Travel Can Make You a Better (Or at Least Richer) Artist

The World
How It Works
Oct. 8 2013 12:52 PM

Does Travel Broaden Artists’ Minds?

PAINTING

iStock

From Gaugin’s voyages to the South Pacific, to Paul Klee’s career-changing trip to Tunisia, foreign travel has often played a significant role in the development of artists’ work. But can you actually demonstrate the impact travel has on an artistic career?

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

University of Hamburg economist Christiane Hellmanzik attempts to measure the effect in a recent paper for the journal Empirical Economics and finds that whether or not travel makes artists better, it at least seems to make them more financially successful. (I’ve written previously on Hellmanzik’s research on art here.)

Advertisement

Looking at a dataset of auction prices for “214 most prominent modern visual artists born between 1850 and 1945”—those with prominent entries in the Oxford Dictionary of  Art—she found that “artworks produced in the year of a journey are 7 percent more valuable than paintings produced in periods with no travel.” (Journeys are defined as foreign trips lasting less than 12 months.)

As you might expect, certain countries, during certain periods, were more valuable to the traveling artist. Overall, trips to France had a significant positive effect on art prices—6.8 percent—though the effect was far stronger before 1913. In the post-World War II era, “a visit to France was even a drain on productivity.”

Travel to Germany was extremely beneficial—21 percent—through this was driven mainly by “two sequential strong sub-periods from 1914 to 1938,” coinciding with the Bauhaus era.

And so much for finding inspiration in Florence of Venice. Hellmanzik writes that “Italy never offers positive returns to travel despite being frequently visited.”

Trips undertaken for political reasons had the greatest effect, perhaps indicating that artists’ work improves when they’re freed from government repression or that collectors have a taste for the work of foreign dissidents. Recreational trips were second, and work-related trips had a surprisingly small effect.

Overall, the benefit of travel seems to have faded over time. “When decomposing the travel effect over time, we find significant, positive effects for the first two periods: 1870–1913 and the period of the First World War,” she writes. “There is no travel effect for artworks produced after 1918.” Perhaps as foreign travel became easier and more commonplace, it also became less of a comparitive advantage for the artists who had done it.

Hellmanzik argues that the study has implications beyond the art world, as “the motivations for travel and the benefits of short-term movements for artists seem analogous to those of international business travellers or scientists … short-term movements can be seen as a means of investing in one’s human capital.”

So if you’re feeling like your work is stuck in a rut, a quick trip overseas might be beneficial, or at least it was 100 years ago. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 3:53 PM Smash and Grab Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 5:39 PM Whole Foods Desperately Wants Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 5:03 PM Marcel the Shell Is Back and as Endearing as Ever
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.