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“Drawing Your Identity” - Prof. Juli Thorson (Ball State University)

General Description

Drawing is a visible representation of our cognitive processes. In Drawing Your Identity, we will use drawing exercises and techniques to develop a complex way of thinking, remembering, and problem solving about notions of personal identity. Philosophers think linearly in terms of one claim following another. Once we have the claims lined up, we usually begin discussing philosophic views via a critique of one link in that linear chain. We will disrupt this linear approach. Ideas connect in an organic fashion and relationships between ideas can be more complex than a unidirectional line. Drawing provides a way to illustrate these complex relations so that the interconnections and
relationships can be seen. Hence a more complex understanding arises. From the complexity of these new relationships, new insights can be generated. Drawing allows complexity to be felt as well as understood.

Anyone who can write has enough dexterity to participate in this course. No advance
drawing skills will be needed. The purpose of the drawings is not a polished piece of artwork to hang on a wall. Rather, it is the process of drawing that is central. Exercises focus attention on ideas, concepts, and the relations among them, and enable new questions to emerge. Short passages of philosophic texts on personal identity from the history of philosophy as well as from contemporary philosophers will be used as the philosophic content. The two goals are developing personal views on identity and developing a set of visual techniques for understanding, insight, and discovery.

This course is risky because the challenge is to think in creative and unusual ways. We will start with simple drawings to convey one idea and build to complexity that allows us to move beyond illustrating what has been said, and move to discovering new insights. The exercises will allow us to represent relationships among ideas and generate insights, finding unanswered questions. Drawing also helps us find answers. By the end of the course, everyone will have drawing techniques to promote their own creative thinking and problem solving that can be used in any context.

Class time

There will be no lectures in this course. Content mastery will occur through discussion and drawing. Every day we will move between discussion and drawing, usually moving between them multiple times. Frequently, you will present your ideas and questions generated by your drawings. We will build on everyone’s ideas as we increase the complexity of our understanding. I will remind everyone that the artistic quality of the drawings doesn’t matter. What matters are the ideas that drawings generate. There will be specific drawing assignments in class designed to push thinking. (See examples below.) The general pattern for each class will be something like one of the following:

  1.  Draw (individually or or in groups); discuss; redraw to illustrate a philosophic view and to develop new insights. 
  2. Discuss to make sure the philosophic view we are considering is well understood; draw to generate new insights or to contrast or synthesize philosophic views.
  3. Draw individually and then work together to create a larger, more insightful drawing with the pooled ideas. Sometimes groups will then discuss drawings, and the insights they generate, with other groups as we seek better, more complex understanding. Sometimes, we will move from group work to whole class discussions.

Philosophic Content and a Brief Daily Schedule

Some questions about personal identity are: Who are you? What are you? What is it to be a person? How much of who and what you are do you decide? Can you change who you are? What changes can you go through and still be you? What is the relationship between who you are the society in which you were raised? Do friendships impact who you are? How does my view on personal identity matter to how I live my life?

Day 1

The beginning exercise is exploratory. It will help each of us put on paper our initial beliefs and assumptions about our own identity. It will also allow each of us to generate questions we want answered.

Days 2-3

We will illustrate views on personal identify from the history of philosophy. We will
consider some of the big names: Descartes, Locke, and Hume. Most importantly, however, we will use these days to generate questions that we think are important, but these philosophers don’t answer.

Days 4-8

We will consider a range of contemporary views on identity. We will also examine views that trouble the very notion of identity and its importance. Some of these views will not directly address identity. Our work will be to reformulate our answers in response.

Day 9

We will attempt to synthesize our group understanding of the nature of personal identity in one big group drawing. We will also take the time for each of us to draw our own personal views and questions.

Day 10

We will develop a catalogue of the drawing techniques we have used and categorize them for use on thinking tasks we will encounter in the future.

Examples of Excercises 

The “What is This Philosopher Saying?” Exercise

The instruction for this exercise is simple: draw what the author of the reading said. Each student will have some time to make their own drawings, and then work in groups to produce one drawing. This exercise and the one below will be initial exercises which will allow us to progress to other exercises that help us move beyond the text.

Using Color for Comprehension

Write the thesis of an argument about personal identity in black lettering on the white
background of the paper. Use a warm color (yellows, oranges, and reds) to write the central argument. Variations of warm colors can be used to highlight the most important steps in the argument. Use cool colors (blues and greens) to write the background concepts, examples, and criticisms. Use very light cool colors for the least important information, and stronger cool colors for more important information. It is permissible to write anywhere on the paper and to use arrows and other devices to illustrate connections.

Philosophic Scrabble

After creating a list of concepts important for personal identity that we have discovered, each student will create three “philosophic tiles” similar to panels in a comic book that presents a claim about personal identity and reasons for it. The job will be to pool all the tiles of all the students in a group and arrange the tiles as in Scrabble to link concepts and bring conceptual order. There is no one right way to arrange the tiles, and many arrangements may make sense of the concepts. Furthermore, there may be no way to arrange all the tiles into a coherent whole. It is the process of trying to make order of the tiles, not the end result, that is valuable for seeing new linkages between

The Philosophic Scroll

On a scroll made of several pieces of paper taped together, one student quickly draws the central claim of the argument under consideration. The next student quickly draws a reason for the claim. Students keep passing the scroll and adding drawings in a way that adds to the argument or begins a critique. As the scroll keeps going around, students can tape additional paper anywhere to make room for tangents, parallel arguments, examples, or anything that strikes them as important. Eventually, multiple students can be working on different parts of the scroll.

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