“Taking a good look at yourself” is an increasingly lost artform in our ever quickening and complex working lives.  The amount of advice we are offered – “3 essential qualities of”, “5 ways”, The 7 Secrets of” – is overwhelming and often contradictory.  I was thinking this at a recent workshop run by John Willshire and Abi Green, where participants were encouraged to reflect upon a recent or current project and map its progress in terms of development, audience and ultimate emotion.  It was enlightening, giving one a literal map to use to navigate future projects.

I’d like to offer a story, some reflection and a different yet similar approach to “taking a good look at oneself”

The Conversion of the Proconsul (Acts 13: 6-12)
Raphael, born 1483 – died 1520


“What are we looking at?” I ask.

“A bible scene. Jesus and his apostles?”

“No – what is the thing we are looking at?”

“A metaphor for something…?”

“No – what is the object?”

“It’s a painting, a large canvas?”

“Not quite…”

It’s something of a trick question.  The person standing next to me doesn’t quite know what I am getting at.  The thing on the wall in front of us looks like a huge painting of Jesus performing a miracle. It’s Renaissance in style. It is huge [3m by 5m] and only this large room inside the Victoria and Albert Museum seems able to house it.

Yet it is not a painting. It was never intended to be hung as one, nor necessarily to be seen by the public.

It is one of ten original drawings commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1515 and is considered among the greatest treasures of the High Renaissance. Painted by Raphael (1483-1520) and his assistants, the drawings, or Cartoons as they are known, are full-scale designs for tapestries that were made to cover the lower walls of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. The tapestries depict the Acts of St Peter and St Paul, the founders of the early Christian Church.

Cartoon comes from the Italian cartone meaning large piece of paper

So what we are looking at is not a painting destined for display.  What we are looking at is a large piece of paper, a design.  A template for the weavers of North Europe.


It’s easy to think that the cartoon is a painting.  It’s what we are conditioned to see.  It’s in a museum, it’s big and looks old, if we were looking at any of the labels on the walls we would have seen the name Raphael and we remember that name as belonging to a great artist as well as a mutant ninja turtle.

Everything about the context and the environment tells us we are looking at a piece of art.  Yet it was never meant to be so.

In this piece I want to tell you more of the story – how different intentions and interventions created new museum pieces and culminated in something entirely new.


In 1929, the Belgian artist Renee Magritte exhibited this painting.

The Treachery of Images also known as This Is Not a Pipe and The Wind and the Song. René Magritte Location: Los Angeles County Museum of Art Created: 1928–1929

He titled it, The Treachery of Images, but it is more commonly known the translation of the text in the image – “this is not a pipe.”  The point being, that this is not an actual pipe rather it is a representation of a pipe. This may seem like a semantic point, but it provokes us to think more deeply about what we see in front of us.  I have mentioned Alfred Korzybski’s utterance “The map is not the territory” in a previous blog [add link].  It makes the same point as the Magritte – that we must not confuse a representation with the actuality.  A painting of a pipe is not an actual pipe.  A tube or metro diagram doesn’t not describe what one sees and experiences in real life.  The problem is not with the painting or the map, but in the way we regard them.

As you read, ask yourself, how often in our lives do we allow ourselves to look beyond what appears to be the obvious?

The routine nature of habit, the unconscious collective of organisational culture, “the way we do things around here” is comforting and affirming.  “Business as usual” regulates and coagulates.  The benefits are efficiency and certainty, the risks are “same old same old”.