According to the World Tourism Organization in 2009 there were 990 million tourist arrivals around the world – almost a billion people (1/9th of the world’s population) going somewhere for business, leisure or recreation. And the trend is expected to continue increasing in 2010. Tourism is the world’s single largest industry, outpacing oil, steel and even armaments.
I’ve been watching lectures on Impressionism to learn about why this art movement started and today I learned why landscapes suddenly popped up on the art scene after the middle of the 19th century.
Trains. Yeah, trains. They became readily available to more people as a way to travel, meaning people where trains existed were going from where they lived to some other place to “see the sights.” Non-essential travel to new locations.
Artists in Paris were able to reach the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts more easily in search of new subjects. No longer limited to the classic still life scenes or rendering of heroic personalities in their urban studios these artists were taking their easels out into the country to create images of what they saw there.
Imagine the reaction they caused among the other people who were also taking trains to these places. What are those people doing? Don’t you need a studio for real painting? Suddenly you can see the lightbulbs going off over heads, “I love this sight of beach, water, sky and clouds – I can buy that painting and keep it to remember this sight.” That’s right – the first postcards were tourists buying paintings being made right on the scene to document their trip. Claude Monet was doing it in La Havre as a teenager to make money.
Somewhere, right now, there’s a priceless Monet in some French house’s attic, a relic of great-great-great-grandfather’s trip to the beach at Normandy….Art is full of irony, not all of it obvious.
If you’ve ever been around a tourist-y place you know what to expect. Lots of people milling around looking at everything, having their picture taken, browsing the souvenirs, chasing errant children.
Don’t people ever just stop to take in the location? They go to some trouble to get from their home to this place only to spend a little time there and then go away, relying on their Flickr album to document their presence and remind them of the scene.
Of course among any crowd there is the random few who realize the reason to reach a place is to savor the result, to drink in what the place has to offer, to learn why it’s different from home and all other locations in between. They may not have dozens of snapshots to show off but I’m betting they have a clearer memory of the place and stronger sense of what being there did for them.
Shun the obvious. Enjoy the place. Be a non-conformational tourist.