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The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe. A short persuasive insight into the New York art world, what makes it tick, and why critics, dealers and the glitterati need something to talk about and how they can't deal with traditional art.

The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes. An expanded version of a PBS television series on Modern Art. Many colour illustrations. Choice anecdotes, telling characterizations and witty observations. It's bristling with insight.

Theories of Modern Art by Herschel B Chipp. Required reading in some College courses, this is a great starting point in understanding the thinking of artists. Gag-ga but investigative. Documented through personal letters, manifestos and articles, the variety of belief shows what art can be.

Art for Dummies by Thomas Hoving. No insult here. One of the “for dummies” series, this remarkable overview by the well-known gallery director and enthusiast shows that it's okay to be in love with all types of art. Basic stuff you always wanted simplified and lots of privileged, no nonsense information.

The Jokkmokk Effect
March 22nd, 2005

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.

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 Benedict 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."

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.

Artists' Responses to The Jokkmokk Effect by Robert Genn
Be sure to check our Archives for related material.


Response to 'The Jokkmokk Effect' by Sandra Chantry :: No man is an island

by Sandra Chantry, Loughborough, UK

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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".

, Other letters by Sandra, Related material on No man is an island
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Response to 'The Jokkmokk Effect' by Ilona Della Bernardina :: What counts

by Ilona Della Bernardina, Trieste, Italy

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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.

, Related material on What counts
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Response to 'The Jokkmokk Effect' by Stella Violano :: Desire, obsession and passion

by Stella Violano, Thousand Oaks, CA, USA

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Once again you have written a letter that will hang on my studio wall. This letter
To Sleep Perchance To Dream by Stella Violano, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches
To Sleep Perchance To Dream
oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches
 click image to enlarge
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.

, Other letters by Stella, Related material on Desire, obsession and passion, Stella Violano Website,
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Response to 'The Jokkmokk Effect' by Michael Carpenter :: River of divine energy

by Michael Carpenter, Victoria, BC, Canada

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I'm a late blooming artist, told my whole life that "our family can't draw". I have been
Michael Carpenter, original drawing
original drawing
 click image to enlarge
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.

, Related material on River of divine energy
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Response to 'The Jokkmokk Effect' by Elle Fagan :: Instrument of desire

by Elle Fagan, Rockville, CT, USA

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I built my website after an immobilizing accident, thinking it would be my only
Framboises by Elle Fagan, watercolor, 8.5 x 12 inches
watercolor, 8.5 x 12 inches
 click image to enlarge
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.

, Other letters by Elle, Related material on Instrument of desire, Elle Fagan Website,
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Response to 'The Jokkmokk Effect' by Red Dog :: Happiness

by Red Dog

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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!

, Related material on Happiness
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Response to 'The Jokkmokk Effect' by Larry Wells :: Elusive quality of 'quality'

by Larry Wells, Atlanta, GA, USA

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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.

, Related material on Elusive quality of 'quality'
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Response to 'The Jokkmokk Effect' by Dawn Smith :: Away from civilization

by Dawn Smith, Panama

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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.

, Related material on Away from civilization
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Response to 'The Jokkmokk Effect' by Linda Saccoccio :: Being an artist

by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

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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.

, Other letters by Linda, Related material on Being an artist
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Response to 'The Jokkmokk Effect' by Lori Simons :: Passionate student gives insight

by Lori Simons, Merrimack, NH, USA

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Alas, your current letter stuck a note with me. It takes more than talent, but desire to
Long Pond by Lori Simons, oil painting, 9 x 12 inches
Long Pond
oil painting, 9 x 12 inches
 click image to enlarge
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.

, Other letters by Lori, Related material on Passionate student gives insight, Lori Simons Website,
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Response to 'The Jokkmokk Effect' by Violette Clark :: More focused now

by Violette Clark, White Rock, BC, Canada

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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!

, Other letters by Violette, Related material on More focused now, Violette Clark Website,
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Response to 'The Jokkmokk Effect' by Victoria N. Hadden :: No future for Ferrie with his attitude

by Victoria N. Hadden, Toronto, ON, Canada

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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)

, Related material on No future for Ferrie with his attitude
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April, Behind the Dunes
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Clickback afterthoughts - The Painter's KeysAFTERTHOUGHTS

Please feel free to comment on anyone's remarks. If you add your email address right after your name at the end of your letter, we will include it. If you wish to write incognito we will honor that too. All unused letters are carefully archived for possible future use. We generally include ten or so letters in each "clickback" so you can expect about the same amount of reading. Readers really appreciate it when you tell us approximately where you are located. It would also be great if you could include where we might find some of your work on the net. We edit most letters for clarity and brevity. We are able to translate letters from most languages. Please address your letters to

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."

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Last modified: March 23rd, 2005 :: Copyright 2005 Robert Genn, All Rights Reserved