By Twilight Stray
I have spent the last week perusing Betty Edwards’s book, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”, which does a great job of applying neuroscience and general brain-ology to art and artists. While reading this book, I noticed many very interesting connections that could be drawn between the brain, art, and therianthropy. In a lot of the places where she takes about creating art, I found that it described some aspect of what the Shifting mentality is for me. Keep in mind- I don’t know that this works for everyone, but it certainly was an “Ah-ha” moment for me personally and the way my head works. The general brain dichotomy is something that philosophers, poets, and rocket scientists have notices since Socrates was in diapers, but I find that it explain my own predicament just as well.
I know that for many animal-people, the need to express ourselves artistically is as ingrained in us as much as our animal natures, and often that creativity is used to express that part of ourselves. But perhaps it is the right side of our brain that is expressing itself through art, and perhaps ultimately an identification with animalistic thinking and worldview. Perhaps therianthropy is a result of people having a more profound dichotomy between the right and left brain, and as art is a right-brain activity, it has a lot in common with shifting. Edwards talks a lot about how learning to draw is a matter of shifting your way of seeing the world. This is what happens in art, and in therianthropy.
Now, the first thing to do is look at what qualities are inherent of the right brain and left brain, understanding the basics about how the brain works. It would really help you if you had a copy of this book, or at least knew a little about brains here, as I can’t recap everything. What I’m going to do is quote Edwards on a few things that she said about how the right brain works when applied to art, and point out how it applies to animal people as well.
Learning about the brain is about learning about two ways of knowing. I will say right off the bat- this has always been a quality of mine. I have read prodigiously from a very young age, and find that I adapt very easily to different mindsets- be it characters in a book or philosophies, and I’m able to snap out of them just as quickly. I don’t want to say empathetic, as I’m not, I just know that perhaps as a byproduct of having an overactive imagination, I can adopt different worldviews, which comes in handy when discussing philosophy or religion or other such Liberal Arts College matters. I know that I have always been a very torn individual- I can look at those lists of personal qualities and say that both polar descriptions seem to be about me. There’s a reason I call myself Twilight- I’m fickle as hell and generally torn on many matters, seeing both sides but trying to dance somewhere around the middle. Some would say bipolar, I just say a little more torn than most people.
So first off, lets look at a very annotated list of Left Brain Qualities. This looks a lot nicer in the book, I assure you. Verbal, Analytic, Symbolic, Abstract, Temporal, Rational, Digital, Logical, and Linear. I would say that these qualities exemplify how I am when writing a paper, when engaged in debate. When I get going, it is as if I’m solving a giant math problem and know that the pieces are fitting into place, I have the right words and arguments in a linear pattern that proves something. My vocabulary increases tenfold, and the muses start singing. This happens when I become tipsy as well, but when I’m in philosophy class, or writing a paper, or in math, my brain goes to “Intelligence Defcon One” and I’m off. This is Left-brain Ashley. Once again, this is something I’ve noticed about myself my whole life but never knew there was an examined, tangible reason for.
And now, the lovely Right Brain. Nonverbal, Synthetic, Actual, Analogic, Nontemporal, Nonrational, Spatial, Intuitive, and Holistic. This is my creative side, the side that doesn’t need proof or a logical argument. This is where fantasy and magic became ingrained in me since the days of reading about Narnia in the boxwoods of my lower school playground. This is where time does not exist, where a cloud is a whale is a butterfly is a spaceship, and not a “A visible body of very fine water droplets or ice particles suspended in the atmosphere at altitudes ranging up to several miles above sea level.” This part of me is about taking little pieces of things and creating a vast horizon, instead of taking something apart into letters and mathematical components. Intuition reigns- this is where my instincts and hunches are listened too by reflex, where body language is more potent communication than linguistics. Past, Present, and Future are all in the now. These are known, documented qualities of the right brain. This is how I feel when I create are. These are qualities of a Shift.
Later in the book, Edwards describes how to shift into R-Mode, or using your right brain, in order to do art. She says that you may become “unaware of the passage of time.” This happens when I draw, and when I shift. She asks about if people were talking to you, “You couldn’t have listened to what they said- in fact, you didn’t want to hear?” When I’m drawing, I tune everything out, and when I’m feeling “Wolfy,” I’m liable to just tilt my head at useless murmuring. It just doesn’t matter. She asks if you feel “Alert, but relaxed, one with the work, in a focused, alert state of consciousness that can last for hours.” Yes, I say. This sounds like shifting.
“Shifting to R-mode releases you for a time from the verbal, symbolic domination of L-mode, and that’s a welcome relief. The pleasure may come from resting the left hemisphere, stopping its chatter, keeping quiet for a change. This yearning to be quiet may partially explain centuries-old practices such as meditation and self-induced altered states of consciousness.” Yes people. The animal bit is an altered state. A lot of us even meditate to go there. Does it come as a surprise that the right brain is considered the animalistic side, which animals today rely on more then we humans in our left-brain dominated society?
“If someone speaks to you, it seems as though it would take a great effort to cross back, think again in words, and answer. Furthermore, whatever you are doing seems immensely interesting. You are attentive and concentrated and feel ‘at one’ with the thing you are concentrating on.” How many of us have had to come out of a shift like wading through taffy, trying to form words but having trouble because thereisabugonthatstick or somethingsmellslikeanimal.
Shifting is truly another way of seeing, and Edwards writes about how visual data is processed differently depending on which dies of the brain is processing the raw data. “Learning perception through drawing seems to change the process and allow a different, more direct kind of seeing. The brain’s editing is put on hold, thereby permitting one to see more fully and more realistically.” We see this all the time- when shifted, I know I notice movement, color, and shapes in a completely different way than I normally do. This is similar to how I see when drawing. Things live in a world of rich, specific detail, which remaining holistic at the same time.
So personally, I know that I approach situations by looking at both sides. I always thought this was just a quirk of what it was to be me, to have the fantastical, nonliteral side of me screaming to do one thing and then the analytical mathematical side demanding to do another. I know that most people function this way- that it’s not really a big weird thing, but it would seem that my inner dichotomy is more pronounced. I’m more aware of the shift between the two states of mind- which I now know actually exists. Is it that Weres in general have a greater mind dualism, and a more acute perception of it? That shifts are more rapid and recognized? Perhaps this would explain why many of us have shifts that are less dramatic as time goes on- the mindsets are recognized and therefore integrated.
I just know that for me, a lot of this explains why I am always of two minds about everything, be it writer and artist, atheistic and spiritual, or even girl and wolf.