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The Astonishing Power of the Right Brain


Mostly everyone spends all day in left-brain land. This logical side helps you figure out math problems, decide if it’s safe to cross the street, or recall how to perform CPR. It’s the part of your brain that’s loaded up with facts, talks to you nonstop, and the one that, seemingly, has all the answers.

But what if your problem … especially if you’re a teen … is so hard to face or so bewildering that it’s shut you down? The right brain is a miracle-worker. It never talks to you on a conscious level, but it’s filled with ideas and intuition and, as it works, it gives perspective and creates expression.

Liberty Bank grantee Hygienic Art, Inc. has used this power for ten years to teach poetry and photography to low-income students, grades 7 to 9, to help them confront alienation, cruelty, abandonment and death—and, in the process, develop skills beyond their years.

Right now, the left side of your brain is saying, “oh, please,” but that’s the beauty of the right brain … it’s deep, dark, and mysterious and takes you places the left brain never considers. Don’t believe it? Check the results. Those participating in the Hygienic Art program improve school attendance and test scores, as well as acquire social and conflict-resolution skills.

A trip to the studio for its annual poetry and photography show allows the public to meet the artists. What’s noticeable right away? These students speak comfortably with adults, are candid and articulate about what they’ve been through, and are excited about their creations.

D’s poem starts: “I may look like a monster,” but goes on to ask “but have you ever stopped to think of the ripple effect you set in motion causing a commotion that shows no sign of slowing of hate and negativity about this monster.” A deep-down expression, yet D stands beside his work with a look of pride and hope and a smile.

O’s poem reads in part: “Dear darling, please don’t call me beautiful, when it’s my only wish. Please don’t leave my broken soul with one meaningless kiss. A kiss you won’t come to miss.” A, her classmate, is earnest and honest and proud of how she helped a friend who was being abused. She’s also determined to be an artist.

J’s poem talks about honesty: Silence is better than b….., I thought as the lamp post behind him lit his face up like an interrogation room in one of the old movies. So we just sat there in silence with the creek of the rocking chair, as the smoke swam out.” J wears her heart on her sleeve, but that doesn’t stop her from being completely forthright about her situation, or glowing when it’s her turn to have her picture taken.

Then, there’s M. Her photograph was voted best by all the students in the class and hangs in a place of honor. She’s quiet, but when she smiles, the full force of the sun beams down on you.

None of these very professional works of art are born fully formed. Two teachers – a writer and a photographer — work with the students twice a week to get their right brains flowing and to refine their work.

So, all you left-brain devotees out there, never underestimate the right brain’s ability to help you to find meaning and grow as a person. Close your eyes, clear your mind, and take a dive into the unknown. You’ll be surprised that what surfaces is refreshing and comforting.