DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Serious Doodling

Filed under: Abstract Art — Tags: , , , , — fred @ 22:03

Talisman, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

This is a defense of the practice of doodling.  Doodling has a reputation for being aimless, mindless, pointless and devoid of artistic merit.  As I am an incorrigible doodler, I might be seen as defending my own bad habits, although I would never write in defense of gluttony, bibulousness, lechery, or sloth, to all of which I would be obliged to cop, so clearly I am at least granting doodling an exalted tier among the vices.

Loops & Growers, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The word apparently derives from the German dudeln, meaning to play the bagpipes.  The form dudelkopf was used to mean fool or idiot, and could I think be literally interpreted as “bagpipe-head”, perhaps an early form of our contemporary idiom “airhead”.  “Yankee doodle” was originally the British way of saying “American idiot”.  Doodle in this sense is probably the source of the word “dude“.  Even meaning idiot, the word seems to carry some subtle aura of transcendence.  Spoken with a certain intonation, the word “dude” is an expression of awe, and the indelible character of The Dude in The Big Lebowski has some of the same blessed qualities of the holy fool as Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.   “The Dude abides.”

Ship, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Pictorial marginalia and abstract designs made while other parts of the mind are otherwise engaged have probably always been a part of the human behavioral repertory, but the verb “to doodle” in its contemporary meaning may originate in the 1936 Frank Capra movie Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, staring Gary Cooper.  The screenplay is written by Robert Riskin in snappy American vernacular poetry.  In the film, Mr. Deeds defines doodling as an activity that facilitates thinking.

Incantation, 2010, doodle by Fred Hatt

When I was in high school the instruction usually seemed to be paced for the slowest students in the class, and I doodled because the activity soothed my boredom and frustration.  I went to a good university where the level and speed of the ideas being presented was considerably higher, enough to keep even my quicksilver mind thoroughly engaged, but by that time my habit of doodling in class was set, and so I generally doodled rather than, or in addition to, taking notes.  This habit did no apparent harm to my learning; in fact, I believe it enhanced it.

Predicament, 2010, doodle by Fred Hatt

New research backs up this conclusion.  Doodling seems to improve recall and help keep the mind focused.  I tend to doodle while doing things that involve sustained listening with minimal visual or kinesthetic involvement: long phone calls, for instance, or listening to “This American Life” on the radio.  Doodling isn’t the only activity that works this way.  Some people like knitting or whittling.  For me, distance driving is a nearly perfect accompaniment to listening.  But doodling adds a creative element that is more satisfying.  It engages the part of the mind that wants to move and see, while not distracting the part of the mind that listens, understands, and cogitates.

Terse, 2010, doodle by Fred Hatt

Texting and web-surfing are genuinely distracting, because they engage not the visual and kinesthetic mind, but the verbal and discursive mind, the part that needs to be kept present during a lecture or meeting or conversation.  Having done both, I can attest that doodling helps focus while Googling dissipates focus.  I think the transition from paper notebooks to electronic notebooks in the classroom is bound to diminish the school experience.

Splat, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Last year I saw a retrospective exhibit of Charles E. Burchfield, a painter close to my own spirit.  The exhibit featured a significant collection of Burchfield’s doodles, often made on telephone memo pads or the score sheets for card games.  I don’t recall seeing such casual doodles being featured in a major art exhibit before that, but they were a revealing part of the collection, showing the artist’s obsessive exploration of the visual motifs he used to express the intangible and ineffable aspects of Nature.

Upthrust, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Since seeing Burchfield’s show, I’ve found my own doodles have become more intense, actually interesting for me to look at after the occasion of their making has passed.  Doodles are a way of making patterns by allowing the hand to move freely in response to subtle impulses.  Thus, doodling is a practice of feeling the movements of the life force and manifesting them in line.

Arbre, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Life force may seem a mystical concept.  On a certain philosophical level, it is the Tao, the mover of all things.  But it can also be understood in its most direct bodily manifestations, as the movement of the breath, the flow of blood, the nerve impulses, the direction of growth, and the response of the organism to move towards certain things and away from others.  All of these are things we can directly feel and express through bodily movement.

Folia, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

A sensitivity to these different qualities of movement, thrusting and bending, rushing and meandering, the ever-changing weather of emotions and the slow and indomitable determination to grow, gives life to the lines.

Clown, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

You don’t need to dedicate your life to art, as I have, to benefit from doodling, or to take doodling more seriously.  Just doodle in your own way, but rather than thinking of it as a compulsive response to extreme boredom, as the pacing of the caged, view it as the movement of the mind making connections.  Sometimes the different parts of the mind are most unified when they are separately engaged.  Above all, choose doodling when it is appropriate.  If you are sitting in a meeting, or listening to a lecture or sermon, or letting someone tell you the story of their life, and if you feel your attention flagging, don’t check your weather widget or BoingBoing – Doodle instead!

Crown, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Most of the doodles shown in this post were made on regular letter-size paper, sometimes folded in half, using Tombow brush-markers.

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