Art is the kind of thing that I have always been adjacent to from a young age – taking ballet classes, keeping a sketchbook, making short films, and taking photographs – but it wasn’t until recently that I really became interested in and engaged by the power of art. This transition coincided, not incidentally, with moving to New York for college, where my student ID can get me into any of the top galleries in the city (and the world, pretty much) and looking at art, initially a way to pass the time and check the Met and MoMa off of my “to see” list, actually became a cathartic and deeply inspiring ritual for my time in the city. I went to a gallery almost every weekend freshman year, and did the same when I moved to London last semester.
Seeing a city’s art is not just about satisfying the insistence of another “Top 10” tourist sights list, or trying to appear cultured on Instagram – it is an exercise in travel itself. In New York, the galleries hold a vast array of works that profess social commentary and document the city’s rich cultural movements and contributors, from the realists, or the New York Art School, to the punks of St. Mark’s; the diversity and D.I.Y. spirit is essential to the fiber of the city.
In London, I found the focus on bridging the gap between the iconic history of British art of the 18th and 19th centuries with contemporary art at galleries like the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, and Saatchi, incredibly compelling – again this feeling of legacy, reinvention, and constant innovation is essential to London’s cultural zeitgeist today.
In Florence, art is everywhere; it isn’t just something that you go to see in galleries, it is the fabric of the city and it’s history – it’s raison d’être. Florentine art is mostly concerned with the past and how the works of Botticelli, Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Da Vinci, and Michaelangelo laid the foundation for literally every other artist who has postdated them. The parallelism of a city’s art and it’s spirit is no coincidence (in fact, it is likely curated with this messaging in mind) but it is profoundly memorable. Art can, in and of itself, be a form of travel, inviting those who engage with it to travel to another time, point of view, or purpose, and to be enveloped in the city.
Engagement with art does not have to just be a passive experience either; as Christine Negroni writes for The New York Times, “developing the eyes of an artist could reinforce […] memories and enrich […] experience.” Applying the idea that she borrows from Alain de Botton’s book “The Art of Travel,” I decided to do some sketching on my recent trip to Taormina, Sicily.
It is one thing to look at a beautiful landscape or scene – of which Sicily has many – and another to appreciate it with respect for each of its constitutive parts. Looking out over the coast from the Giardini Communale, there was so much to capture – the staggering cliffs and hills ending in beaches that met the clear turquoise sea, the multiple historic church spires and castles making them self noticed from the miniature skyline of the quaint town, the cities along the coastline extending towards the horizon, and of course, the majestic volcano Mount Etna emerging in the distance and hovering over the entire region. Drawing the scene before me forced me to not miss a single detail and to appreciate the rarity of the beauty I was witnessing… a beach, a castle, palm trees, and a volcano, all in a single glance? That is something to remember.
Art as travel is about immersing yourself in your environment – journeying through the past at a museum, feeling inspired by the life of your favourite local artist, or training your eye and brain to slow down and appreciate your surroundings. Regardless of how far from home you might be, art has the power to transform and transport, no additional trains or planes required.