The Art Of Noticing: 131 Ways To Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, And Discover The Joy In The Everyday, by Rob Walker
Admittedly, as a creative person I am someone who is more than usually interested in the quotidian details of ordinary and mundane everyday existence. As a blogger, I am tempted at times to review the manhole covers I drive over, some of which are more than a little jarring, and I have to admit that this book contains both some challenges I have already profitably taken on my own (like the challenge of standing in front of a piece of artwork for ten minutes or more to build a deep understanding and appreciation of it) and those that I might very well take on, such as the joy of eating at every restaurant along a particular and somewhat disreputable street. Admittedly, the author himself appears to have somewhat radical political aims, but all the same the importance of noticing what is going on around us is a task that is well worth appreciating even in cases such as this where one does not entirely trust the motives of the author in terms of whatever other agendas he is trying to push at the same time.
This book is a bit more than 200 pages (because some of the suggestions take up more than one page) and begins with an introduction into the art of noticing, looking at our distracted age as presenting a challenge to the important act of paying attention. After that the author’s challenges and suggestions are presented in five chapters based on the themes of looking (1), sensing (2), going places (3), connecting with others (4), and being alone (5), after which there are some acknowledgements and suggestions for further reading. Furthermore, the challenges come with ratings of one to four eyes based on their level of difficulty. Some of the challenges, for example, relate to art and art museums, where the author urges interaction with the guards, research of a museum’s donors, and paying attention to other museumgoers. One challenge urges people to record ten metaphor-free observations about the actual world this week, which could be a challenge for many (it rates as three eyes). Other challenges urge the reader to write a letter to a stranger, invent a narration for quotidian footage, reading labels to see what is omitted, or empathizing with a rock. Many of these things are activities I would actually enjoy.
How you treat this book will depend a great deal on your own interests and your own purposes. For some people the reminder that one needs to notice what is around one is enough to make changes in life, but many of these challenges will likely test someone outside of their comfort zone. Most of us, myself included, can be a bit self-absorbed sometimes, lost in our own private worlds, space cadets oblivious to what is going on around us. A book like this, and the challenges on it, is a handy reminder that there is a lot going on around us that warrants our attention, that the places where we live can be seen with fresh eyes like a tourist would have, and that there is truly a great deal to do and to see and to think about that drives boredom and complacency away and that reminds us of just how much of worth and value there is in the ordinary and mundane details of existence. If a label on a piece of clothing can remind us of the existence of the Cambodian young person who made it in some sweatshop, or a piece of cardboard with a frame cut out of it can prompt us to learn how to frame good photographs without a camera, then there are many ways that we can be encouraged to notice what is around us a bit better.