Drawing Lessons

In school we don’t often go to the places beyond cognition. Mushy worlds of senses and feelings, places you cannot think yourself out of. Places teens get stuck in. Moms and Dads tell them to just focus and get moving and buckle down and study and just get out of bed and go to class. It’s times like these we start to feel like our brains are not actually in control, since they can’t seem to actually make us do the things we should do. We know better. The knowing doesn’t help.

The knowing is there. It’s the connection to the other part that is missing. I don’t know what the word for this is. It’s like “unity” but it’s a state of being in your physical body. A feeling of having all the wires plugged into the right spots. No one talks about this in school.

In Composition class I force them to work with a partner. They HATE this. I hated this. I know this hating well. It’s an uncomfortable space, the shared one. They’ve been through 13+ years of learned passivity in school, and now they have to talk and act and work with someone in a way that involves trust and communication. UGH.

Day one I have them do this drawing activity.

One person must describe the drawing I made in sharpie to the other person, who must draw it and attempt to replicate the shape exactly. The describer can’t see what the drawer is doing. The drawer can’t see the original picture.


First of all, the reactions I get when I give the describer his/her picture: what IS this?? The fear of abstraction students have is palpable, maybe especially here at this technical/engineering school. It isn’t functional? It doesn’t represent something? It’s “nothing”?? Grounds for a different post here on how uncomfortable students are with something they’ve never seen before.



You can see where communication breaks down. In the end, they see no one is more responsible for the drawing than anyone else. It’s both theirs: listener, actor, simultaneously learning.


Another reason we do this (and other drawing/physical activities) in a class about writing is to try to stir up some of the ineffable. Sure there’s rationality at work in their hands and mouths, trying to orient the object and detail the lines and angles, but there’s something beyond that happening in their beings. A shared vision. Beyond words and writing. Movement of a body across a page: a shape. Like a word, but wilder.


And it gets them back into their body, for a minute. The body, who is probably actually the one in charge, being helped or hurt along the way by the brain, its nervous mother, trying so hard to help, but so often helpless.


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