Thank you for this, David!
Kristin Newton

Hi Kristin, I watched your TED talk video and loved the idea of seeing the world with fresh eyes. I’m going to have to try both the negative space and da Vinci tricks. What we see is so central to how we think.

When I dream, I might see one or two images directly right in front of me, but everything else is in symbols. An assistant principal at a school where I taught had a heavy beard. Even though I saw him every day, I never noticed when he shaved it off until someone pointed it out. It’s like I wasn’t actually seeing him, just a symbol for him.

If I had to guess, I’d say I’m a line person who never made the transition to light & shadow, which is why the da Vinci trick has me really intrigued at the moment. Will I get better at drawing light and shadows once I can more easily see light and shadows? And because I didn’t make the transition, I started conflating my line drawings with “childish and basic” and light and shadow drawings with “grown up and sophisticated”—so I quit line drawing also. I’d still doodle, but I’d doodle the same things from childhood over and over again instead of trying something new.

This is why I object to the message that the key to learning is engaging people so they try harder. I feel that message is unhealthy. Personally, I hate singing because I’m tone deaf—but I would secretly love to sing. Assuming my tone deafness isn’t physical, then my ears can distinguish between tones, but my brain doesn’t know what to listen for. If we lived in a world where I could go to a music teacher (someone like you) and this teacher could figure out my difficulty and help me train my brain to distinguish between tones, then trying harder makes sense. But in a world where those teachers are few and far between, simply trying harder is incredibly demoralizing.

When we tell people they can achieve their greatest passions if they simply try harder, it feels like we’re saying: “Hey, I see unicorns everyday outside of my window. And you can see unicorns, too, if you only believe in them hard enough. Oh, you don’t see them? I guess you’re not believing hard enough!”

Instead, we should be telling them they can learn anything if they can find the method that works for them and their brain.

Take your time writing back. I’m excited by our conversation and the work you do. I wish there was a network of drawing teachers like you so I could easily find one in my neighborhood!

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