss or plan, but simply experienced. Do you see anything of your mood, or your experience with whoever your partner was, in the drawing?
- Did you have an experience of Flow? Or of being In The Zone? Describe it.
- Compare this week’s drawing activities to last week’s drawing activities. How are they different? How are they similar? Can you fit both sets together to define a wide space where drawing exists? Describe the space of drawing.
- Name your blog post: Week 6 – Art Activity – Drawing II
Our artists this week are Camille and Sarah Elgart. Camille (Dalmais) is a French singer. Sarah Elgart is a Los Angeles choreographer. You can look at their entire oeuvres, but try to look specifically from the perspective of a brain, conscious and not, manifest in music and dance. Do you see flow? Do you see the zone in their work? Camille has a number of records out, but especially check out her 2005 album Le Fil. That work contains 15 songs, but they are all strung together by a single note, “B”. At the beginning of the album we hear her take a breath, and then vocalize “B”. The first song begins and through and between all the songs the note “B” continues. At the end of the last song, about another 30 minutes of the single note “B” continues.
- Describe Sarah Elgart’s work. What is her content? What is her style? What is her meaning?
- Describe Camille’s work. What is her content? What is her style? What is her meaning?
- Can you find Flow in the work of Camille and Sarah Elgart? Are there moments of dance or music where you would say that Sarah Elgart or her dancers, or Camille are in the Zone?
- Obviously Sarah Elgart and Camille are different artists working in different media. But can you find connections between their work?
- Can you make connections between your experience of Automatic Drawing and anything you see in the choreography of Sarah Elgart or the music of Camille?
- Name your blog post: Week 6 – Artist – Camille & Sarah Elgart
4th of July!
It’s Week 6! The halfway point of our 12 weeks of artful summer! I hope all is going well for you! It’s also the 4th of July this week. Whether you spend it indoors or outdoors, have a great, and safe, 4th of July weekend!
LMK if I can help with anything. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or LMK if you’d like to meetup on Zoom anytime.
This week I thought I would use this art activity to reconnect with my younger sibling Leslie, who recently simply was not having it with me. Even though I could’ve done it with anyone else I chose to do it with her because I was tired of the tension between us. My mother practically forced her to do it with me. It was the only way I thought the tension between us would be released.
I think it was the first time in two weeks that I’ve seen her smile at me again. It was also the first time in two weeks that she giggled endlessly because of how awkward a silly automatic drawing was for both us. At first, it wasn’t getting either of us anywhere so we decided to play some music to help us. I played a couple of our favorite songs including, Paranoia by A Day to Remember, Cynical by Blink 182, and Not Good Enough for Truth in Cliche’ by Escape the Fate. Our hands started moving towards the beat of the music! Finally we were getting somewhere!
Through the activity itself and the songs we realized how much better things are when we are both laughing and having fun with each other. I honestly felt that this activity was gift from whatever force there is out in the world! In the piece itself I think you can really see all the feelings between us. In the black you can see the release of my sister’s frustration at practically being forced to do the activity. In the green you can see the beats of the music playing in the background. In the yellow you can see our laughter and at last the reconciliation between the two of us. Overall an activity, that brought peace between two siblings.— Selena Lara