Several years ago, on a lark, I signed up for a figure-drawing class. I hadn’t had art instruction of any sort since grade school, when I’d demonstrated scant talent in my preferred medium, construction paper and Elmer’s glue. My adventure in continuing education was similarly undistinguished. But if I didn’t leave the course with a portfolio of beautifully realized portraits, I did learn that drawing isn’t an activity reserved for artists who do it well. It can be a way of observing and making sense of the world.
Field sketchers know this well. Pairing illustrations with written comments, art with science, field sketching is used by researchers and artists to document nature, “from waterways to winged creatures, mosses to mountaintops,” Jenna Schnuer writes in The Times. In an age when we’re never more than a swipe away from a powerful camera, field sketching seems radically homespun. The practice “forces you to slow down, to take things in, to simply look.”
This can be difficult. On vacation, rushing from sight to sight, pausing and just looking without taking a picture can feel almost unnatural. Never mind sketching — who has time for sketching when our dinner reservation is at 6:15 sharp?
Walking recently at sunset on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, Manhattan incandescent against an orange sky, I watched a line of tourists taking the same photo. I challenged myself to observe without documenting, to have an experience and let my memory be the only evidence that I was there. I argued with myself: “The memory will fade, I should capture the scene!” I bargained: “I’ll capture the tourists and the sunset, a comment on how everyone else is taking pictures while I’m standing apart from them!” I tried to stand still and just notice.
Memories fade, it’s true. Is that so bad? Do we need a photo for the experience to matter?
In her book “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy,” the artist Jenny Odell writes, “To do nothing is to hold yourself still so that you can perceive what is actually there.” That’s the promise of field sketching. It’s the promise of mindfulness and tech-free Saturdays and morning pages. It’s taking things in without putting something out (at least not out to your fans and followers).
The writer Nicholas Cannariato described the benefits of watchful stillness in a piece on bird-watching I return to frequently. “In looking at common birds in my neighborhood, there’s a refreshing variety in their sameness, a consistent challenge to discern what seems too normal to even notice after so many times noticing,” he wrote. Bird-watching, he concludes, is about “taking in the most in the shortest span of time.” It’s good advice for living, isn’t it? Slow down. Observe. Try to take in as much as we can in the time that we have.
THE WEEK IN CULTURE
🍿 “Smile” (Friday): All of a sudden I’m quite happy. The fall chill is finally starting to roll in here on the East Coast, and October is almost upon us. Time to take out the sweaters and watch as many horror movies as possible. Maybe we should all start with this feature film debut about how smiling really widely is creepy. Which it is. (If you’re looking for some older horror picks, the absolutely essential Criterion Channel is streaming a great selection of ’80s horror classics.)
📚 “Stay True” (Tuesday): Hua Hsu has long been part of The New Yorker’s great stable of critics, primarily writing about music. In this memoir, he reflects on his youth as the child of Taiwanese immigrants, his pop culture obsessions and, most movingly, his college best friend, who was killed in a random robbery. (For a sense of Hsu’s voice, listen to this episode of “Popcast,” The Times’s music podcast, where he discussed what it means to be a collector.)
Savory Corn Fritters
It’s the last call for fresh corn as the season winds down, and the piles of formerly bright green husked cobs now look a little withered at their tips. Buy them while you can, slice off the kernels and whip up these lovely crisp-edged corn fritters from Vallery Lomas. Full of scallions, cayenne and Cheddar cheese, they’re savory and perfect for a light dinner or a hearty brunch. (Top them with a dollop of yogurt or a couple of fried eggs.) Leftovers keep well, and these fritters are good both hot and at room temperature. If you don’t get around to making them now, hang on to the recipe; they’re nearly as good made with frozen corn.
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Spongy moths: These invasive insects can decimate your garden. Here’s what to do if you see them.
Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees, M.L.B.: Aaron Judge is on the cusp of history. He has 60 home runs so far this season, tying the mark Babe Ruth set in 1927 and just one shy of Roger Maris’s 61. Some refer to the record he’s chasing as the Yankees record, or the American League record. But Judge is also chasing the non-steroid record, since every player with more than 61 home runs in a season has been linked to performance-enhancing drugs. Regardless of whether you consider those numbers legitimate, Judge’s year has been remarkable: On top of the home runs, he might also win the triple crown. Sunday at 7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN.
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