Today I’m talking to Rob Walker, author of The Art of Noticing and its spinoff newsletter of the same name. Rob’s a columnist for Fast Company, a longtime contributor to The New York Times and many other publications. His latest book, co-edited with Joshua Glenn, is “Lost Objects: 50 Stories About The Things We Miss and Why They Matter.”
In this conversation Rob shares how he got into this work around noticing and paying attention to things. We discuss what’s wrong with our attention these days and debate whether noticing is a habit, a mindset or a skill. We talk about some of the 131 different ideas for noticing in The Art of Noticing and discuss specific contexts where noticing can be particularly rewarding .
We also talk about museums, about how we can get more out of museum visits by noticing the ‘wrong’ things, following our curiosity, and spending more time with less objects. We wind up talking about his most recent project and book “Lost Objects” which explores the personal significance of objects, especially those that are lost, stolen, or discarded. We talk about the value of noticing and appreciating objects that often go unnoticed, highlighting how these objects serve as tools for connecting with people and the world around us.
I really enjoyed talking to Rob – hope you enjoy it too!
Claire Bown: Hello and welcome to The Art Engager podcast with me, Claire Bown. I’m here to share techniques and tools to help you engage with your audience and bring art, objects and ideas to life. So let’s dive into this week’s show.
Hello and welcome back to The Art Engager podcast. I’m your host Claire Bown of Thinking Museum and this is episode 115. Today I’m talking to Rob Walker, author of one of my favourite books of the past few years, The Art of Noticing. But before that, in the last solo episode, I was talking about what to do if your group are reluctant to participate in your guided tour or educational program.
I shared some reasons behind their resistance and offered a host of practical solutions. So do go and listen to episode 114 if you haven’t already. And now that The Art Engager podcast has over 100 episodes, this podcast is a great resource. You can take your pick from the huge back catalogue of different episodes to brush up on your skills, be inspired and learn new techniques.
So if you want to support this show and keep it going from strength to strength, you can do so by treating me to a cup of tea on buymeacoffee. com forward slash Claire. Bown. I’ll put a link in the show notes. And finally, if you have a question for the show or want to suggest a guest, feel free to get in touch.
I’d love to hear from you. Okay, now let’s get on with today’s show. Before I share our conversation, let me introduce my guest. Rob Walker is the author of The Art of Noticing and its spin off newsletter of the same name. He’s a columnist for Fast Company, a long time contributor to the New York Times, and many other publications.
His latest book, co edited with Joshua Glenn, is Lost Objects, 50 stories about the things we miss and why they matter. His fantastic newsletter is on Substack and is called The Art of Noticing. I’ll put all the relevant links in the show notes for you. So in today’s conversation, Rob shares how he got into this work around noticing and paying attention to things.
We discuss what’s wrong with our attention these days and debate whether noticing is a habit, a mindset. or a skill. We talk about some of the 131 different ideas for noticing in The Art of Noticing and how he came up with the ideas. We discuss specific contexts where noticing can be particularly rewarding and how we can treat moments of waiting as moments of opportunity.
We also talk about museums, about how we can get more out of museum visits by noticing the wrong things, following our curiosity. and spending more time with less objects. We wind up talking about his most recent project and book Lost Objects, in which he explores the personal significance of objects, especially those that are lost, stolen or discarded.
We talk about the value of noticing and appreciating objects that often go unnoticed, highlighting how these objects serve as tools for connecting with people and the world around us. I loved my conversation with Rob and I hope you enjoy it too.
Here it is.
Claire Bown: Hi Rob and welcome to The Art Engager podcast.
Rob Walker: Thank you so much for having me.
Claire Bown: So I’m delighted you’re here. I wanted to share a story first about how I came across your book. I’ve been obsessed with observation, looking, noticing for quite some time now, probably the last 10 years, and I’m always on the lookout for books that focus on this subject and there weren’t many out there.
There certainly weren’t many practical books. gave you exercises to really strengthen your powers of noticing, of observation. So when I came across your book, I was absolutely delighted and even more to get a copy of it. It’s actually a beautiful book. This is the European version, slightly different to the US one, which I can see behind you.
My work is with museum educators, And a lot of our work as museum educators is based around looking. When you go into a museum, looking is really central to that process. And I think that it’s really important that for us as educators. We get better at looking, at noticing the details so that we can help others too when we’re working with them in the museum.
So that’s a little bit of background to how I discovered your work and your book. What got you into this work around noticing?
Rob Walker: I’m a journalist, so there’s a sort of, there’s two ways to answer this. Part of it is as a journalist, part of what you’re doing is trying to You know, notice things that other people have overlooked so that you can be the first one to write that to explore that subject or write that story or critique that thing.
And I had this, so it was always baked in, but then the second thing was. I’m not gonna break any news here, but I think that a lot of people are worried about just being distracted these days and the sort of war for your attention through advertising and technology and all this. And so I was interested in that as a subject, and I thought that would be a good book.
And I like what you said about how there’s not that much practical out there on the subject. A lot of there’s pointing out the problem and that’s essentially what I was doing at first. And then, then there’s that section at the end of the book where you do 10 pages of here’s what you can do about it.
Here’s some practical advice. And I realized that I had no interest in the first 290 pages that I was planning. I was really only interested in the last 10 and I decided, let’s flip that around and have a short introduction that says, here’s the problem you already know about. Now here’s a bunch of fun things you can do.
Fun, challenging provocations. My editor says don’t use the word assignment, but that’s what they are. It’s very much inspired by teaching and I guess there is a third element, which is I do teach a little bit in a design program at the School of Visual Arts.
And one of the funnest things about teaching is giving kids assignments. And one of the assignments I used to give was practice paying attention, and that was the whole assignment. So it was up to them to figure out what that meant, what to do about it, how to resolve it, and that became the basis of oh, how far can you spin this out? How many assignments could you come up with? And that’s how the book came about.
Claire Bown: That’s brilliant. I was going to ask you about what you meant by practice paying attention when you gave this assignment to students. I thought that was fascinating how they might interpret it, but as you say, it was completely open ended so they can interpret it as they wanted to.
But you mentioned attention there. There’s a lot wrong with our attention. Everything wants to claim our attention at the moment. You say in the book, we’ve reached peak distraction. So perhaps you could just say a little bit more about what’s wrong with our attention these days.
Rob Walker: In some ways, this is not new at all. And you can find examples from a hundred years ago of People complaining about, the distractions of electricity or something. a lot of it is commercially driven. Other people want you to look at, there’s a tremendous amount of effort put into getting You, meaning everyone, to look at certain things at certain times, so advertising and so on, but what’s amplified that is this magical technology that we live with now that the computer in your pocket that allows not only it’s not just companies that are vying for your attention.
It’s everyone, you know, who is, on social media or emailing you or texting you or whatever, and that’s just a battleground for your attention, and it becomes very easy to have this feeling, I’m sure you’ve heard the expression FOMO, the fear of missing out, this feeling that if you don’t pay attention to what everyone else is paying attention to, you’re missing out and you’re doing it wrong.
And that has a really dark side to it. I mean, that’s bad enough, but, and this is why this is an important thing with students, is that I really encourage them to feel like, it’s very easy for them to feel like there’s a subject that they’re interested in, but it’s not trending on social media, or no one else seems to be talking about it, so they conclude, well, it must not be important if no one’s talking about it besides me, it must not be important, and it’s the exact opposite is true, is if you’re trying to be an original anything, journalist, designer, artist, Entrepreneur, any kind of innovation or progress comes about by paying attention to something that no one else was paying attention to and noticing either the problem or the opportunity and going with that.
So it’s not a trivial thing, and because that’s the most important thing you can pay attention to, because that’s what makes you, an individual. Whether you’re even trying to invent something or not. It’s what makes you who you are. It’s the essence of a personality.
You don’t want your personality to be a build up of trending topics. That’s no personality at all. Right?
Claire Bown: Absolutely. I was trying to think about how you would define noticing as well when I was, I was coming up with some questions to ask you. I was wondering whether you see it as a skill, a habit, Or a mindset?
Or maybe it’s a combination of all these things. Perhaps you could explain how you see noticing when you talk
Rob Walker: about it. That’s an interesting question. I’ve never really been asked that. And it is a combination of those things. I mean, I guess that I would just flip the order and say, you know, it goes from a mindset.
I think first and foremost, it’s a mindset. And that’s maybe the hardest step. And that kind of mental break from realizing, that begins with realizing that there is this war for your attention and that you need to your greatest weapon in fighting back is developing the skill of noticing and developing it in specific situations That I always use the, I don’t know why I always use this example, but waiting, killing time at the airport is a classic example of, you really want to go to Instagram and just zone out and or Twitter or whatever Twitter is called now and just, escape the situation that way.
And so the skill of noticing it involves grounding yourself in the present and just change of mindset and figuring out what can I do to be in this place, get whatever value of it I can. And even if the value is, that’s why a lot of these things are very game like. At the airport, I’ve mentioned to people before, one of my favorite pastimes is would I wear that t shirt and just observing people and just, and because it’s amazing what people will wear.
You know, they just like have another bourbon or something like this and it’s like, really? Is that how you want?
So, yeah, it’s a skill that promotes a mindset and it’s a skill that descends from mindset. I think they reinforce each other, those two approaches to noticing.
Claire Bown: Yeah, I like the idea of it being all three. I think I’ve often thought about it as a skill. I think as adults, children notice everything.
As when we’re young and we’re always looking for the details as adults, sometimes we don’t see the point. Quite often when we’re in the museum with groups, with visitors, with our participants, we always quite often start with observing what we’re looking at, whether it’s a work of art, whether it’s an object or historical object or a design object.
And quite often adults are keen to skip that step. They want to jump to the interpretation, what they’re looking at, and they don’t see the point of the observation. So I think that it’s nice thinking about it as more of, yeah, a mindset as well. You’ve got to be kind of in the zone, but really attuned to wanting to do
Rob Walker: this.
Yeah, it’s a great point, and it’s good to mention that point about how children don’t struggle with this quite as much as we do as adults, and that’s the flip side of, as I say, it’s not just a technology, it is a human condition, an element of the human condition. By the time you’re an adult, you’ve seen a lot of things, and you’re trying to be efficient, and this is from evolution of, we don’t need to be and, you know, you do need it, you can’t actually continue to be completely childlike your entire life and wander around Being amazed at grass and things like this 24 7, but if you can recapture a little bit of that, it can shift your perspective, make you see things a different way, and it’s just a better way to live, to be to be open to the moment rather than, as you correctly describe, our frequent attitude is You go to the museum and it’s just well, where’s the famous painting that I need to go see?
And so that I can say that I’ve seen it. And that’s kind of a shame.
Claire Bown: I think that links in quite nicely with the concept of slow as well. And I know you’ve got a couple of exercises in the book, which are around looking more slowly. And I do a lot of work with slow looking. And I remember we talked to Carl Honoré on this podcast of author of In Praise of Slow.
And he said, you know, it’s not about. Being slow all the time. It’s about being selective and choosing the moments that you want to slow down and choosing the moments that you want to savor. Or in our case here, when we’re talking about noticing, be more attentive. And I think perhaps you say something about mindfulness in the introduction to the book as well, that there’s no It’s no coincidence that there’s been this expansion of mindfulness and meditation.
It’s really in vogue at the moment. And maybe there’s a, there’s a link here where we are distracted, as you say, and we do we do have this desire to look at the world more closely and perhaps more slowly. Yeah, I think
Rob Walker: that’s absolutely right. And people have different reactions to the word mindfulness because it, for some people, it sounds a little bit crunchy or, uh, or intimidating that, you know, you hear about these mindfulness retreats where you have to go be silent for two hours.
I totally understand. That’s a little intimidating. But at the same time, I think that the craving at this point has become almost universal for, having at least moments of slowing down and not feeling like you’re checking the box. We have so much focus on quote unquote productivity and how to make them, how to be as efficient as possible and just check boxes all day long, clear your email.
Check your social media, do this, do that, see, and again, it goes back to the, it really is sad when you’re talking about the situation of, well, I’m going to a museum, so I need to make sure I see these five great paintings. And then you’re just doing it as a checklist in your head, and it’s very productive.
It’s almost like, well how quickly can I get out of this museum ? Which is really missing the point. And I think that we sense that even people who wanna be super efficient sense that they’re missing something by taking that attitude all the time.
Claire Bown: Yeah. It reminds me of Oliver Burman’s book as well, 4,000 Weeks, which is part this anti productivity culture, which is about what are we missing by constantly checking things off lists.
Rob Walker: The book is a treasure trove of insights… exactly how many ideas are in the book I know you probably had to narrow it down, how did you come up with the ideas and how many did you end up with?
The end number is 131, people always ask why it’s 131, and the answer to that is that we were going to do 100, then 101, 99, went back and forth about this, but we did have extras I talked to people, I kept my own list, uh, I brainstormed with students. And I credit them because I did give this exercise to them for years of practice paying attention and a couple of their ideas made it in the book.
Um, so they came from all kinds of places, but the number that we settled on, we just decided that it felt more right to have it be a) number that we felt like we’re really behind all of these, we’re not going to cut off stuff just to make it an obvious number. But then we did want it to be, this is very inside baseball, but we wanted it to be a prime number.
Um, just a distinct number. So it is 131 is a prime number, but there were some that we had to cut repetition, or they were just didn’t quite fire on all cylinders, or there was some problem with them. Um, but yeah, and actually, you know, partly to have a weird number is just more notable.
Claire Bown: Definitely stands out more, I think. Yeah. And I’ve noticed you talking about it as a project, and it’s an ongoing project, isn’t it? So I’m also a fan of your newsletter which has been going for a number of years now. So how do the the two relate to each other?
Rob Walker: Yeah, well, I had I had a newsletter, just a personal newsletter already, and then this book was coming out, and I said, well, I’ll just convert it into the related, as one does, uh, to promote my, to promote my book, and then the newsletter kind of took on a life of its own, and You know, the funniest thing about the newsletter project, and I was thinking about this morning because of talking to you, is that when the book first came out, there was A lot of the publicity focus was on things like going to museums and traveling and tips that were in that and exercise that were in that realm.
And then the pandemic happened. And so I had to, and then the newsletter became a place where I was exploring well, can’t really tell you to go take the bus today. So let’s talk about looking out the window or, you know, identifying the weirdest thing in your own living room or things like this.
And there was really, um, like the constraint slash challenge of that really gave the newsletter a boost, gave it its own identity, and that’s what’s going on now, is that it has continued to live, and I get people it’s similar to the book, I get people to give tips and things like this, and and it’s a lot of fun, and it’s a great community it’s very different from a book because you get more, Feedback instantaneously, and more of a community sense, if that makes sense.
But they’re intertwined, yeah. I mean, the newsletter’s called The Art of Noticing, too, so.
Claire Bown: Yeah, and I’ll include a link to that in the show notes as well, so I think it’ll be useful for listeners. The book covers various environments, as you said, where noticing can be… Practiced noticing can take place, so it can be in urban environments, can be in a museum, can be in nature as well.
Are there any specific contexts that you’ve found where noticing is perhaps, you know, especially rewarding or even surprising?
Rob Walker: Well, there, I’ll mention two, two things come to mind. One is the one that we started to talk about before, which is Not just the airport, but just situations where you’re forced to wait, where your time is not under your control, which are often the most frustrating situations.
The doctor’s waiting room waiting for a friend who’s late, um, things like this, like that kind of situation. There are a number of examples of this. But as the mindset example, it’s learning to treat those moments as moments of opportunity, and that’s a very childlike attitude. I mentioned in the book, a writer named Ian Bogost, who’s also, who’s a gaming expert, talking about bringing his daughter to the mall, and he’s in a productivity mindset.
I’ve got to get these six things done here at the mall and then he notices as he’s pulling her along that she’s slowing down and it’s because she’s decided to play the famous childhood game of you know, don’t step on the tile floor, like only step on the black tiles or whatever it is and, she’s bored too, but she’s looking at it as here’s an opportunity to really examine and interact with and be inventive about my way.
environment. So there’s those kinds of situations. The second broad example, and I thought of this because of I’m talking to you today, is actually in museums, which are obviously spaces that are designed to direct your attention at specific things. And, uh, when the book first came out, I got a lot of interest, and I did some, I did a I did a walking tour of a museum in Dallas, the Dallas Museum of Art, that was designed around that was designed around looking at the wrong things at museums, and I have to give the Dallas Museum of Art a lot of credit for this, being willing to have a tour that almost ignored the art.
We didn’t ignore the art but we tried to make it about the place of the museum. And it was also very much, it kept coming back to the art and making you see it in a different way, but it was also about a broader sense of seeing and doing things like when you see it’s the, Joe Smith wing Looking up who Joe Smith is and figuring out why Joe Smith would have a wing here.
And in the case of the Dallas Museum of Art, there was one area, and I can’t remember the patron’s name, but she had very specific requests about how the work would be displayed. And so it… Explained and gave a different context to what you were seeing and why you were seeing it the way you were seeing it.
And that’s not necessarily stuff that’s not, you know, like museums are hiding this, but it, but they, it’s… It’s a skewed way of looking at a space that is very highly considered in its relationship to your attention and where they want your, where they think your attention will be most rewarded, which sensibly is the art, but sometimes you can be rewarded by looking for other things too.
Claire Bown: Absolutely. I love that. Because usually museums are quite often in really fascinating buildings as well. They’re a great place for people watching to see how other people are looking at the objects. They’re great for looking, at. Not at the labels, for example and trying to subvert the way I think we normally, or the way that we’ve been ingrained to think about a museum visit that we behave in certain ways.
We, we look at the object for a bit, then we look at the label, then we look back and we nod approvingly, and then we move on. You know, it’s a very traditional way of looking at it, but what I loved about the art of noticing. Is that you don’t have to play by the rules. You can actually follow your curiosity and think about what if, you know, what if I didn’t look at the labels today?
Actually, I did a post on that on social media a few weeks back and it got some. really negative comments from people suggesting, that we’re trying to do away with the context and all the history behind the objects. And I said no, it’s just another way of looking at a museum visit and, noticing things differently.
Rob Walker: Yeah. And yeah. And making choices. Again, you don’t want to go to the museum for the express purpose of ignoring art, but you can, I think, treat it as a, two of the things we did, one of the, you mentioned the architecture, the space, paying attention to the space I, I had a stop on the tour where we all stopped and just looked out a window.
Because, that’s not what museums are for, but that is, space was designed by someone who put a lot of thought into where the windows would be and what the views would be, and it’s worth taking a break and appreciating, and actually I think enhances turning around then and looking back at human made art when you’ve taken a moment to you are.
and whatever’s outside that window. The other one is, I’m always trying to get people to look at, to notice things that they’re not supposed to notice. So, one of the games, and it was to declare a work of art that is not intended as a work of art. In this case, I remember specifically there was this folding chair that had just been, I assume there was some project going on, so there’s just a random metal folding chair, and sort of off in the corner, and we decided to declare that a work of art created by us, by by declaring it art.
I would say we love that. Again, I give the Dallas Museum folks a lot of credit for it because they tolerated my ridiculous approach to their beautiful space and amazing collection.
Claire Bown: I think any of our listeners would love to go on a tour of the museum with you if if that was the format of it.
Maybe I’m going to put you on the spot here and ask you how can we… get more out of noticing when we’re visiting the museum. So if we were to visit a museum tomorrow, say tomorrow’s the weekend, how could we get more out of the experience by noticing more? Do you have any ideas?
Rob Walker: One idea would be some of what I just said, which is to try to approach it with a mindset of noticing things that you’re not supposed to notice.
But second, I think these will be some familiar ideas to you, I’m sure, but there’s a thing called Slow Art Day and I forget what the parameters are, I think 10 minutes, spend 10 minutes each on looking at five works of art. Whether you adopt that specific thing or not, I do encourage. At least just pick one painting that you’re going to look at for a long time, longer than normal.
This is a traditional slowness exercise, but I think it’s a great way to adapt it to your own needs and you used the word savor earlier, like just try to savor, think of it that way. And see how, people never believe it, but if you do spend that amount of time, you do start to see something differently.
The second one that’s art appreciative that I have stolen from a group called Museum Hacks. I don’t know if you’ve Come across them, but yeah, I’ve heard of them have, yeah. But they do a thing called I think it’s buy, burn, steel which is what painting would you buy? What painting would you burn , what painting would you steal?
And just adopting some version of that. It sounds so crass to say what but it’s actually mind opening to say what painting here do you really dislike and why? Versus which one you love and why. And, I think it’s freeing, because I think one of the people that, this is not true for everyone, but a lot of people who don’t go to museums a lot, those spaces, the downside of all of that, that all of that attention, for lack of a better word, that’s given to directing what you’re looking at and how you’re looking at it.
People find intimidating because they can feel like they can feel like they’re doing it wrong that if they’re not enjoying it, there’s something wrong with them or they’re not performing the way they’re supposed to. And so what is guiding my overall attitude toward those spaces is you’re never wrong.
You need to approach them in a way to find that what works for you or to end if that means that what works for you is. Figuring out exactly why this doesn’t work for you, I think that’s okay. And I think that attitude can carry over into all kinds of situations, but in some ways is extra useful in the museum setting, where we’re so meant to be, for lack of a better word, reverent.
And sometimes it’s helpful to have a little fun with that. Absolutely,
Claire Bown: bring a bit of levity to it. There’s so much seriousness involved sometimes in a museum visit or people feel that there is, that it’s really nice to think of it in a different way. And Phil Terry, founder of Slow Art Day as well, he was also a guest on this.
Podcast talking about Slow Art Day. So we’re big fans of that here as well. I’d love to move on to talk about your most recent book, Lost Objects, because I think there are parallels. Sure. So Lost Objects, 50 stories about things we miss and why they matter. This is. Fascinating title, fascinating subject for me as well.
I’m really fascinated by objects, whether they’re art objects, museum objects, everyday objects. So what motivated you to delve into the significance of objects as your next project? Sure,
Rob Walker: I’ve been working with collaborator Joshua Glenn for, 10 or 15 years now on various object related projects, and what they always come down to is getting writers and storytellers and, and creators to share stories of objects of personal interest to the Significance, surprising personal significance.
So we very specifically, and this does overlap directly within the book. There’s in the art noticing book. One of the one of the exercises is identify the weirdest thing in the room and ask about it. So this is the project that blows that idea out as far as we can. When you go to someone’s house and like, you look at the mantle, there’s some stuff that’s very obvious, like this is this expensive vase, and this is this high design technology object, a Sonos speaker, something like that.
And then there’s this one weird thing, like a ceramic clown, or just something preposterous, and that’s the thing to ask about, because like, why do you have that weird thing? And there’s always a good story. So this was the essence of what Josh and I were interested in, and we have experimented with that on his site, High Low Brow for years, and we did another book called Significant Object that was…
Fiction, but then we got interested in sometimes the most meaningful object is the one that you’ve lost. The one that, like the shoes that you left at the hotel or the the hat that one of the examples is a hunting hat that it got writer Stephen O’Connor. His brother threw it out the window of a moving train and like he, he to this day is haunted.
But, so this presented a challenge for us. In that usually we included with the essays published online a picture of the object. So obviously we didn’t have any of the objects. Yeah. So we decided that and this is what the book became. We would get illustrators to imagine the objects. And that’s what this book became.
It’s a collection of 50 of those stories by writers about objects of personal significance that for one reason or another were stolen, thrown away lost, a lot. It’s funny, a lot of the examples, people didn’t really know how they lost them. They just had some realization that, like, Where is that toy that I have such fond memories of?
And they couldn’t figure out where it had, but so it ended up adding up to the stories taken together, made an interesting statement about the nature of lost things and illuminated our relationship to things, objects in a different way. So it became the book which came out this I guess about, just about a year ago, um, but it, it’s an art book, it’s beautiful, all the, uh, illustrations are in full color Hat and Beard Press did it, and they did a beautiful job with it.
Claire Bown: is a beautiful book, and I think, I also think that Lost Objects seems to emphasize the value of noticing. And appreciating, things that perhaps go overlooked, which may be that lost object that you’ve forgotten about. So I think there’s a continuation of a
Rob Walker: theme here. Yeah, it’s funny one of the reactions that we get to the, all the object work, and this one was true too, is about one out of every ten people we ask to contribute will say, oh, I don’t care about.
I’m not interested in stuff and objects and things like that. I’m just not that kind of a materialist person. And this is always makes me roll my eyes and because obviously it’s not the stuff. It’s not the physical properties of it’s not. We’re not asking people to write descriptions of. The materiality and market value of an object.
Most of these things are worthless. They’re only, they are in a market sense. They only have meaning on a story level. And that is directly tied to noticing because it is looking deeper into something and finding out what, why does this matter? That’s why you ask about the weirdest thing in the room, because it, in telling that story, you’re connecting with someone else.
And you’re asking, and asking about it you’re learning from someone else. And noticing is about interacting with the world, but it’s also about interacting with other people. And sometimes stuff, even dumb stuff, can be a real spark and tool to do that, to make that kind of connection and have that kind of deeper link to another person through an object.
Claire Bown: Yeah, and I think and museums can do a very good job of this and a very bad job of this as well. Museums have stuff in them objects that can tell stories on so many different levels. And sometimes. Those stories are not immediately apparent and I think for us as educators, that’s where the noticing comes in, what details can we notice that will help us to tell the story about that object?
And how can we help people to connect to that object through the stories that we might be able to share as well? So I think it all goes full circle. I’d like to wrap up now, taking up quite a bit of your time, but what are you currently working on? Is there anything upcoming that you’d like to share or point people in the direction of your newsletter?
Rob Walker: Definitely the newsletter. In the fall, I’m hoping to launch some new stuff on the newsletter. We’ve, I’ve been, I’ve actually been experimenting with some series work. One is actually one series that I started, but have let go. slide, but hope to return to, is actually about this. I’m calling it mindful materialism.
It’s a it’s a direct riff slash response to this discussion we were just having about the link between objects and, for lack of a better word, humanity because I think the demonization of stuff isn’t really productive. So that, and then I’ve been doing a lot on listening, both listening to other people and listening to music.
I I’m I got very interested in this concept of being open eared and being adventurous about listening to music and discovering new music. So things like that. And then there might be some book news. Later in the year, but there’s nothing, so tune in to the newsletter to find out.
Claire Bown: That’s really exciting good to share that there’s something, lots of things in the pipeline. It sounds very much to me like you let, you follow your curiosity a lot that mindful materialism that you were talking about, it reminds me you wrote an article in the New York Times about that was on the same theme, didn’t you?
Rob Walker: Yes, and I can’t remember if I used the phrase mindful materialism in that piece or in the, because that piece was about it was against decluttering. I’m sure you’re familiar with the decluttering vogue. And I was like in defensive clutter. And it got some very heated, surprisingly heated responses from people who are very anti clutter and thought that I was attacking what’s her name?
Marie Kondo. Yeah. The decluttering. And I wasn’t attacking her or anyone, but I In the newsletter, I think I ended up using that. I was examining the response and said I’m just an advocate for a more mindful approach to materialism. So yes people can find that article on my site, robwalker.
net. I link to a whole article. I do, I still am a working journalist and freelance all the time. I write for Fast Company and the Times. So that kind of work is out there and ongoing as well. Brilliant. Hopefully we’ll have a big new project to announce by the end of the year.
Claire Bown: Excellent. I remember sharing that article in my newsletter.
So we will link to your newsletter and your website in the show notes. But thank you, Rob, for coming onto the podcast, for talking about the art of noticing the books in the show note. Thanks ever so much.
Rob Walker: All right. Terrific. I really had a fun time. Thanks for having me. Cheers.
Claire Bown: So a huge thank you to Rob for being on the podcast today.
Hope you enjoyed our chat. Go to the show notes to find out more about Rob’s work and the art of noticing and lost objects. Do look up Rob’s newsletter on Substack too. I’ve been a paid subscriber for the past couple of years. And it’s one of the only newsletters I always read without fail. Follow the links in the show notes for that too.
And if you’re interested in noticing more in your environment and in museums, join us in the Slow Looking Club. We have monthly themes and regular get togethers, all based around the idea of slowing down, noticing more. I’ll put a link in the show notes. That’s it for this week. Thank you for listening.
I’ll see you next time. Bye. Thank you for listening to The Art Engager podcast with me Claire Bown. You can find more art engagement resources by visiting my website thinkingmuseum. com and you can also find me on Instagram at thinkingmuseum where I regularly share tips and tools on how to bring art to life and engage your audience.
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