Sunday, 30 August 2015

Miniature-making and neuroscience

A lot has been said about how brain laterality affects creativity, but I have never seen it applied to miniature-making. It has just struck me how the two cerebral hemispheres collaborate when we are making mini-objects or planning a large project, and whether a miniaturist's general hemisphere dominance may govern the kind of projects we get involved in.

I don't pretend to know much about neuroscience, but I have read several books on brain laterality and the arts. In short, the right hemisphere is emotional, while the left is rational; the right is concrete, while the left is abstract; the right sees the whole in a context, while the left attends to details out of context; the right explores, while the left categorises; the right prioritises novelty, change, plurality and ambiguity, while the left prefers to keep to what it already knows. Iain McGilchrist suggests in his wonderful book The Master and His Emissary that the left hemisphere accumulates knowledge, while the right generates wisdom. Both are equally important in our perception of the world, yet each perceives the world differently, and we need to combine their views.

How is this relevant to miniature-making? For instance, we are obviously passionate about our work and connect to it emotionally. Yet we know, thanks to the rational left hemisphere, that our dollhouses, room boxes and scenes are not real, that they are models. The left hemisphere is very good at calculating numbers precisely, such as understanding what 1:12 scale means; but it has no idea of the implication, while the right hemisphere intuitively feels that an object is out of scale. The left hemisphere focuses on the surface, while the right focuses on depth. Isn't it fascinating? It means that the right hemisphere encourages us to work with three-dimensional projects.

The left hemisphere categorises objects into beds, tables, chairs, lights and dolls. But is does not see the whole picture, does not understand how tables, chairs and dolls relate to each other, how they create a scene or how several rooms relate to each other in a dollhouse. The left hemisphere sees them separately. Does it mean that the left hemisphere is happier with making room boxes? 

The left hemisphere recognises a table, but it doesn't really care whether the table is Tudor, Georgian, Victorian or modern. It would not notice a mixture of incompatible styles. The right hemisphere would cringe. I guess that by developing our sense of style we stimulate the right hemisphere and perhaps suppress the left hemisphere a bit.

The left hemisphere does not like anything new and unfamiliar. If we listened to it we would just make the same things over and over again. Perhaps collectors are more left-hemisphere people because they want things that they have already seen: in a catalogue, on the web or in other people's dollhouses. The makers, especially the recyclers, are right-hemisphere people: they like to make new things, invent things, find surprising solutions, use found objects, make things over. It's the right hemisphere's doing that a dollhouse project is never finished, that we always want to change, to add, to experiment. It prefers the original, the unique. However, without the left hemisphere, we would never be able to learn from our mistakes! It is the left hemisphere that allows us to focus on minute details, but it is the right hemisphere that spots a door knob in a heap of rubbish. 

The right hemisphere finds pleasure in our tactile contact with wood, fabric, clay or paint. The left hemisphere is satisfied with a clever solution that demands a lot of thinking. But it will insist on the same solution next time rather than trying something new, while the right hemisphere immediately sees an array of alternatives. It finds no joy in making the same things twice. The left hemisphere want to be in control. The right is fine with trial and error. It is perfectly fine with changing plans.

Perhaps the most interesting trait, where the healthy competition between the hemispheres makes our hobby possible at all, is that the left hemisphere is optimistic, but unrealistic about its limitations, while the right hemisphere is pessimistic, but more realistic. So when we start on a grand project, the left hemisphere shouts: We can do it, we can do it! while the right whispers: Well, maybe you can do it, but it will take time and effort. 

 This image is from the web. There are hundreds of similar images, Don't take them too seriously: it is much, much more complicated 


  1. I've never considered my hobby in this light before. Very interesting and informative, thank you.

  2. No, I haven't either until now, but this is a combination of my professional interests and my miniature passion