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No. 58 (April 2002)

The "Art Studies" Technique
by Win Wenger, Ph.D.

The following letter came in to ImageStream@yahoogroups.com, where so much really good material has come up on so many various occasions either initiating or answering a "string." In this instance, my reply has become the article here. From all indications, the following really can be a major brain-building, perceptions-building, mind-building technique, and in any instance it certainly creates a pleasant and very interesting experience. Enjoy......

Hello, Imagers —
     I am looking for ideas for drawing and learning. I am studying academic subjects at university. I love to draw and find it helpful, but I can't stand mind maps (too much chartjunk and spiders for my liking). I was wondering how many other ideas you folk had for using drawings to learn efficiently?
     Any ideas welcome.

Some years ago I ran across a technique involving drawing which, I think, effectively reprograms the brain and mind to work more efficiently and which probably helps improve learning. Take a sketch pad and sketching material up to some object such as a tree. AFTER you've made an initial sketch of the whole tree, write out six to ten different questions, such as —

  • What does the bark look like?
  • What do the leaves look like?
  • How does the trunk come out of the ground?
  • How do its branches run?
  • How does this tree shape the space that surrounds it?
  • What is the angle of the light and of shadow?
  • What is the ground like surrounding it?
and so on.

Then, with each specific question, make three DIFFERENT sketches, each using a different representation or technique.

Make these three studies with each of the six to ten questions. Each "study" uses a different representation, a different technique.

Then do a fresh sketch of the whole tree.

I noticed coming away from that experience with a lot more perceiving of detail in EVERYTHING. I believe this practice to be at least somewhat brain-integrative —perhaps not as thoroughly brain-integrative per unit of effort as is Image-Streaming, but integrating different areas and in a different way, so that this method is very likely to complement quite nicely the gains made from Image-Streaming. I've not made an ongoing practice of this studies-sketching technique the way we have of Image-Streaming — so we don't know what the long-term effects of regular practice of this really are — but I think that most probably those effects will be very, very good.

I do not know the origins of this art studies technique. It may very well be a common practice in some corner or another of the world of artists, or even standard — does anyone here know? I experienced it one fine June day about a dozen years ago at the Creative Problem-Solving Institute in Buffalo, New York, but lost track of who had presented it and no one else there seems to know. But credit should go to someone for this; it is definitely not original with me.

The technique also has obvious application to problem-solving. Take the amorphous mess of the problem situation, break it apart with questions from chunk to chunk, then force yourself to come up with at least three very different kinds of answer for each chunk or question. There's a very high likelihood that one of those chunks will unlock the whole puzzle.

Even more so, I think, it can help you figure out and resolve a key understanding in something you're trying to learn. Possibly there would be some benefit also even in learning a mass of rote-memory material with little basis for understanding in it. You'd end up with some sort of conceptual scheme or classification grid that'd let you hold the information a lot more effectively. However, understanding is much more along the lines of what I'm interested in, and I think this approach is stronger there than for memorization.

The apparent benefits of the technique are high enough, strong enough, I'd very much like for some of my readers here to experiment with this at least once a day for a week or so and report back the results. If you do this, I'm happily certain you'll finish in a different world than you started in, perceptually and conceptually speaking. Please send me your comments.


Comments to:
Win Wenger

See other visualization ideas in The Last True Magic:  Forgotten Techniques for the Artist and Other Creative People by Curtis White, in the Teaching & Learning Techniques section.
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