Creativity in the US

I’ve had this tucked away in an open browser tab for quite awhile, and stumbled upon it again today. I think it’s fascinating, even though I’m not sure what to make of it. The graphic was embedded in the Passive Guy’s blog a couple months ago, attached to a post titled “The stunning geographic divide in American creativity.” Read the whole post for a bit more commentary.

Yes, I thought, as I looked at the title of the post.

It is stunning, isn’t it?

As noted, I didn’t know what to make of it when I first saw it and I don’t know what to make of it today. But I find the chart coming back to me over and over again.

  • First, I was surprised that that half the people or more in almost all states are doing something they consider creative (performing in or creating works of art). I would have expected this to be considerably lower, but then I’m a mid-western kid by background, what do I know? I haven’t seen anyone talking a lot about this, though. If this chart is a fair representation, it suggests some nice things about modern life in many ares of this country–specifically that people have enough personal time to actually spend it doing things that come from the internal self.
  • Second, it makes me wonder if different parts of the culture have different definitions of what “doing art” is. My dad, for example, has some very firm ideas on what art is and what it isn’t, and would, I’m sure, classify as craft some things that I would call art. There’s the thing, right? When one crochets, is it a craft or an art? Dunno. Is it possible that people in one culture would see doing the same task in different categories? Of course it is. So, who knows?
  • Third, again, assuming the divide is real (which I admit I tend to believe), I agree that the data breaks the rule of thumb–the idea that all the artsy folk come from the far coasts. In the end, this shouldn’t really surprise me. Rules of thumb are often wrong. It did surprise me, though. And further, in this moment of political upheaval, I think it’s interesting to compare traditionally red states. If there are cultural differences that drive this divide, what does it say that the Idahos and Wyoming (deeply conservative) are so purple, and the Georgias and Floridas (also bastions of conservative politics) are so yellow? Traditionally liberal zones are consistently purple, but conservative zones are widely split. California is an interesting state, since is spans the zone. It would be interesting to see it broken down.

But, regardless, it’s strange, isn’t it?

What is it about Minnesota that makes it stand out so purple? Why is Georgia the heartland of southern artistic energy, yet still so low relative to the rest of the country?

If you read Washington Post article that accompanies the chart, the answers are pretty basic: education and poverty. More education, more art. More poverty, less art. That seems fair enough. It seems logical, and so there’s probably a truth to it. But I keep looking at it and looking at it, and in the end all I can really say for sure is that I think it’s a chart that means a number of things. I think it has a history to it–perhaps a history with education and poverty at its core, but a history broader than those things. This is a picture of result, after all. The number of people doing artistic things is an output of a system. It’s a measure of the culture we’ve developed.

And so, yes, taken as it is, I think this chart means several things.

I’ve kept it in my tabs because I think this is a very important chart.

I think it’s no surprise that the line of demarcation follows the boundary between new slave and free states in the Missouri Compromise (noted in the Washington Post article–with what I assume is irony–as happening by chance).

I think it means we’ve got work to do.

I think this means the work will take centuries.

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Posted in Life, The World.


  1. I really like your analysis of maybe it’s a cultural gap in the way we define art. California is a strange outlier to me, would expect more purple. Also, cultural epicenters tend to have large populations so seeing the purple streak through the Dakotas is also pretty interesting. I respect the NEA, though, which is why I even bother reading into it 🙂

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