Neurological literature suggests nearly unanimously that the right brain – seat of intuition, emotion, and pattern recognition, fundamental to creativity – is characteristically different from the left (language) brain, with its own unique ways of understanding the world. It perceives things holistically rather than analytically and is immersed in time rather than imposing it, a fact people often notice while drawing.
A consequence for contemplating things in the right-brained mode is that they are ultimately unknowable intellectually, as what we mean by “knowing” is typically defined by the left brain’s dictionary-style logic. We order the world through the tool of language, and “knowing” a thing through that vehicle implies a degree of control over it which the right creative hemisphere refuses to assert.
This phenomenon is one reason, I think, why a lot of people approaching creative activity get nervous. Without bringing the left brain into it, there are no real rules. There is no good and bad. Worse, things seen from the creative perspective can be difficult to name. Naming is the essential process by which the left brain “knows”, and in turn, assigns a thing value. Without being comprehensible within a linguistic system, too often the left brain determines that a thing must have no value, or in fact is a threat to the position it holds in the centre of mental operations – a made-up character otherwise known as the ego.
Some are naturally more inclined towards the right-brained mode, and some have to exercise to develop facility. In both cases, the futility (a lack of utility) that comes with eternal inconclusiveness lurks ever beneath the surface. If one thing is as good as another, how do I choose what to bring forth from the void? How do I figure out what it’s worth when it’s here? This scenario is of course identical to Life itself, but due to its anxiety-provoking nature, it is also one which we tend to rule out in societal constructs, where we have a choice.
As an extension of their job description, one might say that the artist is forced to face inconclusiveness, and thus futility, head-on. I have to wonder if this is why there are so many artists afflicted with depression, as they are more resilient but also more vulnerable to the unknown, the fount of their power.
Unknowing is more than merely a mode; it is also a path, and choosing to walk it entails developing a special relationship with uselessness. It’s about getting comfortable with the idea that nothing may matter.
There’s a negative and positive spin you can put on that. The liberating one is to allow, within the space consecrated for creation, the emergence of anything and everything, and possibly nothing, always assuming that whatever arises cannot possibly be wrong, but is simply “there”.
While knowledge for the right brain is not primarily conceptual, it is represented in another source: the body. Feeling sensations fully and trusting your gut can be effective strategies for disrupting the intellectual questioning that gives futility its soul-crushing kick. The shape of things we bring into the world always echoes our internal physical states. I think often of Michelangelo’s suggestion that his subjects already lived in the stone; he did not invent but merely chipped away at the excess marble to reveal them. In our case, the subjects are our emotions. In one particular way of looking at it, we do not need to “decide” what our subjects will be. They are there, given. As emotions drift up into consciousness, they become available for artistic contemplation. Depending on our relationship to our own feelings – not to form more abstractly – we will either welcome and provide them a place, or suppress them out of fear. Acquaintance with the right-brained path is therefore not about learning how to doodle. It is about self-mastery.
N.B.: My comments above relating to depression are hugely simplistic and do not mean to address issues of biological depression directly. Those with depression cannot cure themselves by “mastering” their emotions or any other act of will. My point pertains to garden-variety futility, as it were, and how the experience of that may be mitigated through certain channels.