Representing People and Landscapes; ‘The Art of Travel’

Representing People and Landscapes; ‘The Art of Travel’

Landscapes are a crucial aspect of a human being’s memories, emotions and psychological desires. It is through the memories provided by landscapes that individuals have gone back to their pasts and reckon their emotions as they observed the specific scenes; such experiences are important in finding inner peace or when seeking solutions to other needs. Many writers, including Wordsworth and Dorothea, integrated such meditative power and healing experiences offered by landscapes to the individual or group. Alan De Botton elucidates on the association between landscape and the memories that they trigger or represent both immediately and in later life in his book The Art of Travel. De Botton also explores the desire of human beings to reflect and capture landscapes through simple methods such as drawing and writing when travelling. An identical level of desire for reflective landscape expressed by De Botton is also a major component in My Country by Dorothea Mackellar. De Botton portrays the role of art in the creation of a relationship between the observer and the landscape using Van Gogh’s example where he utilizes a significant number of hours to refine the ‘Cypress’. The representations of landscape, whether drawn or written has an associated influence over the way human see and remember their observations.

The reflections on the memories of landscapes make it possible to assess the scene where the observer related to the concerned landscape in a broader perspective. According to Botton, Wordsworth was able to create a distinctively personal relationship with the landscape while focusing on the details such as a sparrow’s nest, placid lakes, and the sounds of nightingales, which goes beyond the ‘natural phenomena’. Despite there being critics about the style adopted by Wordsworth in the development of a relationship between landscape and people, De Botton argues that the relationship is philosophical in nature that has ‘hugely influential claim about our requirements for happiness’. Through the application of a controversial and intimate tone, Botton expresses is unhappiness in the rebellion from counties and cities against Wordsworth’s idea that landscape was an ‘indispensable corrective to the psychological damage inflicted by life in the city.’ Botton also points out the new experiences and wonders possessed by the urban landscapes through the travel to Amsterdam where the finds ‘something as small as a front door in another country’ to be memorable experiences. Flaubert’s exotic search through Cairo is a significantly effective contrast to Wordsworth’s idea based on the difference in the perception of the experience being ‘something as small as a front door in another country’.

The integration of images in the text makes the simplicity as well as the complexity of the relationships between landscapes and people. The Flaubert chapter provides a vivid representation of the lithographs of Cairo, paintings from diverse archaic periods, photographs of transport systems, and various landscapes. The urban representation by Hopper where there exist social disintegration, isolation, and alienation between persons stands in contrast to the sublime and pastoral scenes depicted in the romantic epoch or from those of impressionists such as Van Gogh. ‘The River Wye at Tintem Abbey’ by Loutherbourg denotes the majestic and calm nature of the harmonious relationship between man and animals. The image of a shepherd with the cows and the peacefulness with the surrounding landscape is an illustration of the ‘redemptive power of nature’; the link between the three parties acts as relieve to the urban scene when it appears in the memory. The relationship between the sublime and man is very clear in De Loutherbourg artistic impression with the figures of the foreground, and the outstretched held hands while experiencing the landscape’s overwhelming power.

My Country by Dorothea Mackellar provides sufficient proof that an individual’s alienation with the landscape leads to the development of the reflection opportunities and the realization of its worth, beauty and power. Dorothea’s longing for her home landscape resulted in the urge of writing the poem, which the London Spectator published in 1908. Dorothea portrays the regard that the ‘field and coppice’ landscape have among the British; the ‘ordered woods and gardens’, and ‘green and shaded lanes’ define the enormous force that is ‘running in your veins’. Dorothea also provides a direct contrast and dismissal of the landscape in Britain by acknowledging that ‘I know and cannot share it / my love is otherwise’. Dorothea applies color connotations to describe the landscape and instill a more realistic picture within the readers self especially through the descriptions of ‘the wide brown land’ and ‘sapphire misted mountains’. Other romantic suggestions included in her poetry include the ‘the hot gold hush of noon’, which make it possible to reevaluate the scene and the emotions that it calls back in the mind. The limitations of man in accordance with the landscape as denoted by Botton through the use of the sublime is evident in Dorothea’s poem where she applies the descriptions such as the ‘ragged mountain ranges’ and ‘sweeping plains’. She goes further to create a singular identity between of her physical self, the emotions, memories and the power embedded in the landscape by claiming that the ‘core of my heart my country!’

The poem by Dorothea Mackellar creates an association between the individual’s country of origin and the landscape; thus, the concept of landscape-defined nationalism. The perception of by Botton that the human understanding of landscape is culturally dynamic and challengeable if there is a refinement of the details, and integration of diversity in the perception of such details as shown through the work by Van Gogh. To achieve the high-order perception of reality, Van Gogh used the ‘distortion, omission, and substitution of colors’ that may develop diverse emotions and memories. De Botton offers a personal experience, which builds on his thesis concerning the representation of landscape and the personal view of different landscapes. The denial by a tourist about the artistic impression by Van Gogh by arguing that ‘well it doesn’t much look like that’ insinuates that there is a limitation between the individual’s expectations of reality and the ideal reality of the landscape. The reliance of human beings on the representations within reach, either written or drawn, is common when they are away from the particular landscape as seen in the chapter on Flaubert.

Botton manifests the challenge to the human race about the recognition and reconsideration of the landscape’s significance by arguing that the mere act of travelling is inadequate appreciation if the experience does not reflect in the individual’s memory. Botton argues that it is common to have ‘met people who have crossed deserts, floated on icecaps and cut their way through jungles – and yet in whose souls we search in vain for evidence of what they have witnessed.’ On the contrary, Dorothea argues for her homeland landscape besides having a considerably long experience in the Australian landscape. It is clear that a better representation of people and landscapes emerges when there is a real engagement that captures the vivid memories of the observed landscape. The memories that emanate from the landscape have the capability to go beyond the confines of reality and the formation of a future relationship with the individual observer. The two texts represent the relationship between the observer and the traveler as multidimensional and complex which begins from the general anticipation to travel in The Art of Travel to the desire of already visited landscapes in My Country. Landscapes represent a specific sense wellbeing, which is the reason Botton emphasis the need to make travelling meaningful and not just as an event. The concept of happiness does not consider the material things, but is rather psychological, which should an integral component of travelling. Botton then suggests a model of travelling that can revolutionize the representation of people and a landscape that does not only enhance the experience during travel, but will also reignite the similar or better experiences at home. Botton brings in the need to have a purpose too travel to a specific landscape or place and suggestions of what to look forward to seeing during the travel which entails the ‘how’ of travelling. The two texts, especially Dorothea’s poem considers the experience of a person who has already been to a particular landscape or place earlier besides acknowledging what the visitor brings to the destination that may enhance the enjoyment.


De Botton, A. (2002). The art of travel. New York: Pantheon.

Mackellar, D., & Luck, P. (2008). Dorothea Mackellar’s My Country. Millers Point, N.S.W.: Pier 9.

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