Outside Lies Magic

Posted by Matthew Daub – Arts Sojourn

A tiny street in Spoleto in June, 2008

John Stilgoe is an interesting character. He is a professor of landscape history at Harvard and the author of several books. Stilgoe teaches his students how to be explorers; keen observers of their surroundings. He encourages them to wander without pre-conceived notions; to head out into the world with their eyes open, to make fresh discoveries. I was introduced to Stilgoe through a curatorial project I am involved in. Recently I was reading his book, Outside Lies Magic; not expecting to find anything in it related to my travels in Italy or the notion of slow traveling, but the light bulb went off almost immediately.

“Get out now. Not just outside, but beyond the trap of the programmed electronic age so gently closing around so many people at the end of our century. Go outside, move deliberately, then relax, slow down, look around. Do not jog. Do not run. Forget about blood pressure and arthritis, cardiovascular rejuvenation and weight reduction….”

“…Flex the mind, a little at first, then a lot. Savor something special. Enjoy the best-kept secret around – the ordinary, everyday landscape that rewards any explorer, that touches any explorer with magic.”


The same street from the other direction a few days later

“The whole concatenation of wild and artificial things, the natural ecosystem as modified by people over the centuries, the built environment layered over layers, the eerie mix of sounds and smells and glimpses neither natural nor crafted – all of it is free for the taking, for the taking in. Take it, take it in, take in more every weekend, every day, and quickly it becomes the theater that intrigues, relaxes, fascinates, seduces, and above all expands any mind focused on it. Outside lies utterly ordinary space open to any casual explorer willing to find the extraordinary. Outside lies unprogrammed awareness that at times becomes directed serendipity. Outside lies magic.”



Stilgoe gets it right. As an artist I have found that painting on location opens up my senses in just the way that Stilgoe describes. The pursuit of plein air painting naturally lends itself to exploration and assimilation. It is the perfect vehicle for slow traveling. One does not have to be trained as an artist or “talented” to enjoy the benefits. Simply throw out the notion that to be successful one must produce a technically competent and sophisticated work of art; whether amateur or professional that can only lead to disappointment and frustration. Focus on the experience of observation, regardless of the finished product. The result will be memories and revelation. You will see and experience your surroundings as never before. As John Stilgoe says, Outside Lies Magic.

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Matthew and Barbara Daub

Matthew Daub is a professional artist and university professor with works in major public and private collections throughout the United States and Europe. He has been leading plein air painting workshops in Italy since 1994. In 1999, Matthew and his wife Barbara formed Arts Sojourn as “a vacation for artists and their friends.” The program is designed to appeal to artists of all levels as well as non-artists who enjoy the company of creative people in a slow travel format.

 Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.

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One Response to Outside Lies Magic

  1. Valerie says:

    So true! What a beautiful reminder that can be applied to travel as well as art.

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