The Limits of Imagination

One family vacation long ago, I trudged through Disney World and its fake Moroccan city of Marrakesh, debating the true lyrics of The Jetson's theme song with my sister. "It's Jane is nice!" I cried. My sister, ever rational, replied, "No, it's Jane, his wife. And his boy, Elroy." Deep down, I knew I was wrong, but my childhood pride wouldn't relent.

Thanks to Google, I don't think obscure arguments last as long today. Who was President Calvin Coolidge's wife? Within seconds, anyone can download the answer: Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge. What's the capital of the former Upper Volta? Everybody knows it's Ouagadougou. Who has the world's longest mustache? Let's see—a hirsute Turkish fellow, Mohammed Rashid. To tap into a collective consciousness, nobody needs to be Buddha, meditating beneath a fig tree. All of life exists in an electric, invisible Web, available on computer screens and portable devices. 

Sadly, the Internet has become a spoiler for the imagination. Perhaps that's why my mind keeps wandering back to artwork from more naïve times, such as those very early Italian artists who depicted Jesus roaming a Tuscan hill town.

It's scary to think what a later, less naïve artist like Albrecht Durer would have done with today's access to so many images and resources. His famed woodcut of an Indian rhinoceros, circa 1515, seems uncannily accurate considering he never saw a rhinoceros.

Durer's woodcut began as a living, captive Indian rhinoceros, shipped to Lisbon, Portugal, in 1515 as a royal gift. The rhino then boarded a ship to Italy to visit with the Pope. But the rhino came to a tragic and fabled end, drowning in a shipwreck before reaching Italian shores.

Undeterred, Durer based his woodcut rhino off written descriptions, a sketch and a well-grounded faith in his sharp imagination. Of course, if you've never seen a rhino before, just type "rhino" into Google.

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