A Sense of Wonder

Remember wonder? Most of us came with a sense of wonder. Think of a kid at Disneyworld. Or that kid with a brush or a pencil or sidewalk chalk drawing their creations. Or just playing with toys.

Somewhere along the way this sense of wonder is squeezed out of most of us. We “grow up” and see everything coldly and analytically, or we live in fear of everything that could happen to us. Of course we have to grow up, but losing our joy and wonder of the world is a tragedy.

My point of view here is mainly that of an artist, but the comments generally apply in a much broader scope. In a sense this article is a followup to a previous one on learning what excites us.

Wonder drives us

As artists (or well-balanced people) wonder is what makes us take a fresh look at everything around us. It propels us forward to discover and explore. Wonder lets us walk around the block and see something we have never noticed before that interests us or leads us to make a connection with something else.

Wonder is the “what if?” that leads us to see new things or try new things. Without it we tend to do the same things over and over mechanically, routine. As artists we can easily get in a rut. We always produce similar work, because that is what we do. Maybe that is what we became known for.

A rut is stagnant. It always goes the same places. We don’t grow. Eventually we get bored with what we are producing and it shows.

Wonder feeds our curiosity

One of the greatest benefits we have as humans is curiosity. Most of us are not grubbing around to look for our next meal or to simply survive. We want to create, to make our mark. We know there is something more than the day to day activities that occupy us. Questions intrigue us and we want answers. Or at least, we want to try to figure them out.

I believe, and this is totally non-scientific, that wonder leads and drives our curiosity. If you don’t wonder at something why would you be curious? Wonder sparks the “how?”, “why?”, “what if?”, “could I?” side of us. It shows us there are new dimensions to explore, new sights we have not found yet.

Being open and receptive to wonder makes us take a fresh look at the world around us.

Permission

Are you looking around you and really seeing things? Or are you moving through life in a fog, with your headphones on and buried in your phone?

Not to sound judgmental, but that is what I observe of most people around me. The reality is that wonder is a still, small voice that needs quiet to be heard. It is easily drowned out by noise. The world around us inundates us with a constant stream of media designed to keep us captive and tuned in to their stream. I know from my own experiments that I have to unplug to activate my wonder and curiosity.

Try it. Go out sometime without a camera or sketch book, just you. Leave your phone in your pocket. Put away the headphones. Just wander. It will seem very strange at first. Disconcerting. But keep at it.

After a while I predict you will start to look around more. You will start to actually see things, maybe for the first time. Let your curiosity feed on it. What is that? Was this always here? That’s interesting, but I’ve never noticed it.

It basically comes down to giving your self permission to slow down and explore. This is a hard step for some of us. Practice it. It is kind of like meditation. It may seem strange at first, but it gets easier and more beneficial with practice.

And in my experience, it works the same driving in a car. That is, turn off the radio and just look around (as much as you safely can). Give your self permission to take side trips, to stop and look at anything that catches your eye. Let those cars pass you. Try it. It feeds your mind and it gets easier with practice.

Play

I started off talking about the natural wonder we had as children. To some extent we can recapture it. We just have to un-learn some of our adult traits. A good path is to learn to play again.

As kids we played a lot. BTW, I hope you let your kids have lots of unstructured time for play. Not with socially relevant or educational toys, but with a box or some paper or string or … Anyway, adults can play, too. It is good for us. Very good.

Follow your curiosity. Pursue goals that probably won’t lead to a profitable outcome, but that you are interested in. Learn something new.

As an artist, assign yourself a strange project. One you have never done before and aren’t likely to put in your portfolio. Explore the dark recesses of your tools, like Photoshop blending modes for example. Not to create something great, but to explore and find out what might happen.

That’s one of the things about play, it is usually unstructured and just for you. There is no intent to produce something for other people. The benefits are indirect and very personal.

Be different

I highly recommend you redevelop a child-like wonder for your work and the world around you. Give your self permission to be unconventional. You will start to see more. You will become more curious about things. Hopefully you will act on your curiosity. Observe, experiment, plan to throw your experiments away. The joy and learning is in the doing or the seeing.

In my art I have followed my curiosity and am starting to see beyond the traditional limits of my media. I push past the conventional views I have long held and try to re-imagine the normal. I am doing whole new views of common everyday scenes. You may not like it. Nobody has to other than me. But it renews me. I feel like I am opening up new doors.

Please try to renew your art and your life. It is the only life we have.

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