The Near-Sighted Monkey

Hand-out for the first “The Unthinkable Mind” class taught by Lynda Barry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Links to video and audio mentioned in the hand-out

1) Four-Minute Diary timing video

2)  Carl Sagan talking about the brain and strolling down the corpus callosum in his Hush Puppies.

3) A very young Michael Gazzaniga talking about early split-brain research in the late 1950s. Note: The first part of the video (monkeys) might be disturbing to some people. The second part (humans) may be mind blowing to some people.

4) Interview with Iain McGilchrist on the brain’s hemispheric differences conducted by Wisconsin Public Radio’s Steve Paulson

Question: Why are you coloring pictures in a class that is supposed to be about the brain?

Answer: Read this:  Doodling and the default network of the brain (Lancet)

and  also this: “Doodling may help memory recall” (BBC)

Question: About how long does it take to completely cover an 8.5 x11 inch piece of paper with a solid coat of crayon wax?

Answer: About two hours —-or two episodes of American Horror Story

Question: Is there a trick to it?

Answer: Layering. And also knowing that the process can be frustrating at first but then, somehow, you get into it and something like a relationship with the image itself develops. But it’s frustrating. The paper tears or wrinkles, the wax won’t lay down. But this is exactly how you get to know the materials, by seeing how they act together and how they act with your hands, the one that colors and the one you barely notice that adjusts the paper in minute ways and holds it steady. What is that hand doing while the other one colors?

Don’t be frustrated by the frustrating parts. Keep figuring out the crayon and the paper, what they are, how they act. Look closely at the wax track the crayon is leaving on the paper. What’s making the wax come away?  What colors do you seem to keep picking?

"Some sense of the action lies in the queer kind of sympathy that the artist is able to call up for the thing he is [coloring]. The true amount of mental sympathy that the student can give to a subject he wants to [color] creates a sense of life in the picture. From this sense of life, the picture begins to have value all its own…"

Jan Gordon, “A Step-Ladder to Painting”

Question: What kind of pictures are you coloring?

Answer: It almost doesn’t matter. In The Unthinkable Mind Class we’re using images from dollar-store coloring books, Sesame Street characters, Batman, Rappers, Hello Kitty, screaming teddy bears holding knives, The Creature, Astro Boy, My Little Pony, Gorillaz, very bad mermaid drawings, Pokemon, and many other images you’ll easily find if you search for ‘coloring pages’. Pick four pictures and print them out on different kinds of paper. Rougher paper is better but even copier paper will work. Buy a box of 24 crayons. Color those crayons down and peel the paper down in order to color some more. Cover the whole page and notice what happens as you color— move from satisfaction to frustration to satisfaction to confusion to worry to satisfaction again, but keep going until the page is fully covered. Put them up on the refrigerator and stare at them. What just happened?

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    Inspo for teaching. Also learning.
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    My undergrad alumni magazine had an article about this incredibly cool woman in it, so I looked Lynda Barry up on...
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    Before Next Meeting: . Lydia suggested we dip into Lynda Barry’s Unthinkable Mind class before our next meeting. She...