The “make it art” game that TAoN has riffed on (in the book, as well as this post and this one and this one) took an expected turn recently. Friend of TAoN Austin Kleon, having previously declared a can picturesquely stuck in a wall to be art, took things one step further and made a museum label for it:
“Load-bearing Beverage,” from Artist unknown, c. 2021! Needless to say I find this both exciting and charming, and it got me thinking about how this practice overlaps with a couple of other TAoN prompts, as well as other uses of museum-style labels or similar signage that I sometimes reference in lectures and talks.
For example, there’s a prompt in the book to “annotate the world.” This can be a more serious enterprise, like pointing out the hidden and even scandalous or shameful history of a building or monument (to use an example I cited in the book).
But it can also definitely be more imaginative and light-hearted. Waaaaay back in TAoN No. 4 (when I envisioned this newsletter as a promotional exercise that would last a few months), I noted an example from Miguel Marquez Outside putting up a plaque declaring The Tallest Weed.
(Later I got the artist behind @miguelmarquezoutside to suggest a prompt to TAoN readers. Check that out here.)
Other examples can be perhaps witty and serious at once. This one came from Street Art Utopia:
The next one also, I believe, makes a point, but I cannot for the life of me track down the details anymore. (Even a reverse Google image search turns up nothing.) My recollectioin is that some prankster at the Los Angeles Times put up these museum-style labels pointing out stuff that needed to be fixed around the office, recharacterizing each flaw with an absurd “artist” back story. (This can be considered an example of what I call poeticizing the irritating in the book.)
If anybody out there recalls the full back story, please enlighten me!
Finally, there was a great project several years ago called the Museum of the Mundane. An agency called The Partners created a set of museum-style tags for “mundane” fixtures of the NYC environment such as hot dog carts, coffee cups, Chinese takeout boxes, bus shelters — urban design classics, really. Each label told a bit of history and back story and was attached to or placed near the object in question, converting the everyday world into a legit design musuem.
Oh, and I should also mention that Austin links to this post about How To Make Your Own Home Museum Displays, which is a funny idea.
What all these examples have in common of course is inspiring a shift in what we see — and in how we value what we see. Whatever the additional intent, from impromptu fun to considered argumentation, I’d say that alone makes this a worthwhile practice.
The Prompt: Imagine the world is your museum. What gets a label? What does each label say?
I’d love to hear your examples, too!
My usual caveat: I’m not advocating vandalism, etc., and really you can “label” the world in your head just as effectively.
I have several things in the works for future Thursday posts for paid subscribers, including a lesson via Aimee Mann on paying attention, and a post about why I think people should stop celebrating “saying no.” And there’s more that I don’t want to pre-announce. Anyway lots coming up!
Plus, every Thursday, a fresh installment of The Heard, sharing music that’s caught my attention (in a good way) lately.
Last Thursday’s subscriber post was about my new favorite holiday, and advice on long-term thinking from Dorie Clark.
Thanks for the enthusiastic response to the free subscription offer last week! And bigger thanks to the Founding Subscribers who made it possible!
—> The Dictionary of Missing Words will return next week.
The Art of Noticing is Rob Walker’s reader-supported newsletter about creativity, curiosity, work, and staying human. You are reading the free Monday edition. Paid subscribers get a Thursday issue, too — and those subscriptions make all this possible. Thank you!
In Other News
For The New York Times Magazine’s special issue on design and technology, I wrote about the design legacy of the pandemic. “For nearly two years now, we’ve been gradually but steadily redesigning the world in response to this crisis. And whenever things get back to normal — whatever that looks like — our world will be full of these changes that, blatant or stealthy, will alter the texture of our lives.”
I was flattered to be a guest on The Virtual Campfire podcast. My thanks to Tony Martignetti for the great conversation!
A recent Marketplace Morning Report segment on the documentary Objects includes some discussion of the Significant Objects project that Joshua Glenn and I ran back in the day. We have a new object-related book coming in 2022; stay tuned!
Literature Clock, via The Whippet: “It’s a website that tells you the time via a sentence from a book in which that time is written.” So cool!
“Go to Typatone, tap out a few characters on your keyboard, then click the on-screen button with the musical note. It will play an original piece of music.” Via Recommendo. Very cool! Here’s what you get for “theartofnoticing.” Consider that my new theme song ;)
Brian Wilson, At My Piano, a lovely listen. Via The Sounds In My Head.
Tracking Cranberry Moments: “Finding little delights throughout the course of your day is like that bite of cranberry sauce after a spoonful of meat and gravy.”
Useful coinage: The Stroad (if you click through you’ll need to scroll down). A road “is meant to facilitate efficient and quick transportation between places (think highways).” A street “is meant to be a slow, safe destination for all kinds of users (think of neighborhood streets).” And a “stroad” is “a hybrid between a road and street that does neither purpose well. Stroads are dangerous, stressful (woah, is that car pulling out??!!), and congested.” I definitely know some stroads.
Couple of follow-up links concerning Dorie Clark’s The Long Game, which I wrote about for this past Thursday’s subscriber post. Here is the Charter newsletter’s breakdown of the book, and here is Clark with some big-picture advice drawn from the book, in her own newsletter.
A great episode of The New Republic podcast The Politics of Everything, all about rats.
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, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or use the comments!
—> Or just click the heart symbol. That always makes my day.
And thanks for reading …
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I found the LA Times "Biff Furtz" reference in a string of tweets from Laura Nelson, a reporter there: https://twitter.com/laura_nelson/status/983407959920197632?s=20.
This article made me kinda know why I love Boston so much. Everything is labeled already. Walking the streets is an amble through a museum. It’s not a senseless suburb. It’s an on purpose, well labeled city.