The art of paying attention

13 min Source: TED Talk
PME All levels


Learn more about why drawing can help us to understand other people better.


We have so much information coming at us; our brains cannot process all of it. Illustrator Wendy MacNaughton argues that much of what we see is based on personal biases, and what we see is not always the entire story. She uses the example of travelling through Utah when she spotted an old ‘Bootmaker’ sign by the side of the road. She stopped, and a tall, handlebar-moustached man wearing a cowboy shirt opened the door. Meanwhile, she said she was standing there as ‘a sketchbook-carrying, jumpsuit-wearing, urban, lefty lesbian’. He invited her in, and she spotted a stuffed cougar on the wall. By this stage, MacNaughton—a vegetarian—thought she knew all she needed to know about Don, the bootmaker—but she was wrong. They ended up spending the whole day together. And, as she drew Don in his workshop, he told her about the deep grief he suffered following the sudden death of his wife and about the hunting trip he was looking forward to going on with his son. By the end of that day, MacNaughton said she and Don seemed very different to one another. And the drawing she did of Don ended up in the New York Times and is proudly displayed on Don’s trophy room wall. Some of MacNaughton’s key points are:

Communication is the key to seeing the real truth.

Drawing slows us down and allows us to pay attention to things that we usually overlook.

Studies show that drawing is one of the most effective ways for kids to process their emotions, including trauma. 

Too often we miss out on the depth and detail of the world and people around us by not looking past what we initially see. 

Transcript available here.