Artist & Writer, San Francisco Bay Area

Bilateral Constructions

Artists and Object-Making in the Art Market

Notes for Subject A, Semester One #exMFA. from Leonardo’s Brain by Leonard Shlain

There are a few things that drew me to this book about an artist’s brain. The neurological explanations about creativity really resonated with me, partly due to my head injury and the neurological symptoms I’ve had since my bike accident on April 8th. I’ve had particular interest in functions of left vs. right brain.

The main reason I came to this subject has been to get to the heart of Why. Artists. Make. Art. I’ve wanted to get an explanation for the uniqueness of this compulsion to make something… not just something. Art. I’ve wanted some facts about it, some biological information. I’ve wanted to know the function artmaking serves in my life as the activity occupies my thoughts & time. I’ve wanted to know the function it serves in overall culture, too. What’s the force that drives others like me (those who are similarly compelled) to work in this way? What makes us choose visual art, or what makes us create in the first place?

The right brain processes experience in a very different way than the left. The artist has a unique ability to draw from the observations held deep within the right brain, observations that might be lost on those who are unable to see what artists see. The artist brings those observations to the concrete world in a way that might connect viewers to that non-verbal place, to the happenings in the world that would otherwise escape their grasp. The right brain uses a “mysterious process not well understood”, and is sparked towards “the creative process [when] an event, an unidentified object, an unusual pattern, or a strange juxtaposition” (pg.87) alerts the right brain. ” “The left hemisphere [has] nearly all the language modules… the right brain is essentially bereft of language… .” (pg.98) “Speech is received by the ear, and the left brain busily attends to the linear arrangement of incoming words transmitted by the inner ear.” (pg.51) “By listening carefully to the forms of speech while the left hemisphere is deciphering its content, the right hemisphere ferrets out hidden messages by interpreting inflection and nuance. It assesses the speaker’s posture, facial expression, and gesture. Just below conscious awareness, it registers pupil size and hand tremors.” (pg.137) The right brain sees this information and “prods the left brain to pose a question. Asking the right question goes to the heart of creativity.” (pg.88). The artist pulls from the observations, connecting with the right brain’s wordless understanding, then attempts to communicate this experience to other people. “To translate an insight into words or action, the left hemisphere must be involved… the left lobe must translate the insight into words, or verify the insight using paint…  .” (pg.92) Thus, the “ear and the eye work in concert to ferret out the true meaning of the speaker’s message. Ask anyone to describe a spiral staircase. As their words falter, their hands will invariably trace a corkscrew motion that more accurately conveys the concept better than either the spoken or written word can.” (pg.52)

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