“We ceased relying upon individual brain power tens of thousands of years ago. Our civilization now gets all its inventive and creative power from the linking of brains into networks.”
“Goal: use up your crayons.”
What if this was your class syllabus?
It could be if you’re taking “The Unthinkable Mind” taught by Wisconsin artist Lynda Barry who’s teaching as the Artist-in-Residence this semester at UW-Madison.
Check out more from her Tumblr and follow the class at: The Near Sighted Monkey.
And check out some other cool Syllabi from The Atlantic’s “Syllabi by Famous Authors.”
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
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.
Question: Why are you coloring pictures in a class that is supposed to be about the brain?
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?
For the past ten years or so, propelled by an epiphany he once had at the loading dock of a Winn Dixie, the artist Brendan O’Connell has been painting Walmarts: people shopping, and products on shelves, and people removing products from shelves and paying for them. He was fascinated by…
I will never be a brain surgeon, and I will never play the piano like Glenn Gould.
But what keeps me up late at night, and constantly gives me reason to fret, is this: I don’t know what I don’t know. There are universes of things out there — ideas, philosophies, songs, subtleties, facts, emotions — that exist but of which I am totally and thoroughly unaware. This makes me very uncomfortable. I find that the only way to find out the fuller extent of what I don’t know is for someone to tell me, teach me or show me, and then open my eyes to this bit of information, knowledge, or life experience that I, sadly, never before considered.
Afterward, I find something odd happens. I find what I have just learned is suddenly everywhere: on billboards or in the newspaper or SMACK: Right in front of me, and I can’t help but shake my head and speculate how and why I never saw or knew this particular thing before. And I begin to wonder if I could be any different, smarter, or more interesting had I discovered it when everyone else in the world found out about this particular obvious thing. I have been thinking a lot about these first discoveries and also those chance encounters: those elusive happenstances that often lead to defining moments in our lives.
I once read that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I fundamentally disagree with this idea. I think that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of hope. We might keep making mistakes but the struggle gives us a sense of empathy and connectivity that we would not experience otherwise. I believe this empathy improves our ability to see the unseen and better know the unknown.
Lives are shaped by chance encounters and by discovering things that we don’t know that we don’t know. The arc of a life is a circuitous one. … In the grand scheme of things, everything we do is an experiment, the outcome of which is unknown.
You never know when a typical life will be anything but, and you won’t know if you are rewriting history, or rewriting the future, until the writing is complete.
This, just this, I am comfortable not knowing.
Song: “Mystery” by Beth Orton