Steve Chapman is an artist who writes, talks and consults on creativity and the human condition.

He specialises in working in creative and counter-intuitive ways helping individuals, groups and organisations free themselves from stuck loops of common-sense where creativity, novelty and change are rather difficult.

Steve's 'Inner Critic' TEDx talk isn't very good and INEXPERT2018 was perfectly inept. You can see these and other examples of his work at Can Scorpions Smoke?

 

SC:  So, my immediate idea, which makes me feel really uncomfortable, because I’d hate it being shot, would be a picture that is just totally black, but the black is my pupil. So I am in the picture and not in the picture. I don’t know, I would be in it in some way, if the eyes are a portal to the soul or something like that… I’d hate that picture being taken because I’m naturally introverted in that way… So I don’t know, but then I’d be, yeah…. I’m open to any ideas.

A completely black picture? I was starting to struggle.… 

 

SM:  Well, why don’t we try and shoot that? Erm…. We could try a few things…

SC:  You’d be in it in some ways... in a reflection or something.  I don’t know… 

SM:  I was kind of wondering how you would be in the reflection of your own eye… or something like that… you know, and maybe that’s a Photoshop piece…

SC:  Or something to play with?  Mirrors and things, because that really embodies that fractal nature of what my purpose is…

SM:  Yeah, OK.

SC:  I think we could really play with it, I’m really excited about this now… if we play with something unusual.

 

I was starting to understand more of Steve’s practice,  getting a visceral feel for it. He works fearlessly with creative discomfort, holding himself there until an idea appears or a breakthrough takes place. Since founding Can Scorpions Smoke Change in January 2012, he has brought this talent to over 70 different organisations in sectors including retail, broadcasting, telecoms, manufacturing, creative/media, research/data, digital, pharmaceutical/healthcare, airlines, utilities, transport, automotive, airlines, trade union and charities/not-for-profit.

 

SC: I’m hesitant of saying vision, mission, strategy, that’s not how they feel for me but I’ll use that language in order to interpret what I think it means.  So, I would describe… and all of this, yeah, they are words that don’t totally hit the mark for me... It’s a beyond words thing for me. Which, for many years made me think I was thick but I think I’ve just tuned into what it really is. 

SM:  Me too…

SC:  Some of the words that I have used to describe my vision and mission are to be ‘playful with not knowing.’  My strategy is, 'The obstacle becomes the path.’  That’s it. That’s pretty much how my life and my business and my play work. The ‘playful with not knowing’ causes a lovely tension, a positive tension for me because it’s being playful, which is a liberating state.  Not frivolous, but play as in a way of exploring the world, exploring the human condition… and ‘not knowing’ means we’re playing with something and we don’t know what it is.  It’s a lovely, quite often frustrating, quite often disturbing, quite often fruitful loop of playing with not knowing in which we discover something and we have to play with not knowing that next thing.  The obstacle becomes the path. Which is a Zen idea that, at least in meditation, or in your practice, when you come across something that’s an obstacle, that is actually the path.  You stick with it instead of avoiding it. You stick to it.  That’s what instinctively draws me towards or away from things... there’s depth to explore here. 

 

 Photo-Dialogue: Steve Chapman

Photo-Dialogue: Steve Chapman

 

We made both of Steve’s pictures at his home; it was important for him to feel comfortable as we worked. I became fascinated by ‘his’ eye image and the way a nearby window almost melted across the iris. I wasn’t sure that it would be close enough for him but we eventually agreed the image was going to work and started to pack away the kit.  I had planned to make ‘my’ portrait of Steve a few days later.  After watching him work I had a sense of the vulnerability he often holds as he pushes into the ‘not knowing’ place with client groups.  But while the paradoxical intimacy of the extreme close up was manageable for him, I realised that the idea of being scrutinised from just a couple of feet away affected him differently.  I asked permission for a couple more photographs and quickly realised my that first effort, as he winced into the lens was, perhaps, too uncomfortable.  The monochrome portrait on this page, taken from slightly further away, held much more of what I was looking for…

 

SM:  So I hear you taking a position;  'this is where I want to be and this is how I want to work.'  So, I’m curious and if we expand out from there, is there a sense of the purpose that could make this position feel sensible to me? 

SC:  Yeah, it’s a good question. I think it would be terrible to become the finished article … where I resolve myself and who I am. I think that happens at one point in our life and it’s a bit late then….  It’s always shifting. I’ve described it as Russian dolls. So there is an objective of opening this next layer and, hopefully, within that, is another smaller Russian doll, which is another, level of inquiry. It’s what I used to find really frustrating hill-walking, you think, I’m getting to the top and then, oh my God, there’s another one… 

SM:  It feels paradoxical; that in some way that there’s progression but with no end. 

SC:  Well this is where I talk more about Zen. Soto Zen, which is what I’m interested in, is zazen, which is just seated silent meditation, and there is no objective to it other than to do it. The moment that I speak with my teacher, and say, “I’m starting to get something…” she say’s “I think you’re losing it..”  But there is that moment when something that comes into focus is part of an illusion. It’s part of an attachment to something and this is why ‘inner critic’ work is so interesting for me, because we often think of the inner critic as just judging our own deficiencies… but even that sense of that little voice saying ‘Yeah, that was a great piece of work’ is a judgment. So, this vision and philosophy that I’ve got, which is really frustrating for people to hear me describe, normally, is without an endpoint but it also has an endpoint.  But the whole thing is paradoxical. Which makes it a really difficult and interesting way to be in the world…