Should – initial idea

Of all the powerful words, one stands above the rest as the most toxic and destructive to our mental health.


Should sets an expectation – of what we must do, of how things must be. It creates an instant tension between what should be and the possibility that it might not. Should foreshadows failure, disappointment and guilt. We carry its weight as we aim for the expectation it has set, and if we fall short, it can crush us.

This idea brings to mind images of Atlas shouldering the weight of the Heavens. Somehow, the feeling created by the word should seems similar. The hunched posture of Atlas as he takes the weight seems to convey the way should burdens and disables us. I like this image as a starting point for a visual representation of the power that should has. What if Atlas carries the burden of should?

I wanted to sketch this idea, so I looked around at depictions of Atlas. There are many, but I particularly liked this version from John Singer SargentAtlas and the Hesperides.

His posture here, with his head bowed, seems to convey the burden powerfully. I used this as the basis to make a couple of sketches of the idea I have in mind.

These are just initial sketches to visualize the concept, but there’s plenty to think about to develop this idea. A few initial thoughts of avenues to explore:

  • Does this image make sense with the story of Atlas at all, or is it inappropriate in some way? Are there any other elements of the story that can be brought in?
  • What is it about should that’s so toxic? How might that affect the visual representation?
  • Should is a concept that is perhaps more widespread than ever before – society dictates that we should look a certain way, behave a certain way, live a certain way, and social media provides a constant measure on whether we are living up to expectations.
  • What does the word should do to the brain?
  • The word shoulder starts with the word should – is there a relationship? What are the origins of these words?

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