Barry, Lynda. Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor. (1)

Barry, Lynda. Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor. Montreal, Drawn & Quarterly, 2015.


In this collage/course reflection/thought collection, Barry shares her experience as artist-in-residence at UW-Madison. To summarize is difficult. Barry captures force and essence in her compilation of syllabi, student work, and personal musings. The artwork is as compelling as the text as she draws and teaches her way into an interdisciplinary venture into creative invention, often just “to see what happens.” I realize that this summary sounds sales-pitchy, but this book is so precisely what I needed to read that I am still processing both the content and the wonder. Perhaps I will revisit this for a more appropriate gist.

Keywords: creativity, teaching, drawing, writing, image, modulation, brain


  • By image I don’t mean a visual representation. I mean something that is more like a ghost than a picture; something that seems somehow alive, has no fixed meaning and is contained and transported by something that is not alive (15).
  • “Writing the Unthinkable.” Draw a car, even if you don’t know how, to see what happens (26).
  • ‘In reality, we are a composite of two hemispheres … they work together most of the time at the everyday level. But … it becomes apparent that they each instantiate a way of being in the world that is at conflict with the other’ [McGilchrist] (50).
  • ‘What do I mean by modulation? A process that resists, but does not negate. It is best thought of as the imposition of necessary distance, or delay, enabling something new to come forward’ (50).
  • My hope is that they see the extraordinary result of doing something as ordinary as drawing a 2-minute self-portrait on an index card twice a week (57).
  • What goes into your diary are the things you noticed when you became present (61).
  • I realize now that the best results came when I gave no instructions except “spend time on the assignment” (89).


  • Protagonist, Jessica Yu
  • The original Bad News Bears (starring Walter Matthau)
  •  Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story, Jamie Meltzer
  • Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice, Ivan Brunetti
  • The Master and his Emissary, Ian McGilchrist


  • Might the spiraling activity (77) function well as an introduction to a contemplative questioning activity? (Will try this tomorrow!)
  • Wanting to make a Barry-inspired comp book as fuel/fodder for felt optics study.

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