Wednesday, March 31, 2010

From The Art of Travel

humpback whale, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I've been thinking about the connection between my love of travel, photography, and painting.  Dick and I have always put an emphasis on traveling.  We've been all over the United States, in Mexico and the Caribbean, the UK, Greece and Italy.  One crucial difference between us is how important photography has been for me.  I always considered my pictures to be a sort of visual diary, while he claims I miss things while I'm peering through a viewfinder.  These days I just say my photos are reference for future paintings, and sometimes that actually happens.  But I think there's more going on here, and that my need to travel, photograph, and paint are all connected and mutually reinforcing.

Crater Lake, from our hotel room

A few years ago I read a slender book called The Art of Travel, by Alain De Botton, and I copied out a few quotes into my sketchbook.  I've been thinking about the book, and may need to reread, since it has been tickling my memory so much lately.

p. 183  And perhaps the most effective means of enriching our sense of what to look for in a scene is by studying visual art.  We could conceive of many works of art as being immensely subtle instruments for telling us what amounts... to "Look at the sky of Provence, redraw your notion of wheat, do justice to olive trees."

Punta Cana beach, the Dominican Republic

p. 188  Every realistic picture represents a choice as  to which features of reality should be given prominence; no painting ever captures the whole, as Nietzsche mockingly pointed out... in The Realistic Painter:  Completely true to nature!  What a lie.  How could nature ever be constrained into a picture?  The smallest bit of nature is infinite, and so he paints what he likes about it.  And what does he like?  He likes what he can paint!

Macchu Picchu, Peru

p.205  It struck me as awkwardly true that I had not much admired Provence before I began to study its depiction in Van Gogh's work.  But in its desire to mock art lovers, Pascal's maxim (How vain painting is, exciting admiration by its resemblance to things which we do not admire the originals) was in danger of skirting two important points.  Admiring a painting that depicts a place we know but do not like seems absurd and pretentious if we imagine that painters do nothing but reproduce exactly what lies before them... But as Nietzsche knew, painters do not merely reproduce, they select and highlight, and the are accorded genuine admiration insofar as their version of reality seems to bring out valuable features of it.

Detail of San Marco, Venice, Italy

So I suppose that travel does more than satisfy curiosity about the world and its scenery and people.  For me, travel satisfies an urge to collect experiences and scenes of beauty, and then to cement them into my memory and share them with other people.  The challenge in painting these scenes is to bring to the picture the feelings inspired by the original place.  Can I impart the sparkle and color of water?  the proportions and beauty of a building? the sweep of a green landscape? the mystery of a deep shadow?  Even if I fail, studying a photo I have taken and reliving the experience in my memory often brings some of the joy of the original experience back.


laura said...

What a lovely meditation on your travels and art, Sherry. The photographs are all just stunning--the Macchu Pichu one amazes me: that you can get so much into one photograph!

Des Moines workers compensation said...

Great photos. The sceneries and colors are very nice.

Jana Bouc said...

This was really interesting to read. I am not well traveled but have always enjoyed travel I've done, often even more after I'm home since in the moment it can be challenging.

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