On Feb. 1, Lynda Barry spoke to the Colorado College community for Cornerstone Arts Week. For those unaware of who this woman is, she is a spectacular human, educator, writer, and professor. She publishes a weekly comic strip, has written many books, including graphic novels, and is currently Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Creativity at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Much of what she proves in her work is that children and adults are not as different as we often make them out to be. Activities we associate with childhood are ones we should bring to our adult lives in order to succeed—most importantly, drawing. Whether or not you think you are a good drawer, you should continue to draw.
Barry explained that as a person veers into adulthood, they neglect the act of drawing in fear of not being good enough. However, if you think back to childhood—remember someone asking you to draw a bear riding a rocketship or a space chipmunk—seven-year-old you would never think twice about being able to do it. As little kids, we draw, and we stand by our creations proudly. However, age seems to take away part of that careless confidence, and, as a result, many people quit drawing completely.
As people discover that they are no longer meant to be the artist their mother told them they could be in second grade, they stop drawing. The “childhood images” that look like random squiggles and the imaginary people who have seven eyeballs no longer exist on a page. Those types of drawings become simple associations with childhood. However, Barry made a realization when she compared the drawings of a scientist hard at work with the random squiggles of a child; they looked almost identical. Random lines were everywhere with no sense of congruency. While any scientist or mathematician would most likely not categorize their lines as art, a small child would. A small child would say that their lines were the start of a monkey in a circus or some other vague association with an image. Barry infers that maybe the scientist or mathematician’s squiggly lines are the same as the child’s in the sense that they are also the “beginning of a vague idea.”
In order to teach her graduate students, Barry brings in little kids to be “co-researchers.” Barry said the best thing these kids do while serving as a co-researcher is inspire a graduate student to draw out their complicated theses and research projects. Barry then explained that these graduate students admit that they never thought to draw their projects. Yet once they draw them, they are able to deconstruct a complicated situation or understand the layout of a place they may be studying. Drawing accesses a different region of the brain, and it can catalyze the realization of new ideas.
Lastly, drawing inspires feeling. Even when someone draws a meaningless doodle in a school notebook, it can make someone laugh or smile. Despite the fact that many of us are incapable of drawing like Matisse, Monet, or some other old Frenchman, anyone can draw something that evokes emotion.
NASA, various podcasts, and many other institutions in search of a fresh mind have pursued Barry. She proves that drawing is not simply a child’s activity; drawing is a key way to map out any complicated subject, and there is not one field of study that could not benefit from drawing. She does not expect anyone to be the next Picasso, but drawing a simple image can cause so many emotions to go through the creator and viewers’ mind. There is no such thing as being a bad drawer. We are able to create images on a piece of paper that can cause some sort of feeling or idea to arise.