The Art of Noticing No. 19: Look At The Pictures; New Icebreaker; New Orleans Event
|Rob Walker||May 23, 2019|
The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday offers exercises, prompts, provocations, games and things you can actually do to build attention muscles, stave off distraction, pick up on what everybody else overlooked, and experience the joy of noticing. Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Knopf | All purpose link for readers in UK/Europe or US
This newsletter offers related news and ideas that have come along since I finished the book.
Events in New Orleans & Dallas
Those of you in New Orleans: there’s a launch event here for the book Thursday, May 30, 2019, 5:15–6 PM. This is part of the Birdfoot Festival, and I’ll be talking about the book — and presenting some of its exercises in a collaboration with Birdfoot musicians/artists. It’s going to be fun!
A book signing and happy hour will follow. The venue is The Shop at the Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp Street, 3rd floor. More here:
I also have a talk + museum tour coming soon with the Dallas Museum of Art. More on that next time.
So exciting to have The Art of Noticing out in the world. Thanks to those of you who reviewed/rated the book on Amazon or Goodreads. It helps! If you enjoyed the book, please consider this; thank you. Thanks to the brilliant and wonderful Amy for the pic of the book at Brazos Bookstore in my home town. Made my day.
1. Spend Time With Photos You've Already Taken
Writing about Garry Winogrand in The New Yorker the other day, Peter Schjeldahl noted how one of the photographer’s famous street images made Schjeldahl feel humbled as an observer: “It tells me that, as much as I relish city life, I miss perceiving all but a fraction of what goes on around me,” he wrote.
“Seeing was its own reward, for Winogrand. The photographer Stephen Shore has remarked that Winogrand didn’t need to develop his pictures to know how they’d look any more than Beethoven needed to hear how his music sounded.”
Actually, I suspect this is true for all of us sometimes — if we let it be. The idea that seeing can be its own reward specifically animates one of the prompts in the book, which is to take a “photo walk” (using various tips designed to help spot better images), but without a camera. Just look, and see.
But here Schjeldahl (and Shore) also got me thinking about the opposite point: Surely sometimes even Winogrand didn’t know exactly what he’d captured until he looked at the picture. And that, in turn, got me thinking about the pictures we take and never revisit, not even once. How many digital images do you have, on your phone or in the cloud? When is the last time you went through them? For most people, this would be a daunting task – much more so than sorting through proverbial shoebox of snapshats from an earlier era.
Start small. Go back to the earliest digital photos you can easily access. Take a look. See what you’ve forgotten. See what you’ve got. Seeing can still be its own reward, even in a photo, years after the fact.
2. Random Endorsement: Overheard NY
This Instagram account has more than a million followers, and is evidently one of several similar accounts, so it's clearly already a big deal. But it was new to me. And thus perhaps to some of you?
It's just what the title suggests: amusing snippets of overheard dialogue. A great example of what I call in the book poeticizing the irritating. Makes me laugh every time I look. (Thanks: Marianna!)
3. Icebreaker of the Week
One of my favorite party games is to ask a group of people this simple question: What is your oldest or most cherished grudge?
You can read about some of the responses writer Tim Herrera got, here. An icebreaker and a party game aren't quite the same thing, but I think this works. Even better, this idea does double duty. Because while Herrera argues that you should let go of your grudges, there's an argument to be made against his intuitive advice.
I've written in an earlier newsletter about the case for an enemies list. But even more on point: I'm reminded of this interview with Sophie Hannah talking about the upside of a grudge. My tl;dr gloss: A grudge is not a feeling, but a memory of a story – something useful, not painful, and potentially even constructive. Write down your deepest grudge and learn from it. Listen to that interview or check out Hannah's book, How To Hold A Grudge.
Meanwhile I'm still collecting new icebreakers and have plenty to share. Send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or got it elsewhere) to email@example.com
4. Well-Noticed: A Deep Dive On Shade
Places Journal, which you should absolutely read, recently published an epic piece on what sounds like a pretty workaday topic: shade. But it's fascinating — a deep dive into the politics of shade, who gets to enjoy it, and where it's absent.
Writer Sam Bloch focuses on Los Angeles, but he's identified a subject we can consider anywhere. As you move through your home city or cities you visit, think about where there is shade, and where there isn't —and why. As Bloch asks:
Who decides where the shade goes?
Okay, that's it! As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals (and your icebreakers). Reply to this email or use firstname.lastname@example.org.