‘People from the place where I’m from are forever putting the things they would very much like, but cannot allow themselves to have, quite nearby but just beyond their grasp.’
Free Man in Paris, Jennifer Hodgson.
Often, we see places like Paris or London or New York through a pair of rose-tinted glasses. If only we could be there, we’d be creative. Or, if only we could be there then. When some great artists or writers or other creatives made it their scene. Then we’d become creative too, almost by osmosis.
The fact is, people like Hemingway and Orwell didn’t live in Paris because of the creative types. Or because of the fabulous bookstores and trendy cafes.
They lived in Paris because it was cheap.
Affordable locations attract creative populations
The Paris of Hemingway and Orwell was far from luxurious. Hemingway lived in a two-room flat ‘that had no hot water and no inside toilet facilities except an antiseptic container’. He describes pretending to have been asked to lunch, then spending hours wandering the Luxembourg Gardens, hungry.
Orwell writes about life in rooms filled with bugs, sweaty kitchens, and prison-like homeless shelters.
Hardly the image of champagne and eclairs, arranged by a typewriter or easel for Instagram.
As Andrew Gallix points out in We’ll Never Have Paris, the Paris of A Moveable Feast was ‘above all, a cheap-as-frites backdrop for the Lost Generation, which is one of the reasons why the city could be construed as a moveable feast.’
Geoarbitrage: the modern movable feast
Today, creative and free individuals make use of ‘geoarbitrage’. The ability to earn money from one place, and spend it in another. Geoarbitrage exploits the differences in currencies and costs of living.
Some do this by investing
If you happen to live in a country with a high cost of living (or at least, high rents), you can rent out your home. Then, move to a country with a lower cost of living. There, you may be able to find a place to live, and buy food and all the other necessities, for the price of your incoming rent. (You will, of course, need to consider outgoing expenses on your property. And what you’ll do in case your property becomes vacant or unleasable).
But you don’t need to live in a country with a high cost of living, or own a house, to take advantage of geoarbitrage. There is another way, which is suitable no matter where you come from.
Working to support your art
Another method of taking advantage of geoarbitrage is by actively working. You might run an online business that caters largely to clients in a country with a relatively high cost of living. Meanwhile, you live in a country with a relatively low cost of living. This allows you to cut down the hours you need to work. For example, you might need to work 40 hours a week to survive in the US. But if you earned US wages while living in Thailand you might be only need to work for 20 hours. Or even 10 hours.
Cashing In On The American Dream, a valuable guide to retiring early and enjoying life, suggests living in the country you’re interested in before making a long-term commitment. Paris, for instance, has been so romanticized that many who visit suffer “Paris syndrome”: The realisation Paris is not all sexy people in stripey shirts and berets carrying baguettes on their bicycles. Instead, it contains real people with real aspirations, frustrations, idiosyncracies, dreams and irritations.
As Hodgson points out, Paris – or any fabled destination – can represent another in a long line of ways we’ve come up with to procrastinate. That is, we can use the fact that we’re not in Paris (or Portugal, Patagonia, or Peru) as an excuse for not working. A ‘life lie‘.
Living as a Free Creative
A Free Creative has the opportunity to create what they like, when they like, and how they like. By developing your financial freedom and leveraging geoarbitrage you can also live and create where you like. This is part of the physical freedom that results from your developing economic practices (learning how to live within your means, invest, and/or earn an income from your work), and your artistic practices (learning how to find inspiration and to work wherever you are).
Do you have a place that you love to work in? Are you inspired by the environment around you? Is there a place that comes to mind when you think of an ideal space for an artist such as you to live? Where do you go to dream?
Finding a safe space to create is an natural response for an artist. A space that gives you the mental, physical and and temporal freedom to make your art. Learn here how to choose the right space for you.
The places where artists work and find their inspiration are almost as iconic as the artistic practice itself. Picture for a moment: da Vinci’s studio, Monet’s garden, George Orwell’s loft, Stradivari’s workshop or Henry David Thoreau’s cabin near Walden Pond. Who among us has not luxuriated in the daydream of being magically transported to such a place where we will be “living the life” at last?
Why is Place so Important to the Artist?
“Experience is knowledge. All the rest is just information.”
Art-making is a physical act. A lived experience. As artists we are embodied in the world and through our artistic practice bring to life our interpretations of it’s meaning. This is a lofty way of saying: whatever is happening to your body during the creative process will affect your creations.
This is why artists seek safe spaces to BE in, while they work. And BEING in that place gives meaning to BEING an artist.
As artists we know this “in our bones”. Which is why we are driven by a visceral, if not a conscious, urge to BE somewhere that will allow us to BE creative. And many, many locations do not fit that bill. In fact, for some artists being on THE MOVE is the best context for their creative activities (but more of this in a minute).
Obviously a dancer’s body is a fundamental part of their creation. You can clearly see how the interaction between that body and the performance space is essential to the nature and quality of the performance. You may also appreciate how the physical demands upon a sculptor who is carving marble or welding steel in a dusty or super-heated foundry will dictate the qualities of the sculpture.
People such as these go into their craft with the expectation that their practice will involve a physical interaction with a challenging environment. I suspect this is precisely what attracted them to it in the first place. These are sensible people. Using their senses to make sound artistic judgments. The artworks and artifacts that emanate from these interactions are literally torn from their environment.
A ceramicist throwing a pot or a textile designer weaving a tapestry. Again, the body—fingers, hands, arms, torso, tissue, cells and fibers—invade the materials and act upon devices such as spinning wheels, shuttles, looms; using the air itself to wrestle forth a pattern.
From beginning to end these productions are refined from crude, inarticulate materials into eloquent compositions. As the symphony does arise from notes and melodies. And the poem from words and verse. Each alteration moves the piece towards completion by informing the creator of it’s growing potential. And often this potential is only revealed in the negative spaces. In the space and silence around the subject. How it sits in its surrounding environment. In the end, that which is removed or left out determines how sympathetically the true potential is realized.
Consider the following quote from Michelangelo about his sculptures:
“The greatest artist does not have any concept Which a single piece of marble does not itself contain Within its excess, though only A hand that obeys the intellect can discover it.”
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti
In this sense, artworks are a form of action-research. A hermeneutic process of kinesthetic learning. The rhythmic movement of a sculptor or potter is an indication of their talent—The way their hands and body obey their intellect as it experiences the developing artwork within a space. If that piece was invisible to you as you watched them worked, you could still gain a sense of it’s quality.
“Little by little one travels far”
J. R. R. Tolkien
Hand-eye coordination is essential to all the visual arts. Repetition, practice and the habitual forming of technical skill causes an artist to body-learn their style. But periodically a painter must step back from their work to put it into perspective. Then they will step back in, to touch paint onto their canvas and so create this next representation of reality. To express an idea inside their head. To convey a feeling within their heart. The light in the studio or the weather conditions as they paint en-plein air are not only impacting on the process, but being incorporated into the artwork. Spatial factors are thereby integral to the painter’s piece.
Ansel Adams the photographer explains that “you don’t take a photograph, you make it”. A photograph is the most tangible link an artist has with their environment, besides being there. Many creatives take photos to use as references. To remember what they knew of the place. To form a context for their work. But the photographer seeks to capture the essence of the place—and in so doing makes it the subject.
And finally, even as a creative writer, perhaps the least corporeal of all the arts, you may find you must move to create. That you “need the space to think”. For example, have you ever noticed yourself leaping up from your laptop and darting around the space in your studio just when the best idea is occurring to you? Do your best ideas occur to you when you are walking, commuting, traveling? Writers and poets often travel widely to explore their subject matter. To fuel their imaginations. From place to place, forever searching for a story. And these places are woven into the maturing narrative.
Where is Your Safe Space?
“Paris can be anywhere if you know how to take it with you.”
Each of us would like our own Room With a View. Whether that is an actual space in the real world; a bookmark on the Internet; or a haven within our imagination. The essence is the same: a creative soul needs a safe place to create.
We travel the world visiting galleries and other hallowed locations on the creative pilgrimage. The studios, workshops and grottos of artists-past enchant us with their significance, like the stations of the cross. What are we searching for?
By definition, your safe space will give you mental, physical and temporal freedom, but paradoxically you may have to sacrifice some of these things to acquire it. This is the dilemma that all creatives face. And it sometimes feels like in order to have freedom you must sacrifice it?
For example, you may want a beautiful house with a separate workroom in an idyllic location. But this is going to cost a fortune. Then you will have to take out a mortgage and work in a high-paying, high-stress job for decades to pay it off. Leaving yourself no time and no energy to practice your art. If your employer places strict covenants on your conduct then you may not even have the intellectual freedom to pursue your art. It seems like a Catch 22. Because it is.
But there is a growing movement of creatives who realize that their safe space is more an attitude than a place. With this attitude any space you occupy becomes home to your creativity.
And the attitude is “I am an artist.”
Hence, wherever you are is precisely where your art is happening. Because your art is always happening. Inside your awareness, as a direct response to the world around you. Whether you are making your art in any given moment or location, you are still formulating it. You are alive to the influences of the world around you, upon your formulations. And this is because you have decided that your purpose is to BE an artist. Which means that for the rest of your life you will be interacting with the world AS an artist so that it may reveal its meaning to you.
Finding Your Very Own Safe Space
So find your safe space. Be aware of where you feel content, inspired, secure, at peace—creative. It’s important. It’s worth the time, resources and energy you will invest in it. We cannot prescribe what that will look or feel like to you—for this will depend upon your craft and how much you are willing to sacrifice. But we can help you weigh up your options and find a balance.
The Free Creative Diagnostic Approach
The Creative Freedom Model above provides a way to evaluate any given choice. Each sector must be considered in order to find a balance that is going to set you free in a meaningful sense. Here are four examples of the analysis in action:
You are considering to combine your studio with your living quarters:
Economically this may reduce the cost of your accommodation.
Temporally it may free up time to devote to your artistic practice, because you do not have to commute.
But artistically it may limit the freedom you have to practice because you must share the physical space with others and make compromises for daily existence. And you may lose the mental distance that you need to clearly separate the demands of daily life from your artistic practice.
Additionally, you may miss the mental inspirational contact you would have by interacting with other creatives in a studio or class setting.
Strategy: In the end you decide to settle on a strategy to stop paying studio rent, and for classes. Purchase a small cedar shed for your backyard with a “Creativity in Progress” sign on the door. You decide to fill that little room with photos of wonderful places you have been on your artistic trips and you make time to have coffee with other artists.
You are in a non-creative job and considering ways to remain inspired:
Economically you are paying off your home and building an investment portfolio which will give you Financially Independent in the long run; but you do not want to put your creative life on hold indefinitely and you feel physically trapped at work. Plus you resent the time and energy you have to spend commuting and being distracted mentally by workplace issues.
Strategy: Your strategy is to find other artists on YouTube who are living the life you are looking forward to; and watch their videos when you need inspiration. Every time you tune into one of these videos you are transported into a place where you feel all your creative energies are revived.
Throughout this course you will be encouraged to use this Free Creative Diagnostic method to evaluate all your decisions.
Whatever your situation, in the final analysis you may not have the most perfect solution, but this diagnostic approach will help you to find a balance of all three freedoms and allow you to get on with your great dream. This being the case, you will also feel tremendous satisfaction knowing that you are secure and in no danger of losing the most important thing—your creative freedom. It is this very knowledge that makes you feel safe and allows you to be A Free Creative.