WordsDay: Wonder as You Wander—Review: How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith

Grab a walking stick, sling on a backpack, grab a notebook, and don your pith helmet. Keri Smith and her inventive new book want you to go exploring in an effort to free your creativity.

How to be an Explorer of the World: Portable Art Life Museum challenges readers to look at the world around them with fresh eyes. “Creativity arises from our ability to see things from many different angles,” Smith writes.

In that vein, Smith’s book reads like a primer on how to capture everyday wonder.

Set up like a workbook, How to be an Explorer of the World is divided into three main parts: a how-to-use-this-book section that helps a reader discover the right mindset for exploration, a section that contains almost 60 exploration exercises, and a section for jotting down field notes.

Smith invites readers to think of the book as a “metaphorical suitcase,” a place to collect and document thoughts, ideas, and observations. “It is also your museum,” she says. “Your very own museum that will contain your unique vision of the world… You can visit your museum whenever you need ideas (or if you want to see what is floating around in your brain).”

The book appeals to both mind and hands. Smith urges readers to collect, examine, touch, consider, move, write, manipulate, listen, reflect, wander, and wonder. She starts by offering a list of 13 tips on how to be an explorer of the world, a list she came up with one night when she couldn’t sleep. “Always be looking,” she advises as her number-one guideline. “Everything is interesting. Look closer.”

But she’s quick to point out in her opening that she’s trying to create a frame of mind, not a set of immutable laws. “There are no rules, only suggestions,” she says. “Treat everything as an experiment. Start with whatever makes you feel a twinge of excitement.”

Some of the advice that follows seems obvious and commonsensical, but part of her point is that the things that are obvious to us are the things we are most apt to overlook. Readers might sometimes be half-tempted to think, “Well, duh!” but Smith’s straightforward sincerity completely disarms such thoughts. She is as earnest as a golden retriever in her encouragement and enthusiasm. The world through Smith’s eyes is an exciting place.

Smith places great emphasis on “found” things—items a person might happen to find lying around the house or in the forest or in a corner of the basement. Wonder exists all around us in everyday, mundane things.

In that spirit, her book has a homemade feel. It’s entirely hand lettered, for instance, which allows the text to wander across the page in much the same way Smith encourages readers to wander. The charm lasts for the first 60 pages or so, but after that, it does get a little tedious. When Smith includes hand-drawn graph paper in the back of the book, it’s hard not roll one’s eyes.

Fortunately, Smith packs enough cool ideas and explorations into her book that the book never gets too tedious. Smith’s own sense of wonder is far too effervescent to let that happen.

In one activity, she encourages explorers to go for a walk and indentify existing “art” found along the way—accidental art not created on purpose. “Some examples include stains on the sidewalk, spilled paint…residue, corrosion, rust, things that are damaged, random arrangements of objects that you find interesting….” In another activity, she challenges explorers to “come up with several ways of documenting the passage of time, based on where you are sitting.”

While the book’s intended audience may be visual artists and writers, teachers of all grade levels will also find this book a welcome addition to a classroom. For elementary teachers, How to be an Explorer of the World offers fun, hands-on activities applicable to a variety of disciplines, while middle- and high-school English and art teachers will find useful tools for unlocking student creativity.

But in a wider sense, anyone looking to challenge the way he or she looks at the world, anyone looking to think outside the box, and anyone looking to explore will all find How to be an Explorer of the World an invaluable source of energy and inspiration.

Happy exploring!

3 replies »

  1. Yeah, Jon, there is very much a call to get in touch with your childlike sense of wonder in the book for readers.