Friday, September 30, 2011

Is it Easier to be Half a Christian, or Half a Comedian?

Uses and Misuses of the English Language

In a recent newsletter from my pastor, I see that he quotes a book by Steven Furtlick titled Sun Stand Still.  Pastor Furtlick apparently dislikes a phrase from contemporary Christian practice: "full-time ministry."  He says, "I know what it's supposed to mean, but I vehemently disagree with its implications.  To say that someone is called to 'full-time ministry' suggests that others are permitted to do 'part-time' ministry."  He disagrees, and goes on to say that Jesus "didn't die on a part-time cross."  He says, "There's no such thing as a part-time Christian, and [ so therefore ] there's no such thing as a part-time ministry."

This passion (which I do admire, separate from any theological discussion) reminds me of the late, great George Carlin.  He said about the instructions to cook a turkey, how can one "pre-heat" an oven?  After all, there are only two possible states for an oven to be in, ON or OFF.  If it is on, even a little bit, it is a heating (or heated) oven.  If it is not, it is not.  After all (I will say, agreeing with his outrage), if in one's pre-heated oven, while inserting the turkey, one's hand touches the rack, then you're injured.  You're not pre-injured, you're just injured, and go ouch and reach for an ice pack.  Ovens are either on or off, either hot or cold.  If you turn the switch to off, are you pre-cooling it?

I suppose my kids might disagree with my analysis.  As a cook, I was (and am) notoriously casual about such things as measuring cups, cooking times, and, in fact, directions in general.  Next time somebody asks me what I am doing in the kitchen, perhaps I can answer, "pre-burning tonight's dinner."

George Carlin also objected to the phrase when in an airport that a given flight was about to begin pre-boarding.  As with an oven, either people are getting on (they are boarding) or they are not.  Who gets on first or second doesn't change that: the first folks to exit the terminal and walk down the jetway are not pre-boarding, they are completely and utterly boarding, plan and simple.  I do agree with him on this: to my mind, the only way any of us could preboard would be if they had some kind of module with all of the seats attached to it.  If in some kind of a holding area all the passengers took their seats in the module, and then, only later, if the module were lifted up by a skip loader and slid into the side of the plane sideways, THEN I would agree, we had pre-boarded.

Recently I heard a German banker talking about the Euro debt crisis.  He said (in very good English) that it is not just premature to talk about further loans and rescue attempts, but that it is MORE than premature.  This makes no sense to me.  How can something come before the fact that it has not yet come yet?  It is either a premature plan or else it is a timely plan, but it can't be a pre-premature plan yet.  That sounds like a biological impossibility: mom and dad haven't even met at Schooners yet for their first date, so the baby isn't premature because it does not even exist yet.

Of course we are used to living with contradictions and redundant phrases.  I am at a conference in Reno, whose central street has this sign:

Apparently, as little cities go, Reno used to be a littler little city, because I remember this same slogan from the mid-1960s, and the sign was definitely smaller then.  (If I can find that image, I will add it to this post once I get back to campus.)

Isn't this Reno phrase a sort of demographic impossibility?  If it's a little city, it can't also be a big city.  Only in particle physics can light be a particle and a wave at the same time.  In Newtonian physics, big is big and small is small.  If it keeps growing, will Reno some day be the littlest big city in the world?  And, eventually, with a few more malls and casinos, then the middle-littlest big city in the world?  The expression makes no sense.

We use the term at AVC that so and so is a "part-time student."  I feel about this the way that Pastor Furtlick feels about Christians.  One either is a student or one isn't, and if one is, then learning and growth and discovery are constant goals, constant companions.  I would hope that whether one is taking six units or twenty-six, the openness to ideas and new ways of being would be equally present.  (As Furtlick might say, one does not go to just a part-time Heaven.  And for us, there are no half-credit degrees.  Either you have the credits for a degree or you do not: Dr. Fisher at commencement this coming June won't be handing out 3/4 diplomas or 5/8th ones.  All or nothing, in learning as it is in life.)

Of course maybe for some of my students, the ones, say, texting during the lectures, we might say that they have already started to pre-fail the final exam....

Saturday, September 24, 2011

T.S. Eliot's iPad

More Developments with Digital Books

I had lunch with one of my editors last week and he was joking yet a little bit serious when he said, "How long until you have your first iPad book, Hood?"

"Five years," was my answer, surprising even me, as it came out of my mouth.  That it is coming is certain; that for poetry it may not be immediate is also true.  The start-up costs are too high, at least initially.

Of course if I wanted to be serious about photography, that "five years" answer might be smaller: most professional photographers now use an iPad as their portfolio when meeting with clients and art directors, and many of the publishers of high-end "art" photography books (what are sometimes called monographs or coffee table books, as opposed to "how to shoot a wedding" kind of photo book) will either be dual platform (hard copy and e-version) or e-version alone.

This series before has talked about Kindle versus conventional books.  Now the Kindle seems like old news in the million-miles-a-minute way that computer technologies evolve; it is the Nook and the iPad and other digital platforms that seem to be the newest stars in the sky.  Amazon supposedly has its own iPad kind of super reader in the works too --- the only surprising thing is that it took them so long.

Exciting book formats can be found on an iPad, to be sure.  A Kindle is fun and useful and may be the future of textbooks.  Cal State Bakersfield, for example, allows students to take literature courses uses the Kindle as their platform of choice, if they do not want to use a "real" book.  But a Kindle is no iPad, and not be able to catch up.  As an example of this, Santi Tafarella, our Antelope Valley blog king (featured here recently and also in the campus paper), showed me over the summer a T.S. Eliot application on his iPad.

Eliot is the best-known, most academically-certified poet in English language arts and letters since the Romantics; his 1922 book-length poem, The Wasteland, represents Modernism in literature the way that Picasso does in art or the Beatles do for rock.  Brilliant, dense, complicated, allusive, elusive, and poly-lingual, with references in six languages and sudden jump cuts in mood and scene, this poem repays serious study.  But it's not the sort of thing that one might expect to be a best seller.

On the iPad though, the presentation of this text is so rich and engaging, with so many "valued added products" to borrow from marketing, that we even had a discussion about just that one app at our department's summer comp retreat.

Now it is Jack Kerouac's On the Road that has come up as profoundly better and different in its iPad version.  According to an article in the current issue of Poets & Writers, it even briefly outsold electronic versions of the Bible.  From that same article, here is this heads-up: "For the time being, plain text still rules the e-book roost, but it's clear that the industry is concerned that the ascendancy of the tablet may signal the obsolescence of dedicated e-readers."  The article further reminds readers that there are over 200 million iPad-driven tablets already in use, and since it's Apple's number one money maker right now, they don't plan to limit production any time soon.

Maybe when my editor asked me about poetry for the iPad, my answer should have been, "Well, how soon I get one out depends on you.  How soon do you plan to hirer a coder and get me released as an app?"  Development costs for Apple are just the price of doing business, and given that they bring in billions of dollars a month (NOT a typo), they have the capital to re-invest.  Most small presses that I know, the companies releasing poetry and indy rock and oddball theatrical pieces and hybrid art-novel-performances, which is to say, the companies doing now what T.S. Eliot was doing in 1922, can't afford big bucks for iPad development.  After editor A asked me my lunch question, I went to editor B, at another firm, a publisher with whom I also release books. I asked them the same question.  How long until you're doing iPad editions?

Press B just said flat out, "We can't get into that right now --- we don't have the staff, we don't have the marketing department, we don't even have the demo iPads laying around the office for people to fiddle with."  I appreciate this.  Reality is reality.  I would like to get into larger format photography, but a top-end large-negative digital camera, like the ones that they use to shoot the cover of Cosmo magazine, would cost $40,000.  Thanks but no thanks.  For now I will stick with my Nikons.

So the i-Book route may not be feasible . . . yet.  It may well be that do-it-yourself versions (conversion kits for amateurs) will come along eventually --- something that for $100 I can buy, plug my Word manuscript into, and bingo, a small press can use a few simple templates and have the iPad version. 

So what do you think.  Five years?

Maybe ten.  But then again, maybe not, maybe just two.  Maybe one.

Maybe tomorrow.

Until then, there's always the old fashioned delivery methods.  Not hand-made Bibles from monks, not printed books, not Kindles --- I am talking about license plates.  And on that note, good night.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Electric Cars, Wind Turbines, and Logical Fallacies

contrarian thoughts on alternative energy

Among the faculty at AVC there are a fair number of shop-at-Trader-Joe's, voted-for-Obama, left-of-center types, and among those (many of whom are dear friends and fabulous teachers) there's a vague sense that wind turbines are a good thing, as are electric cars.

Indeed, in the newly redone parking lots, shaded now with the ubiquitous solar panels, there are electric car charging stations.

I've not seen anybody at them, but I assumed it was all vaguely for the public good.

A photography expert, Ken Rockwell, writes a very respected independent photo blog, and while his Libertarian politics do manifest themselves, on average, he stays clear of general politics or cultural commentary.  He did break that rule recently, to talk about electric cars.  While I encourage you to see the site itself (, some of his points are so provocative, they merit discussion here.

Among the points he raises are these.

---Electric cars consume huge amounts of electrical power.  Rockwell: "One electric car consumes as much power in typical operation as four homes."

---If electric cars become widespread, we will need to increase energy output.  That means not just more power plants (up to four times as many as now exist, if the USA went all electric) but four times as many transmission lines and sub-stations.  The skyline would be nothing but utility towers, from horizon to horizon.

While some phone poles have a kind of quaint, "out West" feel along a deserted road, we hardly need more things to create even more visual static. 

---Rockwell again: "It is ironic that the same people who worry about replacing real bulbs with carcinogenic CFL bulbs loaded with mercury, lead, EMI and EMF just to save five watts are the same ones mislead into thinking that an electric car that charges at 10,000 watts overnight on 440V three-phase [ equipment ] is saving energy."

---One problem is the inherent waste in the system.  No car is 100% efficient, nor are the transmission systems efficient, nor the production methods, even with nuclear power (which has its own very problematic ancillary issues).  "When you ignore all the free subsidies handed out like cocaine to get people hooked," he says, then you have to admit that "electric cars need to burn about four times as much [ oil ] to fuel the [ average ] power plant compared to just burning it in your car."  He does the math: "75% of the heat energy of combustion is wasted converting heat to spinning motion in a power plant, [ then ] converting that motion to electricity, transmission to your home, storage in a battery, and conversion back into motion in your car, all with more heat lossses over simply burning the same fuel in your car to make that motion directly."

---A final point of concern is a bit dystopian, but may make some of us pause: "Repressive governments love electric cars, because as soon as power is cut during an uprising, no one can recharge their cars until the civil unrest subsides and the government chooses to restore power."  This assumes that we could buy and pump gasoline without electricity (which, on average, we can't), and assumes too, the refineries and distribution infrastructure would be intact (which it might not be), but I do love the point itself.  Be careful what you give up, as you may want it back one day.

But what about the wind?  That's clean, right?  Couldn't a wind-powered sailboat car park here?

I am in the minority who don't find miles of windmills on the ridges attractive, but that's no reason not to go full-ahead with wind farms, so long as they do what are promised.

But do they?  If we ignore who builds the ball-bearings and which countries sell us the rare metals for the innards and where the money comes from to install them, once up, are wind turbines an answer to everything?

Not for the wildlife.  Ever see those Star Wars kinds of sci-fi films where the hero has to cross a narrow catwalk then dodge between the spinning blades of a turbine fan?  It is like trying to make your way through a garbage grinder.

That is what wind farms are to things that fly, namely hawks, eagles, songbirds, and bats.

Bat Conservation International has a page about bats versus wind turbines on their website.  They claim to have the documentation that shows how "Wind-energy sites, especially those on ridge tops in the eastern United States, are causing unexpectedly high bat fatalities."  Don't think that this won't effect us.  Among the insect-eating species, one bat can eat 600 mosquitoes in an hour, while other types prey on the moths whose larval forms destroy crops.  Other bats pollinate saguaro cactus and the plants that tequila comes from.

At Altamont Pass near San Francisco, 2000 eagles and hawks a year are killed, some chopped right in two, following their annual migration routes from Alaska down over the ridges towards wintering grounds in Mexico, the Antelope Valley, and other wide open spaces.  Just as a hang glider needs to use thermal winds to provide lift, so too for raptors, and where the wind flows through a series of turbines (over 6000 on those ridges as one leaves I-5 before Stockton for the swing west to San Francisco), it is murder alley.

Not all news is bad, though, and after many years of debate, the relevant utility companies are going to start dismantling the old style "lethal" windmills and replace them which much taller units that not only can generate a lot more juice per pole, but also will be placed to cause much less harm to the residents of that airspace.

(A note on photo sources: while almost all of the photos in this blog are by Charles Hood or else are clearly credited to their source, this osprey, above, is better than any of my reference pictures, and came pre-loaded on my Aperture photo software.  I don't know who took it, but it's a great shot!)

The world always seems to be a contradictory and unyielding place.  If electric cars soak up too much just and wind turbines place slice-n-dice with birds of prey, what's left?  Gas is expensive and running out (and probably causes global warming), solar power has yet to become significant, nuclear power is expensive and dangerous (especially in earthquake areas), and so-called "cold fusion" turned out to be a hoax.

I was talking about this once with somebody in Brazil, where they supplement a lot of their petrol with ethanol.  One man told me he had the perfect solution .... and patted his horse's head.

I guess the Lone Ranger never had to wait in line at Arco on a Friday night.  Hi ho Silver, awaaaay!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Liberty, 9/11, and a Million Blog Hits in the AV

Santi Tafarella Talks About the Ultimate Freedom: Uncensored Thinking

Recently AVC faculty member Santi Tafarella passed an amazing number. . . his independent, un-sponsored, just him in his PJs blog passed one million hits.  (That was over a month ago, and it's still scooting along.)  Titled "Prometheus Unbound," it talks about politics, museums, art, literature, religion, philosophy, and about ten thousand other topics besides.  As we approach the 9/11 weekend, here is what he has to say about his blog and its numbers. 


Some people around campus have noticed that my blog, which I started in June of 2008, has passed the million hit mark and want to know why I blog. I'll offer three.

Here's my first answer. Freedom.

I named my blog after Percy Shelley's poem, Prometheus Unbound. Shelley was an atheist at a time when it was not safe to be an atheist, and in that poem Shelley imagines Prometheus, who famously stole fire from heaven on behalf of humanity, freed from the rock that the king of the gods, Zeus, had bound him to.

Shelley’s poem was a response to an ancient Greek play by Aeschylus titled Prometheus Bound. In Aeschylus’s version of the Prometheus myth, Zeus’s binding of Prometheus to a rock as punishment for stealing fire from heaven was completely justified. By Aeschylus’s lights, Prometheus had done something villainous because all beings must respect the sacred order. It is, according to Aeschylus, madness to fight the gods. You should know your place, and accept it.

But, as an atheist, Shelley didn’t accept his place. What he saw as wrong in the world—including what he found wrong in religion—he meant to change. And so, in his poem, he celebrates Prometheus and unbinds him. Shelley's Prometheus is a symbol of freedom (much as the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom).

Likewise, my blog, named after Shelley’s Prometheus, is a place where I exercise my freedom; where I speak my mind.

I speak my mind on my blog because I'm of the opinion that adults can hear things. The first Americans fought a revolution in 1776 that individuals might obtain liberty, including the liberty to speak forthrightly in public. And a great deal of blood has been spilled since then to assure that we retain this liberty.

So, I blog because I'm a free individual. Because I'm a member of no flock. I'm not a sheep. Sheep don't blog (unless they're just repeating—bleating—what they hear around them). Sheep don't think. I'm a thinker. I think about things. And I speak.

Every time I put a blog post out into the world saying exactly what I think, not writing under a pseudonym, I strike a small blow for human integrity and greater intellectual freedom in the world. It's pushback against all would-be censors. And this is true of every person who takes up blogging, whatever their views on religion and politics, or what it is they choose to obsess about. It does wonders for the soul to exercise the habit of expressing yourself openly—to be out there, a free person in the world who will not be shut up. 

So when people ask me what I'm doing blogging, I ask them, if they claim to have free souls and minds, what they're doing not blogging.

The second reason I blog is to discover truth.

Socrates noticed that one way that a human being can come to the truth of a matter is by a process of dialectic—of dialogue—and blogging is ideal for this. This comes in two forms: inner dialogue and outer dialogue. When, for example, I'm writing a blog post, I'm in a Jacob-wrestling process of inner dialogue: Do I really believe what I'm saying? Should I say it differently? Is there a way I can say it better? What am I neglecting here?

And when the blog is posted, things shift to an outer dialogue: people will come around, read what I wrote, and in the comment threads (the "comboxes") throw me for a loop, thinking of something (or an angle on the matter) that hadn't occurred to me. Agonistic give-and-take with others helps me think; helps me get at the truth of matters. Two heads are better than one. And ten heads in a vigorous comments thread are better still.   

The third reason I blog is the sheer pleasure of writing. If I'm going to be a writing instructor, I better practice writing of some sort on a daily basis. And I better like it. And I do.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Tallest Pregnant Woman in New Zealand

Cameras and Museums and You

Sculptor Ron Mueck should be sponsored by Apple. His hyper-real, larger-than-life (and yet sometimes smaller-than-life) statues of naked people make visitors reach compulsively for their iPhones. Nobody takes out a piece of scratch paper and begins sketching, nobody writes a sonnet about Ozymandias, but more people than not want to get pictures, and those pictures almost entirely are taken with cell phones. Is that a good thing? How should we feel about the recent compulsions to log our experiences with our phones? This week’s blog wants to look at art, vernacular photography, and our expectations of memory, using Mueck as a test case.

His work recently made an austral tour, and I found it on view in the pleasant little city-town of Christchurch, New Zealand (sort of a pre-boom version of Portland, Oregon). My hotel was nearby, and one of the back office gals heard me talking about the show with the owner, who herself had not yet been to see it. The second person had been to the show twice, but in coming out to join the conversation at the front desk, she didn’t want us to hear her talk about it, she wanted us to see her iPhone pictures. It was almost as if she felt her observations had no validity unless backed up with proof.

This makes sense. We privilege images over narrative, and even phones and entry-level digital SLRs are now so good in dim light, we can record almost everything, even in situations when flash is not allowed. Batteries charge easily and last all day (sometimes all month, depending on your model), and you can get good pictures with a magic box hardly bigger than a cigarette pack. It bears repeating: for the first time in history, we can record almost everything.

Mostly, though, we don’t. Most art in most museums goes unphotographed, even when the location freely permits noncommercial images. What is it about tall, naked people that makes the cameras come out, and, once out, is it true that those cameras help us see the art better? Is the camera a good tool for seeing? Or—as is the usual critique—do the cameras substitute for and/or get in the way of the experience itself?

As a simple experiment, I went to the show twice, once with a camera on day one, and once without, day two.

On the surface of it, his sculptures are as real as it gets: real hair inserted with a needle, one strand at a time. Brows seemingly have sweat on them, backs have pimples, the penis exists in boring and unperfected clinical realism. He models in clay, casts in various resins, and finishes with the dispassion of House, M.D. The spots are where they should be, the hair is where it should be, but somehow it’s a Lucian Freud body the size of a pillar, and we just are not used to seeing common people enlarged three times normal size.

It does make you stop, that much is certain. Richard Wolfe, writing for the Christchurch Museum Bulletin, says that when “it comes to creative encounters, there can be few that match the first sighting of a Ron Mueck sculpture. As with other landmark events, you are unlikely to forget exactly where you were when that formative experience took place.”

A newborn baby, minutes out of the womb, would make an interesting sculptural subject in itself, but his happens to be over eight feet long. We don’t know whether to be repulsed or in awe or a mix of both. We’re not used to real children in paintings. It’s easy to be critical of all those Renaissance altarpiece babies that look like miniaturized Sumo wrestlers, but compared to placental slime and an extruding umbilical cord, we might actually prefer the abstracted Italian versions.

Religion is present here, but democratized. As far as modern Christs go, there’s the bored man in a swimming pool, not reading, not talking on the phone, maybe trying to deal with an extra-long layover in Miami by killing time at the hotel, the man who also happens to be the Hunter S. Thompson version of JC Himself. Fun, provocative stuff, and well in tune with our current sense of blue-jeans theology.

Yet leaving aside the animal diorama realism of the art’s execution, and skipping for the moment the Jesus-as-a-guest-at-Super-8 theme, what is the relationship between art and cell phones? I think we all agree that if most museum goers had to draw the art in order to share it with others, they would not bother, and indeed, if they even had to lug around a pro camera rig, ditto. Phone-cameras these days are small, instant, effortless. Resolution is good and auto-focus and auto-exposure strip away any need to understand the mechanics of shutter speed and f/stop diameter. Everybody has a phone, and everybody’s phone takes pretty good pictures, especially if your end use is to send jpegs by email.

Does this ease of use and ubiquity of ownership enhance art appreciation, replace it with some lesser experience, or do a third (perhaps neutral) thing? Let’s play it all three ways.

Argument the First: cell phone photography inside a museum is a good thing. The ease of technology does not diminish the act of homage, and the very fact that people are taking pictures means that art is at least holding its own against Lindsay Lohan. In this view, the photo-takers have seen something valuable and want to record the experience, share it, blog about it, distribute it. Right on. A blog such as this one presumes evangelical zeal—ideas should be shared and spread: “Go forth and witness to the unconverted and share the joy of The Word.” In my case, one reason I photograph in museums is to have a piece to study later, when I may have more time or may be less overwhelmed, the way that a ground squirrel fills up cheek pouches with sunflower seeds at the picnic table, to have some food in the burrow later on. I can only take in x amount of beauty or horror per hour, so I stuff some of that beauty or horror in a doggie bag for later. Others may be doing the same. And certainly in my case I do make shots inside art museums (even inside those galleries which forbid it, at least until I am caught) with end-use sharing in mind, whether through a blog like this one or my classes or even just private journal pages that I hope will lead to other, different, public work later on. Snapshot away, o happy visitors: you are doing yourselves (and the world) a good service.

Counter argument. No, people don’t value art: if they did, they would bring better cameras with them, for one thing. The ease of procurement does lessen value. Just compare the act of eating a loaf of bread that you and your lover have baked from scratch—the attentiveness to texture, the satisfaction of the taste, the glowing warmth of just-from-the-oven-ness as the butter melts and the steam rises—to when you’re mindlessly noshing doughnut holes in the staff room while waiting for the Xerox machine to warm up. Similar foods, different experiences. Effort does influence experience, as does anticipation and interaction.

One reason nature photographers still use tripods even though digital cameras shoot at fast speeds in dim light is that the very act of looking becomes more careful and precise the more carefully and precisely you enact it. You “see” better by having to go slowly and frame the scene on a tripod, then move a bit forward, a bit back. You also get better pictures in a technical sense, just by stopping to think about lighting and depth of field. In contrast, grab-and-run phone photography treats every subject as a treat to be gobbled and forgotten. Nobody lingers with an iPhone, not even Chase Jarvis, whose iPhone photographs are among the best.

Third option. Most people in most museums are bored most of the time. Taking a quick snapshot here or there does little to counter-balance that. They maybe see a little bit better for a brief moment, as they hold up the camera or process images at home later, but then they may miss a few things too as they fish around in their pockets to find their phones or when they spend more time looking at the phone’s screen (to see if the shot came out) than they do looking at the piece itself. It is about an even wash.

There is of course the trophy aspect: photography as big game collecting. We have looked at this before, in other entries throughout this blog. It’s a way of saying I was here, I experienced this, I had the authentic moment. For some reason the poultry shot above seems to me to prove this rather vividly.

One problem is not the inane and constant snapshot-shooting inside a show like Mueck’s, but that 90+% of people don’t really do anything with their images, once they have them. They may not even remember to download them onto their computers. If all grocery stores were free and constantly restocked, people would exit pushing pyramids of exotic food in their carts out to the car and work in a relay for an hour to get it all in the house. Yet once home with all this stuff, now what? I bet that once there, most of the food would spoil or hide forgotten in the back of the pantry. Even if markets were free, most people would eat more or less the same things they do now, in more or less the same quantities. We may want to pretend to ourselves that tomorrow for a before-dinner snack we’ll make little coracles out of walnut shell and coriandered caviar, but in actuality, it ain’t ever going to happen.

Simple experiment proves this. How many readers of this blog have pictures still on a phone or camera you have yet to download onto a computer? And then on your computer, how many of you have pictures you have yet to sort and label, crop and delete? Oh yes, some day. You’re going to sort out all those Christmas pictures some day. “Some Day” is the one day of the week that never arrives. Maybe it’s like Leap Year’s February 29th, a day that exists in theory but most of us don’t remember having experienced.

Two problems come from our reliance on cameras, especially on cameras whose images we don’t get around to salvaging. The first is that I think we usually do let the camera do the remembering: in the art show discussed here, I went in as a moderately informed observer who can go to art museums three or four times a week if I am in a city like L.A. or London. Even so, rather than looking, part of me was just “there,” relying on my images to help me think about the art after the fact. If people had to select between views once they got home, deleting the duplicates and the duds, then at that point they could re-live the show’s content and theme, but since they usually do NOT do such a review and selection of images later, they do not “think” about the art later, either.

And second, because we do have such good and relatively inexpensive cameras, and because it is socially acceptable to use them almost everywhere, even during hanky panky, I am willing to suggest that most of us—myself included—no longer have the capacity for detailed, saturated looking that can create stable, indelible memories. Why remember things? We have the pictures, after all. Well, sure, any of us do, so long as we can remember which file we put them in, or so long as our computer doesn’t crash, or so long as jpg remains a commonly supported format that our display devices can recognize.

Elise Engler, an artist in the same Antarctic artists program I was associated with, once decided to draw every object she owned: it came out to be a series 13,127 drawings. It took a year and a half to finish. I am impressed that she even could find everything (I doubt I could), but more importantly, I deeply admire the devotion of such a Whitmanesque project. After such a journey, you would know one fork from another, be able to tell which sock was mismatched, treasure your light bulbs for the sculptural marvels that they are. The key thing here is that she drew each one: she had to attend to its material qualities, the heft and balance of the light, the way that object inhabited the space of the world. What a lovely record for future archaeologists. Certainly she has to know herself and her world better as a consequence of this project.

I had said I had gone twice to the Ron Mueck show. The second time, camera-less, was different if for no other reason that I happen to use an especially macho camera set-up, with prime glass lenses on a motordrive body. That sucker weighs almost five pounds. Leaving it behind is a pleasure. Whether it changed my experience or not I don’t want to say, since it gets into other issues too about being away from home and the better and worse ways one interacts with art when lonely. But I will just offer this as a challenge. The next time you do go to the Getty or some large, fun, object-filled space, do not bring a phone, do not bring a pocket point-and-shoot, but do bring a good quality pocket sketchbook or Moleskine journal, and set yourself the goal of drawing five objects from your day. It does not have to be a piece of art—even your Snapple bottle is a good place to start. It doesn’t have to be good or accurate, it just has to be an honest attempt to remember the world in a true and lasting way.

And at the end of the day, you’ll have five drawings. That’s not a bad thing. And when you get home, you can then look around and say, right on—just 13,122 left to go.