Studio Companion Series: My Go-To “Bigger Questions” Podcasts

Laura at work in the studio

While painting, I usually have a podcast or music on in the background. I’ve noticed that the podcasts I listen to can generally be categorized in the following three ways: Everything Art, Bigger Questions, and Self Care. Last week, I wrote about two of my favourite podcasts in the Everything Art category. This week continues with Bigger Questions. Like last week, I’ve selected my top two favourite podcasts in this category. After a brief description, I share what I love about the shows, what I’ve learned, and how the podcasts help me in my studio practice. Enjoy!

Painting is its own language of experiencing: from looking to reflecting, processing, and communicating. It’s part calculation, part intuition. The themes that artists draw upon are limitless: they can be inspired by emotions, events, ideas, imaginings, dreams, etc., and encompass the personal to the universal (themselves intertwined).

Art is about meaning-making and can also be an expression of grappling with meaninglessness. The fine art of painting has always been telling stories—historical, religious, political, societal at large—reflecting ideas and ideals of its time. Because of this, what is excluded from the canvas can be as important as what is depicted on it thus also reflecting the position of the storyteller. Painting is the exploration of being human, and so, bigger questions of a philosophical nature are part and parcel with it.

Category 2: Bigger Questions

The two podcasts that I’ve selected for this category are: On Being with Krista Tippett and Ologies with Alie Ward. These podcasts keep me company in the studio and help me reflect on some larger questions about being human and the world around us. Both podcasts examine the human experience: the first focuses primarily on spirituality, the second on science.

I listen to On Being when I want to hear about the journeys of others and how they make sense of, or experience, the world around them. I need to have enough mental space in the painting process to pay attention to these stories. Therefore, I don’t listen while in the midst of sketching or reflecting on next steps in my work. I’ll go to this podcast somewhere in the middle of my creative process: when I am putting down colour and am tuned into my intuition. These are moments when I am looking for some company, inspiration, and a feeling of connectedness.

On Being is an American Public Media radio show and podcast, founded and hosted by Krista Tippett. Each episode is an in-depth interview with a guest, among them are writers, artists, spiritual teachers, medical professionals, philosophers, and educators. On Being is described on its website in the following way: “On Being, as it has evolved, takes up the great questions of meaning in 21st-century lives and at the intersection of spiritual inquiry, science, social healing, and the arts.” The podcast has been recognized by many outlets as one of the best, has won the highest awards for broadcasting, and, in 2013, Tippett was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama.

What I love about the podcast: The first thing that struck me about On Being was Tippett’s voice: it radiates calm and kindness. Her care and attentiveness to her interviewees is evident in both her tone and her in-depth questions and responses. From the many episodes I’ve listened to, the interviewee’s willingness to be open and vulnerable with Tippett and the listeners is refreshing. They talk about their upbringings, how they got to where they are, and what is meaningful for them about the work they do. I love how, through these interviews, the audience gets a chance to at once learn from different experiences and to find commonality or universality in the personal story of another.

What I’ve learned from the On Being podcast is that art is often the product of struggle. This is far from a new insight, but I often come away with a new understanding of some aspect of my own experiences by listening to the stories of others. Many of the books I’ve read I’ve heard of through the podcast, most recently: Mary Oliver’s book of poetry, Devotions, Katherine May’s personal narrative, Wintering, and Andrew Solomon’s nonfiction book, The Noon Day Demon: An Atlas of Depression. The candidness of Tippett and her guests inspires me to slow down and be more thoughtful in how I view and treat myself and others around me.

#2 Ologies with Alie Ward

I listen to Ologies when I am in the flow of painting and want to connect with the complexity of the world around us; when I want to be awed by how much there is to discover about “ordinary things”; and when I need a little humour in my day.

As described on Alie Ward’s website, Ologies is a “comedic science podcast”. The podcast’s host, Alie Ward—a science correspondent and communicator, television host, and writer—interviews experts on various topics including animals, food, the human body, history, space, and more. According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, “ology” means “a branch of knowledge or a science”. We are used to hearing of “ologies” such as psychology, astrology, and paleontology, to name just a few, but Ologies delves into the science of the common to the obscure.

What I love about the podcast is hearing the passion in the guests’ voices about their particular “ology”. This passion ignites my own curiosity and I find myself looking at things differently. After listening to many episodes of the show, I find that I am more regularly appreciative of how intricate all systems really are. It’s fun to learn about all kinds of topics with which I may be familiar but about which I might know little or may have misunderstood in some way prior to listening. Ward’s enthusiasm and curiosity make learning joyful and accessible. Another great thing: each episode, Ologies offers support to a charitable organization of the interviewee’s choice.

What I’ve learned from Ologies covers many diverse topics! I’ve learned about trees, bears, fear, addiction, pumpkins, Fall/seasons, personalities, sleep, marriage, beauty standards, blood sugar, and the gut biome, to name a few things. I’ve learned that no matter your interest (pumpkins!), there is always more to discover: the world is not a boring place. When it comes to my own interest in landscape painting, I found the episodes on trees and the seasons to be fascinating.

Both podcasts keep me curious about the inner and the outer world (themselves intertwined). This curiosity helps me in my own painting practice to be connected to myself, my intuition, and to think about the world at large: how ecosystems function and the importance of caring for our environment.

In my next post, The Studio Companion Series continues with Self Care. And then, the final installment: the music that gets me started in my studio practice and brings my work across the finish line–stay tuned!

Thanks for reading!

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2 thoughts on “Studio Companion Series: My Go-To “Bigger Questions” Podcasts

  1. […] on podcasts. If you’ve missed them, be sure to check out my previous posts in this series: My Go-To “Bigger Questions” Podcasts and My Go-To “Everything Art” Podcasts. In these previous posts, I selected my top two favourite […]

  2. […] recent post on social media by On Being—a podcast which I wrote about here—asked the following question, “What activity gives you the sense of ‘standing in a stream of […]

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