I'm dabbling in art again. Every few years I get the itch to paint things, but this time I'm sketching. The urge comes and goes and I go with the flow. But I've been reading a fascinating book called Drawing On The Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. It's very likely you've heard of it, being a classic in its revolutionary approach to drawing. Everyone can draw, she says. The problem is not in the hand or the eye, but in the brain. Your brain has certain preconceived templates, or gestalt, into which it fits the sensory stimuli it receives. That's why we tend to draw what we expect to see, rather than what we actually see. Artists must learn to overcome their own brain to get to the reality, the truth of the world before them.
To help with this she suggests copying from inverted images. Turn a person's photograph upside down and you no longer see the person but a mass of light and shade. It's harder to copy because there are no preconceived ideas to hang the blobs on, but the results are astonishingly accurate. In this way we bypass our own filtering system to find something more real.
And it's making me think about how I write. Isn't that a filtering process too? Do I really tell it like it is? Can I tell it like it is? Is there some way to overcome the gestalt?
Perhaps the way to do this is to write around the story, the way Edwards advocates drawing what isn't the subject. Our brains are programmed to join the dots and fill in the missing information. Screen actors know this principle; the single most differentiating feature of screen acting is the blank face onto which the audience project their own feelings. Use only streaks of light and shade, the well chosen word and curious phrase, enough to suggest what is happening. Less is more.