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The Art of Curiosity

“Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it saved my ass.”― Michael J Fox

Curiosity gets a bad rap. That darn cat!  His premature death from nosing into something that wasn’t good for him has put the incredible trait of curiosity into the negative column.  

I’d like to move it back over to the positive side, please. 

We all arrive in the world with the trait of curiosity firmly intact. During our early childhood years, curiosity is rampant and uninhibited.  As we move into adulthood, this natural and unbridled curiosity can become stifled as we shift our focus to more practical day-to-day “grown-up” stuff.  But, this attribute never truly disappears, and it can — and should, to my thinking — be regained, developed, and nurtured.  

Being curious can stimulate the type of exploration that can bring about amazing, even life-changing results.  According to an article in the Journal of Personality Assessment, curiosity has been shown “to improve memory and achievement, lower anxiety, improve satisfaction with life, and bring about a greater sense of well-being.”1   

Now doesn’t that sound like a rewarding pursuit?

Unlike a traditional learning path into which we may enter to become proficient in our job tasks, or to pass a course at school, curiosity-based learning is internally motivated.  It stems from an eager, personal desire to discover more.  And when we are personally excited to learn about something, we are more likely to retain and apply this new information in our lives. It is also emotionally rewarding and fun! 

Being curious is not only fundamental to becoming more informed individuals, it is also key to discovering more about the world around us.  It can take many forms:  reading, observing, contemplating, experimenting, asking questions, and actively engaging with others.  Allowing curiosity to thrive encourages us to investigate and try new things.  It affords us the opportunity to be creators, explorers, and better global citizens — more informed about our neighbor, our community, and the world-at-large.  

Curiosity is key to artistic expression. It is a critical first step that leads to inventiveness, originality, and creativity.  In exploring something new to us, we have the magical chance to glimpse more clearly what our world is like from a different perspective.  This then can inspire us to find original ways to depict it, examine it, organize it, explore it, or even change it, utilizing the lens through which we now perceive things.  In other words, the way we express ourselves through the “art” of living and working in a more thoughtful and meaningful way. 

Actively engaging the trait of curiosity can also open us up to understand more about people and cultures different from our own.  This discovery can lead us to the practice of self-examination and reflection which can solidify our personal values, what moves and inspires us, and thus help us clarify our place in the world.  

A trip to a museum or art gallery; reading a book or watching a documentary about a topic that is new to us; participating in an educational webinar or taking a course that offers a different historical or cultural perspective, can all be eye-opening, inspiring ways to spur creative thinking. 

This personal enrichment can expand even further through travel experiences (when pandemic-related restrictions and concerns allow us to do so more freely and comfortably).

I was in my forties before I had the opportunity to travel outside the United States. At the time, I looked forward to a chance to get away and see something new.  

What I didn’t know before this first trip outside the confines of the familiar, was that travel would deeply change me.  The opportunity to explore other cultures, lifestyles, historical sites, art, architecture, topography, foods (well, the list goes on), have provided emotionally rewarding and unforgettable moments that have resonated throughout my life. 

Here’s an example:

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Sicily with my family.  My mother’s maternal grandparents came from this beautiful place, emigrating to the United States when poverty and lack of opportunity in their country drove them to leave in order to survive. 

I was deeply curious about the country from which these relatives came and this trip allowed me a fascinating glimpse into their world. Experiencing the culture and meeting the people of Sicily gave me insight into certain aspects of myself as a product of these ancestors and I felt very much at home in this foreign place.

Things got even more personal in unexpected ways when we got to the beautiful and historic seaside town of Taormina. 

Taormina is a jewel of a city set on top of a mountainside affording breathtaking views of the sea and the magnificent Mount Etna.  Everything about this city is magical, but a  tour of an ancient outdoor amphitheatre granted me something more.  

Built during the 3rd Century by the Greeks and restored during the Roman era, the Taormina Amphitheatre originally seated 10,000 people and is still being used for performances to this day.  It is positioned in a spectacular location and the views from the seats are, dare I say it, “show-stopping.”  

Having been a student of the theater as well as a performer throughout my life, I was understandably excited to see this historic site. It was a hot day, and there was quite a bit of climbing necessary to reach the summit. But what I discovered when I finally got there was more incredible than I could have imagined. 

While seated at the top of the audience area looking down at the stage, I literally felt the centuries wash over me.  I mentally experienced the incredible history of this place in a way that almost knocked me over. I was tearful, awestruck, inspired, and overwhelmed in the best possible way. Curiosity and exploration of this new-old place rewarded me in a way that changed the way I thought about Sicily and its people, but also informed the way I would think about the art form of theatre, and my place in it, from that day forward.

One doesn’t have to travel overseas to experience moments like this. 

I have experienced unexpected emotion in meditative stillness on a hike in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  

I have felt a spiritual connection to my Native American ancestors at a pow-wow only a few minutes from my home. 

I have even experienced the rewards of cultural curiosity at a family-owned pizzeria in Chicago (established in 1943) where, like countless others before me, I enjoyed a delicious pie while basking in the humor, warmth, and generous spirit of the people working there. This experience, among others, made me vow to return to Chicago very soon. 

Each time I look back on these experiences, I feel something tangible and special that resonates in a very real, emotional, and spiritual way, and continues to inform who I am each day going forward.  

I am learning to activate my curiosity more regularly even in small ways each day.  I hope you will join me.  Time and place needn’t be an obstacle. Take a self-paced online course in a subject you have always wondered about.  Learn a new musical instrument (I’m teaching myself piano with an app on my iPad!), study a different language, learn to dance, try a new sport.  

Or take a break for an hour or two to visit a local museum, art gallery, or library, explore an aquarium, or walk through a botanical garden or park.  Listen to a genre of music that is outside your comfort zone.  Read a chapter in a book about an unfamiliar topic. Ask questions, explore further.   

See how curiosity can inspire you in your life and in your work. I would love to hear how this exploration enriches you.   

If you would like to discuss this topic further or would like some guidance in finding more satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy in your work — and in your life — please contact me at elizabeth@artofwork.blog for a free consultation.  

  1. Todd B. Kashdan, Paul Rose & Frank D. Fincham (2004) Curiosity and Exploration: Facilitating Positive Subjective Experiences and Personal Growth Opportunities, Journal of Personality Assessment, 82:3, 291-305, DOI: 10.1207/s15327752jpa8203_05