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Books

Plein-air pleasures and the great indoors

24 October 2012

4:44 PM

24 October 2012

4:44 PM

Some say it’s the walk there that does it. The promenade down a rambling city path and through a crowd of coffee-swigging commuters that fuels the inspiration that can only be spat out when one is positioned at a desk before a blank library wall.

In the fourteenth century in Italy the poet Petrarch rekindled classical ideas about the merits of a space not so dissimilar to this in character. Best to make one’s desk in a room adjoining the bedroom, he said. That way, the writer need not leave his cell at all. In ancient Rome, even more so, nature was often considered a distraction.

Both writers and artists since have honed the skill of mixing a little hibiscus with their hermitude.

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In the nineteenth century, packaging ready-to-use oil paints in portable little tubes revolutionized the way the Impressionists worked. Freed from the encumbrance of grinding pigments in the studio, the artist took to the hills and riverbanks for the inspiration of the outdoors.

But while a Seurat or a Monet might produce sketches plein air, masterpieces usually evolved from lonely hours spent in a studio, scrutinizing those outdoor studies and bringing their spirit indoors.

Hemingway, who famously wrote standing up because of an injury, is known to have shunned even purpose built studies for the solitude of his boudoir, but to have left his desk when his characters summoned him to do so.

Ian Fleming would stroll around the Jamaican countryside on breaks, but shut out all light from his shabby shack as he penned Goldeneye.

Logically, the laptop offers the writer today the same kind of freedom as the paint tube offered the Impressionists, but still writer, like artist, favours the outdoors for thought, the seclusion and tedium of a blank wall for practice.

A creature of habit, the writer programmes himself into believing that only a certain environment is conducive to producing his best work. His tools may change, but his preferences never will.

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