Among all the places we go to but don’t look at properly or which leave us indifferent, a few occasionally stand out with an impact that overwhelms us and forces us to take heed. They possess a quality that might clumsily be called beauty. This may not involve prettiness or any of the obvious features that guidebooks associate with beauty spots. Recourse to the word might just be another way of saying that we like a place.
Yet aesthetic tastes may be less rigid than the analogy suggests. We overlook certain places because nothing has ever prompted us to conceive of them as worthy of appreciation, or because some unfortunate but stray association has turned us against them. Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
Occasionally however, a landscape can become more attractive to us once we have seen it through the eyes of a great artist. As an example, think about Vincent Van Gogh and his many paintings of Provence in the south of France; sunflowers and blue skies, olive trees, harvest, a café in Arles.
In recent times we have definitely become more mindful of our travel environment when connecting local visual art specific to the place of our visit. Andalucia in Spain is a perfect example with the Picasso Museum in Malaga and the Museo Ralli in Marbella with its focus on surrealism. Take a look at the two paintings by Picasso, the rich colours are a direct reflection of much of what you will see in the region, natural landscape, buildings, pottery, tiles, woodwork, doors …..
Now here are a few examples from one of our recent visits, a plaza in Malaga near the Picasso Museum, a garage door to a city apartment, coloured ceramics, beach apartments, serrano ham, and even vegetables in a local market. All colours used by Picasso in many of his paintings are seen from the beaches of Marbella to the mountains of Ronda.
Unlike Van Gogh, Picasso isn’t painting the landscape here but he is clearly influenced by it, and my point is that by taking in the art associated with a place even before we go can inform us of what to expect, what to plan for, or even where to go. I might even say that this is better than using a Lonely Planet guidebook! Most significantly though, as human beings we have a natural desire to possess such beauty, but we can’t all afford to buy a Picasso! The more common way is to buy a print, a souvenir in the region, take a photograph. This is something John Ruskin wrote about as he arrived at five conclusions on beauty from his Lakeland home at Brantwood:
- Beauty is the result of complex psychological and visual factors.
- Humans have an innate tendency to desire to possess it
- Possession can be expressed through buying souvenirs, momentos, carving ones name (!) and by taking photographs.
- The only way to possess beauty properly is to understand it by becoming conscious of the factors responsible for it.
- Conscious understanding is most effectively gained by attempting to describe beautiful places through art, through drawing or through writing.
Ruskin described writing as “word painting” and recommended it over photography. I can buy into this because sometimes it is too mindless to click away at a scene then move on to the next one without really seeing what is in the scene! So there you have it, this humble blogger is recognising more and more the connections between “place” and “visual art”, how enjoying one can lead to an exploration of the other, and planning our future travels based on the beauty of landscape, architecture, and culture generally. Hopefully my word painting will improve as we travel and the feedback pours in on my efforts!