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Current Issue

Winter 2013

The Drawing Mind

illustrationIllustration by Deborah Putnoi

Everything changed with 9/11. Up until that moment, I was a painter, an artist. Exhibiting my work across the country and working alone in the studio. I had made that choice, left educational research at Project Zero, and decided my calling was as an artist. But after 9/11, everything shifted. I wanted my pieces of art to be more than just passive objects. I needed to be on the front lines, with people, to change something at the core of our society. As the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, I knew I needed to help people see each other as individuals, as interdependent, not in stereotypical terms. I needed something simple.

The art form that is central to my work is drawing. I draw all the time. I always have a sketchbook tucked away in my bag or next to the driver's seat so that I can draw even in the in-between moments of my life. I need to draw like I need to eat. And I know that there are others out there in schools, starving in classrooms across the country because their way in the world is through the tip of a pencil, through visual thinking, and they are not being taught how to nurture or develop what I call the "drawing mind."

Related articleDrawing doesn't happen in schools. If it happens at all, it is shunted to the side. I thought, How do I bring drawing into the heart of classroom learning — not as a way to develop artists, but as a thinking skill, as a language that could help students solve problems and enter different curricular material, be it a math problem or a science experiment or the journal of a historical figure? When students enter kindergarten, drawing is a natural language — stories, ideas, discoveries naturally erupt from the tip of a pencil. But quickly, students are required to learn and master writing, reading, and math. The drawing mind is shut down.

Walking into any classroom, I begin to uncover students' and teachers' drawing minds. For visual thinkers, it is a relief to draw in the classroom, to be asked to draw an experience instead of write about it. For the verbal/logistical learners, although perhaps uncomfortable at first using their drawing minds, they are stretched in new ways.

Related articleFor most people, the mere thought of drawing something — anything — sends a wave of panic. "But I can't even draw a straight line." As an artist, I always think, What artist cares about drawing a straight line? As an educator, I think, How can I fix this problem? How can I teach people to find, embrace, and explore their innate drawing abilities? Even students as young as first grade will sometimes look at me in panic when I say, "Draw a bumpy line." They ask, "But where? How? Is this OK?"

And I just say, "There are no mistakes." In some ways, this assertion in the classroom that there are no mistakes when I come in and we draw together is the most important thing I say. Your line is your line — no one else's.

Deborah Putnoi recently published the book, The Drawing Mind: Silence Your Inner Critic and Release Your Inner Creative Spirit. She also creates interactive installations called Drawing Labs and just opened a community art space in Boston called Artheads Studio, where she teaches classes for children and adults.