As I am reading and researching more about drawing, sketching, and how the mind works, a question pops into my head constantly: why doesn’t everybody sketch? I know this question comes across as a simple one and possible answers may be even seem simpler. Yet, a simple set of answers such as “not everybody is a visual type of person”, “not everybody draws”, or “not everybody can draw”, and so on do not satisfy my curiosity.

We all have friends and/or family members who would say to not like or not have knowledge of how to draw. My son for example, does not like drawing or writing. When he was a baby, he’d take up crayons, markers, brushes, and doodle around. But he stopped. Even writing as a way of externalizing his thoughts has become a burden. Since he can do almost all of his math mentally, when a math equation is complex, he resists the process of writing it down.

But… why? What exactly is the reason why some of us stop using the pencil or the pen to draw or to write? What makes others, myself included, feel obsessed with making marks? While part of this could simply be a personality issue, I suspect there is more to consider.

An article published in 1993 by Denise Grady in Discover Magazine titled The Vision Thing: Mainly in the Brain, stated that “neurons devoted to visual processing number in the hundreds of millions and take up about 30 percent of the cortex, as compared with 8 percent for touch and just 3 percent for hearing. Each of the two optic nerves, which carry signals from the retina to the brain, consists of a million fibers; each auditory nerve carries a mere 30,000.”

If our brains dedicate so much “real estate” so to speak, to processing visual information, would that not make us all, in essence, more inclined to produce visuals (drawings, marks, pictures, etc.)? The article continues to explain not just how visuals are processed, but also how we process what we see. In other words, our brains, our minds tell us what we see. Have you ever been in a place where someone told you they saw you and even made eye contact with you, and you said that you didn’t? You may have even passed for a jerk? I have had that experience many times. I am there and I may look like I am seeing you but I can’t register it. My mind did not tell me that I saw the person in spite of “biologically seeing” the person. Sad to report that many have been upset with me because this does happen to me often.

Still, that does not explain the divergence. Some people draw, doodle, sketch, and others don’t. In spite of the recent findings confirming how drawing helps us think, process ideas, communicate, and it is even a device to retain information for some, drawing, doodling, and sketching are not an unequivocal method of self expression or a memory tool for some. Maybe it is me, but I need to understand why this is the case.

Yet, drawing (and I use the terms drawing, sketching, and doodling interchangeably) has been done since the beginning of civilization to communicate or to perhaps simply claim a place in the world. Drawing— the making of marks—  is in its most rudimentary sense is a primitive way of communicating. To use my son again as an example, he used to reach for any tool that allowed him to make a mark when he was able to hold things but not yet able to talk. Now he tells me, “typing it is more efficient and effective.” To which I said, “excuse me?” We both laughed.

I wonder if changes in the way we are educated have had an impact? During the Renaissance, drawing— and other arts such as dance— was part of the education people would receive. During this time a love for the arts resurfaced. According to The History of Drawing, the production of drawing increased, in great part because “paper had become easier to obtain.” But there was another reason. Because the study of nature had become important, “drawing was used as a tool” for its study. Drawing was observation.

During the Renaissance then, drawing was not only taught as a foundation for the other arts, which is a model that still remains in our universities. Drawing was taught as a means to understand the natural world around us. One of such examples is of course, the famous drawings of Leonardo DaVinci. His curiosity, desire to understand, and observations are evident in his drawings of the human body, fetuses, etc..

Today, drawing is only taught in art classes in the art departments at universities and colleges. Or in other cases, at art and design schools. Rarely would the elementary education of a child, mine included, is drawing taught as one of the subjects needed to understand the world. But it was not always like this. When I was in elementary school, we had an art class and a handwriting class. These classes disappeared when I entered junior high and well, there were no art and/or handwriting classes in high school. My first official drawing class was in college. At that time, my childhood practice of drawing everywhere for hours had been weakened. And even after that class, I had a hard time thinking of how to incorporate a practice of drawing, sketching, or anything creative in my life. I lacked discipline.

Currently I do maintain a creative daily practice. More on that on another post. But suffice it to say that rekindling this practice has made me all the more intrigued about why doesn’t everybody draw or sketch? Not because I claim to have found a magical method of solving problems or even thinking. As I said at the beginning, the more I read and research, the more curious I become about the divergence.

I see drawing and/or sketching as an extension of our minds, of our thinking, and as a thinking process in and of itself. I see drawing and/or sketching as a visual expression of thoughts much like what writing is to language. The Victoria and Albert Museum offer several definitions of drawing. Among them Wassilly Kandinsky’s (1866 – 1944) opinion of the teaching of drawing seemed to be the most appropriate right now:

‘Drawing instruction is a training towards perception, exact observation and exact presentation not of the outward appearances of an object, but of its constructive elements, its lawful forces-tensions, which can be discovered in given objects and of the logical structures of same-education toward clear observation and clear rendering of the contexts, whereby surface phenomena are an introductory step towards the three-dimensional.’

What do you think? Why do you think not everybody draws?