In the chapter “Eye Opening Art”, De Button argues that art or literature can play a decisive role in not only our perception of beauty and places, but can also influence the places we want to travel to. I must admit that I am stark proof of this claim, as my decision to study abroad in Prague has quite a lot to do with the fact that one of my favorite book series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, takes place mainly in this city (when it is in the human realm, that is).
It would be a lie to say that is my only reason for coming, but it was those books that first ignited my interest in this small country in Central Europe. Before that, I knew next to nothing about this place, and even the name Czech Republic was unfamiliar enough that I would take special note of it every time I heard it. If it wasn’t for those books, I probably would never have garnered enough interest to take note of this country enough to put it down as my first choice.
The Prague I read about was quite like the artwork featured above. Dark and mysterious, with a sense that demons and angels both may be creeping in the shadows, neither what you may expect them to be. It echoes the Prague I have seen on a cloudy day, when dawn is just approaching and the people are spare. It highlights the mystique of the city, hinting at its rich history in culture, religion and the secrets of the occult while reflecting the cynicism of its people. It is a Prague that draws you in with sinister appeal, promising you magic as dark as its consequences.
The Prague I encountered, however, is much more like this piece of artwork by Katie Feygie, rich in colors of red and yellow, layers and hues of of sky always shifting, bright and mesmerizing and beautiful. Of course, this painting exaggerates all of those features. But I cannot separate the experience of observing this painting from my first impression of Prague. All those violent colors and architectural styles falling together in perfect harmony, a symphony of aesthetics so vibrant you can almost hear it.
But I’ve perhaps been here too long. The colors that intrigued me so upon arrival have faded into a pale background, and I find too many incongruences, marks of city life that necessarily clash with the elegant designs of a bygone era. The Prague I encountered upon arrival has been idealized to resemble quite closely the Prague that Katie Feygie has depicted, and needless to say reality cannot always live up to the choices artists make in their portrayal. For me, this painting represents a Prague that has faded into a dreamland, one I may never experience again. It is the first meeting that can never be repeated. But I am glad, if anything, that it has been preserved in such a beautiful piece of art.
However, if I were to speak about how art has influenced my perception of Prague, it is impossible not to mention the impact of photography. Rather than the photos themselves influencing me, though, it is more accurate to say that my perception has been altered by the perspective of a camera lens. I cannot prevent myself from framing everything I see as if I were taking a photograph, measuring the beauty of a place by evaluating how its appeal could be accentuated and embellished by the ideal camera lens (and of course, photo-editing tools). This process has helped me identify so many beautiful details that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Like the quote from Diane Harper, traveling is “a two-way street; the art and the literature make one more observant. When one travels, one can imagine a yet-to-be-written novel or something to be painted.” For me, the conscious process of choosing what I might highlight in a creative piece of my own has been the most significant asset art can supply.