In The What If? Book of Questions, author and artist, Miggs Burroughs asks us to think about our own lives and gives us space to find that silver lining.
“What if rain ruins your picnic but feeds the plants, and the wind takes your hat but clears the fog? Can you be happy in a crazy place like this?”
With time to ponder our own state of well-being, we may discover something new and valuable about ourselves that can catapult us forward toward success and happiness, generated from within.
“What if your greatest weakness is just your greatest strength in training? Have you worked out today?”
The What If? Book of Questions is a perfect gift and can generate introspective thinking as well as worthwhile discussions on love, health, wealth and happiness. Written by a well-loved and talented artist and overall creative and generous mind, I encourage you to order copies as gifts for family members and friends.
“What if the next time you go dancing you pretend there’s nobody watching? What kind of dancer would you be?”
Q & A With Miggs Burroughs
Q: How did the idea of writing this Book of Questions come about and how long did it take you?
A: The idea for my What If book resulted from counseling sessions I was going to in the mid 90s to deal with the anxiety about the divorce I was going through. I would bombard the therapist with questions like, “What if I lose the house?”. “What if I am separated from my son?” and on and on. She asked me to write them all down so we could explore the many available options that awaited me, if I took the time to explore them. While making my list I started asking myself more universal questions to help me deal with the self doubt I was experiencing as a disoriented passenger on planet Earth. I kept working on the list after the divorce and finally put together a little sample book which I looked at from time to time over a decade, but never shared with anyone. One night I went to talk given by David Wilk, who was one of the first to advocate for digital publishing. After the talk, I told him about my little book – he asked to see it, and ended up publishing it, digitally and in print.
Q: Have you answered all the questions for yourself and did you discuss them with anyone? What is the best way to tackle these big life questions?
A: I haven’t answered any of the questions, but I have wrestled with all of them, which is where I think the true value lies, if any. Answers can change day to day and person to person, so, the book is meant to be a mirror we look into from time to time to get our bearings in the midst of whatever we are going through. Typical self-help books are full of prescriptions for people like you and me they don’t know anything about it. The What If book is meant to prompt the reader to take a moment for reflection and to “write” their own emotional prescriptions for dealing with life’s challenges. Sit on the moon for a few minutes and see how it all looks and feels from there.
Q: Have you made any changes in your life or looked at things with a different perspective in response to any of the questioned posed?
A: Perhaps the most valuable thing I took away from developing the book, is that there are no absolutes in life. Everything is relative. Just because we get divorced or sick or lose our job, doesn’t mean that we have to subscribe to all the traditional definitions of how “horrible” everything is. If we do, we get stuck in that one perception. There are an infinite number of new paths we can take to process it all and move on. I am not saying that these events aren’t painful and difficult, but I am always trying to remind myself how many choices I really have at any given moment. Every choice we make has some consequences attached to it, but these opportunities for change are amazing gifts waiting to be explored.
Q: The pandemic has allowed many of us to have lots of alone time to react to politics, social and health issues and news of the world. How do you think dealing with life’s big questions and being self aware can help with feelings of fear and anxiety? How can your book help us move forward?
A: This book is not a panacea, but it is meant to give us permission to take a time out and look at our lives and fears from a different, and often absurd perspective. From childhood we are conditioned to deal with people, situations, and even ourselves, with prescribed definitions and expectations which don’t allow for a more universal understanding. Yes, we are going through some “horrible” and “uncertain” times recently, but we are often blinded to the “gifts” they offer as well. Not gifts wrapped in shiny paper and tied with a red ribbon, but the gifts of reflection and opportunities that every situation has to offer, if we are willing to look.
Q: Did you draw any of the illustrations in the book?
A: Nope. The little spot illustrations are courtesy of Dover books which publishes a variety of clip art in the public domain. I looked through hundreds of these little engravings to find the perfect fit for each “What If”. I chose them for their old fashioned charm and ability to give my book a more timeless feel. I didn’t want the book to look hip or trendy, not that I could even if I wanted too.
Q: Were you always creative and what was your first artistic creation?
A: I was a complete nerd as a kid who became a ham radio operator and learned Morse Code, like the radio operator on the Titanic tapping out SOS, except that no one came to my rescue either. In high school I was member of the Staples Players as the “lighting guy”, probably because I knew how to plug in a light. Somehow, this got me into Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon), as an Electrical Engineer. All my friends in the student union were in the drama department who convinced me to change my major to Theater. and I graduated with a BFA. My roommate at the time was painting a huge pop art Elvis, so I tried doing my pop art version of a friend from a photo, and it ended up in a prestigious art exhibit at Silvermine. Soon, I started getting commissions, and the TIME covers and the Postage Stamp came shortly thereafter. Go figure.
Q: Can you tell us about your lenticulars?
A: In his twenties, my father worked on “Snow White” as an animator for Walt Disney, which required 24 drawings per second, but his description of the process planted the seed of storytelling through animation to my brother and me. Lenticular is a medium dating back to the 1950s, which combines and animates only two traditional images into one photographic frame. They originated as tiny Cracker Jack prizes called “Winkies” which depicted a hula dancer or an eye winking at you in motion. I found one of these about 20 years ago and thought how amazing it would be to see them much larger, hanging on a gallery wall. I finally figured out how to do it, and started creating pieces to exhibit, and have been doing them ever since. I think of lenticulars as my little movies with only two frames. And I saved a fortune by not going to NYU film school.
Q: Current art exhibitions?
A: A 30 piece lenticular installation called “Signs of Compassion” which first appeared at the Westport Library in 2017, was acquired as a permanent exhibit for the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains. And I will be part of a two person exhibit called “Double Indemnity” with Ann Chernow at the Westport Library (CT) from June to August, as a tribute to the iconic noir film of the same name. Coming full circle, I will now be using the lenticular medium to depict an entire movie with double imagery.
Q: You do a lot of volunteer work – which nonprofits do you work with?
A: Over the past 30 years or so, probably most of them in town, including CLASP Homes, TEAM Westport, Wakeman Town Farms, Remarkable Theater, Domestic Violence Crisis Center, Homes with Hope, Save Westport Now, Friends of Sherwood Island, Westport Womans Club, Levitt Pavilion, Postive Directions and the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center. Any yes, I actually have some paying clients too, which affords me the selfish pleasure of helping out.
Q: You designed a U.S. Stamp and Time Magazine covers and countless logos (please provide photos or lmk if they are available on website). Do you have any wild aspirations to produce something of national notability again and if so, what would it be?
A: Oddly, I have never been that ambitious, and if I had to pick one word to describe my career, it would be serendipitous. Without a formal art education I never had the confidence to approach clients like TIME Magazine or the U.S Postal Service, but these assignments came to me through a series of crazy circumstances. I never pursued any of them. I would have liked to have created another stamp, and it is a very long and convoluted story, but I was banned for life from ever doing another one. I was scheduled to have an exhibit at the United Nations, proposed by Senator Murphy, but then covid hit and their exhibition schedule ended until further notice.
Q: What is your greatest artistic accomplishment?
A: What I am most proud of is having been asked to create Westport’s first town flag in 1985 as part of their 150th birthday celebration. I grew up in Westport and it has afforded me and many other artists, so many opportunities to grow and to find a welcoming home for our art, so, being asked to design the flag for my home town was an immense honor. As for an “accomplishment” there is nothing better for an artist than to have a viewer connect with your art in a powerful way, and I once had the unreal experience of someone coming up to me during an exhibit, with tears in their eyes, to tell me how meaningful my art was to them. Some movies with 200,000 frames and a 100 million dollar budget can’t always do that.
Q: What is your greatest fear?
A: Aside from being afraid that Todd won’t give Amber a rose on “The Bachelor”, my greatest fear is to wake up from this imaginary life with locked-in syndrome, like Jean-Dominique Bauby who wrote the “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”. It haunts me to this day.
Q: Do you think creative people look at life in a different way and if so, how?
A: I think we are all capable of creative thoughts and ideas but so-called “creative people” are delusional enough to think that the world needs to see, hear or read what we have to say about life, love and zombies. And the “World”, it turns out, seems to enjoy experiencing these delusions at a safe distance in a book, theater or gallery. Artists are usually the people who look up at the sky while everyone else is looking for their keys.
Q: Love, Health, Wealth and Happiness all can be achieved on a sliding scale… we may enjoy different degrees of each at different times in our lives. Do you think we have the ability to increase/achieve more in each category by how with think and act? Can your book help?
A: Any book can help if it prompts the reader to throw the book away and write their own story. To my mind the only thing that stands in the way of obtaining Love, Health, Wealth and Happiness, is the limiting definitions we impose onto them. Yes, once we change our thinking, then I believe that those things will start to appear. What if all it took to achieve Love, Health, Wealth and Happiness was to start taking inventory of what we already have in those realms, and not focus on what we don’t have. It’s an ancient concept called gratitude.
Q: How can people keep up with what you do – where your art is exhibited? where they can get more copies of your book for gifts?
A: You can buy my “What If” book and learn more about it on https://www.whatifthisbookcouldchangeyourlife.com. I don’t use social media very much, and even though I design websites for other people, I don’t keep my own lenticular website current, but there is some work and videos there at www.miggsblenticular.com. I will have a piece in a juried show called “Coming of Age” at the Ridgefield Guild of Art opening April 9, and the Library show with Ann Chernow opens June 7, and I usually have some work in the gift shop at the Silvermine Art Center in New Canaan.
Q: Anything else you would like to share?
A: My brother and I do a podcast called “Oh Brother, Not Another Podcast” on Apple podcasts and wherever podcasts are available. We have done over 75 episodes with everyone from rocker George Thorogood to actress Dee Wallace, the mom in Spielberg’s E.T. All episodes available at www.brotherpodcast.com. Thank you!
About Miggs Burroughs
A lifelong resident of Westport, Connecticut, and full time graphic artist since 1972, Miggs has designed hundreds of logos, ads, brochures, and now websites, for commercial and non-profit clients throughout Fairfield County. He has created award-winning posters for Save The Children, The American Red Cross and Baskin-Robbins, among others. These, along with the Westport Town Flag and an Easter Egg for Reagan’s White House (which now resides in the Smithsonian Institution) are among his more celebrated work. His early Pop Art style paintings and prints were shown in galleries in Boston and New York in the 1970’s. Early assignments in this style included a U.S. Postage Stamp and four covers for TIME Magazine.
More recently, as a member of the Silvermine Guild in New Canaan, and of the Westport Arts Center, he has won much acclaim for his cutting edge lenticular imagery – one of only about a dozen artists in the country working in this medium. He has exhibited in several one-man shows throughout Fairfield County since 2003, and has won “Best in Show” awards in many group exhibits. One of these images was also chosen to be a part of the Westport School’s Permanent Art Collection. He is represented by Southport Galleries in Southport, CT, Gallery 286in London, England, and at Everiss Gallery in Schattenhalb, Switzerland.
Miggs is a 1967 graduate of the Carnegie Tech Drama Dept. in Pittsburgh (now Carnegie Mellon University). His short-lived career in the theater began and ended with an audition for “The Graduate”, when an actor of questionable talent, named Dustin Hoffman, got the part of Benjamin.
Miggs’ and my beloved hometown is known to be home to many artistic people… here is a snippet about it seen in the WSJ…
“For more than a century, Westport, Conn., has been a destination for artists, first attracted by its scenic location along Long Island Sound and the Saugatuck River, its proximity to New York City and, later, its vibrant community of painters and writers.
A commitment to the arts lives on today. The town’s beloved Westport Country Playhouse produces an ambitious roster of plays and its former and current residents include many prominent actors. There is a popular high school acting group called the Staples Players, an art center, galleries and a fine-art festival.”