In The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton writes about travel and art crossing paths. Edward Hopper’s paintings illuminate a traveler’s introspection en route, be it by car, train or plane. Flaubert’s urge to engage the exotic – his destination was Egypt – sheds light on why we must travel. All wayfarers share some of von Humboldt’s insatiable curiosity. Wordsworth’s poetry rejuvenated the big idea that the antidote for city dwellers’ ills is a trip to the countryside, England’s Lake District for him. Van Gogh’s paintings gave Provence a new, more appealing identity. De Botton entertainingly and informatively writes about the profound and fun-filled experience of embracing travel as an art form, ultimately of one’s own definition. Says he:
If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest – in all its ardour and paradox – than our travels. They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about, outside the constraints of work and of the struggle for survival. Yet rarely are they considered to present philosophical problems – that is, issues requiring thought beyond the practical. We are inundated with advice on where to travel to, but hear little of why and how we should go, even though the art of travel seems to sustain a number of questions neither so simple nor so trivial, and where study might in modest ways contribute to an understanding of what the Greek philosophers beautifully termed eudaimonia or “human flourishing.”
De Botton tells us to dismiss brochures that have “darkly intuited how easily their audience might be turned into pray by photographs whose power insulted the intelligence and contravened any notion of free will: over exposed photographs of palm trees, clear skies and white beaches.” Instead, he has liberally sprinkled his book with pictures and artists’ paintings of the destinations the artists portrayed or wrote about. This wonderful, small volume (255 pages, 6” by 4.5”) has a place in every traveler’s collection. Read chapters I and II first. Then enjoy the essays. Again. And again.
–– Tucker Cox
After working and living in Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo and managing a high tech company, Tucker Cox taught marketing at The University of Georgia. He recently completed a Master of Liberal Arts at the University of North Carolina Asheville. Tuck’s lifetime travel goal is 100 countries and 7 continents. His current status is 87 and 6, Antarctica excepted.