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Live, love but don’t laugh: making the case for inspirational quotes

They’ve been memeified, mocked and parodied, but inspirational quotes are taking on a new lease of life in the hands of illustrators and designers

A few months back, a simple but strangely moving quote was doing the rounds on Twitter. A refreshing antidote to the platform’s usual menu of sarcasm, fighting and bad news, it was three simple words: lemurs, toilets, exit.

Captioned with ‘New Live Laugh Love just dropped’, ‘lemurs, toilets, exit’ ticked a lot of boxes when it came to image-based observational comedy. It’s silly and surreal, but it has a distinctly profound, existential feel to it—perhaps thanks to the word order. Crucially, it subverts the easily mocked, saccharine platitudes that fill internet social feeds, reminding us that ‘today is a great day to be amazing.’

These pithy little sentiments of advice, positivity and reassurance have long been so omnipresent as to have developed a distinct visual language: stock imagery of sea, sky or sunset overlaid with scripty serif fonts, or more recently, child-like chalkboard style lettering. Their ubiquity naturally invites parody.

It’s easy to be cynical about ‘inspirational quotes’ and their memeification when much of the internet feels like a huge fridge, adorned with tacky gift shop magnets. But a newer wave of illustrated #inspo takes them into the realm of self-care, placing them in the broader context of more youthful wellness trends like body positivity, mindfulness and even Tarot.

Illustrator Justyna Green has just completed a January-long project in which she posted a different ‘kindness prompt’ each day in the form of a two-sided digital card on Instagram: one side showed an illustration and a few words, such as ‘reflect on dreams’, while the other offered more detailed text garnered from Green’s ongoing research into kindness. “It’s about being kind to yourself: there’s a positive outcome, but it comes from acknowledging that maybe you’re not kind to yourself, or that you’re a control freak or that you don’t get on with some people. They’re things we all experience but that we don’t talk about enough,” she explains.