The flâneuse’s packing list: a toolkit for observation & exploration

A dominant impulse on encountering beauty is the desire to hold onto it, to possess it and give it weight in our lives. There is an urge to say, ‘I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me.’ ~ Alain de Botton

some of my favourite flânerial things

some of my favourite flânerial things

Flânerie has been described as “gastronomy of the eye” (Honoré de Balzac) and a moving and passionate photograph (Victor Fournel). It is an active and deliberate way of understanding the world. Baudelaire described the flâneur as the passionate observer, responsive spectator, reflective mirror and lover of life. Flânerie is all about acute, intentional and subtle observation. Baudelaire’s flâneur exists “incognito”, surreptitiously rejoicing in the magic all around him, at home among the unfamiliar, finding joy in urban exploration.

As I plan for my week in New York and my packing list, I’m asking myself: What does the keen observer need to assist them with attentiveness to their environment and experiences? How does an édu flâneuse attempt to capture the kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria of experience and learning?

Here are some of the things on my flânerial packing list.

art journaling supplies

art journaling supplies

A journal. Journaling is thinking and therapy. Cavallini & Co’s Roma Lussa is my canvas of choice, a beautiful soft-Florentine-leather-bound journal with marble page-edges. For taking flânerie old school. With pen. Paper. Even the trusty Conté à Paris crayons I still have from art school. As my Typo watercolour pencils declare: the world is better in watercolour … and charcoal, and crayon, and paint!

camera gear

camera gear

Cameras & accoutrements. The flâneuse needs a variety of lenses through which to frame and record experiences. I am taking my Canon DSLR and lenses, as well as my iPhone and olloclip lenses to allow for snapping on the go.

A laptop. For writing, blogging and editing photos. Of course this can be done on an iPad (which is much more portable) but I prefer typing to tapping and the extra control and diversity my laptop provides.

flânerial fashion

flânerial fashion

Flânerial fashion. Exploring shoes. Eco sunglasses. Leather satchel big enough to carry laptop and/or camera and/or journal. The 19th century flâneur was always bedecked in attire appropriate for urban exploration. With style.

(Pictured above are my handmade Portugese Felmini ankle boots, Scaramanga leather satchel and Shwood wooden sunglasses.)

So there you have it: my flâneuse’s toolkit, ready for taking artiness on the road to observe, explore, jot, snap, scribble and sketch.

art journal page: New York is always a good idea

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Applying the travelling mindset: embracing creativity

What, then, is a travelling mindset? Receptivity might be said to be its chief characteristic. We approach new places with humility. We carry with us no rigid ideas about what is interesting. We irritate locals because we stand on traffic islands and in narrow streets and admire what they take to be strange small details. We risk getting run over because we are intrigued by the roof of a government building or an inscription on a wall. We find a supermarket or a hairdresser’s unusually fascinating. ~ Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton described the traveling mindset as one of receptivity and openness. In 1794, Xavier de Maistre applied this mindset to his own everyday space. In my own experience, of traversing thirty three countries so far, travel is learning. Being submerged in the unfamiliar brings to the surface captivation, imagination and vulnerability.

I think being abroad is sometimes where we feel we can be most ourselves, untethered by daily routines, obligations, expectations and the mundanity and productivity of daily life.

So how is an educator to bring this outlook to professional meetings and visits abroad? My approach is one of embracing creativity.

@debsnet New York Journal

Research connects creativity with productivity, adaptability, novelty, divergent thinking, idea generation, flexibility and problem solving (see Dr Mark Runco’s 2004 article on ‘Creativity’ in the Annual Review of Psychology). For me, writing, drawing, painting, doing and making are physical mind-body processes which facilitate right brain thinking, foster creativity and enable authenticity – of thought, of action, of being.

Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED Talk on how schools kill creativity has been viewed almost 30 million times. In it, he champions the cultivation of creativity and questions the rigidity of education systems which encourage conformity and compliance.

The #makered hashtag on Twitter and http://makered.org/ have plenty of ponderings, resources and perspectives on the meaningfulness of making and doing for our students.

Of course social media and this blog are 21st century extensions of traditional creative media but I am intending largely to ‘go retro’ on my October professional journey: reading print novels, keeping a visual journal, collecting tactile ephemera and enacting mindful pen-to-paper thinking. Using the camera and a journal to explore thoughts and experiences is a method of creative, reflexive, deliberate inquiry, as well as a way of recording both professional visits and New York herself.

New York #artjournal page by @debsnet

I hope this flânerial approach – that of the wanderer who is finely attuned, keenly observant and totally immersed – will help me to be at my most receptive, flexible and open to new learning.