Expats and Creativity

Since I travel quite a bit for my job, I like to follow a couple of travel blogs including Gulliver from the Economist. This week Gulliver reported on an article in the main Economist about a link between expat life and creativity. Now I take issue immediately with the statement that follows:

ANECDOTAL evidence has long held that creativity in artists and writers can be associated with living in foreign parts. Rudyard Kipling, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Paul Gauguin, Samuel Beckett and others spent years dwelling abroad. Now a pair of psychologists has proved that there is indeed a link.

I can assure you that no one has proved anything. Some statistical model has been used to show a connection in a small study population in which confounding factors have also been taken into account. That is not proof. (Sorry, geeky science girl hat goes on whenever I see things like this extracted from the academic literature… best not to get me started down that path!) However, it is an intriguing concept. And one of the confounding factors that has supposedly been eliminated in the study was the idea that more creative people choose to be expats in the first place. Not sure if I truly believe the statistical model that says that was clearly excluded, especially based on the small study population. Regardless, the conclusion from the study is something to make an expat smile:

It may be that those critical months or years of turning cultural bewilderment into concrete understanding may instill not only the ability to “think outside the box” but also the capacity to realize that the box is more than a simple square, more than its simple form, but also a repository of many creative possibilities.

So for all the rants about two-tap sinks, lacking closet space, and bewildering cultural customs, this little adventure might be taking me down the road to self improvement.

6 responses to “Expats and Creativity

  1. Just a thought but maybe living abroad actually makes one be more creative? As in we are always trying to come up with a creative way to get things done in our new surrounding so it spurs creativity into other aspects of our life as well. Maybe all those names were good at what they did before the expat experience, but becoming an expat inspired greatness. As I said…just a thought.

  2. I completely agree that being outside your comfort zone makes you more creative, able to think outside the box, etc etc. And yes, perhaps you do have to be a little bit brave to do it in the first place. Cause and effect, or effect and cause? Who knows?

  3. I chuckled when you said ‘that is not proof’. I hate it when reporters get that wrong, that’s me with my science hat on too!

    Back to creativity, I recall a Hemingway quote (but can’t find it now, of course) from I think A Moveable Feast where he says that a place can only be truly written about when one is away from it. I can understand that. You’re not in the middle of the swirl of everyday life and you can more clearly see the stories and symbols and links that are so enjoyable to write about.

  4. Award at my place.

  5. I’ve obviously been here too long – not feeling creative at all at the mo’.

  6. I like “the idea that more creative people choose to be expats in the first place” – I think creative people are more open to doing something like move to another country and more likely to make something positive of the experience.

    I know that’t not proof, but…

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