Tag Archives: creativity

Are you more creative abroad?

Is it true that artists, composers and writers who live abroad are more creative?  There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence for it:  Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Stravinsky, Nabokov…  The list just goes on and on.  And of course it’s received wisdom that travel broadens the mind.   A  recent article by Maddux and Galinsky in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology goes beyond individual examples to examine five broader and more systematic studies looking at the link between living abroad and creativity.

Their conclusion is that actually living for extended periods of time in another country and having to adapt to a new culture certainly enhances the ability to ‘think outside the box’, to find novel approaches and solutions to problems, to notice and tolerate differences, to create new insights.  All of these elements are important in the creative process, going far beyond merely artistic creativity.

[You may also like to look at the caveats about the validity of some of these studies posted by other scientists, for example: http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/2009/05/creativity_and_living_abroad.php ]

I think these results will not hugely surprise anyone or change your world view dramatically.  It kind of makes intuitive sense, doesn’t it?   The more diversity you experience, the more you are confronted with different values and languages, the richer your personal repository of sounds and pictures with which to decorate your new canvas.  Certainly most global nomads are excited and happy about these findings.  See for instance http://www.articles.totallyexpat.com/living-abroad-proven-to-improve-creativity/

What I find interesting is that the authors claim you do not gain this richness of experience merely through travelling.  This is where I would like to see more research.  Can it be true that superficial impressions, no matter how strong for sensitive artistic types, are not as valuable?  In other words, it’s not all about motion and change, but also about stopping and resting?  Again, an attractive thought, confirming what many of us expats believe to be true.

And yet, I wonder if a well-travelled artist might not achieve a more profound understanding of a particular culture than someone who has lived there a while but never made an effort to understand, connect and integrate.  I can think of some expats who only saw what they expected to find in their host countries.  Does that sound like anyone you know?

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Not resolutions again!?!

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. 

First of all, I think you can make changes at any point during the year.  I have a preference for making resolutions on my birthday or after I come back from my summer holidays, but everyone should find what works best for them and not succumb to an artificial pressure related to some random calendar New Year. 

Secondly, I have seen far too many people wish to start the year all squeaky-clean and virtuous, then fail at the first hurdle.  January is just too depressing and dark in this part of the world to keep the momentum going.  And then the snowfall which brought the UK to a standstill!  My running friends had made resolutions to stick to a rigorous schedule, but could not go out because of the snow and ice.  My weight-loss resolution friends found that they were raiding their freezers and cupboards for whatever was available, never mind the calories, as they couldn’t drive to the shops.  Meanwhile, I was stuck in the house with one lively chicken-poxed little boy and a slightly older, bored schoolboy, so instead of using my creativity for work, I used it to think up new games and art projects to keep the two amused and off each other’s throats.

Now that the snow is turning to slush and we all have time to breathe again until the next snowfall, I actually realise that I have learnt a valuable lesson about resolutions.  Namely:  There’s always next week.  Not in the sense of never getting started, always postponing what you know you should be doing.  Rather, it means that if you do get started and then things don’t go according to plan, you shouldn’t give up.  You shouldn’t think you have failed and stop doing things until the perfect circumstances come along.  Circumstances have an annoying habit of always being rather less than perfect.  Just go with the flow, and then get back to your resolution when you can.  And keep on doing it.  Small tracks in the snow where you went a bit adrift, but don’t sink in the deep snow.  Keep going back to the main path and you’ll get there eventually.

It may not sound like much, it may seem a really obvious lesson to some.  But you know what?  I knew it but I had never really felt it before.  So, resolutions, we are old mates now, not enemies to fear!  And there’s always Chinese New Year for setting some new ones….

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