The Jokkmokk Effect


Dear Artist,

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.


“Girl painting”
oil painting
by Emma Ekwall (1838-1925)

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.”


“Girl with bubble”
oil painting
by Emma Ekwall

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.”


“Girl with spoon”
oil painting
by Emma Ekwall

Best regards,


PS: “There is one big thing — desire. And before it, when it is big, all is little.” (Willa Cather) “Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get.” (George Bernard Shaw)

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.


Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“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)



  1. kathryn taylor on

    Hi. Thanks for the letter, “The Jokkmokk Effect.” Very Motivational! I like the beautiful paintings by Emma Ekwall! Was not familiar with her. Will have to look her up. Her works reminded me of Mary Cassatt’s paintings. But not exactly. Each Artist is unique. But the paintings are nice!

  2. there are three factors in every endeavor, whether sports, art, science, Talent, Coaching, and Desire. Of these, Desire is the greatest. Many people have talent, many have great teachers. But hose with less talent or little teaching often go farther than those with greater talent and coaching.


  3. Interesting! I am from Sweden and I have never heard about the Jokkmokk studies! But I am well aware of the fenomenon occuring in the swedish countryside-the women move as soon as they can to towns and higher education-the boys stay and try to find work as they can. Sadly the northern inland of Sweden is slowly closing down. But Jokkmokk comes alive in winter when tere is a big Same-market going on. Otherwise I am sure it would be a great place for an artist,if “only” because of cheap housing and fantastic nature-for selling art I would not recommend if-then you have to go to the bigger towns,if possible. Swedes are not really an art-buying people,sadly.
    Thanks for the quote from Einstein-I had never seen it before. Now I have copied it and put it in my studio!

  4. Right on. As the old guy (great granddad) of a big lovely family, I have 3/4 female family members. They are generally the “go getters” as my Dad would have said. The artists among them are all female. One I keep in touch with over 1500 miles is a 5th grade great granddaughter. She has an open artist mind and surprises me with her work. The females in our society at least have discovered the world is theirs if they want it (desire). Daughters, daughter-in-law, granddaughters, and the new new big bunch of great granddaughters…all on the MOVE. Great stuff.

  5. Many ideas here to reflect on. The paintings are beautiful, thank you for the introduction to the artist. Our world is changing. The Mark Twain quote caused me to think of a quirky Sondheim song called ‘You could drive a person crazy’….stating the opposite sentiment…a man who pulls hooks out of fish is more than a few tweaks short of happy…i think its being in nature that causes happy feelings…and it would be interesting to survey happiness results of this J effect. I think intention is indeed key, the why of any action.

    • Thank you for a very challenging and right on letter. I like the concept herein that the world is at our fingertips. We have all we need to succeed, and it is not always about talent, whatever that is. More about desire. Thankyou.

  6. Why would anyone think the people who stayed behind are unhappy? The natural world is pretty superior to urban life. Having been reared in tiny rural communities I recognize that not everyone can stay. Those who have a slot on a fishing boat, or a relative who owns one; those who have a farm to inherit, can stay. Others must move away. Not to mention that the boys who stayed married girls who stayed, so there’s that. I think trying to judge people’s motivations and what we deem “success,” links more to our own choices than the people we are studying.

  7. I visited Egypt a few years ago. There is this same effect going on between the girls and boys of the Bedouin tribes as that described here. The young girls are working hard in school and going on to college. The young men stay out in the country and do traditional rough jobs. The ones I met reminded me of cowboys. I wonder how this generation of educated young women will fit into their tribal life and its rules after college. Will they all eventually move to the city? I don’t know. I also think it will be difficult for the young women to be held to the traditional rules of their mothers once they are educated. Maybe they will go back home but will become teachers and try to lift the whole community forward . It is hard to keep an educated woman down.

  8. something i will not specify became of me and someone stated ” you required his manhood”after that i do not feel attraction like i did previously or a libido. What’s this and just how will it be fixed?

Leave A Reply

Featured Workshop

featured-workshop 23422
to’s salvation
mixed media
60 x 122 cm

Featured Artist

Monique Jarry is a Canadian and a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Montreal.


Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.