Thanks perhaps to Betty Edwards’s well known book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” probably everyone who draws these days knows that visual cognition occurs primarily as an activity of the right cerebral hemisphere.  You don’t even have to have read the book.  Thanks to the title alone, if you just saw the book on the shelf at the art store (and her book is ubiquitously part of today’s artist’s landscape) then you got at least a teaser of its main idea, a neurological hat tip.  Who would have thought that neuroscience would play so prominent a role in contemporary artistic discourse?

Of course, you use both hemispheres of your brain when doing art because drawing or painting are complex tasks.  If you’re right handed (and most artists, like most people, are) then the left hemisphere controls your drawing hand so it’s not as though your left brain just goes on vacation ….

But while both sides of the brain juggle your task, the visual cortex on the right side does the biggest share of the thinking.  So it’s not surprising that lots of pictures exhibit some degree of sidedness.

I often notice sidedness as I work and have adapted to it.  It’s most obvious on those occasions when I start the drawing with objects on the left side.  (Recall that the right hemisphere controls the left side and the left hemisphere the right side of the body.)  However, if for some reason I begin on the right or the middle, I may drift cognitively leftward, finishing the left side of the picture first.

Consider the drawing above as an extreme example.  It has no right side.  Well, some nicely evocative space sits there in empty conversation with the things of the picture.  But there’s no stuff on the right in this watercolor of violets because after I had got this far I stopped work.  My right cortex just took over completely and sent my left brain packing!

That wasn’t very nice.

But it is kind of neat.  And being aware of sidedness, especially when working on an elaborate image, you can intensify your focus by devising ways to put the relevant section of the image “on the left.”  It’s all just a question of context, and your brain is pretty easy to fool.

You gotta fool your brain.

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2 thoughts on “Sidedness in pictures

  1. Very interesting! I really like this picture – simple and pure.

    Thank you, Gabe, I like it too. It’s something I did a long time ago, brings back memories for me.

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