Thursday, March 27, 2014

Classes, speaking, and books... oh my!

I'm currently enjoying getting work done on my spring break, and have lots of fun news to report!

1. Classes!

First, I just completed grading the final exams for my very fun course on the "Language of Comics" for UCSD's Linguistics Department. Finals are always a chore to grade (even with my trusty TA), but they were made a lot more fun because they were filled with my theories and had awesome student drawn comics created to illustrate VL theory!

A class like this is pretty much one of a kind at this point, since I'm probably the only one teaching these sorts of classes. So, in order to help encourage and facilitate more classes like this, I've posted the syllabus on my "Resources" page. A direct pdf is available here. If you are looking to start teaching a class of this type, please feel free to contact me about listed readings that aren't published and/or for suggestions about homework assignments and exams.

Next week I start a new class on the "Cognition of Comics" for the UCSD Cognitive Science Department. This class is going to be a lot more research based, and will be based around students doing their own research project related to visual language theory. I'm very excited about it, and I'm looking forward to seeing all the great work they'll no doubt come up with.

2. Appearances!

While I'll be out in Germany to give several workshops in June, much sooner I'll be here in the States giving a talk at WonderCon in Anaheim in a few weeks. I likely won't be at Comic-Con this year due to a conflicting date, so this looks to be my big comic convention appearance of the year. My talk will be on Sunday morning of April 20th, at 11:30. I've got a whole hour where I'll be giving the basic overview of visual language theory and then answering lots of questions. I'll keep posting more info as the date gets closer, but come on out and see my presentation!

3. More books!

Finally, I'm excited to say I just received a contract for my next book! This one will be an edited volume that will act as a companion to The Visual Language of Comics, and can serve as a reader for future classes on visual language (I'll need to post an update to the syllabus when it's out!).

The book will bring together chapters from several world class researchers from various diverse fields who have all investigated some facet of visual narratives with regard to how they are structured, comprehended in cognition, or developed by children. Being able to integrate them into a cohesive volume will provide a great way to make these authors' work known to a broader community, and hopefully help sponsor the growth of this field.

Stay tuned for updates on its development, but I'm hoping for a release in late 2015.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

June workshops in Germany!

I'm excited to announce that I have several upcoming appearances in Germany this June! It looks like I'll be having two main open workshops...

The first will be at the University of Freiburg throughout the day on Saturday, June 21st. I was invited to do this event by Stephan Packard, and it will be sponsored by the Institute for Media Culture Studies.

This workshop will be a compact and content filled introduction to my theories of visual language. I'll cover the basic ideas of this broad architecture, how it connects to other aspects of cognition, and how it can be used in practical analysis of comics and other phenomena. I'll be posting more information about this workshop in the coming weeks as we hammer out a few of the details and a website goes online for it. All are welcome to attend!

Finally, my most extensive stop will be at the University of Bremen, where I'll kick things off on June 23rd with another open workshop stretching throughout the whole day! (EnglishGerman) I was kindly invited here by John Bateman and Janina Wildfeuer for this event hosted by the Bremen Institute for Transmedial Textuality Research.

This workshop will again cover the basics of visual language theory, and will involve hands on discussion of how these principles operate throughout different comics and graphic communication.

As with my workshop in Freiburg, people are welcome to attend from all over. So, if you're in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium or any other place nearby and want to learn about visual language theory, please come out for the workshop! Additional information about the workshop and registration can be found at this website.

Then, on June 25th I'll give an additional talk at the Bremen University lecture series on "Recent Paradigms of Film Studies" (EnglishGerman). This talk will provide an overview my theory of "narrative grammar," what the research on behavior and the brain can tell us about comprehending sequential images, and how these structures apply beyond static visual sequences like those in comics, but also to film, and verbal discourse.

I am very excited about these upcoming events, and to have the opportunity to share my work with so many diverse people. I'll be posting reminders and more information as the dates get closer, but if you're interested, please come to the workshops!

Friday, March 07, 2014

New article: Framing "I can't draw"

I'm happy to say that I have a new article (pdf) published in the journal Culture & Psychology! This one continues with my theories about how people learn how to draw.

In my previous article (pdf), I argued that drawings were structured like languages, and that learning how to draw involves learning a "visual vocabulary" from an external system. I also argued that the reason people feel that they "can't draw" is because they do not sufficiently have exposure and practice with these visual languages, and thus don't learn how to draw with "fluency" before the end of a critical learning period.

This new paper pushes this idea even further, and proposes that people's ability to draw is actually hurt by the way in which our culture thinks about drawings and graphic expression. As I've argued for a long time on this blog (with the tag "Art vs. Language") there is a perspective held about "Art" that pushes people towards drawing in unique and individualistic ways, admonishing imitation as a means of learning. This paper argues that the cultural set of assumptions including these ideas actually inhibits people's ability to learn how to draw.

A pdf of the paper is available here, while the official abstract and information from the publisher is here. Here's the abstract:

Why is it that many people feel that they “can’t draw”? In a recent article Cohn, 2012, I put forth a new theory that compared the cognitive structure of drawing to the cognitive structure of language. Like language, drawing uses schemas that combine in innumerable novel ways, and thus children learning to draw must acquire these schemas from the drawings in their environment. However, while most people in the United States and Europe “can’t draw,” Japanese children have far greater proficiency in drawing. This paper explores reasons for this cultural disparity in graphic fluency originating in the structure of the drawing systems in those respective cultures and the beliefs that frame ideas about drawing and art education. In particular, I explore the intriguing possibility that cultural assumptions admonishing imitation of other people’s drawings prohibits the acquisition of graphic schemas, thereby leading to people feeling that they “can’t draw.”


Cohn, Neil. 2014. Framing “I can’t draw”: The influence of cultural frames on the development of drawing. Culture & Psychology. 20(1): 102-117.