The Study of Wonder
“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
Science, philosophy, and the arts have many things in common: They study and transcend the mundane to wonder. Maybe this is the reason why I am so attracted by all of them. All these disciplines try to record and stimulate wonder. For this reason, I’d like to dedicate this post to wonder and argue that it is elementary for humanity in general and artists, in particular, to always practice wondering.
Marveling at Wonder
Psychologically speaking, wonder is an intense emotion while experiencing something unexpected. Wondering has traditionally been viewed as a frequent emotion in early childhood. When a child sees something for the first time in life, it begins to acquire information and creates knowledge. Wondering is however not bound to early childhood. It emerges when reality diverges from expectation. This leads to a feeling of inner unbalance. Wonder is paralleled with a strong motivation and feeling of restlessness to research and learn from the unknown. Through this excitement, balance is recreated. As a consequence, all our learning that is initiated by wonder is deeply triggered from within and from our strive for inner balance. This process leads to a sustainable manifestation of the learned. Indifference to forced learning – still practiced in many schools – the learned is forgotten soon after learning. This explains the success of experiential learning in educational theory. According to this theory, knowledge is created through the transformation of experience (see David Kolb’s Theory of Experiential Learning). Following initial ideas by Aristotle and Platon, marveling is the beginning of philosophy. Through marveling, we question hidden phenomena that help developing research that can close the dissonance between opinion and truth. As such wondering creates order.
Take-Away 1: Wondering leads to a balance within.
Take-Away 2: When you marvel, you kick-off change.
Take-Away 3: Learning triggered by wonder leads to a sustainable manifestation of the learned.
Marveling in Photography and the Arts
What triggers us to marvel in photography and the arts? As landscape photographers, we might be provoked by natural phenomena, stunning light, unexpected weather conditions, grand vistas, by the details of a grand microcosm, by new artistic techniques supporting us to record the unseen and only felt or simply by our discovery of a certain frame which tells a story or expresses our emotions. Often, it is a combination of these elements that make us marvel.
What happens in these moments? Because of something rare, beautiful, or unexpected, we realize an intense state of consciousness and emotion. This state lets us forget ourselves, and our surroundings. No social norms, no social pressure. Wondering lets us step away from our social roles and expectations. It demands our mindful presence. Wondering is more than pure surprise. The surprise is very short-lived, reactive, and immediate and often paralleled with other emotions such as joy or fear and directs our attention. Wondering is also more than curiosity. Curiosity is the desire to know something and expresses itself as interest. Wondering however is more. Through realizing the unexpected, we question reality and want to excitedly want to know more about it. With excitement and joy, we may feel a certain form of contemplation. It is almost as if someone stopped time for us in these few instances. We may feel effortless and clear. In these rare moments, we might be closest to our inner self and ready to create. It is the purest state in which we can listen to the inside. Therefore, as artists, we are ready to create. Often, I have the best ideas when I am in that state.
Take-Away 4: Wondering leads to contemplation.
Take-Away 5: When we wonder, we feel effortlessness and clarity.
Take-Away 6: In contemplation, we are closest to ourselves and ready to create.
Marveling as a Practise
Where are these extraordinary events we call miracles? Many may argue that they haven’t yet experienced them. In consequence, they may argue that they lost their ability to wonder. However, I believe that miracles are there for people who are able to wonder. It is not the extraordinary things that produce our wonder. It is our own attitude towards everything that makes us marvel. It is about the attitude with which we encounter nature, our fellow human beings, other animals or things. When the wondering human being breaks through the surface of every day, the banal, the inconspicuous, he encounters a comprehensive meaning and what Anselm Grün describes as “the fullness of being”.
As such, I’d like to invite you all to engage yourself as well in the study of wonder. It is at the core of my artistic path.
Aristoteles (2016): Metaphysik, C. D. C. Reeve (Translator), Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., UK ed. edition.
Gess, N. and Schnyder, M. (2020): The Power of Wonder. The Instrumentalization of Admiration, Astonishment and Surprise in Discourses of Knowledge, Power and Art, SNF Sinergia Project, University of Zurich, Switzerland.
Grün, A. (2018): Staunen – Die Wunder im Alltag entdecken, Dr. Rudolf Walter (Ed), Verlag Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau.
Kolb, D. A. (1984): Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Kolb, D. A., Boyatzis, R. E., & Mainemelis, C. (2000): Experiential Learning Theory: Previous Research and New Directions. Perspectives on Cognitive, Learning, and Thinking Styles. Sternberg & Zhang (Eds.). NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Related other articles from my blog:
– The Cranks of Creativity: Why and How?
– Intent and Conceptual Depth in Landscape Photography
– About Stillness
– Creating a Personal Style or Finding Identity?
– The Unassuming Traveller
– About Success in Photography and Life