When humans draw things, most of the time the product is something that wouldn't easily be confused with a photograph.
I lifted these prime examples, like a pirate, from the blog Bad Drawings of Famous Musicians.
I used to draw pretty badly myself before I discovered the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain some years ago, and literally became a decent artist in one minute, in a profound moment of enlightenment. I'm not joking. I never finished the book. I didn't have to. In my life, this was one of those game-changing books of quintessence.
Ok, so I'm not DaVinci, but to have gone in one minute from one who draws stick figures to one who draws recognizable likenesses feels like hearing God.
The life-changing insight was this: humans draw badly because they think in symbols. When we see a person's eye, our brain converts it to a symbol in the course of identifying it with the category of "eyes". We strip off data. We generalize. What comes out when we try to draw an eye ends up being pretty hieroglyphic.
So we draw this . . .
as this . . .
Even as you think about the dissimilarity, you're probably still not doing it justice, because your brain is still doing its interpretive thing.
One awesome hack of a solution to the interpretive problem is to divide images up in ways where your brain can't recognize anything that has a match in its hieroglyphics archive. If you're drawing from a photo, you can cover up parts of the photo, leaving a visible square that doesn't look like anything that activates a definition. If you're hard core, you can then obscure things even more by rotating it.
With enough obfuscation, you should get to a place where you can see things as they truly are, and when you draw the lines and fill in the dark and light places as you see them with your unbiased eye, you'll likely produce something that looks a heck of a lot more like reality.
Of course the ultimate goal is to be able to see things as they are without needing to obfuscate. After a while you get to a point where you can just turn your interpretive machinery off. (Warning: this gives you a surprising euphoria if you're not already used to doing it. It feels really good to give that stuff a rest.)
So with this revelation I learned to draw. Yea! Go back to Hacker News now and vote me up.
. . .
. . . Ok. And I may have learned something about living. Why am I typing this. (Hey Megan, I love you.)
The Tao Te Ching was another game-changing book of quintessence for me. Oh God, I know how your interpretive machinery just simplified me.
Taoism contends that people can get trapped in words, concepts, and "isms." When I was a kid I attended to an academic debate on the internet about whether or not the Taoist writer Chuang Tzu had been the world's first anarchist. The consensus that came out of the discussion was that Chuang Tzu would give the finger to anarchism itself because it was too still too much of an "ism," and the word was too much of a commitment.
Concepts can disadvantage us (and benefit us) in some ways because they're imprecise, but they're traps because they're commitments. I've spoken before about how I hate dichotomies like "I'm an intellectual, not a jock." But far more deleterious to our happiness, I think, are concepts like, "She's a bitch." Humans are prone to hieroglyph everything away, even each other, so that just as the hour-long drive from work becomes a single chunked "event" that can hardly be recalled, human souls of richness and complexity get written off, simplified to a few penstrokes, and ultimately never engaged with for what they are.
I've half-wanted to write an anarchistic spiritual manifesto growing from the insights that I gleaned in part from learning to draw faces, but I keep getting hung up on the words. "I can't say 'spiritual'" "'Anarchist' isn't right."
I guess "The Tao that can be told is not the true Tao."
With that in mind, maybe some of you will bear with me.