Sunday, October 29, 2006

Expats and art.

Rolf Potts muses that expats seem to be all talk about art and writing when very little quality art and literature actually results:

"If you're a self-styled bohemian writer, however—if you aspire to live the life of a Henry Miller or a Charles Bukowski—you are by definition obligated to seek a seedy variation of authenticity. You can't settle for video games and fan conventions. To truly embrace your fantasies, you must actively booze, brawl, and womanize until you've achieved something resembling oblivion. And if you don't have the money, courage, or social cachet to do this in your hometown, moving overseas to indulge your inner misanthrope is a sensible and time-honored solution. In nearly every expat setting I've visited as a traveler—from Prague to Phuket to Porto-Novo—there seems to be this notion that being a writer has more to do with drinking and screwing than actually writing."

There does seem to be a prevalent idea in creative circles along the lines of "If only I could have extraordinary experiences, I could be a great writer." (or artist, etc.) But if you're actually talented, you should be able to take "ordinary" experiences and express them in captivating ways. It's more challenging to take an interesting photograph of a house in Kansas than a beach in Greece.

Obligatory pop-culture reference: the 2002 movie Orange County is a (surprising) source of commentary on this subject. [SPOILER ALERT] The main character decides to stay at home and go to community college so he can be with his friends and family instead of attending Stanford.

I'm a huge advocate of travel and being independent. I think it's vital to get out on your own and test yourself, to have solitary experiences. But Potts does have a point: extraordinary experiences do not always, or even often, translate into extraordinary art. Talent and practice are needed for that.

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