Hi, pull up a seat, make yourself comfortable, and welcome to Parallel Worlds.
Today we’ll start as we always do, thinking about where we are now, and what’s going in in the immediate world around us. Later we’ll do a couple of exercises to think about where the future us-es would like to be.
So, let’s get straight in with the reflection. As ever, you have five minutes to write, draw, think – reflect on what’s influencing you at the moment. Make sure you keep your pen, pencil, or whatever you’re using, moving the whole time. Please don’t assess the quality of what you’re making while you’re making it, just do it.
OK, five minutes – let’s go!
OK, I hope that went well. Welcome back.
Today we’re going to be focusing on the ideal, the perfect, the excellent and exemplary, the best practice, the best version that there can possibly be. We will be thinking positively, moving up, pressing on, shifting forward, projecting our ideal selves into an ideal future. Yes, that’s right, today is about the good, the best, and the better – and making you all of them.
For this task, I would like you to work a bit differently to normal. We’ll be referring back to this work tomorrow, and you’ll be looking back on it in the future, so let’s make sure you can find it again. I want you to get a new piece of paper, a fresh, blank sheet. This could be a page in a sketchbook, or maybe there is a printer you can dip into nearby for a sheet of paper. Perhaps you’ve got a legal pad you can tear a sheet from. Whatever it is, make sure it’s nice and empty right now.
Do you have your sheet? Great.
One thing I want to note with this piece of paper, and today and tomorrow’s task, is that it can stay private. You don’t have to share this one with anyone, except your future self. It will work better, you’ll get better results, if you believe you’re writing privately.
First of all, I’d like you to spend a couple of minutes making a list. This list should be a fun one to put together – it’s a list of work that you think is great. Don’t feel you need to stick to your discipline – you can jump around as much as you like – but make a list of things that you find in some way inspirational. Perhaps you’re a ceramicist and you love the films of Jean Luc Godard. Perhaps you are a graphic designer who can’t stop thinking about Chris Ware’s comics. Whatever it is, I’d like you to write a list of works or artists or designers or writers or people you find inspiring in any way.
And as you’re writing, please note down, in a brief way, what makes them great. What’s the one thing you’d tell a friend you were talking to about them? Oh, you’ll love __, the thing you should know is __.
So, I’m going to give you three minutes for this task. A list of inspiration, works, people, things, who have qualities you aspire to.
Three minutes, starting now.
Welcome back. How long’s your list? What are the reasons you’ve chosen each thing? Can you see a pattern? Can you see your own work reflected back in some way? Now, I’d like you to take a minute to think about that list. How did you first encounter these things? Did you hear about them from a friend? Were they required viewing on some course you took? Did you stumble over them at just the right moment? Have they been with you for a while, or are you just entering the first part of a love affair with them? Did someone recommend that thing to you? If so, how did they frame it for you? What in their description made you think: “Alright, I’ll give this a go.”? Was there some sort of temporal or contextual circumstance which made you more receptive? For instance, I remember the films I saw in my late teens and early 20s far more vividly than the ones I’ve seen since, I think I’m now less receptive to newness than I once was – I’m certainly less able to spend an evening gambling on a film I might not like or understand at an art-house cinema. But the films or the exhibitions or the artist talks or anything else I did see in that way, not always knowing the context, are seared into my mind, inextricably linked to the places, times and people, different stages of my life.
With each of the items in your list, what fore-knowledge do you need? Can you only understand the thing if there’s a context that is built around it?
And with each of these things, how do you reflect on it once you’ve stopped seeing ‘it’? Did you cite an exhibition which stuck with you? Was there spatial design you couldn’t stop thinking about? Did you go home and dream of that thing? Did it change the way you see the world?
I’m asking you these questions because I want you to think the same things about your own work. You’ve spent a lot of time on your own practice, working, honing skills, refining your craft, getting better and better at what you do. Surely you want people to encounter it, to engage with it, to enjoy the aspects you want them to enjoy, to ponder the questions you might be asking, to one day write your work down as an inspiration on their own list.
But let’s think about the way in which they’ll experience your work. This next task is reflective, and projective. I want you to write the best possible review of your work, as if we’re a few years in the future. But, I don’t want you to talk about a specific project, or piece of work. I don’t want you to get distracted with things you’re working on right now, or produce a catalogue of things you’ve created. In fact, the less you can refer to the work itself the better. I want you to write about the emotional journey your ideal fan goes through – how do they first hear about your work? Is there some framing that needs to happen to make them intrigued? Is there something they need to know in order to unlock your work, to understand it? How much do you think they’ll know you, or feel they know you, through your work? What are the overarching questions or topics or themes you’d like them to be thinking about?
Also, think about the context your work is in. Is it in a big-name gallery, a novel, a zine, a poster series plastered all over town, shown on Netflix, passed to someone in a back-alley, presented online, an experience you can only encounter once in your life, real world theatre, is this a big retrospective exhibition, or does your work come out in fragments in numerous places that people have to put together like a puzzle – choose wherever works for you and your work. Think big! The best possible location, the best possible context, the best possible audience – to make the best possible review.
Now, this review is going to sound indulgent. This is the ideal review. The person whose perspective you’re writing from loves your work, they strongly connect with the themes you work with, and they’ve encountered your work at a time in their lives when they’re most receptive. And: they think about your work long after they’ve encountered it. Whatever you do has helped them to see the world a bit differently, has helped them to think something through, it feels honest, it feels true, and it resonates with them. How does this happen? What’s their story?
I’ll give you ten minutes to write this review. Work on the same side of the paper as you did for the best practice list we did earlier. Don’t worry how self-involved this sounds – this exercise is so that you can think through the ideal framing of your work from an audience’s perspective.
OK, you have ten minutes, starting now.
Well done! It sounds like someone really likes your work. You have a fan, even if it’s just another part of your own psyche…
OK, so, thank you for sticking with me - and thank you for indulging yourself. Over the next couple of days, think about what you wrote. Is the way that you work now anything like the experience your ultimate review conveyed? How do people come across what you do today? How is your work framed for strangers, who might not know anything about you?
That is the end of the podcast for the day. I would like you to keep this piece of paper for tomorrow. Tomorrow we will be writing on the other side. You’ve probably guessed where this might be going – one side for the ideal review, one side for…well, let’s find out then.
Take care of yourself, I’ll be back soon.
- Continuous writing, in reflection on your life, thoughts, and feelings at the moment
- Write a list of great works, artists, authors, creators, that you’re inspired by, from any discipline (not just your own). Think about what foreknowledge you need to have about the context of the work for it to make sense.
- Write the best possible review of your work, from the perspective of the best possible fan of your work, without discussing the work itself. Try to capture the emotional journey that person will have gone through – how would they ideally encounter your work in the first place? Where would the ultimate context be for it to be shown? How do they feel when they are in the presence of your work? What do they think about afterwards? What would they tell their friends if they were talking about your work?