The Costumer's Manifesto:
TRAVEL IS INSPIRING: While I am tolerably certainthat Vadislav Nijinski and Leon Bakst did not absolutely need to go to Greece torespectively choreograph and design the Ancient Greek themed 1911 ballet Afternoon of aFaun, I'm sure it helped. What is more, I expect that they enjoyed it too. And whilethe IRS probably (in it's wisdom) would have frowned upon them trying to deduct it as abusiness expense (had they been modern Americans), it is true that travel is one of thebest methods for any type of artist to get inspiration.
TRAVEL NEEDN'T BE
NICE TO WORK:Travel need not be glamorous or expensive or comfortable to be inspiring. It is a recordedfact that Bertolt Brecht wrote most of the rough scripts for his greatest works (MotherCourageThe Good Woman of Schezuan, and The Caucasian Chalk Circle)while staying in refugee camps during W.W.II, fleeing the Nazis by walking/hitching ridesfrom Germany to Manchuria, going through Stalin's USSR. True he wrote the smooth finisheddrafts of these in the comfort of Southern California, but the inspiration, the ideas,they came from a grueling trek across hostile territory in the midst of a war. Travel isgood for an artist if it doesn't kill her.
MONEY?: Aftercarefully explaining that as a costumer you will never make any money to speak of, itsounds I know, perverse of me to suggest you do something as expensive-sounding as travel.However, as Brecht's experience shows, you need not travel to expensive places in style.You may also travel to wretched places in appalling conditions, the mode of travel, anddestination itself, is almost irrelevant. In fact, now that I've had a chance to travel ina wide variety of conditions, I have to say that traveling in style (good hotels, cleanrestaurants, air-conditioned buses, tour-leaders, etc.) while the most desirable mode fora relaxing vacation, is the worst possible mode for the artist. You see, all thatair-conditioning and imported toilet paper and bottled water that comes with fancy hotelsinsulates you from the real world you are trying to see. As Temple Fielding, the travelwriter put it, "As a member of an escorted tour, you don't even have to know theMatterhorn isn't a tuba." Fact is, a Holiday Inn in Helsinki is pretty much the sameas one in Honolulu or in Houston. Ah, but a cheap dorm room in London is as different froman Art Nouveau roach-ridden pension in Paris as is a rented flat in St. Petersburg or amotor-court in Tucson. All of them are more inspiring (if less restful) than a HolidayInn. Not only do you meet far more interesting people (and their clothes), but each placehas an atmosphere that is like an extractable essence of place.
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WHERE DO I GO?: "Where" is not the point.The point is to go and see someplace that is different from where you are. City dwellersare inspired by visits to the country, country folks get charged up from a trip to town.People from New England are blown away at the reds and golds of the canyons of New Mexico,New Mexicans feel the same awe at the same reds and golds in the maple forests of Maine inFall. G.K. Chesterton wrote "What effects men sharply about a foreign nation is notso much finding or not finding familiar things; it is rather not finding them in thefamiliar place." When you go to a new place, you see things, even familiar things,anew. What's more, you see new, unfamiliar things in a direct proportion to how far youtravel out of your usual venue. This need not mean traveling to Tibet (though I'm suregoing to Tibet would be cool too), but can simply be a case of going to an unfamiliarplace in or near your town. No person should dream of traveling abroad before thoroughlyexploring their home base.
GUIDES NOT TOURGUIDES: It is real useful, even if you were born in a town, to get a travel guide to yourhome base. Careful reading will inevitably introduce you to a raft of places that younever heard of. As much as artists color schemes or natural textures are good for designinspiration, so too are the color schemes and textures to be found in urban landscapes.Museums, interesting old buildings and strange and unusual experiences can also be foundin travel books. In San Francisco, where I was born, for example there is a museum of thehistory of Levi's, the oldest Buddhist Temple in the USA, and a place hidden in an obscurecorner of Golden Gate Park where you can feed French bread to a herd of Buffalo. I'd neverheard of any of them till I found them in travel books. Using travel books you can mineyour home turf for information and inspiration and get practice at the art of travelingbefore you go further.
TRY THIS AT HOME:To travel further you either need natural self-confidence, or practice in travel skills,preferably both. You need to be able to read a map, your travel books, phone books, and(ultimately) people. The last is most important once you step away from home, because"tourists" are obvious prey for an amazing assortment of undesirables anyplaceyou go. Practicing reading these four things on your home turf is easiest and least likelyto end in a disaster where you inadvertently board the train for Outer Mongolia, or areslipped a mickey in a Mafia nightclub in Moscow. If you screw up at home you are at worstgoing to be late for dinner or get your wallet stolen. Basically, you need to practiceyour travel skills at home till you have the sense of confidence to venture out further,where the difficulties are greater.
LEARNING WITHOUT LANGUAGE: While it is certainlydesirable to know the language of any foreign country you plan to visit, it is, by nomeans necessary. Language ability will help you to make contact with the people of theplaces you are visiting more easily, and will smooth your travel as you go. On the otherhand to say, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, "No man should travel until he has learned thelanguage of the country he visits. Otherwise he voluntarily makes himself a great baby,-so helpless and so ridiculous," is to miss the point. One of the enlightening thingsabout travel is that you can survive being made to be ridiculous; not only that, -it isgood for the soul. Further, from my own experience I've noted that language ability ofteninduces a sense of false confidence that blinds one to learning the far more importantlanguages of customs, body-language, and conventions. I have, at the time of thiswriting (1995),been living alone in St. Petersburg for nine months now. I can still barely spit out amangled sentence in Russian. However I do know (a.) How to safely get anywhere in the cityat night by public transport, (b.) why you must always bring an odd, not even, number of flowers toyour host when invited to dinner, (c.) where to find toilet paper, art supplies, andcorrection fluid in a single department of department stores, (d.) how to differentiatebetween almost identically dressed Mormon missionaries and Russian Mafia guys, (e.) whyRussian salesclerks seem to ignore foreigners, and what you need to do to get theirattention. Daily I watch Americans with good language skills clumsily trip over the aboveitems. The key to understanding in foreign places is not language, but observation. And,since it is your observation skills that you are trying to hone by travel,language is merely gravy.
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