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The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday

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A thought-provoking, gorgeously illustrated gift book that will spark your creativity and help you rediscover your passion with “simple, low-stakes activities [that] can open up the world.”— The New York Times

Welcome to the era of white noise. Our lives are in constant tether to phones, to email, and to social media. In this age of distraction, the ability to experience and be present is often to think and to see and to listen.

Enter Rob Walker's The Art of Noticing —an inspiring volume that will help you see the world anew. Through a series of simple and playful exercises—131 of them—Walker maps ways for you to become a clearer thinker, a better listener, a more creative workplace colleague, and finally, to rediscover what really matters to you.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2019

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About the author

Rob Walker

52 books89 followers
Rob Walker is a journalist covering design, technology, business, the arts, and other subjects. He writes the Human Resource column for Lifehacker, and has contributed to The New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Atlantic, TheNewYorker.Com, Design Observer, The Organist, and many others. His book The Art of Noticing (Knopf) comes out in May 2019. He is on the faculty of the Products of Design MFA program at the School of Visual Arts.

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5 stars
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610 (36%)
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482 (28%)
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110 (6%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 275 reviews
Profile Image for Fiona.
826 reviews437 followers
May 30, 2019
This might be a useful book for teachers to use with students who need to hone their observational, or mindfulness, skills. Art students, perhaps. For the rest of us, there are some good ideas but I didn’t find anything particularly original. Take time to smell the flowers, listen to birdsong, absorb your surroundings. All good advice, if not groundbreaking.

With thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House / Ebury Press for a review copy.
Profile Image for 8stitches 9lives.
2,784 reviews1,625 followers
May 9, 2019
The Art of Noticing is essentially another mindfulness reference guide but it approaches how we become mindful in relatively innovative new ways and these are compiled in the book as 131 different exercises. Each exercise aims to make the reader more consciously aware and to help them notice more about life that may usually pass them by. They are graded by level of difficulty from easy right through to advanced. Mr Walker emphasises the need to pay attention to the world around us and to firmly plant ourselves in the present. This is an interesting book and you can tell a lot of work and research went into producing it. Recommended to those who are seeking new and diverse ways to achieve mindfulness. Many thanks to Ebury Press for an ARC.
Profile Image for Louise Wilson.
2,746 reviews1,616 followers
April 27, 2019
This is quite an interesting read though am not sure if I will do the exercises as I'm quite lazy that way. There are 131 exercises designed to get us to notice more of what's going on round about us and get our noses out of the moderne technology we have at our fingertips today.

I would like to thank NetGalley, Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing and the author Rob Walker for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Adam Fearnall.
10 reviews13 followers
May 19, 2019
It's a bit of a strange thing to write a review before I've read every word of a book, but in this case I think that it's okay. I think that it's okay because this book is so practical that you'll probably put it down almost immediately (a strange endorsement for a book, admittedly). I started to read it on my morning commute and by the 7th page had already decided to put it away and start "noticing" things. Currently, I'm exploring my city for numbers, taking photographs of numbers as they reveal themselves in the urban landscape. I often facilitate group discussions and strategy sessions; I'll return to this book often when looking for ways to quickly introduce people the joy of applying a lens and looking for patterns.
Profile Image for Dimitris Passas (TapTheLine).
456 reviews66 followers
June 9, 2019
This was a delightful as well as educating read focusing on the concepts of attention and concentration. The writer, Rob Walker, offers 131 concentration/observation examples, or as Walker puts it "131 opportunities for joyous exploration in all its dimensions, that one can practice in his everyday life. He writes: "Paying attention is the only thing that guarantees insight, it is the only weapon we have against power"Apart from that, there is an interesting introduction where Walker analyzes the notion of paying attention and its vital importance for human beings. There is a number of references on other, academics or not, writers whose work on the subject help the readers to understand what is the point of "the art of noticing".

One can see "The Art of Noticing" as a useful guide for all who wish to take another step in the direction of mindfulness and enhancing conscientiousness. Some of the concentration exercises, or "thought experiments" as Walker defines them, are really challenging and intriguing. Personally I can't wait to follow some of the most stimulating ones and I firmly believe that they will prove to be truly helpful.. The number one enemy for a keen observer is distraction which can take many forms, especially today in an age where the subject is exposed to an overwhelming amount of information through the web and mass media.

If you are zealous supporter of self-improvement and you are interested on new ways of strengthening your mind, this is definitely the most pertinent book which, furthermore, offers many references for those who are fascinated and want to delve deeper into the subject. Finally, I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing a free ARC of this title.
Profile Image for Elizabeth A.
1,823 reviews107 followers
November 4, 2019
In this hi-tech, smart phone world, it's easy to not notice things around us. To look but not actually see. This book is a collection of 131 ways to change that. Some of the ideas take minutes and can be done immediately, while others take planning and more time. I dipped in and out, and while I didn't "perform" all these ideas, this is an interesting look at switching out of the regular brain patterns and noticing what is around us. I expect to dip into this one again in the future.
Profile Image for S.J. Higbee.
Author 13 books31 followers
May 31, 2019
So the question is, are those 131 exercises really surprising and innovative? Can I envisage myself taking part in any of them, or a close alternative that would be a better fit for my own lifestyle and personality?

The answer to the first question is – yes. All the exercises are slightly off the wall and unusual, requiring a shift from everyday thinking – to the extent that some of them are used to help art students hone an alternative, original view of the world. Some of my favourites include the one inspired by writer Paul Lukas, who likes to discover the backstory of everyday objects in an activity he calls ‘inconspicuous consumption’, by asking ‘how did it get that way?’. I also like the exercise Brian Rea uses of making lists of immaterial things – such as the things he is worried about, memorable moments during a dinner party, the bars he visited when living in Stockholm. None of the above remotely appeal, but I’m attracted to the idea of making a list of the flowers blooming in my garden, along with the date when they first appeared, for instance. Another exercise I particularly like is making a glossary of unfamiliar vocabulary that exist within a specific expertise, by asking people for terms within their work life that don’t regularly come up in everyday usage.

There were a number of exercises that left me cold – one was to record a couple of minutes of activity on your smartphone and write a poem, or description of it, after viewing it repeatedly to ensure you absorb all the minutest details. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with it, it just didn’t appeal.

What I appreciate is that Walker has taken pains to spread these exercises across the widest spectrum of interests and sensory input. There are exercises that appeal to our visual senses – like the above, for instance. There are exercises involving sound-mapping the surrounding environment, with some ingenious variations; exercises involving drawing or painting; and using modern technology to make short films of the day objects you touch every day. In short, whoever you are and whatever your particular strengths and inclination, I think you’ll find something in this book that you could use or adapt. And that was something else I really like – there is no sense in which Walker is at all dogmatic about any of the suggested exercises. He frequently suggests variations and at the end of the book actively encourages his readers to find different ways to put this approach in place.

These exercises are all designed to help us reset ourselves within our environment, so that we focus on the immediacy of existing in the way we’ve done for millennia – the way we’re designed to do. I will be campaigning for the hard copy edition of this book for my upcoming birthday, as the ebook isn’t a particularly friendly medium for browsing and flipping back and forth. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to reconnect with their surroundings in any way.
10/10
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,821 reviews284 followers
November 19, 2019
"What is art but a way of seeing?" John Berger tells us.

To make art, then, we need to see freshly, in different ways.

This book is all about shifting your focus and looking at the world from a different angle, looking at things with a different focus. It's an ideal book for someone wanting to see the world anew.
Profile Image for Julie.
1,503 reviews39 followers
March 21, 2023
Fun book to pick up and grab ideas for ways to be mindful and attentive. Some I already do, it turns out, but there were also many I hadn't thought of. The visual ones spoke to me more than the auditory ones. I'm not a big fan of urban noise like cars honking and subway trains squealing. I did get lots of fun ideas for making my daily walks around the city more interesting.

Some of the activities in the book that I found worth noting:

Go on scavenger hunts while walking - numbers, security cameras, signs, public clocks, arrows, shapes etc

Spot something new every day on your regular route

Look up

Colors - what pops out, which are unexpected, which do you notice more slowly

Look for contrasts - hard/soft

Sit on a bench for an hour and write down 3 things you notice about each person walking by- notice patterns, disruptions of patterns, note what you notice

Ask “what would a young child notice here?”

Use your voice memo app to take audio snapshots

Walk in a neighborhood you’ve never been

Go on touristy tours

Get lost, go somewhere new without relying on Google maps

Use your phone compass to periodically look a certain direction

Change your regular route

Eat at every restaurant on a street

Always read the plaque!

Try not to speak for a day, or only speak 50 words

Determine the weirdest thing in a room and ask about it

Eavesdrop

Ask questions, give compliments

Compare memories with someone

Write letters

Profile Image for Howard.
283 reviews4 followers
September 1, 2022
Very delightful book of suggestions for noticing things that may be just mundane until you really see them. He has wonderful stories about how many of his suggestions were implemented. Absolutely wonderful suggestions, and I have to listen to this a lot more times. I will be trying a few of them just to help open my mind on seeing and hearing things. I've listened to this twice in a row already. This is a very powerful tool!
Profile Image for Donna.
215 reviews
October 5, 2019
Definitely not for me. I’m not sure how this made it on my “to read” list, but maybe it is Squam related. I disliked it, but recognize that I’m probably not the intended audience, hence the three stars. If this is your sort of thing, you’ll probably enjoy it.

The author writes, “Art is everywhere, if you say so.” Although I get it, my core strongly disagrees with this statement. I know artists and this theory really undermines their talent.

One nice thing, actually stopped reading this at 20%, which is something I never do. So, oddly empowering.
Profile Image for Pat Loughery.
297 reviews33 followers
December 22, 2022
This is one of the most impactful and helpful books I've read this year. I took my time working through it as an assignments-book or workbook, and transparently have more reading to go. (It's rare that I spend 7 months with a book that I didn't actually just abandon). But highly recommended in its message as well as sparking a different perspective on noticing and mindfulness that's helpful for anybody in any walk of life.
Profile Image for Tim Belonax.
112 reviews8 followers
May 31, 2019
I love art assignments or prompts that encourage tangential looking/thinking, so this book was squarely in my wheelhouse. I love that you can read it straight through or cut to a page and read a passage or two. There are fun, thoughtful prompts that I believe would serve a lot of people some good.
Profile Image for Gloria.
294 reviews26 followers
September 24, 2019
This was a book of affirmation.
Being a painfully shy, introverted child, I think I grew up already doing these things- noticing, going out of my way to look at different things-- or look at things differently. Challenging my oddly curious mind to make games out of things. To be learning something new, even if my surroundings seemingly didn't change much. (hint: they did, it just takes practice to quiet oneself and notice the changes.)

As we get older it's easier to be busy, distracted, exhausted. To go on autopilot and forget to notice all the subtleties around us.
But I think it's imperative to do so.
It works our brains, keeps them nimble. And I believe it settles us somewhere deep inside-- builds our own happiness and contentment.
If we allow it to do so.
I wish this book could be placed in the hands of the population in general (or on their screens in front of them, since I see the majority looking down at their devices instead of looking up and around them.) Use ALL your senses.

Favorite memory of listening within listening (done years ago):
Turning off all the lights, putting on headphones, lying on the floor, listening to a favorite song on a loop. Not just to hear the music, the words (all of which I already knew so well):
but to focus on the singer as he took a sharp inhale of breath before the beginning of each line of lyrics.
It gave me goosebumps.
150 reviews
July 21, 2020
I picked this book expecting the exercises to focus more on creativity, but the emphasis was really on mindfulness. Still, I found many of the suggested exercises to be interesting and took note of some I'd like to try. I particularly liked the activities that were linked to artists and creators as they clearly showed how increased awareness of one's surrounding can inspire. Unfortunately, I read this book at the wrong time as many of the proposed tasks depend on going places.
Profile Image for Neha D'souza.
195 reviews36 followers
September 5, 2021
Walker provides 131 methods/ideas on how to hone the art of noticing one’s surroundings, paying attention to the mundane and observing what might otherwise be ignored.

I personally believe that being observant is a great skill to have. I began to hone my observing powers years ago, after reading my first Sherlock Holmes book.

Being observant is like being privy to a window that no one else can see. It’s like being the sole audience to a performance. Almost everyone is too consumed by their minds and their lives to take notice of things around them.

Noticing the world around you not only stimulates creativity and broadens perspective, it also grounds you. Noticing is ultimately being mindful of yourself and what surrounds you. Rob Walker provides several exercises on noticing. For example:
-Making an auditory map
-Making lists
-taking new routes
-digging back stories

While some of his suggested methods might not appeal to you, some of them might change the way you look at the world.
215 reviews1 follower
April 21, 2021
In this year of lockdown and undefinable and invisible threat, this is a list of reasons to smile about the things we see so often we don't see them. How would I describe a 'stop' sign? Did I even notice before that the traffic arrows in the streets are painted by hand in this world of automated everything? Did I even see the small differences in the arrows?

This is an invitation to notice again and marvel in the wonders around us that we've taken for granted. I needed this book right now.
Profile Image for Caroline.
55 reviews
July 17, 2022
How many books have changed your everyday life for the better? I don't mean books that have given you a spiritual awakening or whatever - I mean books that have changed the normcore experience of say a random Tuesday morning so it's just a little more magical, a little more curious, a little more colourful.

This book has had me conducting playful experiments on my own life in various ways for about 3 months now - I have spent ten minutes looking out of the window I most persistently ignore. I have collected photos of 'things growing on walls' and I now notice things growing on walls everywhere I go. I have been inspired to make art after being stuck for some time.

My main takeaway is we actually do have power over how we direct our attention.
"You may learn something about yourself in what you notice."
286 reviews
October 3, 2020
I found this to be a strangely touching book, I think because I recognized in this book many of the ways I try to and I wish to interact with the world. I didn’t expect much from it and even thought it might be cheesy (some of it was) or obvious (then again, we often forget the obvious), but there were many good suggestions.
An added plus was the many people and ideas referenced throughout and the extensive bibliography of books at the back!
Profile Image for Liz Logan.
628 reviews4 followers
March 1, 2023
Very interesting book.

I picked up this book after reading On Looking and it’s a great after read. It continues in the same vein of being mindful and conscious of yourself and your surroundings, but takes it a step further by giving you exercises and ideas on how to stretch your mind as you explore.

Some of these ideas are absolutely not practical and would be very hard to implement, but a good majority would be easy enough to do. The creativity of the book is fantastic as well, not only do the ideas suggest new ways to think and expand the mind, but the book suggests coming up with new ideas on one’s own.

Lots of fun.

There’s also a writer’s version I’m quite interested in.
Profile Image for Andrew Carr.
471 reviews96 followers
December 26, 2022
A lot of self-help books assume you are either trying to stop being a loser and become a demigod. There's often very little that speaks to ways to 'help' a normal person live a more enchanted life. This is thankfully, one such book.

I often say that editing writing is an effort to trick your brain into actually reading what is on the page, rather than what you expect to read. This is a book about doing that for normal life. How often have you driven to work, and realised upon stopping the car that you hardly saw anything. Your autopilot was on, you didn't hit anything or have any close calls, and so, could just tune out of the world before your eyes. The system works. Often, it works too well, and we struggle to notice, or rather often notice only the things we've seen before and expect to see.

This is a book of short vignettes about engaging with the world in fresh ways. Many involve some form of a visual game. Shift to looking at rooftops instead of the path below, try and find the oldest thing around you, try and find something that is broken, something that shouldn't be there, or which represents something which once was there. Or just take time to listen, to really listen. To walk a different path to work, eat at a casual restaurant you've never been to before, find ways to get out of autopilot.

Despite the many good ideas, the book can become somewhat repetitive. Its relentlessly practical focus may make it the perfect book for an artist looking to rediscover their creativity, but it loses some of the sense of wonder and exploration because the stories have no space to breathe. I'd recommend first picking up On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz who walks around the same New York block with eleven different experts (in sociology, in architecture, in archeology etc) and each helps her see the world in very different ways. That's a more charming version, but The Art of Noticing is still a valuable push to help you notice, really notice the world around you.
Profile Image for Val Robson.
520 reviews35 followers
April 15, 2019
There are 131 exercises in The Art of Noticing designed to get us to notice more, think more, listen more or just get us outside out comfort zone a little and explore new places and things.. They are ranked 1-4 in terms of difficulties in doing that exercise as some may require forward planning. This is really another 'mindfulness type book. I was left frequently asking myself 'why would I want to waste my life doing this' after reading some of the exercises. Do I have better things to do with my life than note every manhole cover I can spot or to do a complete inventory of my possessions down to the sheets of printer paper and food items in my kitchen cupboards? "Yes I do" was my overwhelming response and was further left feeling aggrieved that I'd spent too much of my life reading this book, let alone doing any of the practical exercises.

While I would welcome ways to encourage people to spend less time looking at phones, Internet or simply not paying attention to things and people because of distractions I think there are lot better way to achieve that than spending your time doing some of these exercises.

With thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Rachel | All the RAD Reads.
995 reviews1,080 followers
June 28, 2019
Big fan of this one— already added it to my Amazon cart so I can have a copy on hand whenever I need a creative boost! It’s chock full of exercises (from easy to more advanced) to help you really keep your eyes open, fuel your creative fire, and stay inspired, and I looooved it. I already put a few into action (and felt super validated by some I already do!) and found them so helpful and motivating.
159 reviews
March 13, 2022
Such an interesting book! I would consider buying this one as a reference to have to spark creativity throughout life.
Profile Image for Tala Elbanna.
60 reviews
November 6, 2021
“Our life experience will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or default.
—WILLIAM JAMES”
Okay, I’ll be honest. While reading this book, I was planning to give it a 3-star rating, finding some of the ideas in it plainly absurd and even meaningless. Then I read the last part: “But really, caring is at the very heart of it all.” “This at its core is the art, and the joy, of noticing.”
And I thought, well yes! Definitely. Caring is the heart of noticing. We notice things, whether ideas, people or objects, so much more when we care about them.
But that’s not only what made me give it the 4 stars. I realized that throughout the reading journey, so many ideas sprang into my mind, some related to the things said and others merely inspired by them. So I thought this book deserves credit for being inspirational in a way.

It was a short light read, focusing on the idea of noticing and paying attention, with exercise ideas incorporated to implement the abstract ideas.

Here’s something for you to reflect on:
“True, distraction might mean missing the main event. But what if nobody knows what or where the main event is?”
The pinnacle of distraction is being so endorsed in the distractive element that you don’t know what you are being distracted from. Isn’t this what is happening to us on daily basis?
Or are we too distracted to answer such a question?
Profile Image for Wendy H..
Author 30 books58 followers
April 4, 2020
This is a truly brilliant book. It is not just a book to be read, but to do and to transform you. It is, essentially, a series of exercises, graded by difficulty, which help and encourage you to notice the things, and people, around you properly. As the author says, you can just read the book through from cover to cover but that defeats the purpose. Using the exercises allows you to free up the way you look at, and ultimately notice, things. Th exercises not only allow you to notice more deeply but, in the process, find out more about yourself. Many of the exercises use art, with good reason, as art provides he perfect medium for getting inside the painting. I particularly liked the exercise where you look from the point of view of different members of society.

I can highly recommend this book if you want to go deeper into the world around you and discover a new appreciation for what it contains.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the copy of this book for review purposes. At no point was I asked to write a positive review. My rating and review are based on my reading and enjoyment of the book.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 275 reviews

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