How To Be An Explorer Of The World Helps Readers Tune Back In

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Cover_spread_htbaeotwCover_spread_htbaeotwWe’re all blind. Overwhelmed by a thousand stimuli, busy as hell, we tune out the world. Who has time to appreciate the beauty of the world around us when we’re always in a hurry? How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Art Life Museum aims to help busy people find a creative outlet in the midst of their routines, rather than cramming it all into special creative times. Written by writer and artist Keri Smith (author of the Guerilla Art Kit) the book features a number of "explorations" to help people reconnect with the oft-ignored detail around them.

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Here’s an example, Exploration #17: "Instant Sculpture — Consider that everything around you is a source for sculpture. Try making quick pieces using whatever you have around you in the moment." Now there’s an activity that would take mere seconds, but might add a little whimsy and creativity to your life.

Here’s another, Exploration #46: "Found Patterns — Collect or document as many patterns as you can find while on your travels. You may decide to use only patterns in nature, or human-made, or both. Pencil rubbings work well for this."

If you click on the image you can see a quote at the bottom. Ms. Smith packs the book with thoughtful quotes from well-known and relatively obscure authors. There are dozens of these quotes, and they subtly reinforce the book’s direction.

Another cool aspect of book is Ms. Smith’s awesome art and lettering. Printed two color inside, with no type used at all — not even page numbers — this book serves as an example of what the author is trying to teach us: creating, documenting, collecting. Analog instead of digital, natural in place of artificial.

Despite my immediate appreciation for the book, in some ways I found it a little cryptic. What’s with the struck-out "Art" in the subtitle? What’s a busy parent supposed to get out of the book if they have no time for creativity? A few days ago I emailed Ms. Smith to find out:

The subtitle calls your book a museum. What gives?

I am interested in the idea of taking art (or museum shows/collections) out of the realm of "institution" and into the hands of the individual, one does not need a formal space to put things in, in order for it to be valid. A museum is what YOU make it. You decide what goes in it, what is interesting, why it is interesting, how it could be displayed. It gives the reader permission to create their own portable (or not portable) show. It doesn’t have to be a public show either, it could just be your own private collections of whatever YOU find interesting. Think of it as a kind of "Sim Museum", except in the real world. The book begins with ideas about what and how to collect things you find in the world (found objects, thoughts, ideas, stories, things from nature, etc.), a section on various ways of displaying the things you collect, and how to set up a showing.

Self_ethnography_3Self_ethnography_3You give the reader ample room to take notes. What’s so special about documenting your explorations?

Traditionally this is the role of an explorer, to observe and document the world. It is through the documenting process that we learn about how we see (and use all of the senses). This is important because it helps us to determine what we are drawn to, what moves us, what gets us excited about life, what new directions we might want to head in. Whether you approach it from an artistic or scientific perspective, there is much to see and examine.

You frequently refer to paying attention to senses. Don’t we use our senses all the time anyway? What is "Deep Looking"?

Science has shown that people who live in the country have much greater sensory abilities than people who live in urban environments because they are able to tune into extremely subtle changes in their environment. The urban environment with it’s overabundance of noise, both visual and auditory causes us to "tune out" on a regular basis, to the point where we don’t notice things. Most of my work encourages the reader to "tune back in" in a conscious way. I would add that by staring at screens all day there we are doing little in the way of smelling, touching, tasting and listening, (though these things might vary for some).

Deep looking is "tuning into the things in your environment that often go unnoticed, that are hidden because of their familiarity". Some examples, light, cracks, dust, stains, textures, etc.

50_things50_thingsYou encourage people to make collections. Tell me more about what this is supposed to accomplish.

Collecting is an important part of the creative process. To be creative it is not necessary to be able to draw or paint. From the book: The root of the word "art" means "to fit together" or "to arrange", we can begin by playing with materials or objects, organizing them in a variety of ways, making new combinations, and then observing the arrangements we have made. Creativity arises from our ability to see things from many different angles.

My favorite exploration is #35, "Invisible City" where readers recreate their city as a magical or mythical place. Tell me more about this.

I borrowed this idea from the author Italo Calvino, where in his book "Invisible Cities" he invents magical worlds that don’t exist, but that you wish did. I feel that it is important to develop the use of our imagination (in addition to the senses). This activity involves the use of both observation and imagination, taking your current landscape and altering it slightly.

I notice none of the activities seem to involve looking into a screen. Do you have something against the TV or computer?

Not at all, I love technology and use it a lot. But computers are just tools, they are not a substitute for the natural world. Our culture offers a lot in the way of technological activities. I would like to present alternatives to these.

There is a quote in the book that relates to this:

"Close observation of a single subject, whether it is as tiny as Pasteur’s microbes or as great as Einstein’s universe, is the kind of work that happens less and less these days. Glued to computer screens, we have forgotten how to look at the natural world, the original instructor on how to be curious about detail." -Jennifer New

Instant_sculptureInstant_sculptureSay a busy mom is reading your book. Probably she can’t actually take the time to do many of the activities, and maybe not even one. What can she get out of the book?

I am a busy mom, that is a large part of why I created this book. I realized after having my child that I did not have as much time to be creative (sometimes ten minutes stretches), or if i’m lucky an hour while the baby sleeps during the day. The book talks about tuning into the world wherever you (that means your kitchen while you are washing the dishes, i.e. noticing the patterns of light made by the water, or while on your daily walk, collecting bits of interesting detritus, paying attention to the food you prepare and looking at it from a different angle) most of the activities do not require a lot of time. The point of the book is that it is possible to find interesting things while you are in the MIDST of your life, not during special time that you set aside. Maybe you are waiting in line at the bank and you tune into the patterns on the floor that you never noticed before. It does not have to take a lot of time.

For me, I see the value of the book as being more philosophical than mechanical. One ought not feel as if the Explorations are necessary to actually do in order to get your money’s worth. Just reading the book provokes thought on the way we live, and what we’re missing.

Keri Smith’s blog

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