I've been meaning to post something on doodling for some time now... It's a complex subject, and I have a lot to say, but for today, the results of my on and off thinking on the topic...
According to Wikipedia (lots of interesting reference articles by the way), the word itself first appeared in English in the 17th century, meaning "fool" or simpleton (from the German Dudeltopf or Dudeldop, meaning simpleton or noodle). Yankee Doodle! Nowadays, however, doodles usually mean something you draw "absent-mindedly" while doing something else... although Sunni Brown defines it as "to make spontaneous marks to help yourself think".
Her point of view was reinforced in 2011, when doodling rose to new heights thanks to a study by Jackie Andrade at the University of Plymouth, who showed that when the brain gets bored say in a dull meeting or classroom, it starts activating and desperately searches for something worth thinking about, often tuning out of the real world and escaping into that fascinating inner world we all love to nurture. Luckily, doodling keeps the brain sufficiently occupied to keep it in the here and now and apparently also helps us remember what happened. Some even claim that doodling is good for your mental health.
Then there's the school of thought that doodles reveal sub- and unconscious issues (Freud et al!), carrying messages from who knows where. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and art therapists certainly enjoy analyzing their patients' doodles. Although personally I believe doodles can convey meaning, the few examples of analysis I've run into seem naive and based on representational analogies that can be misleading to anyone who has read Rudolf Arnheim's Visual Thinking on visual analogies, and also possibly the result of projection on the part of the analyzer.
However, it is true that, influenced by Freud, many a visual artist in the 1930's from the Surrealist school used the doodling process as akin to automatic writing among the writers. Since that time, doodling has often used by artists, architects, and designers as part of their creative process. Many an artist has taken his doodles and turned them into works of art (see my posts on Dubuffet and Charles Burchfield). I myself have recently developed a new series that started as doodles that I used to do some years back when suffering through some excrutiatingly boring interpreting job.
Sunni Brown of Gamestorming fame did a great Ted Talk on doodling, which I strongly recommend you listen to. It's a great overview (love the part about children's artistic development!), where she explains the benefits of doodling, among others a non-intimidating way to introduce people to visual thinking.
Some people consider graphic facilitation "doodling", but here I part ways! Although there is an element of making marks to help yourself and other people think, they are not "spontaneous" but quite deliberate -- as Brandy Agerbeck puts it, "listen, think, draw"!
One thing is clear -- our brains hide an inner passionate sensitive obsessive simpleton who may not be as stupid as it looks!
Feel free to analyze my doodles! good luck...and stay posted for a doodle board on Pinterest.