The Art Of Travel And The Art Of Writing

In Alain de Botton’s engaging book,​ the​ Art of​ Travel,​ he distinguishes between the​ anticipation and recollection of​ travel versus the​ reality of​ actually traveling.

When we anticipate,​ we study travel brochures and create in​ our imagination all sorts of​ exotic adventures,​ lying ahead of​ us. Once really there,​ we photograph the​ Eiffel Tower with our friends or​ family,​ their arms slung over one another’s shoulders and grinning into the​ camera. That forms the​ recollection,​ the​ moments we choose to​ remember.

Magically gone from memory are the​ delayed flight,​ the​ lousy food and the​ hotel room overlooking the​ alley,​ where the​ garbage collectors banged tins at​ 5am. But,​ if​ we otherwise enjoy ourselves,​ we select those ‘good moments’ and photograph them to​ construct a​ different reality from the​ real reality.

De Botton’s next idea is​ fascinating. He says that’s exactly what the​ artist does. Whether writing a​ novel,​ painting a​ picture or​ scoring a​ symphony,​ the​ artist imagines the​ outline of​ the​ work [anticipates the​ delights of​ the​ trip] then selects that which is​ felt to​ have artistic value [forgets the​ garbage men and includes friends at​ the​ Eiffel Tower]. Just as​ the​ traveler now has a​ fine and satisfying memory of​ the​ trip,​ the​ artist has a​ wonderful novel,​ painting or​ musical score. the​ artist has created art through imagination,​ selection,​ rejection and combination of​ artistic elements resulting in​ something new. the​ happy traveler has created a​ wonderful trip.

Then he tells of​ a​ man who had a​ very peculiar experience. After feasting his eyes upon paintings by Jan Steen and Rembrandt,​ this traveler anticipated beauty,​ joviality and simplicity in​ Holland. Many paintings of​ laughing,​ carousing cavaliers had fixed this image in​ his mind,​ along with quaint houses and canals. But on​ a​ trip to​ Amsterdam and Haarlem,​ he was strangely disappointed.

No,​ according to​ De Botton,​ the​ paintings had not lied. Certainly,​ there were a​ number of​ jovial people and pretty maids pouring milk,​ but the​ images of​ them were diluted in​ this traveler’s mind,​ by all the​ other ordinary,​ boring things he saw. Such commonplace items simply did not fit his mental picture. Thus,​ reality did not compare to​ an​ afternoon of​ viewing the​ works of​ Rembrandt in​ a​ gallery. And why not? Because Rembrandt and Steen had,​ by selecting and combining elements,​ captured the​ essence of​ the​ beauty of​ Holland,​ thereby intensifying it.

This is​ exactly what a​ writer or​ any artist tries to​ do and as​ a​ traveler,​ you​ may do much the​ same thing

When writing about a​ day in​ your protagonist’s life,​ you​ don’t start with what he had for breakfast or​ that his car wouldn’t start unless it’s germane to​ the​ plot or​ his character. you​ compress. you​ select and embellish. you​ toss out. All the​ details of​ your story must combine to​ intensify real life in​ order to​ create something interesting and of​ artistic merit. When I started writing the​ first novel in​ the​ Osgoode Trilogy,​ Conduct in​ Question,​ I had to​ learn it​ wasn’t necessary to​ build the​ whole city with lengthy descriptions of​ setting and character,​ before Harry Jenkins [the protagonist lawyer] could do anything. But many nineteenth century novelists did write numerous pages with glowing descriptions of​ the​ Scottish moors or​ a​ county hamlet. And that was necessary because,​ with the​ difficulty of​ travel,​ a​ reader might well need help in​ picturing the​ setting. But today,​ with the​ ease of​ travel,​ the​ surfeit of​ film,​ web and television images,​ no reader needs more than the​ briefest description. Just write walking down Fifth Avenue and the​ reader immediately gets the​ picture.

In a​ novel,​ usually only the​ most meaningful,​ coherent thoughts are included,​ unless you​ are James Joyce,​ the​ brilliant stream of​ consciousness writer. And so,​ you​ as​ the​ writer can order your protagonists thoughts so as​ to​ make complete and utter sense apparently the​ first time. in​ the​ Osgoode Trilogy,​ the​ protagonist,​ Harry Jenkins,​ does lots of​ thinking and analyzing [the novels are mysteries,​ after all]. But his coherence of​ thought is​ only produced after much editing and revising. Not much like real life,​ you​ say?

Same for dialogue. Interesting characters in​ books speak better and much more on​ point than people really do,​ partly because the​ writer is​ able to​ take back words. in​ real life,​ we often wish in​ retrospect,​ if​ only I had said this or​ that to​ set him straight. No problem for the​ writer. Hit the​ delete button and let him say something truly sharp and incisive.

And so,​ after comparing what the​ traveler and the​ writer do,​ what can we conclude? I quote De Botton in​ the​ Art of​ Travel.

The anticipatory and artistic imaginations omit and compress,​ they cut away the​ periods of​ boredom and direct our attention to​ critical moments and,​ without either lying or​ embellishing,​ thus lend to​ life vividness and a​ coherence that it​ may lack in​ the​ distracting woolliness of​ the​ present.

And so therein lies the​ difference between Art and Life! And so,​ the​ similarity between the​ traveler and writer.
The Art Of Travel And The Art Of Writing The Art Of Travel And The Art Of Writing Reviewed by Henda Yesti on August 17, 2018 Rating: 5

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