There are two aspects of metacognition: 1) reflection—thinking about what we know; and 2) self-regulation—managing how we go about learning. Taken together, these processes make up an important aspect of learning and development. Developing these metacognitive abilities is not simply about becoming reflective learners, but about acquiring specific learning strategies as well. (https://www.learner.org)
I follow a similar approach when making art. I find that I must think about my process even when not actively, or perhaps I should say physically engaged in creating. I find that I even dream about creating art. (More about that and the use of lucid dreams later...)
Research has shown that one of the key traits good problem-solvers possess is highly developed metacognitive skills. They know how to recognize flaws or gaps in their own thinking, articulate their thought processes, and revise their efforts (Brown, Bransford, Ferrara, & Campione, 1983). As I recently mentioned, I usually think of creativity as solving a series of self-imposed problems, so this idea appeals to me greatly.
Sometimes people use the phrase “going meta” when talking about metacognition, referring to the process of stepping back to see what you are doing, as if you were someone else observing it. “Going meta”means becoming an audience for your own performance—in this case, your own intellectual performance.
Typically, we do not know what we are doing when we do it, but it is very hard to improve a process that we are engaged in if we do not have a sense of what we are doing in the moment. Even a skilled professional ballet dancer relies on mirrors to help him understand what he looks like and what he is doing as he dances. He has to be able to see his performance as others might see it before he can begin to improve it. The ability to view our own performance is particularly useful when we learn physical skills. However, cognitive work is often invisible and cannot be directly observed. (https://www.learner.org)
Metacognition is most commonly broken down into two distinct but interrelated areas. John Flavell, one of the first researchers in metacognition and memory, defined these two areas as metacognitive knowledge—awareness of one’s thinking—and metacognitive regulation—the ability to manage one’s own thinking processes. These two components are used together to inform learning theory.
The Shapiro novel I recently read revolved around the 1930s-40s art movement referred to as Abstract Expressionism. It referenced the work of Rothko, Pollock, Krasner, de Kooning, and others. It is often described as the first truly American art movement. The fictional artist named Benoit is a pivotal part of this movement in the novel. It made me start thinking about what it would be like to actually start a new kind of art. To go off on such a tangent that the world would recognize that you made something entirely new.
Of course, the idea itself is a complicated one. The chart below offers a broad description of art history. (Click on it to see a larger version.)
For example, I am currently working on a portrait of Felix Lenz wherein I was influenced by a classical painting by an unknown artist. I replaced the subject of the painting with Felix in an attempt to show that even though he is an extremely innovative thinker, much of what he is doing today is built upon the various schools of thought and his metacognition with regard to these influences. Below is first the inspiration painting and secondly my rendition, still obviously very much a work in progress.
But back to thinking about thinking...
As a self-taught artist, I usually find myself at a point in each project where I am frustrated. This is when I turn to meta-cognition, particularly the "regulation" aspect of it. Research shows that good metacognitive thinkers are able to redirect the normal frustration that occurs when things are confusing or are not initially productive, into deeper learning and coping strategies.
Ann Brown describes three ways we direct our own learning:
• Planning approaches to tasks—identifying the problem, choosing strategies, organizing our thoughts, and predicting outcomes;
• Monitoring activities during learning—testing, revising, and evaluating the effectiveness of our strategies; and
• Checking outcomes—evaluating the outcomes against specific criteria of efficiency and effectiveness. (https://www.learner.org)
I have discovered that these are all great ways to improve not just my thinking, but also my writing and my art. For example, I note that portrait does not look exactly like Felix, so I turn the painting and a photo of Felix upside down and place them side by side for easy reference as I paint. This is a common strategy used by artists and is described fully in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.
In her revised version of the aforementioned book, Edwards writes, “As a number of scientists have noted, research on the human brain is complicated by the fact that the brain is struggling to understand itself. This three-pound organ is perhaps the only bit of matter in the universe—at least as far as we know—that is observing itself, wondering about itself, trying to analyze itself, and attempting to gain better control of its own capabilities.”
Keep in mind that "metacognitive learning is supported by a culture that encourages and recognizes the importance of revision." (https://www.learner.org) Think about this statement for a moment, metacognitively... Think about the impact on the process of writing and making art if one knows going into it that revision will be part of that process. For me, that helps eliminate the fear of making mistakes. I encourages self-assessing, self-directing, and even more importantly, self-questioning. It makes me realize that if I want to come up with a new movement in art, this is what it will take: using everything within me, experimenting with it, thinking about it, redirecting it, revising it!!!
I will close today with this:
"Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking." Marcus Aurelius