Creativity and Learning: A Conversation with Lynda Barry
What happens when a renowned cartoonist, humorist, and writer sits down with a passionate educator? You get an inspiring conversation about creativity, learning, and the importance of arts education in America. Lynda Weinman interviews Lynda Barry, her friend and fellow alumni of Evergreen State College, at our campus in Carpinteria, California. Settle in for an inspiring discussion about their history together and hear Barry talk about breaking down inhibitions, breaking through fear, telling stories, and making art—all delivered in her hilarious signature style.
Note: lyndaTalks are an opportunity for lynda.com staff to hear artists and creative professionals talk about their work. We're pleased to be able to offer this talk to our members, as well.
A conversation with Lynda Barry
- Today's talk is actually going to focus on the importance of the arts, and how it fosters empathy, and I don't have a formal bio written, a lot of you here are her fans and that's why you're here, she's not only a cartoonist, a renowned cartoonist, but she's written a lot of books about creativity and, initiated a lot of processes that help people unlock their creativity and their voice, finding their artistic voice, so it's really an honor to have you here, Lynda, do come up, and give Lynda a big welcome! (laughs) So, for people who are not going to get to your lecture tonight, and I assume that a few of you are here, can you give us a really short synopsis of what you are going to talk about there? - I'm gonna talk about this question that I've kind of been pursuing actually since we were in school together at the Evergreen State College, which is a question about images and, which is what I think, the thing that we call the arts contains something that's kind of alive, and I think image is the right word for it, and what the biological function of this thing we call the images that are the arts might be, because my argument is we wouldn't have dragged it through all our evolutionary stages unless it had a biological function, so that's kind of what I'm gonna be talking about, and then work that I've been doing with students and scientists about this very thing.
- So, I think, when we're little, all of us are really connected to our inner artist, and then the majority of us as we get older, cut that off, can you talk a little bit about that very thing and how you help people break free of that inhibition, if that's what you would even characterize it as? - Yeah, well, one of the interesting things about when we're, here's the way I can describe it pretty fast, and how we sort of understand, almost all of us understand, that if we had a little kid here, say we had a four year old here, and we had everything that she might need to make a drawing, and we said, "come on Maddy, let's draw", and she was flipped out, too scared to draw, almost all of us would be worried about her emotionally.
Now she's 40, too freaked out to draw, nobody's worried at all. What happened? So that's one of my questions, what the hell happened? So I think what happened, there're a couple of things that happened, one of the things that happens, is that in the beginning a piece of paper is a place for an experience, if you watch kids draw, they don't just draw like this, "I will draw a picture now", no they're like making the noise of "(weird grunts), mino serpentine, save yourself", they're like making these noises, it's a place for an experience, and then, something happens, where that place for an experience becomes a thing, that you can tell is good or bad, and, that transitional point usually happens around adolescence for a lot of different reasons, both chemical and peer related and all sorts of things, cognitive reasons, because there's this period where we can tell that the chair we're drawing doesn't look like a chair in the world, which, you know, is not that big of a deal, but when somebody else can tell, it's funny about the word self-conscious cos it's not really about our self-consciousness, it's about being conscious of somebody else knowing what we're doing, so it's, so when we give that up, when this becomes a thing, I'm curious about what else we're giving up, when we no longer draw, and so if we're, I think that we're giving up something really really big, and that its' better to think of a drawing as a side effect, of a certain state of mind and a physical activity, than to think of it as the aim.
If you watch little kids who'll draw, after they're done, say they spent seven minutes drawing a picture, then they take off, what do they wanna do with the picture, it doesn't matter, to them a lot of times, maybe they'll put it on the fridge, but mostly they're not heartbroken if they leave that picture behind, if an adult spends seven minutes on a drawing then afterwards they're like "what do I do with it?" You're like, "what does it mean? Am I a genius? Or have I been screwing "around my whole life and it's finally caught up", you know, it's like they don't, people don't know what to do, it's because it's not, that's a side effect of this certain thing, so that's the stuff I've been concentrating on.
- And you were talking to me about the importance of doodling, can you describe how you see the effect of being more connected with your artistic side and what impact that would have if we were better connected? - Well one of the interesting things about drawing is most people if they don't draw, most people feel like they can't draw and they're terrified about it, but I always say "well if there's something that you draw, "like when you're bored or doodling", people, everybody all of you have something that you draw, so you know, somebody, I was talking to somebody like who was in a bar, and he goes "yeah, I draw eyeballs", like lots of eyeballs, apparently, and you know, and there's something about that eyeball when he draws it over and over again, and it's funny if you're taking notes in a meeting, there's that little margin on the side that's freeville, you can do anything, you know I can't draw any eyeballs here but here I'm totally free, I give myself an inch by 11 inches to just whack out, and so, what's interesting is I started to look to see if there was any research on what this might be, and there actually is plenty of research, about it and the most interesting stuff about it is that, well for instance here's an example of the research, people were given, it's so perfect, a really long answering machine message, to listen to, left by a very boring person, who was also, likes to talk, quite a lot, and what they were going to tell you all the people that were going to come to this particular party, people who just sat and listened, that was one group, the other group were people who actually drew while they were listening.
Then they were asked to recall how many names they could remember. The group that was drawing had a much, a profoundly higher recall of what they had heard, and so the thought about it is that, I was telling Lynda, you know that term daydreaming, I never thought I had daydreams cos they sound so nice, daydreaming, I always thought I'd know, you know it's like "I'm daydreaming", I didn't understand it was just freaking out, like our daily freak out, you know the hamster wheel of worry that we get back in all the time, so when we're listening to anyone, even y'all when you're listening to me right now, there's this window of concentration but then maybe I'll say something or I'll be boring, and then your mind will flip off this way and stay there for a while and then it'll return but you won't have any awareness of that happening, and in that time when you're gone, a lot of information just flies right past you, so the theory that, about drawing, and moving our hands, but yeah drawing, doodling, is that there's something about it enough concentration and moving your hand that actually allows you to stay in that place and listen, and if you know our beautiful Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginzberg, she has knit through every single Supreme Court decision, she just knits with her little lace thing, it's like knitting, and I thought to myself, "what's she knitting, she's knitting a cozy for Scalia's "entire body", you know, like just knitting these full-body suits.
But I would imagine that that helps her not only concentrate but keeps you from killing others in the room, although she does have the needles, but, so I'm really curious about the relationship between these and our ability to concentrate, and even when people aren't drawing, if you just are aware of hands, that's another thing that I've been studying, is our hands, you'll see that they're almost like little living creatures, people are always moving, they think they're just sitting here but the hand keeps going up here and just wants to touch this part, over and over, you know what I'm talking about, you have a friend who no matter what is going like this.
And they don't even know it, their hand just like heads up there. So that's what I'm interested in all that stuff. - Did you, you personally, to most people, I'm gonna make an assumption, seem so free in terms of your connection to drawing and your thoughts and self-expression, were you always that way, and if not, what helped you unlock that in yourself? - I don't think I, well, I've always had an affinity for the humanities, but I think that it's been kind of a, well then, if you get back to what I think the biological function of this thing we call the arts is, I think it's a matter of life and death, and that for, I think part of the reason that we have it is, I keep trying to find the right metaphor but I think it's the corollary to our immune system.
I think of the arts as sort of our external organs, and all you have to do is think back to junior high when you found that song that saved your life, or that book that changed your life, like what are you talking about, you really are talking about being in this state, if you remember being in the eight grade where everything's horrible, and then this song comes on and for three minutes it's like, "you know what, I "totally got this nailed", then the song's over, didn't you play it like 500 times in a row, until, for me, the record, we had records, they get gray, they start out black and they get gray and they sound like (muffled singing), it's like, so when I think about this stuff, I think that we use these things to be able to, one of the lines I have is we don't create this kind of creative world to escape reality, we create it to be able to stay, and so I'm somebody who had a lot of trouble with depression, I've always had a lot of trouble with depression, lots and lots of typical atypical home life, and I can't imagine, I don't think I'd be here without the arts, I just don't think I would, and also by the way I hate art, I hate art, I hate art galleries, they remind me of intensive care units.
Doesn't it seem like you don't know what's going on, everything's really expensive and clean, and somebody's gonna die, you know. - Because we went to college together I know that Marilyn Frasca, who was an instructor at the time, had a really big impact on you, can you talk a little bit about that, and what she gave to you? - Yeah, this is her hat, actually, she gave me, I know it's clap for the hat.
Marilyn Frascoe, well because of the way Evergreen was set up, it was perfect for a person like me and I think a person like you too, I remembered Lynda when, very clearly, at Evergreen doing, cos she was the first person I ever saw actually researching something that wasn't required, and I would see her, you know where you could find her? By the card catalog, which now is the digital world, but back then that was the closest thing to a computer that existed, and that's where she would be, looking up stuff, and I would always wanna know what she was looking up, and the first thing I remember talking to you about, this conversation, she was, kind of, I looked up to you quite a lot, and I went over going "I'm gonna talk to her! "Talk to her, talk to her, do it!", and so and you're like looking through this stuff and I say "hey, so what "are you looking up", and you looked at me and went "memory".
Computers! I mean there she was let's figure out memory, anyway at Evergreen, Evergreen allows you to have a very tight relationship with a professor which is great if you have a good professor and really bad if you don't, cos it's like a bad marriage, but I met Marilyn Frasca and she's the one that asked me this question about what are images, and also taught me a daily working practice that I continue to this day, and a way of working that I've sort of, her thing was what is the image, and I feel like I carried that work that she's done, into the sciences and into brain studies, and into what the biological function of the image might be, so we're still really good friends, well I don't ever want to be friends with her, I always want her to be my teacher, like it freaked me out the first time I saw her eating.
You know, you never wanna see your teacher eat or do anything like a human, you just want them to, after you leave, they just disappear and wait for you to conjure them again, you know? So, it's interesting to think of how something that happens, so many years ago, could still be the driving force in a person's life, and also that we're sitting here, is amazing to me, and in a way not. - Right. I know that you are teaching at University of Wisconsin, what are you teaching? - I'm teaching a class called The Unthinkable Mind, and it is a class that students can choose to take as either an art credit or an english credit, and we got so close to getting a science credit, because it's a lot about the hemisphere differences in the brain, and for example, when my poor class, they're my experimental, they're like my little lab rats, you know, and so for example, and I'm really interested in how people learn and how they remember stuff, so to teach them all the parts of the brain, instead of using each other's names, each student has a part of the brain they're called, and now we're totally used to it, it's like "I saw Corpus Callosum "at a party the other night", "For real?", "She was with "hypothalamus!", "oh, that's interesting", so, and I'm Professor Old Skull, that's my name, because I contain them all in my old skull, so it's a, it's a class about kind of following what the current research in neuroscience and kind of how it relates to the arts and what happens, because remember we all got, you were an arts student, you were done studying science, I mean once you got to college, in a funny way, we got to study all those things in school, and then after a while we're just separated, so I wanted to see what happened when we got back together, and particularly, I was especially interested in working with people who absolutely have no interest in drawing, and don't think of themselves as creative, and to see if the arts might have another function in their lives other than making something that looks fantastic that everyone can dig, "I love it", I mean it's like something other than that, so that's what I'm doing, that's what I'm teaching, and it's an intensive program, it's writing, drawing, a lot of study about the brain and a lot of memorization of poetry, which at first they were so miserable until I taught them many manly tricks on how to memorize poems, if I could teach you all too.
- Ooh, I wanna know. - Oh okay. - At least one trick. - Emily Dickinson, who's one of my favorite poets, only because I used to lie about loving her, because there was some dude, or a chick, I can't remember who, but somebody who I had a crush on, who loved Emily Dickinson, I don't remember the person, I just remember Emily Dickinson, and so I tell "yeah, I love her, oh she's amazing", and then I'd read her poetry like this. Like, how do you read a poem, what the hell does it mean, and it took me a really long time to figure out, that one, poems don't have a fixed meaning, they're kind of containers, but the other thing is it's a lot better if you have them in your head, so I had to figure out, so Emily Dickinson, a cadence, a lot of people know that you can sing Emily Dickinson to Yellow Rose Texas, but here's the other thing I found out, Girl From Ipanema, "I felt it cleaving in my mind, as if my brain had split "I tried to match it seam by seam but could not make them fit" or Gershwin, "I felt it cleaving in my mind, as if my brain had split "I tried to match it seam by seam but could not make them fit" Hernando's hideaway, I mean, you can do Love Potion Number Nine, California Girls, it turns out that this weird cadence, appears over and over and over again, and it's apparently is a cadence in our brain, at least the Western brain, seems to really love, and so when I started to find those ties, then I realised I could have the choice, you know how when you have a song stuck in your head and it's like, often "five, five dollar, "five dollar footlong", you know, like you didn't mean to have that in your head but somehow the footlong thing got it your head, you know? Well I realized you could battle it with Emily Dickinson, and you know, I did have that five dollar footlong thing stuck in my head for a really long time and I finally got rid of it, I'm in a car with my friend, she's driving, her daughter's in the back, and her daughter starts going "five, five" and I'm no "no, please", "five, five dollar, "five dollar footloose, footloose", and I went "that's how you do it", you take the song that's stuck in your head and you somehow tie it to another song, and Footloose will knock anything off, out of your mind.
- I'm curious just, this idea just struck me if that's almost similar to the idea of doodling too, where you're doing two different activities and somehow they're reinforcing each other, is there a connection? - Yeah, and once, you know there's that physical part about singing, so, and it's funny with poetry too, because it's something that I came back to, that I had come to on my knees with grace and thanking, only when I stopped trying to understand it, and then I started to memorize it, and then you know when you're getting older, you have those questions, can I still memorize anything? It's like, yeah, all those terrible ads that you have in your head, one of the exercises I love to give my students is I give them seven and a half minutes to write down everything they've memorized, without trying, and then we read them as if it's a poem we read em as if it's a poem, and it's astonishing, what people, what you have in your head, you could do it every day for the rest of your life, write down something that you memorized without trying, and never run out, and so how's that working? Where's that coming, advertisers understand that mixing a visual image, and some kind of sound works, or a piece of music, and certain kinds of words, they understand that, like you were saying, that those two things come together and our memoryies like that, or our brains like that.
- When I knew you as a student, your career directly after college was to become a cartoonist, and you became a playwright, and a novelist, and now you're a teacher, although you're probably still all of those other things, what got you interested in teaching and how do you like it? - I got interested in teaching, I love teaching, I got interested in teaching because my own practice could only get me so far in trying to figure out this question of what the function, biological, or physical function of the arts might be, I mean you can only get so far by yourself, and I had been teaching writing workshops, short ones, and I was starting to see kind of how memory works, in particular spontaneous memory, so, I'll give you an example of what I do in my class: I want you to just think of a car from when you were little, just for a second, does everybody have a car in their head? There it is, first of all, there it is, where was sitting? Okay, now picture it for a second, and so as you picture it are you inside of the car or outside of the car? Some people are inside, right? And if you're outside of the car, which part of the car are you facing, and if you're inside of the car, which part of the car, which seat are you sitting in? And as you're looking around I can ask you these questions, you'll know the answer, is it day or night in this image? You know, right? But what season does it seem to be? Oh hell, you know that too, right? About what time of day is it? Lord, you know that, and then I can ask you where the lights coming from and what kind of light it is, and I can ask you where you are, and what's in front of you, and to the left, and to the right, and behind you, and you can answer that, and then I can say let's erase it, now I want you to think of a kitchen table, from when you were little.
There you are, what time of day is it? Right? Like what the hell is that? And it turns out any, I can give you teeth, any noun, any noun and any gerund, our ING words like squatting or screaming or running, which you should do every day, all those three things, but the associative, it's as if the back of the mind really has stories and if we took that car piece and I asked you to imagine all these things, I'd actually ask you to draw an X and write all the answers down, what I'd do is I tell my students to pretend they're on the phone.
You can see the image, I can't, I'm asking you questions, you tell me what's there, like where are you, what's the weather like, what are you doing, why are you there? And when we start to answer those questions a story just naturally seems to come about, and I usually have people write for seven and a half minutes, and I tell them, when they have three more minutes left, and then one more minute, because we're natural editors, all of you have been in the situation where you've been on the phone with somebody, you both hate this person, let's call that person Skittles, at work, "you know what Skittles did today?", "tell me man, I "hate her", "I know, me too", and you're talking about it and you think you have five minutes to go on about how awful Skittles is, but then you realize you only have one minute, you totally know how to edit that story.
That's the thing, all the things that we call, story structure, editing, all this stuff, the only reason we know about them and can do them is because they already exist. We oftentimes think that we need to learn about story structure but the only reason we can even call it, is because it's already there, I always think people have it backwards, it's like, people think "oh I need to learn story structure to write a story", it's like thinking you can only have teeth after looking at dentures. It's the other way around! Dentures look like teeth, you know, so that's the stuff that I'm the most interested in, and I'm interested in how, I believe it with all my heart, that this ability is in almost everybody, and I also get a lot of free beer at airport bars, because they look at me and I'm like hey, I'll to her, this'll be interesting, I'll tell everyone I talked to some freaky menopausal woman, and I'll be like "yeah, talk to me!", and they ask me what I do, and I say I write, and they always say "oh I wish I could write", and I say "I bet you can", and then I do the car thing with them, and right before things are getting, I can see the story, that's when I order another beer and they go "nono I'll get it for you".
And that's how I paid for my college education, I paid it all back with beer, from the airport. Cos people get happy when they feel that thing. - Well I think another thing that gets people happy is you know how to make people laugh, have you always known how to make people laugh? - No! Well, I always thought so... I guess a little, I don't know, I'm a little bit of a ham, my husband says I'm a sequinned ham.
Isn't that a terrible image, you'll never get it out of your mind? It's horrible, don't you wanna make one now, immediately? "What are you doing?", "canned ham, pins and sequins", "what are you bringing?", "you'll see". It's horrible isn't it, I so wanna make one. - I mean, I think part of what you do is you free others by helping them laugh and part of being able to have that conduit to your own creativity is this idea of being free and not worrying about what other people are thinking about you, do you agree that that's a really important component? - It is, but it's very difficult to get to, and I don't think it's the objective, because, if you're waiting to not worry about what people are gonna think about you you're gonna be waiting a really long line.
I think it's okay to proceed with worry, and terror and fear and doubt, you know that thing after you've had a spontaneous interchange with someone, say at a party, and then you go home and you're laying in bed and you go over every single thing that you said and you cringe? You know this thing, "Oh God, I'm an ass, I'm such an ass", you know, and I am like such an ass that I have to, I often have to call the host of the party and apologize for being such an ass. So I called a friend of mine, Marty Rocklin who lives in Los Angeles, and she had had this party, and I called her after I had been an ass at her party, and how was I an ass, I decided it would be hilarious to try to crawl through people's legs while they were talking...
And for the most part if you do that, you come crawling, mostly people will do this, right, but occasionally you'll get someone who won't, and they'll just do this, and then I have to keep crawling, and then at that point the spontaneous thing is over and it's a test of wills, so I had to call her and apologize, and it had been on a Saturday night, but I couldn't wait, I had been up all night cringing, and so I called her like at eight in the morning on a Sunday after a party, which meant I really was an ass, and I said "listen, I'm sorry "to wake you up, I just wanna tell you I'm so sorry "I was an ass at your party last night", she goes, "Lynda, are you thinking about what an ass anyone else "was at the party last night?", I'm going "no", she goes "I hate to tell you this, they're not "thinking about you either".
But I was the biggest ass at the party. No, but that's a good thing to remember when you're cringing, that everybody's just cringing about their own stuff, they're not cringing about you, unless you crawl through their legs. And I wish I could say this was a long time ago. It wasn't. - Well I am gonna open this up for Q and A, but before we do, Lynda, you and I were talking a lot about education and I know that you were asking, at least you were telling me about an experiment that you did, I don't know if it was a research project about the future of education, do you want to tell that story? - Yeah, I was part of, I've somehow wormed my way into the Wisconsin institute for discovery, I think University of Wisconsin Madison which is this, it's a place where scientists are supposed to gather and I don't know, smell each other or something, and have insight, but I do love being there, and they gave me an assignment to try and figure out, they just wanted me to get arts students to draw what they thought the future of a university might be, in 100 years, but I thought, well shoot, if I'm gonna do this I wanna talk to everybody, so one of the things I did was, I went into elementary schools to try to get kids to tell me what they thought the future, what school would be like in 100 years, and to make drawings, but that's when I learned, well scientific method, how you pose the question is really key, and so what I said to them, second graders, we all got on the floor, we're gonna go in the time machine, let's go 100 years, and then we're gonna come out and tell me what school's gonna be like? So they do this, they look up, and I say so what's it gonna be like? "What", "really old".
"What else?", "Well, teacher's will all be dead", it's like, okay, let's go back in the time machine, we're coming out in a different school, and it's the future, so one of the things that was really interesting was kind of, and then I think again, it's the situation, if somebody asked you and you're in grade school, to draw school in 100 years, what a teacher might be like in 100 years, you're gonna draw a robot, just cos you get to draw a robot, right now, I gotta draw and I'm drawing a teacher as a robot.
So I realized that, but one of the things that was so interesting was that, repeatedly, whether it was with elementary school kids or professors, or people from the community, there was this feeling that there wouldn't be teachers, which was really interesting to me, that there wouldn't be teachers, and that we'd download everything, and in fact one of the images that showed up in drawings over and over again was there was little kids or grownups, was that we'd have a computer chip and for some reason everybody thinks it's gonna be right here.
So there must be some show, I keep thinking, where everybody says this is where the chip is, or I just don't think it's where everybody just magically goes, it goes here. That was one of the things that was sort of interesting to me, and the other thing that was great was, what I was happy with about the kids was their vision of technology when they would do the gestures about it, wasn't this and wasn't this, it was full body, it was being able to move stuff with their bodies, which the stuff that I'm studying about hemisphere differences in the brain and gesture and hand stuff, that made me feel kind of good that they were at least moving their bodies while they were telling me about the future.
So, but we were also talking about this funny thing about the wonderful thing, the good things about technology and the bad things about technology, and how somehow, one of the studies that the University of Wisconsin Madison is all about one of the scientists I'm going to be doing a project with, is about facial expression and mirroring, mirroring facial expressions and what it has to do with empathy, and how when we're talking to people, we not only are listening to them but we also do micro mirroring of what they're saying, and interestingly enough there's a part of our brain that's devoted to everything that's going on below eye level, and that's devoted to looking at hand gestures, it's funny because it really can't see anything this way but knows everything that's going on in here.
So there was a study done, at the U-dub, about, there was curiosity about babies who had, who use pacifiers, for a very long time when they were growing up, and because pacifiers, because they're big like this, actually inhibit the ability to mimic gestures, to mimic facial expressions, so there is a longitudinal study that wanted to know if people who used a lot of pacifiers might be impaired measurably in terms of empathy, and sure enough, they were able to find, particularly in boys, that there was impairment.
Then somebody said, what about Botox? So they did a study, and it may not surprise you to find out that people with Botox showed a marked decrease in empathy when they were listening to people's stories, and where do we get Botox, we get Botox around our eyes, and around our mouths, this, right there, that's what it sounds like when you get an injection, so, and why do we have wrinkles there, cos we're using that, we're using those areas! That's why they're wrinkled, cos we need them to be able to understand each other and feel stuff, so it's sort of interesting and one of the things, the thing that I think is gonna be a challenge in terms of school, is, or in terms of technology, is what's going to happen to that, to that understanding by mimicking the faces, and I can say that in my time as a teacher, and somebody who's visited schools, I've seen the facial affect flatten, and it's sort of remarkable to be with people now who are like 19 or 18, and it's, there is, you talk to them and you go right? And they look at you like this, like you're on TV, and it's a strange thing to watch that, to actually see that happening, so I think it's gonna be an interesting challenge to figure out how we can take advantage of the internet and the stuff that now people have access to all this learning, but how will we keep the human, I don't wanna call it the human part, cos I think that part's human too, but how will we keep this other thing going on, and what's gonna happen to the original digital devices, I mean for those of you who are a little older, it may come as a shock to find out that they don't teach cursive in elementary school anymore, it's gone, and I actually have students now this year who can't read cursive.
So they, so can you imagine, I'll be the last one, cos I'm not gonna die, you all are, but I'm not gonna die, and so they'll come up to me and they'll say "old skull, "can you read this, you know it's in cursive", and I'll go, "yes, hold on, I can, lemme see. It's from a long "time ago, it's an ancient manuscript, it says, Dear "Santa", (laughs) So what's lost when we lose something like that, like cursive, it seems like oh we're done with cursive but all kinds of things, again, thinking about this doodling idea and moving our hands, all kinds of things are lost when we give up something like that, so that's the stuff that I'm pumped about, as my students say, "I'm totally pumped about this", me too.
Are you pumped? - I'm totally pumped. The one thing that I loved about teaching in a live classroom was just how much I actually learned from students, and how they surprise you, and they just say things that you didn't think of, and actually, by being a teacher, you learn more than you would if you were not a teacher, it's such a gift to be able to be a teacher, I think. - Well, to be able to teach them you kind of have to find a way to explain it, but no, I realized I could only get so far by myself, and that I really needed these people, and I sort of needed, the University of Wisconsin has been pretty good to me about letting me kind of, just scrape at the edges, like have a class that has these, that you can take credit either way, or design a class that's made for, for instance my class I got a lot of latitude, so my class has several PhD candidates, and two sophomores, and the age range, there's 20 of them, the age range is mid-40's to I think I have a 19 year old, and so it's really interesting, that's a very rare group, at Evergreen that wasn't so strange, we might have something like that, but at the University of Wisconsin it is strange, and it's interesting to all see them negotiate with each other, especially since they don't know each other's names.
I let them know, I let them use their real names on the last day, last year the class I taught was called What it is, a similar class but everyone just went by, I had them choose a playing card, and that was their identity for the whole, for the whole year and I was in a bar being interviewed, and somebody was asking me about it, just a couple of weeks ago, and what was that like, with the playing cards, how did that work out, and I said, "You "wanna see?" And I went "two of hearts!" And the guy who was at the bar was one of my students, two of hearts just like, like for the rest of his life, you know? Or poor, you know or cerebral cortex for the rest of his life, it's gonna be like, what.
- But it does sound liberating because I think, I think that I don't know I think there's some sort of connection between being inhibited and I agree, it's not the panacea to unlock everything that's good in life, but I think what you're doing by giving them the avatar so to speak is you're freeing them from what they perceive as judgement of who they actually are, would you agree? - And also the hierarchy can't form in the class, it really inhibits that idea of who's good and who isn't, cos nobody knows whose work is what, but it's interesting about this, you're right about freeing the mind, but what is it, and again I think it's with hemisphere differences, I think it's this funny little transfer, for example when I use the oldest art supplies that have been in continuous use around, which is I use ink stone, Chinese ink that I grind, and a brush, and when I go to different little festivals or conferences, there's often a time when everybody drinks and I get really bored, so I just bring my painting stuff and I start painting, and drinking, which is awesome combination, and so, and usually people will come over and wanna talk to me and see what I'm doing and then I explain the Chinese art supplies, and then I usually hand them the brush, to see if they'll make a line, almost everybody will take the brush, except for this one time when I was at a design conference called the Cusp conference in Chicago, and it was all hotshot designers who had done all these fantastic, I mean they were fantastic, and so, I was sitting there doing it, and I tried to hand these people the brush, and they go "nonono, "give it to Linda", "no Craig will do it", and everybody was like, I realized they were flipped out, so I thought here I am, I'm seeing it, this thing I've been curious about, and they didn't wanna do it, they didn't wanna make a line in front of each other, and I said, "well you know, there's this really cool game" which I'm makin up right now as I'm telling it to you, "where you take a, you just draw a square, and then "you take the brush and you divide that in half, "and then you take the brush and you divide those halves "in halves, and you keep doing that, until, and if any "of the lines touch, you get electrocuted".
Then they all wanted to do it! It was like "yeah!", what happened? Same brush, same piece of paper, prospect of electrocution, absolutely wanna do it. And I think that's one of the things that gave me a clue to, it went from a thing to a place for an experience, even if the experience is electrocution, it's still preferable to "you can't draw", it's like, so that got me interested in that, and I think there is a freeing, now what's the freeing, the freeing is just a different perspective, I, again, freeing sounds like daydreaming, I never thought I'm free because I always imagine you'd feel free, and kind of look free, but which I actually don't like people who look free, but, at all, but, I think it's a shift in perspective maybe.
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