My sister, living in China (and probably thinking a lot about the pros and cons of souvenirs herself these days), recently sent me this essay by Matt Gross from the Frugal Traveler, discussing the merits (and pitfalls) of bringing home travel souvenirs.
Prints have, for hundreds of years, had a close relationship with travel. The 18th century Italian printmaker and draftsman Giovanni Battista Piranesi popularized the modern-day postcard by creating a series of etchings showing views of Rome (Vedute) for middle-class and wealthy travelers to take home and show to their friends and family.
There is a wonderful little ode-to-the-print in the essay, towards the end. I've copied it here, below.
Art, however, is a tricky keepsake. Too often, paintings are unwieldy to carry, expensive to ship home and of questionable value overall. That’s why I usually go to flea markets and seek out prints: etchings, lithographs and woodcuts (preferably signed and numbered). First of all, they tend to be cheap. But making prints requires a degree of effort and focus — they’re never tossed off like drawings, or as sloppy (sometimes) as paintings. Printmakers have to commit, or risk wasting time and money. So even though the tiny print of baby chickens that I bought in Campo Santa Margherita in Venice for 10 euros is extremely simple, it also represents the tradition of craftsmanship I associate with Italy. Plus, I like the idea that somewhere out there, 19 other people have the same odd little thing hanging on their walls. It connects us, whoever and wherever we are.