Why Do Artists Travel? (Part 02)

Palazzo Re Enzo, Bologna, Italia

Why Do Artists Travel? (Part 02)

Two additional quotations I’ve recently come across:

For in writing it is as in travelling: if a man is in haste to be at home (which I acknowledge to be none of my case, having never so little business as when I am there), if his horse be tired with long riding and ill ways, or be naturally a jade, I advise him clearly to make the straightest and the commonest road, be it ever so dirty; but then surely we must own such a man to be a scurvy companion at best.  He spatters himself and his fellow-travellers at every step.  All their thoughts, and wishes, and conversation turn entirely upon the subject of their journey’s end, and at every splash, and plunge, and stumble they heartily wish one another at the devil.

––Jonathan Swift[1]

A car whipped past, the driver eating and a passenger clicking a camera. Moving without going anywhere, taking a trip instead of making one. I laughed at the absurdity of the photographs and then realized I, too, was rolling effortlessly along, turning the windshield into a movie screen in which I, the viewer, did the moving while the subject held still. That was the temptation of the American highway, of the American vacation (from the Latin vacare, “to be empty”). A woman in Texas had told me that she often threatened to write a book about her family vacations. Her title: Zoom! The drama of their trips, she said, occurred on the inside of the windshield with one family crisis after another. Her husband drove a thousand miles, much of it with his right arm over the backseat to hold down one of the children. She said, “Our vacations take us.”

She longed for the true journey of an Odysseus or Ishmael or Gulliver or even a Dorothy of Kansas, wherein passage through space and time becomes only a metaphor of a movement through the interior of being. A true journey, no matter how long the travel takes, has no end. What’s more, as John Le Carré, in speaking of the journey of death, said, “Nothing ever bridged the gulf between the man who went and the man who stayed behind.”

––William Least Heat-Moon[2]

See also: Why Do Artists Travel? (Part 01)


[1] Swift, A Tale of a Tub. (1663.) Section XI in Jonathan Swift – the Major Works 152–53.

[2] Least Heat-Moon, William. Blue Highways. NY: Little and Brown. 1982. p. 88.