“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Albert Einstein
Curiosity percolates at the center of my being. As an artist I think it’s an essential trait and it’s one I can trace back to being a kid. At ten it nudged me to go into the forest, fields and swamps near my home and collect ‘specimens’ to turn our small greenhouse into a natural history museum. At twelve, it inspired me to start an oceanography club so that I could learn about the ocean’s creatures (my dad’s hobby was scuba diving.)
Being curious is being open to possibilities and this ‘possibility thinking’ really clicked in when my primary medium was photography. I took a week-long workshop with the seminal fine art photographer Garry Winogrand and his somewhat brash and declarative philosophy about the photographic process really resonated with me.
He said: 1) the world is filled with infinite interesting photographs, 2) the photographers only job is to decide where to stand and when to push the button, 3) the camera does the rest by translating four dimensions into two (and in my case also from color into black and white). Winogrand made clear that curiosity was the driving force to go out into the world and describe it without making the same picture twice. I really latched on to that idea of repeatedly going to look anew. Ultimately it was also my curiosity that prompted me to put down the camera. The mediums clear descriptive nature was becoming too constricting and I wanted to resume collecting things - but now put them together in new ways.
“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” Albert Einstein
While I was a high school art teacher (retired Jan ’17) I was repeatedly asked how I knew all of this ‘random stuff’. My response was always that the world is a weird and interesting place and by constantly asking questions one can learn, be amazed, and sometimes come back with some pretty cool stories. Sadly, over time, I found many, many students did not have the basic curiosity to do even a decent Google search for a piece of useful information. Pure adolescence was part of this problem but I think a bigger impediment may be attributed to the constant exposure to screens…from television to mobile devices. Being curious is active engagement with the world. Staring at a screen is passive and a lack of curiosity can lead to mediocrity and an acceptance of the status quo. If curiosity is being taught at all (and I suspect that it isn’t so much) it has to be strong enough to withstand that blue light.
“We are all born without knowledge, but curious. With curiosity we should be able to learn as much as possible. With curiosity, it has to take a lot of work to remain ignorant.” Benjamin Franklin
Human history really is the accumulation of endeavor and discovery all driven by our innate curiosity.
Research has shown that curiosity not only helps us to learn (when we are intrigued we remember) but it helps make learning more rewarding as it lights up the part of the brain associated with pleasure. Additionally it instills persistence through the recurring process of questioning. The good news is that we can learn to become more curious. Go to this article for a good start.
An interdisciplinary artist writing on art and art making.