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15 toasts - avoiding the usual chat

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A special occasion brings you into the company of old friends and new acquaintances.  You’re catching up with family over dinner. You’ve gone off campus for a lunch with colleagues.  The conversation is a mixture of small-talk, information exchange and the same conversation you always have.  It’s pleasant, but you go away feeling you might have missed an opportunity to really connect with one another.

I have been using Cards for an Art User to provoke more revealing conversations and avoid the usual chat, and I am astonished at how the cards’ prompts always create surprise and bring out the poetic in people.

Inspired by Priya Parker’s wonderful roundtable model, 15 Toasts (her book The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters is brimming with insight and ideas), I have been developing a format for Art User salons. Guests use the cards to speak to a theme. New Year’s gatherings with friends were enlivened by the question “How was 2018 for you?”. At a gallerist’s dinner recently, the cards allowed artists, collectors and supporters to reflect on their relationship with our host and the art on the surrounding walls, illuminating a little bit of themselves in the process.

On a recent evening with Outset Scotland’s Trustees, the formal business was over, but I had scheduled a dinner in order to build some collective energy around our mission – championing art and persuading others to support it.  Pondering the question: “What do you use art for?” the cards prompted some great toasts:

What is making you uncomfortable? I use art to commune with other people’s experience of the world – to see different perspectives - and I am uncomfortable with how little diversity there is in the art sphere at the moment.  

We decided to toast art as a kind of ‘communion with others’.

Where is the tingle coming from? I use a visit to the gallery to change my headspace – I am in business and it is so refreshing to approach things with a different mindset. 

We toasted art as ‘a great mental workout’.

Try drifting. Actually, I feel like too many people are set adrift at the moment - cut loose from their homes, their safety net, their mental well-being, by circumstances beyond their control. I am realising that art is one of the anchors in my life that helps me feel rooted. 

We toasted art as ‘an anchor’.

What is causing interference?  I have been having trouble concentrating lately, and it is because I have been strung out and grumpy, but this is to do with ego.  If you are open to it, art is akin to the narcotic that quiets your ego and lets you concentrate on something / someone outside yourself – it’s like love. 

It was marvellous that my colleague had gone from misanthropic irritation to expansive humanity in the course of his short reflection – none of us expected to be toasting art ‘as love’, but the laughter was sincere when we did!

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