Many people feel they “can’t draw”, which seems odd given assumptions about drawing as a direct pathway to visual concepts. We can all see, so why can’t we draw? So here’s a thread why everything you know about learning to draw is wrong… 1/
First off, here’s what I think are predominant beliefs about learning to draw:
1. Drawing is about what you see, either by eye or in your “imagination”
2. People have talent or they don’t
3. Having your “own” style is good
4. Thus copying is bad

Do these sound familiar? 2/
These beliefs are a relatively recent invention, and date back to the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau, who proposed that culture might taint our more “natural” instincts. This is where they “copying is bad” part comes in 3/
Rousseau’s ideas were invoked in the 1800s by the Austrian painter and educator Franz Cižek, who proposed that children’s true “inner artistic creativity” could only emerge if we prevented them from copying others, because imitation let in that “bad cultural influence” 4/
Cižek’s framework was quickly taken up and spread in art education, which pointed to the skilled drawings produced by Cižek’s students, where it pushed for people to develop their own “unique” styles, and copying was considered a boundary to individuality 5/
This anti-imitation mindset also reinforced a “never-ending avant garde”, which became popular at the time, since styles would vary by individuals. Art education has since viewed drawing proficiency in terms of these fairly unmeasurable traits 6/
Yet… there was really no *evidence* for this idea. In the 1970s, art educators Brent and Marjorie Wilson found that nearly all children copied drawings! And, more skilled drawers copied more and were more creative, than those who didn’t copy 7/…
Children’s drawings from Japan were shown to be most proficient of all children they studied—without the “drop off” in the progression of drawing ability around puberty shown elsewhere—since all children read and copy Japanese manga, which have a consistent visual vocabulary 8/
In fact, reanalysis of the creations of Cižek’s own students showed that they too copied, from each other! So, though he pushed an ideology, it was mostly based on an internally developed “house style” not pure uninfluenced talent 9/
This supports an alternate framing of how drawing works, which I’ve outlined throughout my papers. I argue that drawing is structured—and learned—the same as language. We develop a visual vocabulary that we use when we draw, not just drawing what we see by eye or by mind 10/
If drawing works like language, then it should be learned the same way: by acquiring the visual vocabulary in your environment. So, the whole idea of “learning to draw” is framed wrong. It’s not “learning to draw” it’s actually “acquiring a visual vocabulary” 11/
How do we learn a vocabulary? By copying! Imitation is the engine of language learning, whether it’s speaking or drawing. Yet, because we now have a cultural conception of drawing that says *not to copy* the result is: “I can’t draw” 12/
So, the notion “copying others’ drawings is bad because it limits creativity” actually suppresses people’s ability to learn to draw in the first place! This is why people “can’t draw”: because the cultural notions of drawing oppress their acquisition of a visual vocabulary 13/
Some closing references: I talk about all this stuff in my pair of papers:

“Explaining ‘I can’t draw” -…
“Framing ‘I can’t draw’” -

Background on this comes from excellent work by Marjorie and Brent Wilson, who have a nice practical book on Teaching Children to Draw 15/…
Lots more background comes from the excellent academic work by John Willats in “Making Sense of Children’s Drawings”, who reviews the history of Cizek’s art school and it’s detrimental effects on art education 16/…
Final thought: All this is to say that learning to draw is NOT about who does or does not have "talent". Everyone starts out with the same potential for drawing, but it requires nurturing by acquiring a visual vocabulary

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More from @visual_linguist

1 Jan
The Calvin and Hobbes comic strip ended 25 years ago, so let’s celebrate a New Years treat by analyzing it! Awhile back I had a students annotate structures in every C&H strip, so we have data on the whole thing. As Calvin says: let’s go exploring! 1/
An interesting feature of this strip is that Watterson took a few sabbaticals during its run, and came back with more artistic freedom. So, I’ll focus here on how a few aspects of the strip change over time. Here’s what every panel per strip looks like (all 14,712 panels!) 2/
Let’s start with storytelling. Overall, the strip shifts to becoming more visual and multimodality balanced in meaning over time. In this graph, higher numbers mean more meaning carried by pictures than words (0=balanced) 3/
Read 12 tweets
31 Dec 20
I’ve been reading several research papers lately with drawing as a task, and it’s gotten me riled up enough that it’s time for a rant thread. The short of it: Stop treating drawing as if there are no systems, no conventions, and that it’s an unmediated link to visual concepts 1/
First off, drawing is a complex cognitive activity involving numerous subsystems, not some direct pathway from perception (or visual imagery) to motor control as is assumed when using drawing in clinical contexts 2/…
Drawings are not direct pathways to visual concepts, because they require a “visual vocabulary” to be learned and developed. People who “can’t draw” simply have not developed an extensive vocabulary 3/…
Read 12 tweets
22 Jan 18
A few days ago @matt_thorn_en had an excellent thread about layouts in manga. Here I want to expand on that, from the perspective of cognition and psychology. It may surprise people, but there’s been actual science done on the rules of #comics page layouts…
As explained in that thread, manga readers use meeting points between panels to signal whether to read horizontally or vertically. These are cued by "T" shapes or "+" shapes between panels
As described in my book and some papers, these panel junctions do indeed give readers layout cues, and we've articulated these rules explicitly. But, they are just the to deeper strategies...
Read 19 tweets

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