Let your hands do the talking: representation and abstraction

Following on from yesterday’s post, i’m on holiday this week and spending some time teaching my niece to draw. I’ve been wrestling with the notion of how to move her (at the age of ten) from direct representation to more emotional interpretations of the world around her.

Painting of boats

© Julian Stodd 2013

What this broadly means is this: i can’t paint very well, so have to use various levels of abstraction to cover my shortfalls when it comes to people/dogs/trees etc and want her to have the same skill (avoid showing my failings).

We talked a little about the process of drawing, and how it felt when you tried to draw how you feel instead of what you see: “I can hold the pencil in my fist, but i don’t really think about how it moves” said Megan. Much the same words i use to describe how i paint. I don’t look at the brush or the paper, it just kind of moves itself.

Think about your home, i said. Try to draw how it looks, then try to draw how it makes you feel: safe, warm, untidy? “So i could draw my bedroom, making it untidy”? Not really, it’s about convening the sense of feeling, not showing the untidy bedroom.

I don’t know how you teach abstraction. I guess maybe you have to master the concrete before you can abandon it for abstract? Maybe many skills are learnt like this: you master the basics, you have to learn to do it before you can make it your own, be that drawing, influencing or dancing.

A little like music: you may have to learn the rules before you can break them, but much of the power of expression comes from breaking and reframing things.

Within learning design, i feel it’s important to create the space for experimentation, for making mistakes, for developing your own vocabulary. We need this space to master the basics, but to build upon them our own language: we never truly learn something unless we can express it in a way that’s meaningful to us.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Art, Creative, Learning, Painting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Let your hands do the talking: representation and abstraction

  1. Pingback: Let your hands do the talking: representation and abstraction | Levi Heiple Online

  2. Pingback: Unlocking Innovation in Teams | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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