The Art of Travel

Word-Painting Term Analysis

John Ruskin’s term for the linguistic counterpart to drawing, word-painting allows viewers to capture the psychological impact that a beautiful scene or object has on them and hopefully notice the aesthetic reasons they find it beautiful. Word-painting stands opposed to dry, everyday forms of description that fail to capture the experience of encountering something beautiful: for example, whereas many British people (to Ruskin’s frustration) simply call the weather “wet and windy,” Ruskin finds this shallow description frustrating, and instead word-paints the weather with descriptions like “dawn purple, flushed, delicate. Bank of grey cloud, heavy at six. Then the lighted purple cloud showing through it, open sky of dull yellow above—all grey, and darker scud going across it obliquely, from the south-west—moving fast, yet never stirring from its place, at last melting away.”
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Word-Painting Term Timeline in The Art of Travel

The timeline below shows where the term Word-Painting appears in The Art of Travel. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 8: On Possessing Beauty
Art, Travel, and the Search for Happiness Theme Icon
Ruskin wanted people to not only draw but also “word-paint.” De Botton notes that people often lack the language to describe beautiful places, but Ruskin... (full context)
The Familiar and the Foreign Theme Icon
Expectations vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Receptive Self Theme Icon
Ruskin’s word-paintings were about places’ psychological effects as much as their aesthetic qualities. He personified clouds, seeing... (full context)
The Familiar and the Foreign Theme Icon
Art, Travel, and the Search for Happiness Theme Icon
The Receptive Self Theme Icon
De Botton then felt a desire to possess the buildings’ beauty, and he began word-painting them in psychological terms. During the day, they were normal, he felt, but at night... (full context)
The Familiar and the Foreign Theme Icon
Expectations vs. Reality Theme Icon
Art, Travel, and the Search for Happiness Theme Icon
The Receptive Self Theme Icon
De Botton concludes that, despite his word-paintings’ middling quality, he nevertheless pursued Ruskin’s two goals for art: “to make sense of pain... (full context)