American poet Wallace Stevens once said, ‘The most beautiful thing in the world is, of course, the world itself’, and that statement couldn’t be more true to an artist.
Inspiration to an artist can come from anywhere – from the mundane experiences of day-to-day life or from chance interactions with people and places. Inspiration to an artist is sudden, spontaneous and often requires completely surrendering to the experiences and situations of the moment.
Now if you take that concept and focus on the latter part of that theory, what experience would you equate to just living in the moment? The most obvious answer would be travelling; a vacation to a new and exciting destination filled with adventures, picture perfect landscapes and interesting people at every corner.
To the average joe a new or surprising travel experience can work wonders with readjusting perspective. It could inspire you to quit that 9 to 5 to follow a lifelong dream or in some instances even to pick-up and move halfway across the world. So, then if travel can incite such radical inspiration, to an artist it poses as the perfect muse.
Over the many decades of art’s illustrious history, the sights, sounds, faces and places that make up the quintessential experience of wanderlust have been immortalised in some of the forms most famous creations. Let’s take a look at how travel has inspired some of the world’s most famous artists to create a visual script of their experience.
The Energy of a Destination
If you’ve ever been mesmerised by a destination that’s just brimming with life and culture, compelling you to just click picture after picture of every little detail that captures its energy – then you’ll understand its creative appeal to an artist. Whether it’s the bright city lights of Mumbai, the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh city or the maze of arrondissements that make up Paris, the energy of a destination has inspired some incredible artistic interpretations with the sole aim to give its viewers the ‘feel’ of a place.
Take for example, the effect Tahiti had on French artist Paul Gaugin whose search for inspiration landed him on the shores of French Polynesia. Not only did the trip inspire a whole body of work that included the 1891 painting ‘Tahitian Women on the Beach’ it also moved him past impressionism to a more bold, vibrant, graphic style almost as close to the vibrant hues of the destination itself.
The Faces that Make up the Places
When we relay stories of our travels, perhaps one of the most prominent protagonists of our stories would be the different people and characters we met along the way. These intriguing individuals, although as good as strangers, more often than not feature prominently in regales of adventures and experiences explored. It is no wonder then why the people of places visited by artists have served as inspiration across the decades.
A perfect example of this inspiration is seen in Jean-Léon Gérôme’s 1871 painting ‘Prayer in the Mosque’. After travelling extensively across the Middle East, this french-born artist was so enamoured by the local holy practices, it prompted him to recreate the visual, which encompassed depictions of holymen and worshippers in an Egyptian mosque.
Sights and Sounds
Think about the last place you traveled to, where everything about that city or town just soothed your soul and made you feel like you could live there forever. Everything about that place, whether the melodious murmur of the locals going about their day, the sound your shoes made on the little cobbled streets that lined up the alleyways or the vibrant hues of the street lights at night, made you just nestle right in.
Well to an artist a destination like that has served as a muse and cure to the manicness of everyday life. In fact for Vicent Van Gogh, Arles in the South of France was just that. Tired of the city life of Paris he travelled to this little city in 1888 where he went on to create some of his most famous pieces including ‘The starry night over the Rhone’ and ‘Bedroom at Arles’. Infact an AirBNB listing in the city has recreated the art world’s most famous bedroom for travellers to get the Van Gogh experience of Arles.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.