The City vs Country Life:
Which Better Fuels A Creative Brain?
In pursuit of starting my own creative freelance business, earlier this year I made the conscious decision to move back home. I figured that in order to have a fighting chance at making a real success of it, I would bypass getting a salaried job in the industry and avoid the expense of living in the city in favour of sheltered family-home life where I’m able to give it my one hundred percent focus and commitment. However, whilst I knew it would be best to operate from the comfort of my family home in tranquil suburbia, I worried how my creative brain would fair being away from the inspiring, creative city of Bristol, where I have so dearly loved living for the past three years. Now, sixth months down the line, it’s a transition I still find myself adjusting to. And it’s brought one question, in particular, to the forefront of my mind; how exactly does our environment affect our creative brain?
"Inspiration never just falls into anyone's lap. No matter who you are or where you live, we all have to spend some time actively seeking it."
For many, living in the city unleashes their creativity. With so much to explore, an abundance of exhibitions and galleries to spend weekends floating around, heaps of opportunities for artists to get their work out there, and plenty of people to pour your creative ideas out to, the city offers many creatives the chance to thrive. Others will tell you that moving out of the city is the best decision they ever made. The headspace gained from living in the countryside helps their fantastical thoughts flourish, the unpolluted air and tranquility offers a clear mind, and the subconscious pressure one may feel to keep up with the momentum of the city simply evaporates.
For the past three years of my life, I’ve had the privilege of having a beautiful blend of both worlds. From spending semesters at university in the arty city of Bristol to fleeing back to my suburban family home for the holidays, I’ve not really had to experience one without the other. I’ve been able to enjoy long stints of living in the city, dabbling in the city’s arty scene to my heart’s content, and simply hop on a train home and retreat to suburban life if I fancied a break from the chaos of city life for a short while. It’s suited me well. Now that I’ve returned to suburban life with my family, (for the somewhat foreseeable future), I find myself reflecting on how each of these opposing environments affect my own creativity. I’m looking at the work I have produced in each place, the shifts in mindset, which one pulls at my creative heartstrings, and where I see myself setting up a permanent base in years to come.
Looking, firstly, at the small, rural town where I grew up and have now resided to, having country walks and beautiful landscapes right on my doorstep is possibly the thing for which I’m most grateful. To be able to escape my home office and get out in the fresh air at any time, allows my brain to switch off and my imagination to run wild. It offers the headspace needed to think creatively. For me, it’s one of the most effective ways for getting my creative mojo back if I ever find myself in a bit of a creative rut. I can flush out any negativity and replace it with fresh, new thoughts. Rarely does it fail to work! Secondly, and maybe this one just applies to me, but I feel a weight lifted whenever I return to my suburban roots. Living in the city, I often feel a kind of subconscious pressure internally to ~keep up~. The fast-paced nature and momentum that cities carry, often makes me feel like I constantly need to be ahead of the game. Now, I don’t really know what I’m referring to when I say ‘the game’ but I guess in the city you're surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of talented artists so there’s a constant feeling of needing to strive or else you’ll get left behind. Or, perhaps, I’m simply struggling to differentiate between this and the pressure I felt with university deadlines! Either way, being back in the countryside, I feel free of that.
"The combination of exploring a new city, being creatively challenged by projects at all times, and gaining a supportive network of other young, creative people, meant that my three years of living away from home and being at university did wonders for my creative brain."
On the other hand, the city offers so much in terms of creative resources for artists. And for that reason, I feel like Bristol unlocked my creativity. The combination of exploring a new city, being creatively challenged by projects at all times, and gaining a supportive network of other young, creative people, meant that my three years of living away from home and being at university did wonders for my creative brain. Whilst I knew I was creative before I came to university, until I was at design school in one of the most creative cities in the country, I’d never felt quite so inspired or creatively liberated. Not that there weren’t low points where I fell victim to the wretched curse of creative block, of course. But for the most part I’d say that I remained on a creative high for this period of my life. I also produced some of, what I think, is my best work.
So, whilst I appreciate the beautiful area that I’m originally from, since my return, I can’t help but feel completely uncreative in comparison.
No matter who I talk to, which cafe I work in, or how many long country walks I take, I feel my creative brain simply isn't blooming in the same way it did when I was living in the city. It’s hard to put my finger on why it is exactly. My small rural town simply doesn’t have the magic of the city. I guess since having my eyes opened to the beautiful, artsy city of Bristol, my home life now feels a little lacklustre. There are no exhibitions and art galleries right on the doorstep, no new places to explore, no hustle and bustle of the city, and not to mention that without being at university I’ve lost that all important guidance from my tutors, and creative hub of other young artists clumsily trying to find their way through life. The momentum of the city and university life is lost. And it’s not something easily replicated elsewhere. Although I graduated from university almost six months ago now (gosh, was it really that long ago?!) it’s still feels like I’m in a weird transition period and I’m finding it frustratingly difficult. I feel guilty for feeling like my suburban home life is no longer ~good enough~ when in fact, it's perfectly comfortable and has everything I need. But still, these feelings persist.
"It's a blessing that our generation have an abundance of online creative resources like Pinterest and Behance right at our fingertips. However, it's not quite the same as attending talks or workshops where you're able to listen to an artist reveal the creative thought process."
I’m aware that there’s no magic solution. Inspiration never just falls into anyone’s lap. No matter who you are or where you live, we all have to spend some time actively seeking it. However, living in a city just made it that tiny bit easier. Like I said, whether it be art workshops, museums, or a creative hub of some sort, creative inspiration is on your doorstep when you’re living the urban lifestyle. You start to feel part of a culture, and by living in the city, I definitely learnt more about the type of designer I wanted to be and where I would fit in. I must say that where I live now these resources aren’t completely out of reach. There’s lots going on in London, which is only about an hour’s train journey from me. However, with my money and time being very limited at the moment, (as well as the fact that London doesn’t exactly have quite the same chilled-out, arty culture as Bristol does), it isn’t exactly ideal. Nor, is it something I can afford to do frequently.
As a result, it feels as though my main source for creative inspiration at the moment is online. Of course, it’s a blessing that our generation have an abundance of online creative resources like Pinterest and Behance right at our fingertips. At the click of a button we can open up a browser and be treated to an amalgam of various creative work. However, it’s not quite the same as attending talks or workshops where you’re able to listen to an artist reveal their creative thought process. As Madeleine Morley recently stated in her article Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Inspiration?, “projects that were designed for friends and projects done for huge companies circulate in the same space” and therefore “there is no explanation in terms of where an image comes from.” And, personally, I don’t want to rely purely on these online resources for my creative inspiration. I think it’s healthier to see these online resources as an additional dose if one finds themselves needing that little extra hit of artistic inspiration... which I definitely do right now!
So, I guess what I’m getting at is that, having experienced city life and all that it offers young, creative people like myself, adjusting to suburban life once again is proving difficult. Perhaps, this will pass. Perhaps, it’s just a momentary creative block bred from post-uni blues. I really do hope so. In any case, I’m realising that if I’m to build a successful life as a freelancer, away from the city, I’m going to have to be much more pro-active in seeking creative inspiration. Finding co-working groups, creative events, workshops, and getting out and talking to other arty people is slightly harder but I know it’s not impossible. That’s exactly it, it’s just harder. I shouldn't be too hard on myself though. After all, it's since I've been back at home that Mantra Sport birthed and I've been really enjoying writing these blog posts. I guess I’m writing this post in the hope that there are some other young creatives out there who can relate, and perhaps advise. If you’re living in the rural countryside or suburbia, with less creative resources than the city has to offer, how do you go about seeking creative inspiration?
Comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!