Sense of wonder in a very ordinary scene

Do you still have a sense of wonder? Can you get excited by simple, ordinary things around you? If yours has faded I hope I can refresh your excitement and help you redevelop wonderment.

It came built in

When we were small, most of us had this wonderment. Everything was new and fresh and exciting. An ice cream cone, a kitten, a flower, a ball, a bicycle – they all captivated us. We could go out and play all day with a cardboard box.

But then somewhere along the line, we “grew up”. It is what we were supposed to do. At least, that’s what they said. We became too “mature” for that child-like wonder. Cynicism replaced wonder. Boredom chokes out the joy we had.

Are our lives better off based on cynicism? Perhaps we should try to recapture some of what we had. I believe we can relearn some of this joy and wonder if we work at it.

Change the context

Most of us lead pretty routine, repeatable lives. Making a change to the routine can wake up new ways to see things. Go out for walk. Get up earlier. Sleep in later. Instead of going to one of your normal restaurants fix a picnic and go to a park. Stop and look at a sunset. Really look.

See a road you haven’t been down? Take it. See what’s there. It will probably only take a few minutes, but you expand your viewpoint and feed your curiosity. It’s worth it to me. Even is it is ugly and awful and seems to be a waste, I believe you are better off for breaking the routine and trying it.

Feed your curiosity

Are you still curious? I ask seriously. Many people don’t seem to be curious about the world around them. I think that is part of the cynicism that shuts down the desire to know more. For some it is enough to try to decide what’s for dinner and which TV show to watch.

If you are reading this blog I hope that is not you. I hope you burn with curiosity about a variety of subjects. Let that drive you to do something. Look it up. Build something. Try something new. Read a biography of someone you admire.

Let me give a small example that is completely off topic from art, but relevant to the idea of curiosity. My city is installing fiber to the house broadband throughout the town. So for months there has been strange equipment around putting the conduits underground. I was curious about how that worked so I looked up some articles on horizontal boring. It is pretty fascinating. It is a much better way of installing pipes in areas where there is already a lot of utilities in the way. Now when I see this equipment I have a better idea of how it works and I feel better for taking the time to satisfy my curiosity.

I believe curiosity goes hand in hand with our sense of wonder. They each support the other. As you let your curiosity grow and feel its way in different directions your wonder will grow at what you are discovering. And your wonder encourages you to be more curious.

Slow down

Slowing down can be hard for us. The world pushes us forward at breakneck speed. Faster, be more productive, multi-task, don’t slack off.

But slowing down sometimes (and unplugging from media and social networks) can be very good for us. When we take it slow for a change we see new things. We see things in new ways. Let your mind rest and catch up. Give it some time to relax and think.

And like changing the context, slowing down allows us to see things different. Instead of flashing by with little thought we can take a new look at things around us. Start to really see. Seeing leads to wonder.

One of the things I love to do is show someone a picture and have them say “that’s pretty neat, I’ve never seen that before.” And I point out to them that it is a block from where they are and they’ve passed it 100 times without seeing it. Some people are insulted. But some learn from that that there are interesting things to see all around ir you are receptive.


This is an easy one. Travel takes us to new locations, out of the norm, maybe out of our comfort zone. This is good. Things seem new and different, and for a while we tend to look around more.

It has always been said that travel is broadening. I agree. The change in perspective and environment and getting out of the usual can be very good for us. One of the hard things is to bring this awakened viewpoint back home. We so quickly fall back into our ruts.

You have control of your attitude. Come back from the trip with a commitment to see your local area as if it was an exotic destination. Sounds silly, but try it.

it’s an attitude

You control your ability to find wonder around you. It is an attitude and something you can practice to improve. Like learning any new habit, it takes time and hard work.

First, you have to decide that a new sense of wonder is worth it. It might take a while to rediscover that spark and recognize it. Then you have to practice finding it. Then you have to keep on pushing yourself to keep looking with fresh eyes, even when everything seem so boring.

Be open to it

Wonderment is really something we find within ourselves. We have to look inside and discover that we are curious and new things we see and find can be exciting and worthwhile.

Climb out of your rut. Take a fresh look around. See with new eyes and a new attitude. Practice, practice, practice.

Somewhere inside is still some of that child-like wonder we used to have. When we bring it out again we have a fresh and exciting life. Be amazed.

Note on the photo: This is a perfectly common and ordinary scene where I live. You would probably walk by it with barely a glance. I have changed it in ways that makes it abstract and difficult to recognize, and to me, it exudes wonder.

A Sense of Wonder

A result of following curiosity

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.


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.


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.

Living With ADD

Lone, dissenting, different sheep

I have semi-jokingly said I am probably ADD. Attention Deficit Disorder. I grew up before it was popular (or profitable) to label it. I may be, and if so, I am proud of it. It actually has benefits. (Yes, I know – potentially debilitating… It’s generally called ADHD now. I have at least one family member diagnosed with it and I probably have some form of it. But I’m looking at the positives.) By the way, I resent being labeled as having a “disorder” just because I’m different.

My “problem”

I suspect I am ADD because I get bored easily. I am impatient. It is hard for me to suffer fools. My mind wanders a lot and I am easily distracted at times. I don’t like to follow instructions. When watching training videos I greatly prefer recorded ones, so I can listen to them at a higher speed and skip through rambling or useless parts. And I try to avoid boring tasks.

This makes a seriously mind-numbing task like preparing taxes agony. It is well worth it to me to pay someone to go through the tedium. Yet my annoyance is selective, depending on my interests. I used to be a software developer. I could sit and focus single-mindedly on designing or writing code for hours, not even realizing the time. Likewise, now I can get lost spending hours at the computer processing images. What would be tedium for some is not necessarily so for me if I am interested in it.

On the positive side, this “malady” gives me a huge curiosity about a wide variety of things. I love to pursue new subjects and learn new things. It makes me very attentive to things happening around me. So I am predisposed to notice things most people pass by. That is a secret to my style.

Modern ADD

Those are some of my “problems” that make me what I am, but there is a trend going on in the modern world that concerns me a lot. Much of the world seems to be captive to a new type of attention deficit disorder – our communication devices.

I may be easily distracted by things around me, but much of the world now seems in a box, oblivious to the world except what they can see through their phone or computer screen. This scares me.

It is the norm now to see everyone walking, but glued to their phone. To see many people who can’t even drive without dangerously checking email or texting. To see that most people sit at a computer or TV most of the time instead of getting out into the world.

Stuck to the screen. That becomes many people’s world.


The new anxiety seems to be fear of missing out. Fear that if we are offline for a few minutes we will miss something important. That we might be irrelevant if we do not immediately comment on the latest trend or viral video.

It is common for people now to check their email or messages or Facebook dozens of times a day. I have read that the average (young) person looks at their phone over 250 times a day. Fear. An impossible treadmill.

What is the actual benefit of that to you?

Virtual living

The virtual world has become a surrogate life for many people. But it is a poor substitute. Real life is happening in the real world. The things we do do not require a Like or an upvote to be significant. The world does not need a smiling selfie of you to make an event important.

I read that most people spend most of their time everyday consuming media. These are packaged experiences being fed to us to entertain us. Sounds like the Matrix or other dystopian science fiction. Wouldn’t it be healthier to be out exploring on our own? Wouldn’t it be healthier to create our own adventures?

Living in the collective means we lose the ability to think and feel and plan for ourselves.

Missing out on life

I readily admit to being neither a fan or a user of Facebook or most other social media. While I see some benefits of connection with long lost friends or relatives, the downside is the addictive power it has in many people’s lives and the amount of information they accumulate about us.

First, make a life worth living. Then spend a little time telling other people about it. If we don’t have the discipline to unplug and be independent we should treat this as any other type of dangerous addiction, like alcoholism. ‘Hello, my name is [____] and I am a Facebook addict.”

Embracing my ADD

I readily admit I am probably ADD. I accept it and live with it. Even more, I embrace it for the positive aspects it brings me.

I have a bottomless curiosity. I will take “side trips” anytime to explore things I do not know. Because I have always done this and learned new things, I have a large base of knowledge. That makes it easier to build on and connect the dots as Steve Jobs said.

I hate passing by a road if I don’t know where it goes. I really like to find out what is around the corner or over that next hill. When you look for them, interesting things are everywhere. Learning to see takes practice. Perhaps my ADD, if I have it, makes that easier for me. No matter the reason, I love that and am thankful for it.

I fear that younger people coming up will not have that curiosity and drive. I fear they may lose the ability to even look around and see the world for what it is or to live as an independent being. That will be a great loss for all of us. The benefits from the always connected, media driven world are not worth losing touch with the real world around us.

I encourage each of us to have the courage to think for ourselves. Learn to be alone in our own head occasionally. Inside is our spirituality. Inside is where creativity comes from. Step out of the hamster cage and see the Matrix.

Don’t waste your opportunities

For all his faults, Steve Jobs was wise in some ways. I will close with a famous quote from him:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. Steve Jobs

Afflicted with Curiosity

Huge blue bear peering in window

I admit, I have the disease. I am consumed with curiosity. It drives a lot of what I do. It pulls me in different directions. I am afflicted with curiosity.

And I’m glad.

In one of his books, Jonathan Kellerman has a character say “Most people aren’t overly afflicted with curiosity. It separates the creative and the tormented from the rest of the pack.” I think he has captured the idea very well.


What is curiosity, really? Is it a learned skill or a inherent personality trait? Is it good or bad?

Dictionary.com says it is “the desire to learn or know about anything; inquisitiveness”. That is a good start. Like any fairly large concept, there is a lot more to it.

I like that it is presented as a “desire”. There is a longing. Something burns inside you causing you to pursue things. A variety of things. You never know where it will lead you.

Inquisitiveness is a great work, too. It implies exploration, searching, investigating. Curiosity is the basis of learning. I mean real learning, not what passes for it in our education system. Learning comes from wanting to know about something and working to figure it out.

I am no authority, but my thought is that some people have a greater tendency to curiosity than others, but it is a skill that most people could develop. If they really want to.

What ifs

Curiosity starts with a question: what if, how, why? The desire to answer such questions and what we do about it can change us. Sometimes these questions are about something no one else has done. At least, we do not know if they have. The questions can arise because of something we have seen someone do and we wonder how it was done.

Regardless of what sparked the question, something compels us to dig or investigate or try things until we satisfy the need, scratch that itch. A simple question may be satisfied by a few articles found on the internet. Some lead us into years of investigation and experimentation and end up changing our lives. This is the danger and excitement of curiosity – we do not know where it will lead.

A drive or a diversion?

I am presenting curiosity as mostly good, because I believe it is, but is that always true? Have you ever been in a situation with a boss/teacher/parent where the answer is a cold “because I said so”? Have you worked in an environment that had written procedures to handle every situation and you could not deviate from them? Asking too many why or how or why not questions can get you in trouble in these places. There are places that intentionally stifle curiosity.

My reaction is that I have to get out of those situations. I get very frustrated if I can’t ask why and try something new, That is just me. I am driven by curiosity and am generally suspicious of rules.

In some cases curiosity can be a diversion from the path you need. Many skills require repetition and long practice. For example, martial arts or music or golf need an instructor to guide you and you have to put in the hours to master it. Too much curiosity while you are building your base knowledge can delay or interfere with your training.

This brings up the idea that there may be a proper time for curiosity. There is a tension and a natural balance between the right time and the wrong time. Sometimes you are not ready to ask certain questions. More preparation may be necessary.

A base for curiosity

This may be controversial, but I believe to be really effective, curiosity needs a good base of knowledge and maturity. It is something that builds over time and with great effort. The more you know, the more separate concepts you have, the easier it is to build on them and connect the dots.

When you start on the path to learn something new, you are a novice. You don’t really know much about the subject you are studying. It is great to have curiosity, let that motivate your study, but do not believe you understand it yet. Be humble enough to know that you don’t even know how to ask good questions yet. Be patient.

I subscribe to the model that your knowledge is a network of concepts. Learning something new builds on these concepts and ties them together in new ways. The wider your base of concepts the better you can see relations between new things. The more fertile your imagination becomes, allowing you to imagine possibilities that are not obvious to others.

It is a never ending process. I hope to be learning new things and seeing new possibilities until the day I die. The better the mix of knowledge to build on, the richer the environment.

Everyone has a different mix. In my case, I have a strange brew of things from photography theory and practice to artificial intelligence, software architecture, software development, user interface design, graphic design, sculpture, business, and general technology. Temper that with Christianity, raising kids, being married for a LONG time, and the lessons learned from making my way in the world over decades. I am happy to have this network of knowledge. I believe it helps my creativity and feeds my curiosity. It makes me the unique person I am.

Do you have to be curious to be a good artist?

This is a tough question to answer in a politically correct way. The simple answer is that I’m not qualified to answer it. I’m not sure anyone is.

A more realistic answer is that I don’t know, but I can’t think of a great artist who was not curious. Think of Leonardo daVinci. He was a scientist, engineer, architect, he studied color and texture and anatomy and the perception of the human eye. Few artists are so extremely wide ranging, but the ones I know of share an extreme curiosity.

In taking classes from artists as diverse as Peter Eastway or Karen Hutton, a theme that comes through strongly is that you have to explore and be driven by your curiosity. They assume that you will bring your own point of view and not imitate anyone else. And why would you want anything else? Your curiosity will draw you in a unique direction with a style that is all your own.

This is not a proof that curiosity is necessary. But it is hard to disprove it.

Give in to your curiosity

I strongly encourage each of you to give in to your curiosity. Allow it to lead you to new places. Be an explorer.

Personal projects are a good vehicle for trying new things. Pick a project that challenges you and stretches you in a new direction. Maybe a subject you seldom do. Maybe a new type of processing you never use. Set a time limit for yourself if that is the way you work. At the end, evaluate it and decide if you have learned anything valuable that you want to carry forward in your work. It does not matter if you end up with “portfolio pieces” from the project. It is the exploration that is the benefit.

Explore, reinvent yourself, follow your creativity, stay fresh. Don’t do things a certain way because you’ve always done it or because a respected teacher taught it that way. This is your art. Go your own way. Follow your curiosity.

I’m definitely tormented. I think I am creative in my own limited ways. It is curiosity that makes it happen. I hope I do not recover.