tourism economy of painting

Introduction and personal anecdote

So I just came back from a long, much-needed vacation to the Dominican Republic, where I pretty much just sat in the sun and drank Pina Coladas all day. But at one point, I did get my lazy butt off the lounge chair to go visit some museums and art galleries in the local community. Some of my friends who are familiar with my travel habits know that I like to go to an art gallery or museum in a local community, wherever I visit, and they ask me, Why is it that you do this?

Exploring art in unexpected places

Sure, places like Paris and New York are cultural and artistic hubs full of museums and art galleries, but why bother with a place like a mountain village in Colombia, a riverside city in China, an arctic community in Canada, or a seaside resort in the Dominican Republic? Funnily enough, the taxi driver in Puerto Plata did think that I was probably the first person to ask directions to an art gallery, as opposed to, you know, the beach, the bar, or the strip club.

Seeking authentic travel experiences

There are many reasons why I do this, but I would say looking at local art helps me view and understand the perspective of a culture from its local community. I get to see a place and its people from beyond the lens of a typical tourist. And that’s why I think you should do it too.

Understanding culture through art

So let’s face it: travel and the tourism industry can often be superficial and heavily commercialized. Many of us crave having an authentic experience, but as an outsider, it’s kind of hard to know exactly what that experience should be. Plus, what exactly is an “authentic experience” anyway? I’m sure there are lots of ways to describe it, but I define it as being able to experience the life, culture, and perspective of someone else.

Personal reflections on Dominican Republic art

That’s where art comes in. By looking at the artistic creations of another person, you are essentially seeing the world through their eyes. It’s still not the same thing as living somebody else’s life, but I mean, until technology finds a way to put me in somebody else’s brain, it’s probably the closest thing we can get. Through people’s artworks, you can see the things that they value, the life experiences they’ve had, and the emotions they possess outpour onto a canvas, paper, sculptural form, or video screen. We may not always understand it, but we get a chance to see and experience something different and perhaps find a way to relate to someone on the other end of the world.

Language and communication through art

To me, the Dominican Republic represents sunny skies, foamy waves on the beach, summery drinks by the pool bar, and colorful shopfronts on the street. But for someone like Lilia, who grew up in Puerto Plata, the Dominican Republic is her home. She sees the lush vegetation; she sees what it’s like to be a woman and mother living in this country—its struggles and triumphs. She sees other women fighting for equality and peace, their determination and their beauty. I also saw a work by artist Rafael Arzeno, a painting composed of a bottle of Dominican Brugal Rum, surrounded by pictures of Puerto Plata, the Columbus Lighthouse in Santo Domingo, The Statue of Liberty in New York, the Port of Hamburg in Germany and a farm worker in Ecuador. I don’t know exactly what he was getting at, but looking at this, I think perhaps he was contemplating Puerto Plata’s place in the modern, globalized world while still being shadowed by vestiges of colonialism.

Personal growth through art

Now I don’t speak Spanish, obviously because of my horrible pronunciations of these Spanish names, and in a lot of these cases, these artists don’t speak English. But they don’t need to. They could communicate with me and so many other people through their art. I may not be able to see everything they would want me to see and know everything they would want me to know, but I could still peer through this small window into their lives and imagine them as the deep and complex human beings they are and once were.

Closing thoughts and questions

I find that seeing artistic creations from many places around the world, from as many different perspectives as possible, has made me a much more empathetic person and has provided me with so many more frameworks to view the world that I probably wouldn’t have conceived of on my own. So, what do you think? How would you define an authentic travel experience? And what are some things that you like to do when traveling to get to know the local culture better? Please let me know in the comments and see you next time!


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