Sometimes a book comes along at just the right time, to give a personal message, meet a need or fill you with excitement about life! This is one of those books. On the train to London to the RA, I was reading The Art of Travel by the philosopher Alain de Botton. The book asks questions about why we travel and why we sometimes find holidays disappointing. I’d been intending to read it for sometime.
De Botton postulates that we sometimes get more satisfaction from looking at a painting of a landscape than the landscape itself – because of the skill of the artist in their selection of what to depict, what aspects of reality to include and what to leave out, rather than a photographic representation.
The last two chapters were such an inspiration – one on Van Gogh and the other on John Ruskin. The VG chapter was about how the artist looked at a place in a different way – how he tried to capture something he saw that others could not – to show us a new way of seeing. In particular, the chapter focused on his fascination with Cypress trees in Provence, which was very pertinent as I’d just been working on Wheatfield with Cypresses for the cruise ship. VG observed the way the wind moved in the branches, making the tree appear to bend along different axes, as if the wind was blowing from different directions at once. “With it’s cone-like shape, the tree takes on the appearance of a flame flickering nervously in the wind.” Van Gogh saw this and tried to make others see it too.
The Ruskin chapter was about how to preserve (holiday or other) memories. Photographs and souvenirs do not adequately capture the essence of a place, that feeling of beauty or ambiance that we feel we want to bottle. Ruskin advocated drawing as a means of fixing a place in the mind: the value of drawing as a means of really looking – not dependent on talent. The aim is to learn not how to draw but how to look. Ruskin gave drawing classes to Cockney craftsmen, not with the aim of ‘making a carpenter an artist, but to make him happier as a carpenter.’ How brilliant!
I feel so inspired by this and am determined to put it into action …
I think we try too hard with art. Perhaps we shouldn’t try at all and just accept our vague internal muttering intellectual or emotional responses, without needing to articulate them. It can be enough to know that ‘I like/love this’
Hi Sandra – you’re right – we all see things differently and have different responses to art. Perhaps I should have used a different heading for the Blog – maybe a ‘book that really inspired me’ rather than ‘must-read’ which sounds like an order! Having said that, I loved the book which really made me think in a new way.
Thanks for the recommendation. I will definitely track down a copy. The last book I read that made me think in a new way about seeing was ‘A History of Pictures’ by David Hockney and Martin Gayford. One good recommendation deserves another. Oh and I love your Wheatfield with Cypresses. It’s beautiful work.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this book – all so interesting to me, as is your beautiful art. 😊
Thank you so much! I’ve had a look at your Blog too and love your writing on paintings. I absolutely love art history.
I’ll be following you too!
You are most welcome, Jane! I love art history, too, though I am expert at nothing. 😊
At a recent talk with Norman Ackroyd, one of his comments was that he never takes photographs as doing that stops him looking! Photographs are obviously a very quick and easy way to record a moment and I do take a lot of photographs. We are off to the Outer Hebrides later this year and I shall be taking a sketchbook and trying to record what I truly see and feel from the special places we will visit.