As I am sure many of you will have seen, Maria and I have been away in Scotland these last few weeks. It was an amazing journey, taking in Ironbridge, London, Manchester, Dumfries, Glasgow and Dublin. We managed to visit a number of galleries, museums and exhibitions, and these really inspired us greatly, especially as we were also finishing the final pages of our new book Customer Experiences with Soul. In addition, we met some wonderful and generous people on our travels, which was fantastic as well.
While we always have some events planned, we also like to try and be as spontaneous as possible, so I guess you could say our travels are always a little chaordic, so to speak. There was so much that was inspirational, that I realised I should write a long-form essay on The Quest for Beauty, for reasons which will soon become apparent. But due to time constraints, I am just not able to write this all in one go. So in this article I’ll just show a few of our photos, and in future articles I’ll focus on different aspects of beauty as it relates to our journey, conversations and insights.
Maria and I started with a night in Coalbrookdale, a valley in the midlands which became the centre for the start of the industrial revolution in England in the 18th century. The entire valley is both an area of remarkable beauty, and now a UNESCO world heritage site.
The most iconic structure is of course the Iron Bridge, designed by Thomas Farnolls Pritchard and commissioned by Abraham Darby III, which was built between 1777 and 1780. not only did it have a great functional use in spanning the Severn Gorge, it also was a great example of entrepreneurial nous, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area and positioning Darby’s furnaces at the cutting edge of ironwork technology.
Both being big football fans, just after the new year we went to Manchester to see the beautiful game – city vs Burnley. We were able to take advantage of some great offers, and stayed at The Manchester Principal, which began life as a Victorian brick and terracotta office block, the landmark, with a famous clock tower and distinctive ceramic tiles on the inside, built in the 1890s by Alfred Waterhouse.
It had only just reopened weeks earlier, and we loved the amazing aesthetics, starting with the dramatic lobby.
I really need to write about our customer experience, as there are one or two little twists and turns which we experienced.
After a couple of days back in Dumfries Maria and I were then off to spend a couple of days in Dublin, somewhere I had not actually had the chance to visit previously.
While of course no trip to Dublin would be complete without a walk along Temple Bar, the region where we were staying, we found a brilliant Brazilian restaurant A Taste of Brazil, and also an amazing Italian restaurant Pinocchio which is also a school of Italian cuisine, and which was so good we went to twice. To find out why, you’ll have to read my review.
One our first day we took a tour of Dublin by bus, and in the evening we saw Rouge One. Having managed to avoid all reviews and information about it, despite the obvious worries that it would be a lame cash-in, I have to say it was just brilliant, especially on the huge screen at the Savoy cinema.
I love this quote from George Bernard Shaw, “You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul”.
On the second day started with a walk through Trinity College, taking in the Turner watercolour exhibition at the National Gallery. Although much of the gallery was closed for renovation, the Turner exhibition was an unexpected treat, with Maria and I having previously seen the late Turner exhibition at The Tate, and also the watercolours in Edinburgh in 2013 I think.
The collection was owned by the distinguished collector Henry Vaughan, and span Turner’s career, from his early topographical wash drawings to his atmospheric sketches of continental Europe from the 1830s and ‘40s. Vaughan stipulated in his bequest that these delicate watercolours should be ‘exhibited to the public all at one time, free of charge, during the month of January’ and his wishes have been faithfully adhered to for over 100 years, in Edinburgh, Dublin and London.
Dr. Thomas Monro is a direct ancestor of mine, and this was the first time I think I had seen some of the early sketches to emerge from his academy.
One of the great aspects of Thomas Monro was the fact that it mattered not a jolt from which class an artist was. Rich or impoverished, the only thing that mattered was a love for art and drawing to gain entry to this group of creative artists.
We flew to Dublin via Glasgow, and on our way back we decided to spend a couple of days there, allowing us to return once more to The Kelvingrove art gallery and museum, one of Scotland’s most popular attractions.
I have previously written about The Glasgow Boys, and also I have written about The Druids – Bringing in the Mistletoe, the painting which has had the greatest impact on me. Last year this painting was not on display, but an incredible occurrence happened which I wrote about and which you can read in this article: A Spectacular Surprise in London (I won’t spoil the surprise here). The same thing happened again, with the painting not on display, and while I tried not to show it, I was really quite disappointed. But there was a huge amount of other art to enjoy and take in.
To our great delight we discovered that the main featured exhibition was Alphonse Mucha – In Quest of Beauty, a sensational collection of his greatest works, those works which had inspired him, and which included many of his quotes on beauty on the walls of the gallery.
It is interesting since just as Thomas Monro welcomed one and all into his home regardless of class, so Mucha felt the need to ensure that beauty and art were not just for the elites, but for everyone. With this in mind he created many pictures designed to be produced as affordable prints.
As I turned a corner into the final room, there at the very end was The Druids in all its glory!
Dumfries and Galloway is not one of the most visited parts of Scotland, but it home to some amazing hidden gems, many of which I have been documenting in photos for over a decade. I have curated many of my photos in my article Amazing things to do and see in Dumfries and Galloway. It is home to Scotland’s book town, Wigtown, Scotland’s food town, Castle Douglas, with Dumfries itself being the home of Scotland’s greatest poet, Robert Burns, and DJ Calvin Harris, as well as my good self. The Glasgow Boys portrayed this region in many of their paintings, such as this one which is about the same size as The Druids and which my photo simply does not do justice to.
Being in Glasgow also meant a chance to head to the BrewDog bar in Glasgow to check out some of their latest beers. One beer I have been wanting to try for a while is Brewgooder’s Clean Water Lager. This is made at BrewDog’s brewery in Ellon for Brewgooder, who donate all of the profits to clean water projects around the world. It’s a great clean and crisp premium beer to boot, so you can enjoy a brew and do some good in the world at the same time.
As always, we had lunch a couple of times in the very wonderful emporium and cafe Thomas Tosh.
I loved the title of this book. On reading the reviews it does actually turn out that five year olds can create modern art. The difference apparently is in the intention with which the art was created.
Before heading down south Maria and I managed to catch the start of the Living Landscape exhibition at the Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries.
There were many excellent studies, mainly abstract, of the textures and sensations of nature and the elements, but one display which really caught my eye was the note books of Patti Lean, including her studies, notes and sketches of Iceland, which it was possible to read through.
While we saw artists painting nature, we also saw nature making beauty art in the form of the murmuration of starlings at Gretna Green. I have modified this photo a little as it was getting quite dark. I also have written a field report, but this year’s is not too comprehensive due to time limitations: Starlings at Gretna Green, January 2017
And then it was soon time to leave Dumfries for a couple of days in London. On the way down we listened to Radio 6 Music and by luck I caught a tune that I could not quite remember from my university days. It was Star Roving by Slow Dive, their first new song in 20 years, having reformed in 2014. If wave after wave of swooshing shoe-gashing chords of British indie is your bag, then definitely have a listen.
In London we stayed in Teddington, but by mistake I had booked a hotel room without breakfast included. This meant that we ended up heading out to the superb Polish Goisa’s Cafe and Deli.
Our first full day in London was spent at the Victoria and Albert museum, where we took in the exhibition As photography was not allowed, I only have these two.
It was an absolutely brilliant exhibition, taking us through the years from 1966 to 1969. By putting iconic rock and pop memorabilia together with developments in design and culture, alongside the evolution of political and social consciousness, you really felt that you were entering into this particular transition of consciousness. I loved this quote from Andy Warhol:
An artist is someone who produces things that people don’t need to have but that he – for some reason – thinks it would be a good idea to give them.
There is far too much to see and explore in the V&A in a single day. Maria and I really enjoyed having lunch in the cafe, which is in a spectacular ballroom.
It is so important to visit museums, be they science, art, culture or design as you are continually reminded of just how much has taken place and just how much has already been created from brilliant people throughout the ages. And when an entire country values design and education, then you end up with some amazing creations, of which it is now our responsibility to evolve, improve and make sustainable while still retaining beauty and soul.
In the evening Maria and I went to see Cirque du Soliel’s Amaluna at the Royal Albert Hall.
Based on The Tempest, this was everything you would expect from a Cique du Soleil performance. What was particularly interesting was the way in which the creators decided to portray women in such a strong role. This included the all-female live rock band.
Although it was permitted in moderation, I didn’t actually take many photos for a couple of reasons. The first was that I wanted to plunge into the experience, and the second was that it is terribly distracting when people take photos. I turned my screen brightness as low as possible, and took one or two towards the end.
Our second day in London was spent at the British Science Museum. Our main motivation was to see the IMAX film A Beautiful Planet. You can watch the trailer here:
Here is the film’s synopsis:
A Beautiful Planet is a breathtaking portrait of Earth from space, providing a unique perspective and increased understanding of our planet and galaxy as never seen before. Made in cooperation with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the film features stunning footage of our magnificent blue planet — and the effects humanity has had on it over time — captured by the astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). From space, Earth blazes at night with the electric intensity of human expansion — a direct visualization of our changing world. But it is within our power to protect the planet. As we continue to explore and gain knowledge of our galaxy, we also develop a deeper connection to the place we all call home.
While there were of course many amazing shots of Earth from the International Space Station, given that we were watching the film on the day of Trump’s inauguration, what really made an impact on me was the beautiful relationship between the Russian and American astronauts.
Our return allowed me to spend time photographing the Making the Modern World exhibition, an amazing walk through the industrial revolution to modern times.
As well as seeing many of the other brilliant exhibits.
It is often interesting how much we do not see and visit in our own countries when we are not tourists. I for one had simply never appreciated just how central Coalbrookdale had been as the birthplace of the industrial revolution. I am sure we will return, as there are ten museums including a pottery museum and underground excursions, as well as the natural gorge itself to walk along.
Maria and I always attempt to be fully present when undertaking this kind of journey, not attempting to cram in too many activities per day, allowing us time to contemplate, absorb and take in what we are seeing, and think about how all of our experiences and insights relate to one another. And so for me I could see new connections between industry, design, manufacturing, innovation, art, culture, performance, customer experience and indeed, beauty.
It was interesting to see how Mucha had first been influenced by a range of artists, including the Glasgow school of art, which then led to his famous full-length theatre posters with Sarah Bernhardt.
One of the rooms in the exhibition focused on Mucha’s work in advertising, and here you could really see his philosophy of beauty impacting in our daily lives.
Waverly was a new brand of American bicycle, launched by Indianapolis manufacturers in 1898. In this poster we see Mucha creating an austere design, “expressing symbolically the machine’s sturdiness with the figure of a staunch woman leaning on an iron block”.
Beauty forms one of the transcendental aspects of experience in the holonomic circle, our tool which articulates our Customer Experiences with Soul framework. You can read a two-page introduction here. Maria and I are also the creators of a course we call Transformational Design Thinking, and in this course we introduce to our students aspects not normally covered in more traditional design thinking courses.
While design thinking as the expression of the process of design is relatively new, when you take this extended immersive trip through industrial design, culture and art, you realise how we came to reach our current approach in business, industry and art, and just how profound our predecessors actually were.
Maria and I continually received extremely generous hospitality throughout our trip, and are are extremely grateful for the experiences and welcomes we received. As we say in our forthcoming book, Customer Experiences with Soul: A New Era in Design, “an experience has soul when one soul recognises another soul” and we could really sense this in the service we received, and in the thought going into the design and curation of the exhibitions we saw.
The quote from Mucha in the photo above reads, “The person who can communicate his emotions to the soul of others in the artist”.
Beauty is a wonderful thing to contemplate, and so I shall return to many of the themes I have only briefly touched on here in future articles. In the meantime, I hope that you have enjoyed seeing some of these pictures, and that you may be inspired to find out which exhibitions, art and performances are happening in your locality, and allow the beauty to play you, to move you, to uplift you, and to transcend into new levels of experience, inspiration and creativity.