The pursuit of art is as relevant today as it was in the 18th century, when the Grand Tour became an integral part of educated life. As an institution, it has always fascinated me: Comfortable, fast cars are called GTs because of Italy’s debt to English travelers; Gran Turismo is the quintessential consumer style and something that connects Lord Chesterfield to Ferrari.
During the recent great isolation, people found solace in making art. The sale of art supplies is further expanded. The joy of making something tangible and enjoyable has grown ever more intense since we were choked off by the intrusive but impersonal horrors of internet culture. Now that we’ve been released from captivity, we could all become Grand Tourists again.
DH Lawrence insisted that the Englishman would only be comfortable traveling south towards the sun. Few of us would disagree, even if the Prince of Wales preferred the Highlands to Marbella.
Cheap flights have their dangers, but they cannot be compared to the horrors experienced by grand tourists in search of art in the 18th century. Think of the mules that hungover English aristocrats carry on their way to Italy along steep rocky outcrops over sublime terrifying Alpine gorges. Still, it was the invention of leisure travel.
The Grand Tour was somewhere between a painting vacation and a gap year: about 12 months of hiking from Calais, Paris, Lyon, Chambéry, Turin, Genoa, Florence, Rome to Naples, then on to Venice and back home again, with the more ambitious return via Prague, Berlin, the Netherlands. It was only this year that Marbella was added to the list.
The Grand Tourists discovered sightseeing and shopping. The first thing they did in Paris was to ditch monotonous English clothes and pull themselves up in brightly colored stockings and gay continental clothes. They also discovered recreational sex, which was less of an option at home. After changing, the second thing they did immediately was to go to the brothel. “Make love with every beautiful woman you meet and just be gallant with the rest” was Lord Chesterfield’s memorable advice to his son who was touring Europe.
Of course, nobody wears a raw silk suit to travel these days. Nobody packs tailor-made pigskin luggage and expects to be carried over the Mont Cenis Pass in a sedan chair. But wouldn’t we prefer it to a 737 or an A320? And shouldn’t we all paint and draw like Boris when we arrive?
My advice is to dump your smartphone on your next trip. The accuracy of his images is stunning and deceptive, even if it is seductive and light. Better an honest drawing than a simple snapshot. Use God’s synapses, not Apple’s sensors and accelerometers.
Try drawing a building or painting a landscape. To draw a building is to understand it. Why? Because drawing is a function of intelligence. Maybe a small one, but a function nonetheless. If you really understand something as seemingly simple as a terracotta flower pot, you should be able to draw it accurately. But first some examination and careful consideration is required. Execution is the last thing you do. It’s all a matter of thinking.