This blog post was first published as a guest post at the Frayed Passport blog.
I was nine months old when I escaped my bassinet on a flight to Israel and tried to unscrew a piece of the airplane. But it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I realized how much of a boon travelling could be—and had been—for my art.
Over the years, many of my songs have been born through travel. I have songs about the Dumas Brothel museum in Butte, Montana; a scene outside a Brooklyn window; and a border scare on the hills between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
I am not the only artist who has found inspiration in the exotic. For example, the iconic Polynesian images by the French impressionist painter Paul Gaugin would never have been painted if he hadn’t lived for a time in Tahiti. Travel is a goldmine for anyone who needs to create, be they entrepreneurs, software engineers, or artists. It spices up our production, shakes up our thinking, and gives us the seeds for masterpieces. And it doesn’t have to mean going far away: any trip to a place that’s unfamiliar counts, even if its just down the road.
Here are five reasons for artists—or anyone—to travel:
1. To fill the well
Julia Cameron, creativity guru and author of The Artist’s Way, says creative people draw upon an inner well to create that she likens it to a well-stocked trout pond. When an artist feels she has nothing more to say, it’s because the well is empty. To continue to create, we must “consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them—to restock the trout pond.” In other words, we need to constantly fill the well. Travelling is not just the stocking of a pond with a few trout, it’s more like stocking it with a tropical bay full of large, colorful fish.
There’s nothing like the Whammo! Eureka! feeling of inspiration that hits like a lightning bolt. I find that it’s when I take myself to new places and experience new things that inspiration seems to find me most easily. Try it and see.
3. Time to create (Artist Residencies)
One of the best-kept secrets about being an artist is the joy of traveling to artist residencies. These are places where artists—and other creatives—are given the most precious resource for a creator: time. And the productivity of residency time comes partially because a person has to travel away from home to get it. Generally, residencies require you to be away from home for a week to a few months. Some residencies offer housing for multiple people at one time, others offer space for just one artist at a time, but all of them give creative people the chance to get away from the daily chores like bills, cooking, cleaning, the dripping shower, etc. that distract from the process of creation. I create my best work at artist residencies.
4. Shake it up
All creative people get into ruts. In my case, when I find myself using the same chords, the same words, the same rhythms, I know I need to do something to change my surroundings. Give yourself a weekend—or, better yet, a month—in a new place, and I’m sure you too will have a new approach to your work.
5. New perspective on the everyday
G.K. Chesterton may have put it best: “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” The art that moves me the most is art that helps me see the ordinary in an extraordinary way. By providing yourself with new contexts to compare to your everyday, travel makes you see your own world with new eyes.
What has travel inspired you to create?