Join Cartoonist Lynda Barry for a University-Level Course on Doodling and Neuroscience


Car­toon­ist Lyn­da Bar­ry, who has helped legions of adults grope their way back to the unself­con­scious cre­ativ­i­ty of child­hood, is teach­ing at the uni­ver­si­ty lev­el. Bar­ry’s Unthink­able Mind course is designed to appeal to stu­dents of the human­i­ties.  Also hard­core sci­ence majors, the sort of lab-coat­ed spec­i­mens the first group might refer to as “brains.” The instruc­tor describes her Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin spring semes­ter offer­ing thus:

A writ­ing and pic­ture-mak­ing class with focus on the basic phys­i­cal struc­ture of the brain with empha­sis on hemi­spher­ic dif­fer­ences and a par­tic­u­lar sort of insight and cre­ative con­cen­tra­tion that seems to come about when we are using our hands (the orig­i­nal dig­i­tal devices) —to help us fig­ure out a prob­lem.

The twen­ty-one grads and under­grads accept­ed into Pro­fes­sor Bar­ry’s course have been warned, via the illus­trat­ed let­ter above,  hand­writ­ten on legal paper, that the work­load will be heavy.


You should be warned as well, if you elect to audit this course from home. Enroll­ment is not nec­es­sary. Pro­fes­sor Bar­ry will be post­ing her week­ly assign­ments and cur­ricu­lum mate­ri­als on her tum­blr, a forum where her abid­ing inter­est in sci­ence is as appar­ent as her devo­tion to undi­rect­ed doo­dling. Your first assign­ment, post­ed above, requires a box of crayons, the col­or­ing pages of your choice, down­loaded to four types of paper, and a sig­nif­i­cant chunk of time set aside for brain-relat­ed arti­cles and vin­tage videos star­ring Cog­ni­tive Neu­ro­sci­en­tist Michael Gaz­zani­ga and astronomer Carl Sagan. You should also be com­mit­ted to keep­ing a four-minute diary and serv­ing as your own guinea pig.

Who’s in?

A big H/T @kirstinbutler

Relat­ed Con­tent

Car­toon­ist Kate Beat­on Plays on Lit­er­ary Clas­sics — The Great Gats­by, Julius Cae­sar & More

Steven Pinker Explains the Neu­ro­science of Swear­ing (NSFW)

Carl Sagan’s Under­grad Read­ing List: From Pla­to and Shake­speare, to Hux­ley and Gide

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day ‘s most recent book is Peanut.

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Comments (24)
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  • This sounds like a course I will actu­al­ly stick with even though tak­ing it solo.

  • Tom Wuthrich says:

    I haven’t touched a cray­on in decades. But read­ing this piece about Ms. Bar­ry’s course caused me wax nos­tal­gic. I bet no one cuts this class.

  • Donna Omo says:

    This sounds like great fun. I’ve doo­dled in the mar­gins (and some­times all over the pages) of every note­book in almost every class I’ve ever tak­en. I’m prob­a­bly one of the few col­lege-lev­el instruc­tors who active­ly encour­aged her stu­dents to do the same. I’ve sus­pect­ed my per­son­al the­o­ry on the sub­ject had good sci­en­tif­ic back­ing, but I’ve nev­er explored it ful­ly.
    I’m in.

  • Jari Thymian says:

    I want to see what doo­dling does when com­bined with my writing/poetry. This course smells of crayons and piles of paper. I’m in.

  • Sheryl says:

    I have degees in Art, Chem­istry and Neu­rophar­ma­col­o­gy. @Donna Omo — When I was an assis­tant chem­istry teacher for the Upward Bound pro­gram, I encour­aged my stu­dents to doo­dle. Keep your pen mov­ing.

    I love fin­ger paints and crayons.

    I think the course will be a chal­lenge if you don’t actu­al­ly meet in a class­room.

  • OJ says:

    I have to doo­dle to con­cen­trate if I’m lis­ten­ing to some­one but not inter­act­ing (eg its a lec­ture not a dis­cus­sion). If i dont occu­py that bit of my brain which con­trols my doo­dles my mind wan­ders off almost instant­ly.

  • I will do this! I know from my own expe­ri­ence what a gear wrench it is to change occu­pa­tions from one dis­ci­pline to anoth­er…

  • Ann Ohman says:

    I have always been a com­pul­sive doo­dler, espe­cial­ly when talk­ing on the phone when I go into an uncon­trolled state and any piece of paper no mat­ter how valu­able is like­ly to con­tain shapes that turn into schools of fish or oth­er crit­ters. I keep my birth cer­tifi­cate in a spe­cial place so it is safe from my pen. I’ve decid­ed to make a pho­to­copy of it and make it one of my papers and it may be the first page of the rest of my life sto­ry.

  • what a fun class! I wish I could attend. I’ve long been a pro­po­nent of col­or­ing and espe­cial­ly encour­ag­ing grown-ups to col­or.

  • I have suc­cess­ful­ly doo­dled my way through 2 spir­i­tu­al­ly rich, med­ical adven­tures through breast can­cer. It’s a pow­er­ful tool — an opened-eye med­i­ta­tion that can teach you about the heal­ing pow­er of let­ting go of the end result — the unknown future- and stay focused in the “Now” moment in time.

  • Noel Derecki says:

    Aside from my knee-jerk irri­ta­tion at any and every­one from psy­chol­o­gist to kinder­garten teacher rela­bel­ing them­selves a neu­ro­sci­en­tist (I am an actu­al neu­ro­sci­en­tist, study­ing actu­al neu­rons and what they actu­al­ly phys­i­cal­ly do, with an actu­al PhD in neu­ro­science) this looks to be a fan­tas­tic class.

    There. I’ve purged. :)

  • Elizabeth Brooks says:

    I love the idea of this class. I have doo­dled my way through many things includ­ing my own ther­a­py and I find it to be a pow­er­ful tool. I work with adults in sub­stance abuse treat­ment and encour­age them to doo­dle dur­ing class. Look­ing for­ward to this. :)

  • Juannie says:

    Although I have been fol­low­ing the course from home, there are a lot of things that I don’t know what she is talk­ing about, such as house on fire, draw a car, oth­er peo­ple’s hous­es. I guess these things are assigned or pre­sent­ed dur­ing the class, that we can’t par­tic­i­pate in by just view­ing the tumbler.…sigh.…I LOVE Pro­fes­sor Lyn­da & have admired her work since the ’80’s. Maybe some­one can post the in-class work briefly so we home folks can under­stand what’s going on. Thank you!!

  • Christopher Elliot says:

    Heard your inter­view with Neil Cohen and was awash with cre­ative ques­tions and answers…I teach art to delin­quant kids in France and I find the key to get­ting them moti­vat­ed is my own invest­ment in creation…at the end of the eight day ate­lier I’m exaust­ed but exhil­a­rat­ed! It’s a high…when it works. Prof Lin­da’s ati­tude and overview is like a breath of pure O2!!!

  • patricia chandrashekhar says:

    would love to join this course on Doo­dling and Neu­ro­science. Is there a class start­ing in 2014?

  • Linda G. says:

    I have always wished that I had been born at artist. How­ev­er, I can’t draw to save my life. I some­times doo­dle when I’m on an impor­tant phone call. I only draw tri­an­gles and squares. Some­times pro­files or just cat’s eyes nose, whiskers, and ears. They’re very sim­ple. I won­der if it helps to con­cen­trate.
    Thanks, this has been quite insight­ful and inter­est­ing.

  • Cheryl Chastain says:

    I love to col­or. Lyn­da Bar­ry is a Hero­ine.

  • Peter O'Hearn says:

    Our pub­lic schools should be using her ideas in the cur­ricu­lum.

  • Karen Gratch says:

    Is this a 2013 class, or is it offered now?
    If so, how?

    Karen Gratch

  • pat hagedorn says:

    how do i do this course?

  • marj says:

    sounds like fun — how do we sign up

  • Meg says:

    Hel­lo. I was going to say, par­don the Old Lady ques­tion, but I’m glad to see some oth­ers are ask­ing the same. How do I sign up for this, please? Thank you.

  • jill donovan maio says:

    I would love to know how this course went, and would Lyn­da Bar­ry do it again?? I would love to take the class.

  • caz says:

    Please, plz, PLEASE, p l e a s e, (puh)(leez), p‑lease, esaelP, PlEaSe, por favor, *plead­ing sound*, #please, ppppppppppppp­pu­u­u­u­uh­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­h­hh­ll­l­l­l­l­l­l­l­l­l­l­l­l­l­l­l­l­lleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezzzzzzzzzzzzzzz,

    could I have a quick .pdf of the les­son plans if they are avail­able, and if there won’t be anoth­er class?

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