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 Baruch 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.
No man is an island
by Sandra Chantry, Loughborough, UK
Desire for what — excitement, drama or fame, or for a quiet productive life perhaps even humdrum? Who’s to say which is the most productive or of greatest value? Or, which is the most contributive to their society? I guess we need both. We need those who are willing to thrust back the frontiers, make new discoveries, to go where no one else dare; but we also have a great need for those who stay at home quietly in place, content to keep the world fed and stable. Indeed it’s questionable if the Jokkmokkers could exist without these. The really important thing is that desire is present and that we understand John Donne‘s great perception that “No man is an island entire unto himself.”
by Ilona Della Bernardina, Trieste, Italy
I am from Slovenia, a small country bordering Italy, Austria and Croatia. Two years and half ago I started to paint. I did some painting when I was a student but then I completely forsook all the thoughts about art. Only now I started to make an account of my life and I realized I have been dancing to other people’s music! I decided to return to my love of childhood years — not just amateur love — but to really work on it — to learn and make it my life. I was never financially self-sufficient but now this is my goal. Yes, it would be easier if I had started when I was younger, but I came to the realization that desire and determination is what counts and moves our reality.
Desire, obsession and passion
by Stella Violano, Thousand Oaks, CA, USA
Once again you have written a letter that will hang on my studio wall. This letter shows the passion to create which burns in so many of us. If life events remove me from creating my artwork I become irritable and frustrated not unlike that of a smoker who quits cold-turkey. The desire to create is not well understood by those who do not live it and sometimes is not tolerated well by those who live with a driven artist. Your letter showed a method to the madness — desire, obsession, and passion of creation all interlocked. Albert Einstein had a gift of seeing what drove mathematics as well as what drove the soul.
River of divine energy
by Michael Carpenter, Victoria, BC, Canada
I’m a late blooming artist, told my whole life that “our family can’t draw.” I have been creating stuff my whole life — poetry, pottery, and drawings, but I always felt that I was somehow a poser who had snuck into the art party and was just hoping that no one would notice. In the last 3 years I have discovered that to draw and paint is to touch for a moment the river of divine energy that runs under and around and through us all. I don’t care if I have a show or get recognized or become famous; picture making makes me happy in a way that absolutely nothing else does.
Instrument of desire
by Elle Fagan, Rockville, CT, USA
I built my website after an immobilizing accident, thinking it would be my only marketing path. But when I recovered, the site remained as a lifeline — a creative power, and valuable ad/business tool. When the day comes that I must begin to delegate some of the tasks, I will miss it. At midlife, after a long time in the arts, since childhood, in fact, I found the site could also help with the goals in cyberspace to keep making it nicer for everyone, and still grow and take advantage of all the new paths for communicating online with art. Even immobile, I could share my art worldwide, stand up for the good, report a villain, and be a very active and good American. I no longer felt so futile, even disabled.
(RG note) Thanks, Elle. Elle Fagan has received the Invision Graphics Award 2005-2006 for her online gallery of arts and writings, An Elle Fagan Artsite. Ontario-based Invision Graphics makes its awards on the basis of web-design, content, color, navigation ease and technical quality. She is webmaster/site designer, and maintains the site herself.
by Red Dog
I am Native American and have friends that live on various reservations in the U.S. The number one question they all get asked is why don’t you move? It is best described by a chief of the Crow. A public radio reporter asked the chief, “Why after so many basketball championship wins, and some many talented players have come out of this tribe, doesn’t any of the young men play for a national team?” Or for that matter, go on to college and make something of themselves? “What are you trying to get out of life?” asked the chief. “Number one would be a strong family with people that love me,” answered the reporter. “Then why should these boys leave their family unit; here everyone is considered an uncle or an aunt,” said the chief. “Can you go up and down your street and just go up to any door and be treated like family? Why should they go away to another place when they have happiness right here?” asked the chief.
I have hunted, fished and worked in forestry all my life and if that’s “goofing off” I can lend you a double bladed axe for a day, and pick up what’s left of you at sunset. Make something of themselves, rock the world, and one wonders how happy they are! I have several friends that are family counselors that meet with these families that have really made something of themselves to the world, but they are the most unhappy group of people in the universe. They have all the money, all the gadgets, the degrees from the best schools. I must have been behind the door when they read the rules. I didn’t know that rocking the world and making something of your self had anything to do with happiness. If these women stayed in this small town and raised a family with a healthy surroundings, with a loving wood cutter man, would they be any more happy than having a desire to rock the world? I just returned from my 4th backpacking trip to New Zealand. There are so many single women (70% by most estimates) between 25 and 40 years old with college degrees. They all seem to have a funny look on their faces, like they had been driving with automatic pilot on and had missed life. Happiness isn’t a degree, a zip code, a position of authority, it’s that thing we are all born with, but think we have to go out and conquer!
Elusive quality of ‘quality’
by Larry Wells, Atlanta, GA, USA
As an artist, you know that one of the most important things to be found in any work of art, in any genre, in any medium, is a sense of “quality.” That sense is impossible to define, but perceptible nonetheless. (It’s what often keys you in, that you are watching a good movie after the first camera pan. And its lack certainly will let you know you’re watching a bad movie after two lines of tone-deaf dialogue.) I’m not talking about technique, or training, but something more basic, something that was probably in the artist long before he/she acquired training or technique — perhaps a generous portion of talent, genuine caring, and a capacity for hard work.
When I read your letters, I sense a steady, unobtrusive quality running throughout your paragraphs. That quality is unusual in such a shrill time. To find it in league with steadiness and unobtrusiveness is a rare treat indeed.
Away from civilization
by Dawn Smith, Panama
This is interesting because it is precisely those Jokkmokk types I see more and more as an expat here in Panama — Creatives. They are tired of their home culture (or lack of it) and an artist can do art just about anywhere — since the market becomes accessible over the net or via shipping. An added bonus is that hand-made things shipped from here don’t have duty on them, since it is considered a 2nd world area — if not 3rd. Leave the country — get a brain. That seems to be the thinking. We see them from all over the world, the lock-step industrialized nation dropouts. Kinda makes you wonder doesn’t it? It’s not about going-to-civilization anymore, as much as away-from-it — and greater personal freedom seems to be what it’s all about.
Being an artist
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Even as a child I had inklings of a need to do something meaningful with my life. I wanted to be happy and “to be something.” Having spent my senior year of college in Rome, Italy, I gained a standard for my life. It was where my spirit and imagination were validated. Yes, I could find a way to live fully and joyfully and choose what I needed — a life worth living. Of course it isn’t without consistent soul work that I continue to find the way and make changes as needed. After Rome I lived in RI where I grew up, Boston, NYC and now Santa Barbara. Even though I have two children, my life is that of the artist, being inspired, and bringing my work out into the world. I am driven by something deep inside of me that I cannot betray.
Passionate student gives insight
by Lori Simons, Merrimack, NH, USA
Alas, your current letter stuck a note with me. It takes more than talent, but desire to accomplish something great. We all have different motivations. I am teaching art to a 17 year old male — started two months ago. He had not had much experience drawing, but is now glued to his easel and is producing some beautiful work. He is passionate and motivated to work on the difficult things. This experience has emphasized my own lack of passion for making art. I do like it, but I also like too many other things. I have decided to continue making art a couple of days a week, but I’ll also be getting my real estate license. My income from RE should allow me to enjoy my art more as I won’t feel pressured to make a living from it.
More focused now
by Violette Clark, White Rock, BC, Canada
The advice you have given is, “Paint every day — go to your studio and paint.” I discovered that I really don’t like painting. But what I really do love is drawing, and I’ve been pretty decent at it too. So I began to draw every single day and noticed that my work improved. I taught myself Photoshop and the level of professionalism in my illustration work has gone up considerably. I’m able to parlay that into more of a focus regarding where I want to head in my career. I was a bit scattered and now am more focused and driven than ever!
No future for Ferrie with his attitude
by Victoria N. Hadden, Toronto, ON, Canada
You know, I actually like many of John Ferrie’s artworks but reconciling the beauty I see in some of his paintings with the bile that comes out of his mouth is quite a challenge. In trashing Mark Rothko, one of the greatest of 20th Century American artists, Mr. Ferrie’s public display of ignorance gives other artists a window into Mr. Ferrie’s character and hence, a broader context for judging his works of art. The truly great artists along with the professionals have an ability to critique works based on the formal elements while respecting the integrity of another artist’s process. They do not digress into vulgar and vile personal rants.
Appreciating Rothko’s paintings and, indeed any abstract work of art requires an internal referent. In plain language, you must be able to feel. I will never again look at Mr. Ferrie’s work with the same innocent and trusting eye. Shame on him, not for being ignorant, but for his willingness to boast of it.
(RG note) “When you know the artist you think less of the art.” (George Bernard Shaw)
April, Behind the Dunes
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.
That includes Anitta Trotter of Whitby, Ontario who wrote, “Without desire none of my goals would have been achieved. I have become a fairly competent painter, a very good wood carver, and a very good singer.”
And also L. Francke who wrote, “Remoteness keeps my own imagination active and creating every day.”
And Darold Graves who wrote, “Art is a lot like fishing, some days I get a keeper.”
And also Nicola Scott who wrote, “You can always dislike an artist’s work, but you can’t deny them their place in history when they’ve delivered a kick in the teeth.”
And also June Szueber who wrote, “We need to work for our desires.”
And also Kelly Borsheim who wrote, “When our spoken desires do not match our actions, our actions show our true desires.”
And also Padraic Starkey who wrote, “The previous clickback appalled me; look at Julie Jones’ and John Ferrie’s responses — and look at their art.”