May 032008

In this chapter we will discuss what brainstorming means, some methods and tools and then focus on brainstorming on painting. First here are a few links to websites that offer information on brainstorming (and from which I borrowed some expertise):


Guide to Brainstorming

So What Is Brainstorming?

Brainstorming means artificially triggering a very real storm of ideas inside your brain. We start because we want to, but we continue because we can’t stop — the process resembles a chain reaction, which once has been set into motion, would cease only after exhausting all available matter, in our case the subject matter of the painting at hand.

Like an atomic explosion, brainstorming may produce megatons of notes and ideas in a very short period of time. All you need is a pen and a piece of paper (or a keyboard and a computer screen) to generate raw material, all or some of which may turn out to be useful in the following careful analysis.

Brainstorming is always about something. In our case, it is about a work of art. In a way, having a definite and known object to write about is a privilege; add to that the subject of the paper that you need to submit, and you have several natural boundaries that will help to keep you focused.

Prepare Carefully and Set a Time Limit

What we are trying to achieve here is to find some sort of a solid framework to tame the chaotic flow of thoughts which becomes unleashed when we start brainstorming. Think of it that way: the inside working of your mind are unknown even to us, but we can prepare for them, and be ready for them when the material starts to flow outside, on to the surface.

This may seem a little paradoxical, but in it fact makes all the sense in the world. If you are dealing with something unexpected and unpredictable, you always prepare the best way you can. If what the movies say is true, that’s what the government does in their programs for alien invasion. But this is worst case scenarios — in our case, the worst case is, in fact, the best. We like alien; we want alien.

Too many stories are being told about wasted opportunities. For instance how many oil wells have been closed down for inefficiency only because the owner could not collect everything that poured out of them. In other words, you want to be ready. There is no guarantee that you won’t surprise yourself (in a good way), but at least you will have some tools to record everything.

  • Clean the space around you, sit (or lie) comfortably
  • Make a good working pen (and a spare) available
  • Stretch a little, wash your face, shake your head: inaugurate the process with a physical act
  • Put the watch in front of you; Set a time limit, usually ten minutes is enough

How to Address the Image

It is very important that you decide whether you prefer to look at the image continuously throughout the session or would rather have a long look and then remove the image and work with the painting locked in your mind.

The advantages of the first method are quite obvious. The image is right there in front of you. When stuck, you will be able to shift from one area to another, you will have the ability to rotate it, cover some parts of it, isolate others. Seeing the piece gives you flexibility and allows for a whole range of supporting actions.

The principal disadvantage is that you may become distracted by the painting. This is another paradox: the same object that actually is the center of your attention may interfere with the process of brainstorming about it. What might happen is that you would “regress” to a regular viewing. Brainstorming is supposed to be a very intense, short-lived activity. Once again, ideas need to flow from the inside; having the painting in front of you may tempt you to respond to it superficially and simply write down what you see — this is both time consuming and it deals too much with the outside material. And this undermines the whole exercise.

The advantages of the second method are less evident, yet may be just as powerful. Many people, when imprinting an image in their memory, do it automatically by singling out features that seem most important to them. It so happens that these features are also the ones you will be writing about, they are the first words that will cover the pristine surface of your paper or screen. So in a way, you would have the benefit of knowing exactly where to begin.

The main disadvantage is that the image gradually becomes distorted in our mind, and the stamp it leaves there might be slowly washed away, like a footprint on a sandy beach. That is another reason for the time limit: to optimally use short-term memory while the imprint is still fresh.

So why is it so important? Because it is the first session that is the most fruitful and the most effective — the first experience is usually the most memorable and fresh — this is how our minds work. Fortunately, there is a way out of this conundrum: all you need to do is practice a couple of times. Brainstorm about several paintings using both methods, compare the yields and derive the necessary conclusions. Some, who possess photographic memory will have easier time making a choice.

Stay tuned for Brainstorming Part 2!

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