Doodling as Communication

One of my favorite discoveries since Keith Haring: 1978-1982 opened is how much Haring thought. Journals dating back as far as his middle school years are open for reading both in the galleries and via Tumblr (where the Keith Haring Foundation uploads a new journal page daily), and seeing them them is like being shown a window into his brain as he painstakingly worked out the “visual language” he would use for the rest of his life. More than other shows I’ve seen that feature his work, this one is about his process.

Keith Haring Journal

Page from Keith Haring's journal NB-0 c.1971 (age 13). The Keith Haring Foundation is uploading a page a day to Tumblr.

In the exhibition there is one room towards the back of the gallery set apart as a place to draw, sketch, or doodle. The goal of this room was to allow visitors to think and respond visually to the work on the gallery walls, to experience, in a way, the artist’s process. Haring’s journals are filled not only with words but also with marks familiar to many of us, artists or not: doodles. Doodles often get a bad rap as being signs of distraction, when in fact they are often one of the best sources of creativity. In art school I was once given an assignment to doodle until something good emerged, even if that meant drawing for hours and hours. For most people in my class, the work that came out was some of the most interesting of the term. The symbols that emerge, and reemerge, when you are not trying to make a perfect drawing often tell us a lot about what’s in our heads. Think of doodling as a form of communication, as a conversation between your dreams, your thoughts, and your pencil.

Keith Haring Interactive

Visitors to Keith Haring: 1978–1982 use Boogie Board LCD tablets to doodle.

Keith Haring Interactive

Visitors to Keith Haring: 1978–1982 use Boogie Board LCD tablets to doodle.

Keith Haring Interactive

Visitors to Keith Haring: 1978–1982 use Boogie Board LCD tablets to doodle.

Keith Haring Interactive

Visitors to Keith Haring: 1978–1982 use Boogie Board LCD tablets to doodle.

This past Saturday I went to peek in on the people drawing. The space had a calm yet busy energy; it was quiet despite being filled with people. The drawings on these boards are temporary; they will disappear at the press of a button, so I think it’s more for the experience of drawing than the outcome that visitors spend time in this room. To me, it felt both meditative and really challenging to draw with no specific outcome in mind. I saw moments where drawings stood on their own, the spaces around them blank, and places where drawings came together, touching at points, or spread across many boards at once. I wonder if this is how Haring felt when working; I wonder if his drawings are like records of conversations he had with himself.