The Cartoons People Make by Being Alive – Hugh’s 100ppl

This post is in response to Tyler Hurst’s #100ppl post: a call for fans of Hugh MacLeod to share their favorite piece and discuss what art means to them. If you head over there soon, you may still be able to join Hugh’s 100ppl. But please finish reading this first.

Some people might say this is a cop-out, but I have to say my favorite gapingvoid piece is the hughtrain. Sure, it’s one of the most popular, but it’s the first work of his I ever saw. And the first one I ever bought. Here is mine… #43/200.

My hughtrain print

Mine. That’s the strange thing about buying art. Yes, it’s his. He signed it. But this one is mine. My hughtrain. I worry about that. The the acquisitive nature of mine. On a certain level, I get just as much joy and motivation from the ones I download for my desktop or tape up in my cube.

But I also get a kind of inspiration from knowing I’m a part of helping Hugh keep making more, and that’s good for us all.

So a couple of months ago, I got another one. “intoxicated by possibility.”

not framed yet, but it's going next to my hughtrain.

It was a toss-up between that one and “liberation from oneself is the hardest kind.” (I actually let my wife decide between those two… which is how I was allowed to buy another.)

For me, all three of these–and most all of Hugh’s works–are about getting past yourself. Doing. Being. About the things you find if you can shut up for a minute and think. I mean really think.

It’s why one of my favorite works of writing is a play called “A Thousand Clowns,” by Herb Gardner. Murray Burns is an eccentric, out of work television writer who takes in his orphaned nephew. The nephew is too grown up  for his age, and Murray spends most of the play trying to get him (and his NYC neighbors, his former boss, and the inevitable love interest) to get past themselves and look around. Murray explains why he doesn’t want the kid to go:

I want to be sure he knows when he’s chickening out on himself.
I want him to get to know exactly the special thing he is or else he won’t notice it when it starts to go…
I want to be sure he sees all the wild possibilities…
And I want him to know the subtle, sneaky, important reason why he was born a human being and not a chair.

I am not a chair. This is not a pipe. The market for something to believe in is infinite.

Art can make us to take a sidelong look at ourselves and our world, and that’s what draws me to Hugh’s work. He’s just doodling on the back of business cards and arranging words in clever, sad, funny, defiant or demanding messages. Seems meaningless at first. But he’s part of a long line of flower arrangers, and those of us who stop and  look are better for it.

Let me take another line from Murray:

He sees street jokes, he has a good eye, he sees subway farce and crosstown-bus humor and all the cartoons that people make by being alive.

Thankfully, Hugh isn’t afraid to point and laugh and put those cartoons to paper for us all to enjoy.

So that’s my favorite Gaping Void piece, or pieces, or thing about them, or about art in general. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get out of this chair.


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  2. Thanks… I hope you wife liked them both, once they were hung up? 🙂

  3. Absolutely 🙂

    That’s why they’re hanging at my house and not in my cube.

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