The Art of Travel: Revisited


In the article, “The Art of Travel” by Alain De Botton, the author argues that we seek true beauty only through the viewfinder of an expensive camera. He mentions that John Ruskin, who in his own considered himself to be very adept at deceiving the smaller details of a scene. With this, Botton connects the idea that our notion of true beauty is groomed from the photograph and not the image we create for ourselves.

Botton says, “A dominant impulse on encountering beauty is to wish to hold on to it, to possess it, and give it weight in one’s life. There is an urge to say, I wish I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me.” What he’s saying is that when we meet something beautiful, like a sunset or the Amalfi Coast, our first instinct is to take a photo of that image. Our purpose is to recreate something beautiful so that we never lose that feeling, that emotion we felt at that very moment. In this sense, a photograph functions not as a memory, but as a replacement of a memory.

There are five central conclusions that Botton mentions in his article, which Ruskin coined. The first is that beauty is a result of a number of complex factors that affect the mind both psychologically and visually. This is to say that beauty is both an internal and external feeling.

Secondly, humans have the innate tendency to respond to beauty and desire to possess it. This clause provides claim to the idea that we try capture beauty in a number of ways, be it through a photograph, another person, or an inanimate object.

Next, Ruskin argues that there are lower expressions of the desire for possession (of beauty) in the form of carpets, souvenirs, or carving one’s name in a pillar.

Fourth, Ruskin says that the only way to possess beauty properly is to understand it while remaining conscious of the factors responsible for that beauty.

Then finally, the most effective means for pursuing this conscious understanding is by attempting to describe beautiful places through art, by writing or drawing about them, regardless of whether the person has any talent for either skill. Ruskin, in theory believes that lasting beauty is attainable through the aforementioned conclusions.

At the same time that Ruskin, who was born in 1818, believes that expression for possession of beauty is achievable through photographs or novelty souvenirs; another instrumental figure during the 19th century said almost the same thing.

Louis-Jaques-Mandè Daguerre, inventor of the photograph and the now famous, Daguerrotype, said: “[Photography] is very nearly the same thing as carrying off a palace itself – every chip of stone and stain is there – and of course, there can be no mistakes about proportion.”

Ruskin went on to say, “Rather than employing it as a supplement to active, conscious seeing, they used the medium as a substitute, paying less attention to the world than they had done previously, taking it on faith that photography automatically assured possession of it.”

What these two great minds are saying is that traveling is not always about the pictures one takes, its about the experience, the expression, and the emotion. Think for a second about which is more memorable – a picture of ancient ruins, or a picture of two friends smiling or laughing in the very same spot. Often we use photos, souvenirs, and other novelty gifts to replace the actual experience. We move quickly from place to place on a strict time schedule.

We never have enough time at any one place. For example, most would not disagree that it would take at least a week to truly admire and experience the Uffizi gallery in Florence, but most people go through the gallery in a matter of hours. Take pictures of moments because part of capturing the beauty that Ruskin speaks of is to consciously allow the mind to see everything.

A memory isn’t just about the picture, it’s about the things we hear, feel, taste, and smell. We rely on our sensory receptors to create a vivid memory of monumental events, like a first communion or the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower, or at least that’s how it used to be. The ever-increasing ideal is to take photos to solidify a memory, and to capture the beauty.

To that, I say, throw down the camera, don’t buy a ten dollar souvenir, take off the sunglasses – just sit (or stand) and enjoy what is right in front your face. Savior the moment, capture it, remember it – in your conscious mind. Because the memory of being in Venice is much different from a picture of Venice. To possess beauty, we must first zoom out of the viewfinder, and then we must take a mental picture of the things around us that make something or someone beautiful.

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