The business guru Peter Drucker admitted motivation was a sticky wicket. “We know nothing about it,” he said. “All we can do is write books about it.” Our own Resource of Art Quotations holds a huge variety of angles on the subject. Picasso, for example, felt it oozed from the world around us because of the variety of material at our disposal. He also felt it had something to do with “the passion we get from women.”
I wonder where that leaves the women. Do they get it from men?
Cicero thought motivation was all about obtaining praise. Others suggest the big thing is desire, and I agree, but nobody seems to be able to properly define what desire actually is. Some cynical ones figure motivation is all to do with fear, poverty, hunger and pain. Ouch.
Fact is, when our lives are free of clutter and we’re “rolling pure,” the stuff that turns us on is found as easily as shells along a tropical beach. But there’s more to it than that. We follow our particular noses. Some are in it for sentiments, others as salve for their “inner selves.” Still others feel the need to dig deeply for universal meanings.
Flawed though I may be, I’ve always trusted our universe. In the art department I’m looking for complexity, pattern, design, and just ordinary wonderful stuff to get the brush around. It seems to me that if deeper meanings are to be had, they’ll somehow find a way to the end of the brush.
This naivety is not unique. It starts with what can only be called “love.” Maybe that’s where the women come in. Whatever, it’s a growing love affair with a desirable and particular thing, often privately discovered and often from our youth. Specificity drives desire. Take, for example, the passion of many wildlife painters and illustrators of nature. Something to do with honouring — it’s a high emotion that daily brings out the pencils and brushes.
PS: “Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly.” (Stephen R. Covey)
Esoterica: Give yourself permission to fall in love and you’ll partake in the miracle. Life may not be fully understood, but art is one way we can try. Drawing, for example, is a flashlight on the path to comprehension. Trying to master colour is to flirt with the gods. Composition makes us one of them. It’s quite a turn-on.
But we artists needn’t suffer the delusion that we’re the only ones turned on. This morning I had a haircut and a beard trim in a beauty salon in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Accompanied by her own humming and singing, Murielle took her time and did a truly masterful job using only scissors, comb and a straight razor. Proud as rum punch, she kept admiring the two of us in the mirror. “My goodness I love cuttin’ your hair, Mr. Bob,” she said. “Come back tomorrow ’cause I need bad to dye it black.” I’m thinking about it.
Two sides of the same coin
by Fiona Frisby, Ireland
Reading your post on motivation brought to mind the writing of Erich Fromm and his ideas about creativity. As humans we have an in-built desire or motivation to transcend our earthly physical existence. Being on a higher mental plane than animals, we have come to question our purpose, the meaning of our existence. He says that creativity and destruction are two sides of the same coin in the effort to transcend ourselves and connect with that bigger meaning. Of course creativity is the positive, loving side, but we have both tendencies in us in varying proportions. I think it is both the longing for transcendence, and also the act of love which motivate us to be creative, at the very root. Praise and monetary rewards come into it, but are separate things, more to do with our having to exist materially.
Motivated or inspired?
by Claudio Ghirardo, Mississauga, ON, Canada
I believe motivation has two aspects to it: One is the spiritual component. If it is hard to define and all one can do is write about it, then it must come from a place beyond our physical world. Two is its biological nature: meaning that when people answer their calling, or what they feel is what they are meant to do, as with artists needing to draw and/or paint, then the motivation kicks in because they are fulfilling their personal meaning of life. The reason I believe this is because when I made the personal decision to follow the “type” of art I was looking to do, my wife noticed that since I have never once ran out of ideas of what to paint, it’s like I am constantly motivated. Maybe “motivation” is another way of saying “inspiration”?
Seduced by the written word
by Jackie Knott, Fischer, TX, USA
Picasso might have been pretty close in describing the passion we feel for our art. I would go farther with that analogy — desire is satisfied by anyone… but love is content with only one. In our life’s work we may dabble with one profession or another to put food on the table but our one great love is art. And like a passion that can be quenched by nothing else (or no one else) we will do ridiculous things to accommodate it. And if we are not creating art we feel like we are in an unholy alliance of adultery. I’m having serious issues with that right now. My writing is nudging my art to the side and I’m dealing with the accompanying identity crisis. I’ve always identified myself as an artist — but now I’m being seduced by the written word. I wonder which one will win, or if it is possible to satisfy each because both are demanding lovers.
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Quiet cave of the mind
by Russ Henshall, Pulham Market, Norfolk, UK
I have long felt that it would be so wonderful to let all extraneous matter go. To sit in a bare room or even a bare house, or even a large green field; to be free of encumbrances. Oh yes — to have ‘nothing on my mind.’ It is strange, therefore, that I find living in this busy family home with grandkids around the corner and a lovely wife being noisily busy, that I write and create happily. Play on O radio, play on O TV. Scream kids, use the Hoover O wife. I am here in my quiet mind doing what I hope is creative ‘stuff.’ I believe that the green peaceful field would be good for enjoying the sun and, for me — little else. I am so comfortable here in my own cave.
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Dictate to your subconscious mind
by Sharron Middler, Kelowna, BC, Canada
Motivation is created within the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind does whatever we tell it to do. If we tell it we are dull it sends us dull pictures and motivates us to continue doing things that make everything seem dull. The reason I choose ‘dull’ is because it is amazing how exciting bright colours are — especially to we artists. Tell yourself everything is going to be bright and beautiful today and watch your motivation to paint improve.
Read Changing Your Other Mind. How our subconscious mind works is so intriguing.
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by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
The one thing I’m sure we can all find consensus with is that motivation is different in everyone — not only in our doing a specific task, so also with the passion with which we do it. I believe it is human nature to strive for something more or different. We are a restless species. Underneath all the psychobabble, the reason we get motivated is simply because we have a brain that can reason and calculate along with the ability to change our environment. When we found we could control our destiny, motivation, or more exactly necessity, was the sole catalyst. From there, passion, drive, survival, fear, poverty all kick in and become prime motivators. I can’t see our species sitting in a corner waiting benignly for death. We are hard-wired for motivation.
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Feeling the passion of the masters
by Nina Allen Freeman, Tallahassee, FL, USA
I don’t know if my motivation to paint has anything to do with love of men or passion for beauty. I don’t know what caused me to melt into tears when I was in the Louvre, walking up some steps and there suddenly in front of me was the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Was it in the beauty of it, or the skill of the ancient artist? I wanted to touch it and feel its texture. I have had similar feelings in art museums before when confronted with the sheer presence of a masterful work of art. I want to create something like that myself. It’s a passion that is deeper and bigger than the simple pleasure of admiring the beauty of a beautiful person or lovely landscape. I am able to feel that passion in my own work occasionally when something brilliant occurs accidentally. It is a quest I will forever search for.
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To be authentic
by Patricia Sharp, Millbridge, ME, USA
What turns me on? That’s an interesting question I have been pondering for many years. I was married for 16 years and we ran a decorative art business together. As long as my art supported the greater good it was okay. But I desired to branch out into illustrating children’s books, needing to express concepts and visuals as one entity. I received positive ‘lip service” but negative passive aggressive obstruction, making me unhappy and blocking my efforts. A psychologist friend asked me, “Are you going to go on hiding your light for the rest of your life?” The answer was no, so I divorced him. Of course that meant continuing with the decorative work to bring in income, little time for self-expression.
Now living on a too-small income I can do anything I choose within the budget! I re-read about Picasso and thought this is really sooooo unfair. He had a wife and a mistress supporting his artistic efforts. I look at some of my male artistic peers and all have wives who work at jobs as well as, supporting their partner’s artistic efforts. And as it benefits them in terms of income they pick up on customer service, etc. as well.
I must chop my own wood and carry my own water as well as painting, sales, PR etc. There are two sources of passion in my experience. One is a love of nature and spiritual expression through creating. Two is the passion of a love relationship which produces dopamine & oxytocin and, as a result, really brings depth to the work.
I have experienced a long term but uncommitted love relationship, wherein he admired my talent, and brought me jobs to sustain me. And I was engaged to be married to a man who also admired my talent, and had considerable talent himself. He was hands-on live-in support, financially, passionately and nurtured me for two years. With all that wonderful support, my star began to rise and I was invited to do Gallery shows. Just beginning to come into my own and that didn’t work either. He wanted a “little woman” to look after his needs first! And there was more than a little competitiveness that surfaced there! So we parted company. My take-away? Two years of uninterrupted productivity, oxytocin, and lack of financial worries, brought me closer to my artistic goals.
With the huge societal shift taking place, it is my hope that both female and male artists are able to come into their own more comfortably. I have observed that my male counterparts must also endure the stigma of being more sensitive, with stronger anima, in a testosterone male world. May we all be free to be our authentic selves without censure.
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Hierarchy of needs
by oliver, TX, USA
What turns you on and excites you may have something to do with where you are in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow, a fairly well known widely-cited psychologist hypothesized a hierarchy of needs. (Google Maslow hierarchy of needs chart and you will get over 14k responses and there has been many variations of the classic produced over time. Here is just one of the charts identified by Google.
Thinking about this chart, as an artist and an art buyer, I believe is useful for an artist. (Think about art and art collecting from the buyer’s perspective to know your customer — always a good idea.)
From an artist’s perspective creation of art generally comes in at the esteem and self-actualization levels of the hierarchy, but of course some people find that creation of art is useful for attracting sexual intimacy — but for many, especially when starting out, not so good as employment.
For the collector, unless you are dealing in well established investment grade art, buying and collecting art doesn’t start fitting into the hierarchy until esteem or self-actualization. In some cases artists are helping the collectors express their creativity by providing things to decorate their dwelling, though this can slip into the more fundamental need of respect by others — it’s nice to have friends and family say what a nice place you have or what a great collection of art you have.
Thinking some more and overlaying religion and religious/totemic or teaching art into the mix and you may get some notion of more fundamental needs being addressed. Used broadly, teaching and religious art can be about the hunt, praying for rain, following the ten commandments, dietary restrictions (many were very sound in bronze age times), and teaching the values of home hearth safety of the tribe, etc. So a still life of fruit may appeal to the collector at only very high levels of the hierarchy of needs while sex attracts at the most fundamental levels — not a particularly astounding proposition. It’s used in many of our advertisements: the car advertisement with the pretty/handsome model. Buy the car, attract a mate and the esteem of others. Overlay a little Carl Jung or mythology and collective or cultural symbols and you can start to understand and manipulate the messages contained in your art to appeal to the buyers and increase the appreciation of your work on an intellectual level.
The trick, of course, once you go down this path, is to not lose the passion and fluidity of the raw inspiration and start producing over-intellectual but stiff sterile art, which is a personal criticism I have of much Christian religious art of the Middle Ages.
The gift of motivation
by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA
As someone who has taught art to people of all ages, I came to realize long ago that motivation is often a far greater gift than talent. There are scads of people walking around who have a huge amount of artistic talent, but do they ever use it? What good is it doing them or anyone else if they don’t? No one ever had to motivate me to practice drawing. I just did so since I was a young child, because I loved it so much! I have many memories of creating animals out of sticks, stones, paper and other materials. No one bought me kits or anything special, I just used whatever I could get my hands on to make anything that popped into my head. I have heard a similar version of that story over and over from countless other professional artists. Our motivation comes from within because creating art is what we find so fulfilling and exciting!
There are times when our motivation needs to come from outside factors. Times such as when we have gone through a difficult rejection or when a painting just isn’t working well, or when we are over stressed with outside obligations; it is during such times that I have learned to allow myself some down-time, if it is at all possible. A break from the easel for a matter of hours or a few days usually is all it takes to get my motivation back nowadays. But when I was a young mother, running a home business and caring for my three young children 24/7, I packed my oils paints away for several years. So there are times in life when we have to make choices. But artists will always be motived to do whatever they can to allow themselves the pleasure of following their passion.
Turtle modus operandi
by Patricia Peterson, New York, NY, USA
Motivation — the desire to experience the manifestation of personal circumstances not currently in existence; persistent visualization of a situation previously unknown to the individual possibly stemming from the idealization of past experience or remarkable results garnered by others’ efforts.
Whether the outcome is a betterment may not come to fruition, hence, be careful what you wish for — motivation does not include having looked at all angles of the desired outcome to know it is likely to mitigate more troubles than it brings. For this reason, I personally suspect the turtle modus operandi may be more popular in practice than the rabbit, as the rabbit mode is generally more sensational and therefore more newsworthy up to and sometimes after the crash and burn portion of the tale of success.
Enjoy the past comments below for What turns you on?…
oil painting, 20 x 20 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Norah Bolton of Toronto, ON, Canada, who wrote, “This letter reminded me of something a mentor and colleague observed recently in terms of motivation: ‘If people did what they loved to do rather than what they thought they should do, the world might be a better place.’ ”