Change perspective, widen perception, improve performance – more lessons from a drawing class!

My final drawing class had arrived and after two and a half hours of intense concentration we stood there collectively surveying our masterpieces.  All of us had been tasked with drawing the same collection of objects and what a brilliant array of style, focus and intensity was on display in front of us.  Each picture was different and the teacher acknowledged this enthusiastically stating this was no wonder as

“drawing is an extension of yourself” – honestly, it sent a shiver down my back!

That one statement and the pictures on the wall illustrated how unique we all are and just how differently each one of us experiences the world.

Let’s consider this in a bit more detail – what does it mean?

How we perceive and represent the world around us is not an accurate account of what is there.  First of all it is distorted by the fact that we cannot process all the data that is available to us at any one time. Secondly, the limited data that we do absorb and the interpretation we make of that data is a reflection of who we are and how we are in that moment.

The good news is that how we see things is fluid not fixed. I often find myself working with a client to recover missing information, look at things from different perspectives and develop flexibility in ways of seeing their world.  This unsticks the sticking points, clears away unhelpful thinking and opens up a way forward that was previously proving difficult to find.

So if you are stuck, overwhelmed or just want to be a bit more creative, here are some hints from an art class that might be helpful.

Our ability to process information is influenced by the state that we are in

For example anxiety is not a good place to gain perspective, our ability to absorb and process information becomes limited.

What is called for is a change of state and that is exactly what we did.  As tension filled the room when we realised the size of the task before us – the class did the artistic equivalent of star-jumps – we warmed up on another sheet of paper. Playing with the charcoal we relaxed into considering how we could map out the various features of the composition in front of us.

If you are “in a bit of a state” find a better state to be in and you’ll get a new perspective!

Our environment and the position we take influences the range of information that is available to us

I walked around the table looking for what I thought might be a good (easier) angle.

Here I was trying to make sense of what I could see – I couldn’t get any perspective, the various objects seemed to be moving and it was far too complex.

It took time to get the outline, understand the relationship of one thing to another, the size, the shape, the angle, squinting to see which side of a line was lighter/darker – looking for detail that I had overlooked or distorted.  Finally I worked out that when I changed the proportions of one item in relation to everything else it all came together.

Looking at a situation from different angles gives us access to new perspectives and information.  This in turn influences our perception and interpretation.

We filter the information that is available to us

Our attention is drawn to things that fit with our experience of life, our preferences, our values and beliefs (to name just a few things) – anything else will tend to be lost to us through the filtering process.

The process was one of trial and error, frequent pauses to stop and consider what we had achieved from a distance, to have a look at each other’s work and to be open to new ideas and ways of adjusting our own approach.

Being aware of your own filters, your beliefs and values can enable you to make adjustments that get you back on course.

Gaining perspective – in summary:

  1. Do something different – go for a walk, bake a cake, get your sketch pad out – give it time and then check out how you feel about things.
  2. Consider how else could you see this? Look at it from a few different angles – imagine in your mind’s eye how other people might see it – a friend, someone completely detached from the situation (an objective observer).
  3. What information might you be missing because of your tendency to focus on certain ways of seeing or interpreting things? Are there any assumptions you are making that you need to check out? Could you get a feel for the bigger picture or fill in some of the detail (See my previous blog ‘Can’t see the Wood for the Trees?’).

Gaining a new perspective gives us access to information we might not have seen before.  This in turn can influence our perception of a situation.  It enables us to be responsive to the world around us and to make better decisions.  Most importantly it ensures that we can be resilient in the face of stress and that we don’t snap under the pressure of inflexible thinking.

I did my art class at the Newcastle Arts Centre with the wonderful Jenny Purrett (see jennypurrett.co.uk)