top of page

The Philadelphia Museum of Art Handbook From Memory  was co-authored with students from the University of Pennsylvania class "Writing Through Culture and Art" (taught by poet Kenneth Goldsmith) and published by the University of Pennsylvania Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing on April 21, 2016.


In this year-long course, students spent the first semester studying artist Christopher Knowles and his Fall 2015 retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, PA with the knowledge that, come second semester, they would create some kind of publication inspired by his work. After much thought and many horrible initial ideas, the students decided to recreate the Philadelphia Museum of Art Handbook -- entirely from memory.


The process was very simple: 

1. Each student chose an image from the handbook
(overall, each student wrote for about 50 images)

2. The student looked at the image for one minute

3. They then closed the book and wrote a description of the image from memory
(with about the same word count as the original image description)


Yet while everyone followed the same process, the results that came out of it were wildly different each time -- different genres, different ideas, different takes on the art. And none of them were exact descriptions. As we realized in that first semester studying Knowles (and creating writing inspired by his art), memory is unreliable and often false. So our "descriptions" of the art were really just afterimages infused with our own thoughts.


And this idea of an afterimage is represented in the images within the text as well, which we converted to ASCII , so each image was an almost ghostly version of the art made out of letters, numbers, and symbols (also a nod to Knowles, whose art included similar typings -- but by hand on a typewriter, not through code on a computer).

In the end, we were left with a stunning, 439-page, physical book.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art 

Handbook From Memory

Zoe Stoller
Zoe Stoller

Mark Rothko's "Gyrations on Four Planes" (1944)  

Zoe Stoller

"Gyrations on Four Planes" in ASCII

Zoe Stoller

Right: The Philadelphia Museum of Art Handbook

Left: The Philadelphia Museum of Art Handbook from Memory

bottom of page