Word-painting our Thoughts


This won’t come as a surprise but how can you help but get excited when you find a book that inspires you through the pages and gives you ideas on ways to think differently. It takes the time to introduce you to people you’ve never heard of in thoughtful and relatable ways. Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel is that book for me. It sat in the pile of books to be read for quite some time having been purchased after listening to Alain on the Tim Ferriss podcast and knowing that I had an upcoming trip planned. Serendipity. So as the trip approached I hurried to finish off the book I was reading to make room to enjoy this on my trip. Enjoy? This book is profound. I found myself hooked through each essay thinking about how my own trip related to Alain as well as the historical writer or philosopher he was referencing.

The title of this post, Word-painting, inspired by the book and by John Ruskin (whom I’d never heard of) discussed in depth the idea that we become lazy when trying to describe those things around us. What’s the weather like? Warm. How was your day? Good. I’m guilty of this and strangely it’s always nagged at me especially when describing photos. If you’ve followed this blog for a while now you probably notice my attempts to describe in more thoughtfulness the photos taken because behind them there is a story. A feeling. I was word painting without having the actual notion behind it.

An excerpt from Alain’s book on Word-painting:

“We were all, he argued [Ruskin], able to turn out adequate word-paintings. A failure was only the result of not asking ourselves enough questions, of not being more precise in analyzing what we had seen and felt. Rather than rest with the idea that a lake was pretty, we were to ask ourselves more vigorously, ‘What in particular is attractive about this stretch of water? What are its associations? What is a better word for it than big?’ The finished product might not then be marked by genius, but at least it would have been motivated by a search for an authentic representation of an experience.” – Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel

I’d add that sometimes failure also stems from fear to be authentic and allow ourselves to dig into those thoughts and feelings and express ourselves. Both laziness and fear seem to be my own causes but this is such an interesting topic of thought for me. Word-painting.

Ruskin, through Alain, goes on to speak of this being one of the more important ways for us to truly remember moments and events. It makes sense. I don’t remember warm days but how about those days that are so hot that suddenly description explodes into senses and you describe them in detail. I remember those days. Now imagine the photos that we take. Not all of them but some of the ones that truly invoke a memory or a feeling. Describe that feeling and write it down and imagine yourself in 5 or 10 years recalling that photo and likely those words will be right there with it.

I’m feeling inspired. It feels right for something like this to become a habit in one’s life. If you’ve managed to get this far I encourage you to also check out The Book of Life website sponsored by The School of Life which Alain de Botton is involved with.

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