The quiet town of Jokkmokk (pop. 8000) in Swedish Lapland has been the subject of considerable study. It seems that most of the schoolgirls there are smart and most of the schoolboys are not. Experts have taken a look at the gene pool, relative brain capacities, corpus callosum deviations, family dynamics, even teaching methods in the schools. Things seem about the same as most other Swedish towns. But for several generations now the girls get the marks and the boys drop out.
What’s going on? Hunting, fishing and forestry are Jokkmokk’s main industries. Young men have traditionally made their living in the bush or on the water. Young women, perhaps responding to some faintly understood genetic need, or just realizing that they need to get out of the place, use good grades to gain their exit. The girls work harder. The boys goof off.
It’s called The Jokkmokk Effect when one group or another moves away to the big city, travels abroad and “makes something of themselves.” Jokkmokk girls have rocked the world by becoming scientists, financiers and artists. Albert Einstein said, “One of the strongest motives that lead to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness.” It’s all about desire. “Desire,” said Benedict Spinoza, “is the very essence of man.” Desire and the intention to do something are more important than brains, wisdom, or even talent. In IQ tests, Jokkmokk boys are just as smart as Jokkmokk girls. Georges Braque said, “The only thing that counts is intention. What counts is what one wants to do.”
In many cultures The Jokkmokk Effect applies more to men than to women. Men move away to seek their fortune, find work, and find their way in the world. Women, on the other hand, by biology or by choice, keep the home fires and raise the kids. Through all of this there’s the precarious balance of self-realization and social obligation. Artists of both sexes — particularly these days when the free-self has become such a popular goal — feel the tug from both sides. Back in Jokkmokk there’s a shortage of women and the population is in decline. One wonders how happy they are. The boys are out in the boats. Mark Twain noted, “If you want to be happy, learn to fish.” When you think of it, fishing is a lot like art. “Some days there ain’t no fish.”
Esoterica: “Brain drain” and “talent drain” are part of the phenomena of globalization. One thinks of the magnetic appeal and opportunities of Paris or New York. Theoretically, we visual artists need not be tempted. Jokkmokk might be quite a good place for creativity. The instrument you now see before you is a window to the world. Through its keyboard you can learn, teach, grow, play, buy and sell. It can be an instrument of your desire.
This letter was originally published as “The Jokkmokk Effect” on March 22, 2005.
“Motivation is in the world around us. We have an infinite amount of material at our disposal, in the lives of those we meet, in what we see and feel, in what we discuss and from the passion of every woman.” (Pablo Picasso)