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Wake Up Your Dormant Creativity in San Miguel De Allende

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“In San Miguel de Allende, it is common to find expats exploring work and lifestyles completely different from their past.  They discover themselves exploring their artistic side,” said Jessica Avendano, a native of San Miguel de Allende who has watched hundreds of expats settle into new lives there in her work in a real estate office there.

San Miguel de Allende, about 160 miles from Mexico City, has been an artist’s enclave since the 1920’s. Big windows and sunlight some say produce a light unique to the city, a glow. Many Americans moved there after World War II on the G.I. Bill and the American presence has been strong ever since, exploring their artistic side.

When you move to another country, as you shed possessions and the baggage of your personal history, you realize how much of your personality derives itself from old associations. You have the chance to start all over, become a new personality.

The question is whether expats who have made choice of San Miguel were creative before, and finally able to a move to a place more in keeping with their intrinsic nature? Or did they move to San Miguel and become more creative? Is San Miguel de Allende the cause or the effect of their increased sense of creativity and self-expression?

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This must be that special light they talk about.

Living abroad has long been associated with stimulating creativity. Many creatives have produced their most famous works either while abroad or soon after their return, including many Mexican artists.

All four winners of the Nobel Prize in literature  from Ireland spent significant time abroad. Painters Guiguin and Picasso, and composers Handel, Stravinski and Schoenberg created many of their most famous works in foreign countries . Nabokov wrote Lolita while living in Paris. Hemingway began writing The Sun Also Rises in Spain, and finished it in Paris.

Even at my own mundane, pedestrian level, I’ve come to expect a surge of new ideas and associations each time I arrive to Mexico and each time I return to the U.S. You see differences and make fresh associations between disparate ideas.

There is so much anecdotal evidence regarding increased creativity and living abroad, the connection was a given until 2009, when William W. Maddux INSEAD Adam D. Galinski provided the first scientific studies coorelating the diverse experiences of living abroad to enhanced creativity.  

Coorelational studies and experiments showed living abroad gives you more access to novel ideas that you can turn into new associations. It allows you to approach problems from a different perspective. It makes you more ready to accept ideas from unfamilar sources. The longer the period in another country, the stronger the effect on creativity.

.Their studies showed that only living, not traveling abroad, could be associated with surges in creativity. I’d  always suspected that merely traveling would never come close to provoking the insights that of living in another country does.

Expat life is not a spectator sport. The personal growth comes from the periodic rushes of emotions, solving problems, interacting daily with another country’s culture on a sustained level. At times it exposes nerve endings; your prejudices, your values and even self-inflicted limitations.

Even more encouraging for potential expats is the evidence that creativity need not dimish with age. In our youth based culture, we’re inclined to think it has to. It doesn’t, and ample examples exist spanning all forms of art and literature.

After all, creativity is the recombining of elements in new ways or through different filters of experience. The older you are, the more ideas and influences you have to pull from.

Getting beat up for decades by losses and mistakes has a softening effect on many people, making them more progressive and liberal (Supreme court judges are notorious proof of this, often becoming more liberal after assuming the bench).

With time, we get more comfortable with ambiguity. Lifestyles become more simple and spiritual. Perfect it would seem, for establishing a new life in Mexico, especially those rich in art and culture, like Oaxaca, Queretaro or Mexico City.

Many examples exist of artists producing some of their greatest work in their final years. Matisse designed the mural and windows of the Venice chapel while restricted to bed with arthritis, German writer Thomas Mann completed one of his greatest works, Confessions of Felix Krull, at 80, Herman Melville wrote his second master work, Billy Budd, in his final years. There’s even a name for it, alterstiehl, a revitalized brilliance of an older artist.

One of the most interesting things about master works of famous artists in their latter years is not that they produced great works (They’d done that for years), it is that what they produced was so totally different from anything they’d ever done before. For example Verdi, a composer of tragic operas, wrote Falstaff, the last of his operas, as a comedy just before he turned 80.

It is not hard to understand why San Miguel de Allende would be a magnet. Its historical district is small enough to run into artists of every level of aspiration. Many wowed by the hundreds and galleries and art centers like San Miguel de Allende’s Fabrica La Aurora become inspired to join the creative community, or at least find ways to express another side of themselves. “Men tell me they’d never dress the way they do here at home,” said Avendano."*

In the end though, San Miguel de Allende may not just be about creating art or dressing differently, but about freedom. Freedom from stifling careers, freedom from the expectations of those back home, freedom to do things “You’d never do at home.”

*Jessica Avendano is also a rental concierge listed in “If I Only Had a Place.”

Related Links:

For more pictures of San Miguel de Allende, check out Ventanas Mexico’s Pinterest page.

One man’s quest for the good life in San Miguel de Allende.

Puebla is another Mexican city famous for both art and food.

San Miguel as the ex-hippy getaway - Expats in Mexico blog

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About the Author:

Kerry Baker is author of two books. The Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online takes you via interactive links to the best free tools on the web. Create you own unique lesson plan every day, or use those in the book to never get bored with your studies.

The second book, If Only I Had a Place is an insider’s guide (way in) to renting well in Mexico in a way that will set you up for the best possible expat life.