Yesterday, Chris Malmberg sat down in the audio room to interview Nick Sousanis for the iTeach Podcast. I got to sit in, and I talked a bit, too. (I’m not going to talk here about the meat of the conversation because that should be saved for the actual podcast, which is scheduled to air on December 24th.)
We talked a lot about the power of using images to expand the way we think. For more background on Nick, listen to the first iTeach Podcast and, more importantly, look at Nick’s blog, Spin, Weave, and Cut. We talked and talked, and we had time to cover about 5% of the things I’d been thinking about. I left the audio room after the interview thinking, “Wow, I have a lot to write about in my blog now.” And I realized I wasn’t committing fully to this idea of using image as inquiry, and I decided to create a comic in response to the interview. (And a healthy amount of text.)
The comic is above, my own version of one of the assignments Nick Sousanis gives to his graduate students, the “Shape of my Day” assignment. I decided to reflect on the day of the podcast interview as a whole. I realized the day began and ended with a persimmon, and that the shape of my day changed halfway through when I sat down to start drawing it. My thinking changed, my sense of reflection changed, and therefore the way I knew the day changed. That was most evident to me in thinking about the persimmon. Sitting down with pencil and paper, I made the decision to start the drawing with a persimmon. I did a Google image search so I could draw a fair representation of the fruit, so of course I saw the Wikipedia entry and learned all kinds of things about persimmons. They ring so exotic and old-fashioned to me. Allan, our IT guy, was eating one like an apple that morning, holding it in one hand while setting up the podcast equipment with the other. He said it was his favorite fruit, and I didn’t think about that comment again until I sat down to draw. I thought about my favorite fruit, apples, and the image that comes to my mind every time I think of apples as my favorite – I think of fall in rural Pennsylvania, driving to the sprawling orchard with my parents, back when apple trees were still big and tall and we had to get ladders. Other stuff that I won’t go into here. I ended up thinking about how persimmons became Allan’s favorite – did he get an image in his head of a time or place when he told me that?
The act of communicating through drawings brings up such a different kind of thinking and reflecting. The night before the interview, I had the Botany of Desire documentary playing in the background while I did other things. I looked up occasionally, mostly during the bits about apples and potatoes, and for one portion during the discussion of marijuana. The narrator mentions the value of the human mind to forget, or at least filter, the visual information with which we’re bombarded every day. What if we remembered every single face we saw on the subway this morning? (Or every hair on the moose that blocked my way out the driveway this morning) We’d be overwhelmed with information that, at the moment, is useless. We don’t forget it all, though – when we recreate a moment by attempting to draw it, in either an abstract or representational style, our brain draws forth some of those images that were defocused in the moment. The bent branch on the diamond willow had finally fallen off completely, my neighbors strung Christmas lights on their porch, the moose had a scar on her muzzle – those are all elements I could call forth when I attempted to recall the moment visually. They all mean another way of knowing that moment.
I’m going to talk more about this as it relates to education, particularly the class I’m designing for the Spring, next week.
One final thought I want to add: one page of drawing takes so much longer than one page of text, for me. And I didn’t even edit or revise this one page: I know the layout could be more sensible, the writing is weird and uneven, there’s an absolute non sequiter between the first 2/3 of the page and final 1/3 of the page, I gave too much space to elements that weren’t that important to the page, Nick Sousanis doesn’t actually look like a 14 year old boy, etc. And it still took me a few hours.