The Art of Noticing No. 21: Reinvent Your Museum Experience; Death Metal 4'33"; New Icebreaker

Hello again,
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.

Book News

  • I had a great time discussing The Art of Noticing with Jocelyn K. Glei (@jkglei) on her terrific podcast, Hurry Slowly. We talked attention, originality, and why creativity starts with noticing. Really enjoyable conversation.

  • 10 Ways To Change How You Interact With Your City. A very well done AoN excerpt in Next City.

  • On the Make Me Smart podcast, I offer my answer to the show's recurring prompt to "talk about something you thought you knew that you later found out you were wrong about." It's at roughly the 40-minute mark, here. (I talked about how I used to think we have just five senses; see "Hunt the Infrathin" on page 96 in The Art of Noticing.)

If you have read & enjoyed the book, please consider reviewing or rating it on Amazon or Goodreads. Thank you!

1. Reinvent The Way You Visit Museums

Earlier this month I had the unusual opportunity to lead a gallery walk through the Dallas Museum of Art. This was unusual because I knew almost nothing about the collection, and in fact could barely find my way around. But The Art of Noticing includes a set of museum-specific unconventional attention strategies, and the idea was to try a few.

There were 32 people on the walk, and my voice had to be amplified through a speaker on a cart wheeled and maneuvered by the heroic DMA intern Valerie Chang. I was, frankly, terrified! During the hour or so I spent familiarizing myself with the space, I kept getting lost. How could this work?

It worked. I made everyone look out windows; peer over balconies and imagine stories about other patrons; look up instead of at the art; listen for and even record the museum’s unique sounds; and seek out flaws like scuffed walls and dust. On a couple of occasions I declared objects such as a curiously located chair to be works of art. I read to the group from a Wikipedia entry about why one museum donor’s collection was displayed in such a distinct manner. And we played “Buy, Burn, Steal,” a game borrowed from the terrific folks at Museum Hack. Most of this was stuff from the book.

The whole thing was a real leap of faith on the part of all concerned, and it wouldn’t have worked without help from Valerie, as well as a veteran docent who happened to be on the tour and actually knew her way around the space. And, of course, a really game group of tour participants. I knew the experiment was working when at one point we all had to pile into a big elevator car — and everyone started critiquing the way it looked and felt! Before I could say anything somebody observed aloud: Once you start paying attention this way, you notice all kinds of things.


The DMA published a blog entry in advance of the tour that includes a summary of ideas adapted from the book for adding a little unconventionality to your next museum visit, here. My thanks to all the above, and also in particular to Carolyn Bess.

2. Endorsed: Death Metal Cover of 4'33"

Thanks also to everyone who came to the Art of Noticing event in conjunction with the Birdfoot Festival in New Orleans. I talked about the book, and we got a rare chance to actually try one of the exercises — "Listen Selectively" — in real time, with a brief but terrific live performance by Caleb van der Swaagh (cello), Kate Withrow (violin), and Robert Meyer (viola). My deep thanks to them, to Birdfoot's organizers, and to Octavia Books.

In the talk, I touched on John Cage's famous composition 4'33", which consists of someone sitting in front of a piano and not playing it for that length of time. A clever audience member asked me if I'd ever seen the video of a death metal band covering the composition. Others had, but not me. If you haven't: here. I endorse!

3. Well Noticed: Fighting Style

The Tumblr Style Makes Fights assesses boxing by way of what the boxers wear: “A look at boxing trunks, shoes, gloves and robes. An aesthetic appreciation of the sweet science.” Good stuff.

I learned of this from the mighty Uni Watch, whose focus on sports uniforms in general suddenly looks a lot less niche. (More seriously, Uni Watch, which I’ve mentioned before, is one of my favorite daily reads.)

4. Icebreaker of the Week

Today's icebreaker comes from Noel Franus:

If you could live in the setting of any book or movie, without necessarily being involved in the story, which would you choose?

"Lots of people choose Lord of the Rings," Noel reports. My answer would probably be Stranger Than Paradise — but that's my answer to almost any movie-related question. Or maybe I'd choose something from Almodóvar. Nice colors in his worlds. Anyway: Thanks, Noel!

Send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or got it elsewhere) to

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
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