Curiouser and curiouser

23

Dear Artist,

This morning I was on the phone with a painter I’d Googled. He Googled me as we spoke. We looked at each other’s stuff. Then we mutually Googled the same works of the Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla. We moved on to Francisco Domingo Marques, a teacher to whom Sorolla gave a lot of credit. This led to the less well-known Bernando Ferrandiz and Munoz Degrain, fellow Valencians who were also influences on Sorolla’s early work. They were great painters we had not previously heard of. We live in the fastest curve of democratic learning yet to occur. Search engines have the potential to revolutionize traditional systems of education. It is a wave of free thinking and awareness of alternates, a bonanza for the independently curious. Like the “Mind Mapping” concept developed by Tony Buzan, ideas and images flow naturally from one to another and form into an ever-expanding web.

Alice crammed in Rabbit’s house, and illustration from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865 engraving by John Tenniel (1820-1914)

Alice crammed in Rabbit’s house, an illustration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865
engraving
by John Tenniel (1820-1914)

In his remarkable little book, Painting as a Pastime, Winston Churchill said, “I have always had a curious nature; I enjoy learning, but I dislike being taught.” Winston understood one of the basics of learning — self-direction — the way of the autodidact. He would have been proud to announce the triumph of independent curiosity. The giant online Wikipedia is currently about ten times larger than the tree-based Britannica. And it’s not the largest. That honour goes to the Hudong, founded in 2005 by Dr. Pan Haidong, with over 4 million articles and 2 million registered contributors.

White Rabbit checks his watch, illustration from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865 engraving by John Tenniel

White Rabbit checks his watch, an illustration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865
engraving
by John Tenniel

Since its inception in 1967, the American magazine Psychology Today makes a pile of magazines about 20 feet high. You can mouse every one of its mind-benders. If you happen to be thinking about creativity, for example, try Googling any of the following: “What do creative people look like?” “Stimulating imagination through constraints.” “Painting and praying.” “Being nice to yourself increases creativity.” “Get creative, lose weight.” “Hobbies — the personal path to creativity.” “Are conservatives less creative than liberals?” “Can fundamentalists be creative?” And so it goes. On and on. This is the time of the curious. And it all comes through a tiny line or out of thin air to find us in our homes, offices and studios. “Curiouser and curiouser,” cried Alice.

Best regards,

Robert

Alice finds a tiny door behind the curtain, an illustration from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865 engraving by John Tenniel

Alice finds a tiny door behind the curtain, an illustration from
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865
engraving
by John Tenniel

PS: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” (Arthur C. Clarke)

Esoterica: After talking with my new friend and fellow traveller, I wandered to my easel. It was still early. The cars on the distant highway were tiny lights moving toward the big city. The laptop beside my palette sprang to life when I touched it, producing a sharp image of last summer’s rugged mountain climb. “Is this a dream?” I wondered. Somewhere around 1830, a British Lord, seeing an early steam engine, declared, “This is not good; now the common people will be able to move around at will.” I picked up my brush. “This is good,” I thought, “now the common people can go anywhere their curiosity takes them.”

This letter was originally published as “Curiouser and curiouser” on March 26, 2010.

Mouse Tells a story to bird, an illustration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865 engraving by John Tenniel

Mouse Tells a story to bird, an illustration from
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865
engraving
by John Tenniel

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“When I used to read fairy tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one!” (from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll)

 


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23 Comments

  1. We have at our fingertips more instant information than ever before in the history of man. There is so much information we can never hope to consume or comprehend a fraction of it. We are also losing more information than can be recovered. Our old digital devices and deterioration of digital files are corrupting and simultaneously all of our ports, connections, and information devices are evolving so quickly we cant keep up with them all.
    Fortunately, we also know that paint can last several hundred years… so not all is lost. Books.?? .. well unless they are printed we may lose a lot of them too. Interesting times!!

  2. My computer is failing. I am finding new work arounds until I’m able to get another – which is very frustrating because I am spoiled by being able to look up random bits of information as this letter suggests. I didn’t expect to be so frustrated by this, and it is certainly revealing my curious nature. It’s also revealing how far I live from a library and how I cannot go inside due to covid restrictions. I’m reliant on the internet to check out materials so I can set up a curbside pick up, also online. It’s all an unexpected turn of events! What I wouldn’t do for an encyclopedia – the list is getting shorter.

  3. So….curiouser & curiouser….the information spins out of control and the truth gets absorbed and morphed and twisted and converted and bent to suit the most vociferous cyber pundits with the most vigorous agendas….then voila! We have a plethora of “influencers” as arbiters of how to think, act and react. How original and innovative! Very appropriate to use Charles Dodgson’s Alice as an example here….Snark!

  4. I am finding the onslaught of information to be detrimental.
    There seems to be a constant drive to do, read, see… more, more, more.
    Information and stimulation is good, no doubt, but I’m afraid we’re all overstimulated these days.
    Anyone else feeling this?

    • Yes, the more information we find, the more we want, almost like being addicted to a drug.
      the problem comes when we spend more time looking than doing.
      Social media can be a major time suck and many artists have tried to limit or abandon it all together just to get some work done. A double edged sword for sure :(

    • Absolutely. Overstimulated to the max . Too much of everything – too much noise, too loud, too many choices, too many festivals, too many parties, too many movies, most of which are not worth watching, too many emails, texts, posts – all too much . It is exhausting.
      Not enough down time, not enough quiet, not enough one-on-one interaction, not enough reflection or time and space for reflection, not enough being alone without the distraction of all that is available. Not enough poetry reading, not enough uplifting music that is not frantic, not enough time in nature, not enough nature. It goes on and on.

      • Jan thank you . I feel the same, what helps me is leave all electronics and take a nature hike if you can . I go north about 2 hrs. From phila. And find a park pull over and walk ,listen and breathe to the woods . QUITE REFRRSHING. then do 90 mph home to get back to it. Just kidding . You can really reflect

      • What really is the connection between data and knowledge? It seems to me that is the problem. We can have access to all the data in the world, and it seems we have a lot of it, not all of it reliable of course, and it is also overwhelming. Our brain is not structured to assimilate so much so fast. So what happens to the real ‘me’ while I go all over the place on uTube discovering a lot of ‘knowledge.’ I do have some favorites, especially the nature programs and the art history programs out of museums, still, the question remains what I am going to do with that data, or is it now knowledge? How does it shifts my worldview, my relationships, and what I want to create. I live without a TV thanks heaven and still, I feel overwhelmed by what is out there. My smartphone is dying and now I have it off for some time making me realize how hooked we are to all our digital ‘stuff.’ Is it a better life? Is it a better world? What is gained, what is lost? I think a lot is lost. I go to my books, a good solid paper and ink ‘thing’ that I can hold, and it feels good and trustworthy. A very curious person, thinking how to manage curiouser and curiouser.

    • Yes I too feel that overstimulation . Sometimes the urge to paint is overtaken by searching on the internet instead. Eventually I reach the stage of leaving it all and heading into nature as the ultimate distraction and a necessary touch of reality.

      • How overstimulated I feel these days! And working on several wildly different paintings doesn’t help all the time. Right this minute, I am waiting for the last load of laundry to dry, then to painting. Instead of having to escape into nature, our house and yard has provided me with inspiration and a good physical workout — until this week. We’re having snow and rain (in southwestern Utah!) and so I have allowed myself slower working pace, time to breathe, and time to play Native American flutes.

    • It’s a known phenomenon called FOMO “Fear of Missing Out.” It’s why people are so lost without their cell phones. It’s tragic, really.

  5. Jennifer Van Amburgh Moody on

    I have a special affinity for Alice, both the story and Tenniel’s illustrations. I know it has been deconstructed and dissembled, but I appreciate the creative imagery it provides young minds. Nothing like it! Thank you for the refreshment!

  6. Yes Jan, I agree 100%. Thank goodness we have the ability to make choices. Personally I have to work hard at self discipline to make deadlines, to say “no” when necessary, AND to keep a happy balance. Not easy with the persistent interruption. No wonder we live in such stressful times worldwide.

  7. So nice that you mentioned Winston Churchill’s “Painting as a Pastime.” It’s a treasure. And it’s not very long. So even the digitally converted should have an attention span equal to reading and appreciating it.

  8. Strangely, this past year I have delved more deeply into one thing at a time, rather than pursuing too many directions. I looked up all kinds of things sparked by a moment’s curiosity, and then promptly forgot a lot of it. I read all of Jane Austen, mostly online, which convinced me that my eyeballs are more precious than the cost of a few used books. Then I read or reread all of Ivan Doig, a wonderful Montana writer who created a whole world out of the landscape and a few quite interesting families. One hundred years worth in 14 books, both fiction and autobiographical. Now I’m reading Anna Karenina again. And you’ve made me think Alice in Wonderland needs rereading, too.
    I’ve made a lot of stuff, too, mostly small artists books, finishing off limited editions and some singular ones as well I used up a lot of practice pages of my lettering, and a lot of watercolors that didn’t work out. Though my motto has been to FOCUS on things, the down side is a spurt of too many New York Times crosswords puzzles, all online, and late night Sudoku binges. But I filled a wonderful little sketchbook with pen and ink drawings, too.
    The difficulty has been finding meaning in all of it. Am I just filling my days, or is any of this significant?

  9. What very interesting and varied responses. At the tender age of 75 (this Friday) and a retired RN, I have become curiouser and curiouser. As a school girl though, I disliked libraries and found it difficult to not only navigate the system, but to keep turning my head sideways to read the book titles. I haven’t changed my view on that. Reading encyclopedias and telephone books is right up there with the importance of libraries in my world.

    Having said that, I love surfing whilst having my morning cup of internet; one thing just leads effortlessly to the next. And all at my fingertips. Everything. That includes art tutorials, art history (Art & Object), and art forums like Robert and Sara’s. And let us not forget the occasional Netflix for entertainment.

    I find myself eager to learn and learn and learn (not usually from TV; ours is rarely on in the daytime – music is much more soothing.). As well, forest, river, and mountains are literally out my back door where nature trails, birds, elk, and deer are in abundance, acting as my muse for ‘plein air’ and studio painting .

    My latest ‘learning addiction’ source comes from BBC Earth. I currently spend many evenings (while my husband is learning nothing watching sports) pondering the creation and wonders of the Universe. For example, do most people know that according to astrophysicists with their instruments and math calculations, it all apparently started 13 billion years ago with the Big Bang? Then all was in darkness for 100 million years at which time the free floating hydrogen proton remnants from the BB, started to bump into each other and ‘stick’, creating the stars and planets. And on and on. Then 4.5 billion years ago our own solar system came into being. And here we are. Now isn’t that a lot more interesting to contemplate than going down the rabbit hole and dragging up scandalous damaging sh*t from 20/30/40 years ago when societies were less enlightened and morés were different? I’m sooooo glad I’m not ‘in my prime’ right now. Although actually, I believe I am.

    Cheers,

    Verna

  10. It’s healthy to be curious. An inquisitive mind shows a thirst for knowledge. I’m thankful I am of a curious nature, although it was considered a fault and lack of self discipline in my younger days. Now in my older days, I have noticed I get lured into going down other digressive lanes when I need to finish the one I’m on. Sometimes curiosity in finishing some things just doesn’t have the same glow of interest.

  11. Charles R Eisener on

    In microscopy there is often a tendency to emphasize magnification rather than resolving power when referring to the optical properties of a given instrument. The internet is quite similar – we have GB after GB of information that provides precious little knowledge of any real value. I would suggest that the larger part is personal opinion and highly flavored by the economic or political persuasion of the author rather than an honest reflection of truth or fact. There is a reason that so much is free on the web – who in their right mind would pay for it?
    Having said that, there is much of value to be found if one searches in the right places.

  12. All this knowledge at our finger tips, and yet so many look only to the cherry picked view that fits their mindset. Rather than to look also to the apposing view to better educate themselves. I think that if you have two extreme views the truth is somewhere in the middle.

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My art represents an artistic journey that has been on-going for more than thirty-five years with help and guidance from many wonderful artists. Now, with years of plein-air painting experience, study and solo exhibitions, I believe that my current work has reached its highest level, reflecting the depth of my absorption in the wonder and beauty of the world around me.  I have learned that, as an artist, I will never stop looking for better ways to express my feelings in art and that struggling to more fully understand myself is integral to my painting; a philosophy that was part of every workshop I taught. Still is.

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