One of the phrases I've learned in Italian is, "Posso fare una foto?" Most of the time, especially when I'm inside a church or museum, the answer is, "No foto". Of course you still see people taking pictures, holding their iPhones discreetly at chest height, as if they are just checking their email while they happen to be standing directly in front of one of Giotto's frescoes. Most don't get caught, and it is tempting to follow their lead and do the same. But I've been wondering if that is really the best way to remember something beautiful, regardless of the rules.
All this reminds me of an article I read earlier this summer. The author makes the case that when we are constantly reaching for our phones to captures memories of beauty, we fail to actually experience the beauty that is in front of us. Instead of rushing to see everything and madly snapping pictures so that we can remember it all, we should slow down and carefully examine a few things. Drawing is an excellent way to do this.
This was the case for me when I was in Orvieto yesterday morning. Photography is not allowed inside the Duomo, but it is a breathtaking space, and I wanted to carry a little bit of it home with me. I picked one tiny corner of the building and gave myself forty-five minutes to draw. The result was an imperfect and unfinished sketch, but my memory of the space is clearer than it otherwise would have been.
One of the benefits of this way of looking is the degree to which it forces me to slow down. At one point while I was working in the quiet church a bird swooped down close to my head, and the sound of its flapping wings echoed through the capacious space. It was a sound I had never heard before and never would have heard if I had been racing about trying to take pictures of everything.
Before I left the city I made a few more sketches while sitting covertly in the corner of a cafe and drawing the people at the other tables.
Once again, the sketch is unfinished, but the experience of being in there and seeing these women have a discussion over wine and salads was lovely. Even ordinary moments like these can be vivid and interesting when given the sort of undivided attention that drawing requires.