Think With Your Hands
New research suggests that we think with our hands as much as our brains.
Posted August 26, 2014
Artists now fulfil the role once taken by philosophers and priests. Exploring the values and meaning of our culture in schools is now left to the art department. Art is now the main area that develops a child’s ability to question and challenge ideas. Art encourages us to think for ourselves and develop our own ideas. The obsession with memorising information in schools means that character and independent thought are now mainly developed in school art rooms and art colleges.
A few months ago I turned a corner and was confronted by a wide-eyed woman swinging huge naked, lactating breasts that were splashing wide arcs of milk. It was shocking. The woman was a fiberglass sculpture by Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami titled Hiropon. I came across her in an exhibition at Tate Modern, London. Hiropon is a supersized anime sculpture that sold at an auction in 2002 for $427,500. It transformed Murakami into a globally recognized art-world star. Hiropon was simultaneously crude and thought provoking. It made some Tate visitors recoil with disgust and others laugh out loud. Hiropon presents complicated ideas through a rich web of art-historical references, from Renaissance Madonna’s to neon Las Vegas signs. Murakami embodied his creative ideas in the figure which questioned the lines drawn between East and West, past and present, high art and popular culture.
A new view of creative intelligence is taking shape in psychology and the biological sciences. It’s the discovery that thinking doesn't happen in an abstract, disembodied mind. This is known as embodied cognition. “We change our minds by moving our hands,” writes Professor Susan Goldin-Meadow of the Psychology Department of the University of Chicago in a recent issue of the journal Cognitive Science. It’s the recognition that our bodies, and particularly our hands, play a huge role in how we think. Physical acts are a way of working out our thoughts. Psychologists are now recognizing something that artists have intuitively always known, that we think with our hands as much as our brains.
In modern culture, philosophy has become detached and analytical. It’s become a dry subject for a small group of elite academics. For ancient philosophers, body and mind were not disconnected. Plato was a famous wrestler; Socrates the toughest soldier in the Athenian army and Cleanthes the stoic was a boxer. They had to prove that their philosophy was more than just ideas and thoughts. They had to demonstrate their ideas. Wisdom wasn’t only in the mind; it had to be brought into the real world. The main people doing this in our culture are artists. When an artist makes an artwork they are giving life to their ideas. We can literally see them. They are not detached and analytical. There are many people who act without thinking, and others who think without acting. Artists think as they act. An artist doesn’t draw and then think, he draws and thinks at the same time. That is why their ideas have such power.
If you want to formulate new ideas, think with your hands. Make something as you reflect.
Rod Judkins MA RCA is an artist, writer and professional public speaker, delivering talks and workshops that explain the creative process and help individuals and businesses to be more inspired in their lives and work. He is author of the international bestseller, Change Your Mind: 57 Ways to Unlock Your Creative Self.