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.

How Fragile is my Style?

Deserted playground

Some photographers say you should look at and study as many examples of other artists work as you can. Others say you should not view other’s work. Underlying it is an assumption of how much our own style might be affected by other artist’s work. Is my style fragile and easily influenced or is it inherently robust?

I have been reading the book More Than a Rock by Guy Tal. (I have no financial incentive in recommending this) Guy is a very thoughtful writer and the book is challenging. I recommend it. It has no tips for taking pictures, it is about why we take them.

Artistic Promiscuity

A recent chapter titled Artistic Promiscuity made me examine some of my beliefs. Like many artists, I occasionally have self-doubt about my style – about whether I really have one. Guy poses the situation ‘I was baffled when I recently heard from a fellow photographer asking if I would recommend avoiding viewing other people’s photographs as a means of isolating one’s own “vision”.’

A vocal proponent of just such a position is my friend Cole Thompson. His blog is well written and has some great insights. But he has a controversial position for his own life, he does not look at other people’s images. He calls it Photographic Celibacy.

Guy attacks this straw man he set up, arguing about artistic history and how creativity flowed and developed over time as artists were inspired by other artist’s work. And he talks about how seeing great art is inspiring and elevating, especially to another artist.

He goes on to say “So be promiscuous, at least when it comes to art. Seek and study and contemplate and revel in art of all kinds and genres and styles – the more the better. Find what inspires you and articulate to yourself why it inspires you. Borrow but don’t steal; incorporate but don’t imitate. Find inspiration, wisdom, and knowledge in the works of others, and in return strive to inspire others with your own work. Such has always been the way of artists.”

Guy’s advice is very mature and inclusive. He has a strong world view and belief structure. A self-confidence that comes from experience and values. It is good advice, at least for him. It may not be universal advice for everyone in every stage of development.

Photographic Celibacy

Cole, on the other hand says; “As I stopped looking at other people’s images and focused on what I was creating and what I thought of my work, my Vision began to emerge. The work I am creating now is my work, not an imitation of someone else’s.”

He has been on this path for years and is not likely to change his mind. He says “Ten years later and I’m still practicing Photographic Celibacy because I find it a useful practice for two reasons: first I’m still inclined to copy other’s work. … And the other reason I still find Photographic Celibacy useful: it keep me focused on what I am doing and not what others are doing. When I look at the work of others I find myself comparing their images and successes to mine. Sometimes I get discouraged at the large number of great photographers out there and all of the great images being created. All of this is an unnecessary distraction that keeps me from my purpose: creating images from my Vision.”

This seems to work well for him. Cole has a distinct style and he is a great photographer.

What is Vision?

These two good artists disagree in how to develop your vision and grow as an artist, but what do they believe “vision” really is?

Guy says “There is nothing to find – your vision, voice, and personal style are already in you by virtue of the unique amalgam of experiences, sensibilities, stories, and beliefs that make you who you are.”

On the other hand, Cole says of vision “It is the sum total of your life experiences, it is the lenses you see the world through, it is your photographic personality and it is your inner voice (or the ‘force’ for you Star Wars fans). There is no need to be able to define, identify or describe your Vision. All you really need to know is that your Vision is there and then follow it.”

Put these side by side and they are really saying the same thing – our vision is a unique property of who we are. It is inherent in each of us.

Who is right?

It seems that the Artistic Promiscuity position and the Photographic Celibacy position share the same belief of what Vision is. The difference is how to get there.

Who is right? I believe Guy is right for Guy and Cole is right for Cole. They each recognize something about themselves that requires or allows them to behave in a certain way.

Cole adopted his philosophy early in his formal career when he had doubts about his vision and style. He recognized that he was being influenced by other artists and needed to isolate himself to discover his vision. He recognizes and clearly states that this path is not for most people.

Guy seems to be have a personality that thrives on the inspiration from other artists. He is confident in his vision and does not feel any temptation to imitate them.

They are both right – for themselves.

Fragile style?

So is style really fragile? Probably not, but following and expressing our style is a very personal and individual journey. We may be going to the same place but we all take a different path to get there. Some of us get lost on our path and end up in the weeds.

I admire that Cole recognized his nature and need and acted accordingly. It would be great to have the confidence of Guy, but in reality I am more like Cole. I am getting better, but the artistic spirit is a strange mixture of fragile and robust.

Theodore Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

I think this is a wise warning. It is well proven that spending too much time on Facebook is destructive because you compare your everyday life that you know has problems to the happy, exaggerated image others portray.

Likewise, being a photographic artist is a difficult thing these days. Everyone in the world is a photographer it seems. We are flooded with beautiful images all the time. It is hard not to compare ourselves to the best work we see out there and not feel doubt. It is hard sometimes not to think we should do work more like something we admired.

Promiscuous or celibate? I think we have to know our own nature enough to decide.

Is style fragile? No, not if it is really just who we are. It is probably not the style that is fragile but it can be hard to have the confidence to believe in ourselves and follow our own style. It can be hard to go against the stream of popularity. And some of us may need a quiet place to recognize our style and get to know it.

How about you? What are your thoughts about style?