The Gift Must Always Move

Buy a book Read a book Pass the book on

July 2014, a small parcel arrived in the post. I opened it and inside was a book and a lovely hand written letter from my friend Callum Saunders. Callum has kindly agreed to let me share with you the words he wrote.

My dear Doug

On June 17th, you tweeted a photo of a card: ‘Buy a book. Read a book. Pass the book on.’ with the accompanying message, ‘Don’t let your learning end up on the shelf’. This struck a chord. I love reading and learning new things, yet this knowledge invariably ends up on my shelf.

I enclose a book I enjoyed that looks at the role of office work vs making things with your hands – it’s a truly eye-opening look at how we work in today’s day and age.

If you don’t fancy reading it, feel free to pass it on, loan it, give it away. But thank you for encouraging people and making me think about how I store knowledge.

With very best wishes – Callum

If you don’t already know him, I hope that by now you can get a sense of what a kind, thoughtful guy Callum is.

The book he sent me is called The Case for Working With Your Hands and a while ago it came to the top of my reading pile. Having read and enjoyed the book I’ve now passed it on to Richard Martin.

I’m currently enjoying a book written by Amanda Palmer titled The Art of Asking. Laurie Ruettimann recommended it in a recent blog post, and if you, like me, sometimes struggle to ask for what you need, I’d encourage you to get hold of a copy*. In the book, Amanda Palmer writes about gifts as being things to exchange, things to pass on, sometimes literally, as in the above book related example, and sometimes things to pay forward.

There is a phrase in The Art of Asking which is currently resonating with me: ‘The gift must always move’. I love this idea. I frequently wrestle with the question ‘How much is enough?’ and realise that some of the hardest choices we make are around what to keep and what to pass on, and move on from. Yesterday I was invited to respond to this question: ‘What is profitable?’ I wrote the following answer to myself: ‘Giving stuff away’. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten that I have financial needs to meet and fun things I want to do which require the earning of, and exchange of cold, hard cash, and in addition I genuinely believe there is greater overall wealth created in passing stuff on, and in the exchange of gifts between us.

*If you would like my copy of The Art of Asking when I’m finished with it – get in touch. Ask and I will send it to you.

Fragments of The Soul

A post about working out loud, iteration and abundance.

The original of this abstract work of art which you can see above, now resides in the USA. I created it as part of a one-off printing process using acrylic paint. Mixing paints, pressing sheets of paper together and pulling them apart again. There are bumps, ridges and an almost feather like quality in parts of the pictures – a result of the separation of the pieces of paper. You can see that more clearly in another piece of the work I have photographed here.

Fragments of the Soul

After I’d finished the work I was left with more art than I’d originally bargained for – as the separated sheets each formed their own image. What to do with this abundance? I photographed a piece of the work and the image has become the introduction to my current talk, The Art and Soul of Better Work.

The Art and Soul of Better Work

The talk itself has undergone several iterations since I first started writing it way back when. It has even shifted, ebbed and flowed over the last showings in Lisbon and Barcelona, and I’m now heading to Madrid to close this wonderful Spring European tour with another, slightly different version of the talk. Working out loud, getting feedback. Iterating all the time.

I will post the latest version of the slides after the talk, and a question I want to answer now is – what to do with the remaining pieces of the art?

Smaller Fragments

As you can see – they are now mounted, I’m taking them with me to Madrid and I am mindful to give them away. This work, this art, this stuff – it feels like it has become part of my life, fragments of the soul, maybe I should hold onto a piece, for now at least.

What Moves You?

Since being established in 2012, World Art Day has been celebrated on April 15th – the birthday of Leonardo da Vinci. I had no idea such a thing existed until I saw my friend Crystal Miller had linked to it when sharing a few examples of ‘Art that moves me’ on her Facebook timeline. In addition to posting some of her artistic favourites, Crystal asked, ‘What moves you? and ‘Who is your favourite artist. I replied:

I love art in part because it is subjective, my answer to this question could change every day, hour, minute even. I see you have a Klimt in your montage. Last year we visited an amazing exhibition in a disused mine in Baux, southern France where works by Klimt and others were projected onto huge underground walls. There was musical accompaniment – the whole thing was incredibly moving. This photo may give you some idea of the huge scale of the thing. So today – I choose Klimt.

Art Exhibition in Baux, Southern France

Sticking with subjectivity, I like to experience art I’ve not seen before now – I recall being particularly inspired by a chance visit to Tate Britain to see work by Kurt Schwitters. I joined Tate primarily to encourage me to experience more art for the first time and these new experiences in particular, deliver great value to me. Of course there are also times when my artistic encounters backfire, and occasionally I even seek out art I know I won’t like to reflect on my reaction to it.

Art you dislike

I recently visited Inventing Impressionism at The National Gallery. The exhibition features a collection of impressionist paintings bought and then sold by art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. Durand-Ruel backed these fledgling artists when pretty much everyone else ridiculed them, and his early support was instrumental in the success of the movement.

When I visited the exhibition I experienced both the joy of unexpected beauty, and the trials of ugliness. The beauty was particularly stunning in a series of five paintings of poplars by Monet. Not only are these paintings individually beautiful – they have been curated wonderfully. This is an art experience in the moment, as I doubt very much that these five paintings will ever share the same wall again. For me the ugliness arrived in the form of Manet’s work, sorry all you Manet fans – but he does nothing for me. I have also noticed that each time I see work by Renoir I find his soft focus approach increasingly not to my liking either, it all feels too cutesy for me.

I enjoy the way art enthuses and challenges me, it offers a powerful reminder to acknowledge the importance of subjectivity. Even when we’re certain about what we are seeing – others may have a very different perspective, and I find it useful to be reminded of that.

What moves you?