Visual Practices: What’s in a name?

By shaper

One of my frustrations with the current “crossroads moment” I’m in is that I am once again pursuing a career path that requires explanation. My very first “goal” in a career was to become a “shaper” – based on a made-up science-fiction job of a person who created environments for zero-gee dance. As an idealistic undergrad, I put that title on the business card, thinking that it would be the start to a conversation – and it was. I simply wasn’t prepared for how tired of that conversation I would get.

Same thing happened when I started working as a “creative”, and also as a “open-space facilitator.” Often I would simply dodge the conversation and say “I’m an event producer.” People didn’t understand really what that was, either, but they thought they did – it sounded like a real job – so it was sometimes easier to use.

My feelings about this list of names is a mixture of “Hey, cool!” and “Oh, boy, here we go again.” There are three versions of the title that do appeal to me, however:

Visual Practitioner

I am the epitome of the person who wears many hats (or, as I’ve been thinking lately, a version of the One-Man Band epitomized by Bert in Mary Poppins) and I like this title because, in my mind, it is more about a way of doing things – a practice – than a job in and of itself.

Visual practitioners can be counselors, bloggers, facilitators, cooks, whatever – they simply integrate the visual part of it into whatever job they do. It becomes more of an adjective (or maybe adverb?) than a noun, in my mind.

Visual Synthesis

In my mind, this would change in title to “synthesist” and it appeals to me because the ability to synthesize information into a useful form is one of the most crucial skills needed in this latter part of the Information Age. I tell my own kids and grandkids that it’s fine to learn about subjects that interest them – but the most important skill they can learn is figuring out how to learn, and how to learn quickly.

Trying to Channel My Inner Kelvy

One of the most resonant parts of Kelvy Bird’s writing and practice is the idea of tapping into and becoming a conduit for the “source”. In my mind it can (to some extent) represent the kind of Jungian collective unconscious, but more immediately I feel that this is a skill that can be used to perceive the gestalt of any particular group, synthesize their interactions and have it expressed on the wall in a form that helps them understand the concepts and conversations even better. The ideal form (in my mind) is that it has no particular component of my own biases or opinions – the goal is to serve as a synthesizing agent for their experience in a non-time-based second-person-plural iconographic format to complement their linear-time-based, verbal/written and first-person subjective experience.

Which leads me to my all-time favorite term…

Scribe

Part of my personal practice lately is to try and de-center myself in my work, or at least leverage the privilege I have in an effort to “first, do no harm kind of way and possibly help others. This comes from a growing awareness of the power projected simply by my demographic (cis het-presenting white male) especially among the populations I serve with my work (such as LGBTQ communities) as well as continued horrified understanding of the damage that has been done (#MeToo is the obvious example, but there are so. many. Others.).

This is one of the reasons “Scribe” very much appeals to me as a title, because it is non-authoritative. You don’t heard about “alpha scribes” or “how to be a Fortune-500 Scribe” or “the Morning Routines of the 1% Scribes.” At the same time, it is a skill, and a skill that is put out there for the service of others.

I’m also not entirely altruistic, and I recognize that a truly good scribe does have a lot of power, and can be an essential part of an organization’s success. I confess that I also am working through some of the resistance to the word “art” and so borrowing from a tag that I had on a notebook also appeals: “Artisan Scribe. While that might bring to mind small-batch man-buns and hipster mentality, I think it can also help express that this is not simply a literary scribe, but also one who uses images in a careful and hand-crafted way to further empower the messages being inscribed.

In short: when talking to others, I like “visual practitioner” and “visual synthesist” best, but for my internal practice and ideals I am striving to become an Artisan Scribe.