The Terroir of Creativity

TerroirWinemakers talk of three important elements that go into creating great wine: the talent and experience of the winemaker, the quality of the fruit, and the terroir of where the fruit is grown. The terroir considers the climate, the geography, and the soil that holds the roots of the plant. Is it on a hill or in a valley? Is it sunny or shady? Is it gravel or clay?

Terroir is something different from the impact of nature or nurture. The winemaker is responsible for nurturing the wine, and the plant itself accounts for the influence of nature. Terroir can be masked or blended out of the final product, but no matter what, it is still present in some capacity. The notion of terroir has become so prevalent in the wine world that other agricultural products have also adopted the exploration of terroir; it’s not uncommon to hear it in reference to coffee, tea, chocolate or heirloom fruits.

It’s these background elements – the terroir – that I find fascinating. I think we should also start considering the terroir of creativity.

Globalization has created many amazing opportunities, including entirely new forms of art. It’s changed the way creators collaborate and the way people discover new works. But it also feels like we’ve stopped reflecting on the place where a creative work took root and how that influenced its creation. This is particularly prevalent in film and television.

When we do have a discussion about location, it’s only when a story’s setting drives the plot, such as the Louisiana bayou of Beasts of the Southern Wild or the City of Light in Midnight In Paris. These days, it’s common to encounter a film like Hanna, with a Canadian writer, American producers, British director and Australian and Irish performers, not to mention production locations in Germany, Finland and Morocco. What I’m curious about is how much of its seed, planted in Canada, remains in the final product?

It used to be common to link artists via geographically connected movements. Great artistic movements have always blossomed in uniquely fertile ground. The Italian Renaissance sprouted in Florence thanks to technological changes and a ruling elite that valued art. The Dutch Golden Age was fertilized by seafaring wealth from Amsterdam and Bruges. Impressionism flowered in Paris as a reaction to the new technology of photography and the growing influence of academics on art, while the Nouvelle Vague later disrupted the cinema world when French intellectuals were able to get their hands on newly created lightweight motion picture cameras and sound recorders. The grunge scene from Seattle fermented in its own regional isolation and affected music, film, fashion and food.

If you scratch under the surface, you can still see how modern creative works can reflect the city of their origin. The Assassin’s Creed video game franchise, full of old world charm and state of the art technology, very much seems a product of Montreal, despite not being set there. I live in a city undergoing growing pains and neighborhood gentrification, which seems manifest through stories about urban isolation and a burgeoning horror film movement. My own television series is a collaboration between people living in four different cities, spread out across an entire continent, but I love seeing how we can all draw upon influences from our local communities and incorporate them into the show.

From now on, I challenge you to consider where a creative work was initiated and developed, and observe how that influenced it. I think it will make for a more engaging appreciation of the work. More importantly, I challenge you to take inspiration from your own community in your creative efforts.

What are some creative works you have seen or heard that show the influence of their terroir?

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