Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tools of the Trade: Motivation

Here are some things that might give you a little insight into why you create:

What is your end goal? When you create a piece of artwork, ask yourself what it is that you hope to achieve with it. For some it might be an immediate release, to express profound joy or to relieve stress. Others may take a longer viewpoint, hoping that their work will hang in a museum or become a highly collected item.

By looking at your end goal, you can take steps to make those dreams a reality. Maybe you need to protect a few hours for creating during a busy week to keep your equilibrium, perhaps you need to create a portfolio so you can start building your long term career.

Would you create this if money were not an issue? This is a big question to ask yourself. Some people can't get past the price tag - this can create a huge issue in regards to motivation.

If you are selling a ton (either because you have low prices or because you have hit a sweet spot) it is easy to feel like you are on a hamster wheel of produce.produce.produce. in order to keep the sales up. This can over extend you as an artist and lead to burn out or at the very least, repetitive, formulaic pieces.

If you are not selling much, this can be a huge blow to your ego as an artist. If you judge your work and find motivation purely from a sale - during tough economic times like these, your ability to weather the storm may not last long.

Would you create this if no one ever saw it? Showing your work can be a bit of a high, it is a great feeling to hear feedback from your clients, make money from something you love and hear the praise of your peers.

If you are creating solely so that they will respond to your work, it may be another form of motivation that doesn't take you through a dry spell.

The Internet is a HUGE place. It is pretty humbling to have good auctions with a decent amount of views and then suddenly *whammo* - no one there. Most people who follow your work go through cycles of paying attention. Sometimes they go away on vacation, get busy themselves or sometimes your work gets a bit rusty and they lose a bit of interest... whatever the reason, it may not be a good idea to depend too much on your numbers.

Does the act of creation bring you joy or satisfaction? Do you enjoy doing what you are doing? Not the end goal here, but the actual process. Can you find pleasure or release in expressing yourself with your artwork? If your answer is "no", then you probably really need to dig deeply into your motivations.

Creating artwork is a pretty unique thing - if you have developed your ability to the point where you are finding success in selling it to people who appreciate it, you probably loved doing it at some point. If you have reached a point where there is no enjoyment there, then how did you lose that?

So many people express a desire to be able to create like this. In some sense, it could be considered the equivalent to having a pair of wings and being able to fly - to be afraid of heights or to dislike being in the air would be an awful waste of that ability. If that were my situation, I would want to figure out why I couldn't make use of that somehow.

What do I do if I have the wrong motives? Loosen up. Don't take your artwork or yourself that seriously. I can remember being a pretentious teenager and not wanting to lift my finger to make a line that was out of character because I felt somehow it really mattered.

Years later I looked back at this time and discovered a few things. I repeated myself, I didn't practice much, my work was cold and stilted, and the pretension showed through.

If you are holding too tightly to your work, give it away. Donate it to charity, give it to a friend for a gift - bless someone else at no benefit to yourself. If that is too hard, cut your prices in half and have a sale. If you have a studio full of work and that bothers you - think about your motivation and change something (or else try to not let having a full studio bother you).

What do I do if I need new motivation? Loosen up - but in a different way. Play with technique, try a different medium - go take a weekend class. Dig out your sketchbook and make a point of spending 10 minutes a day brainstorming some ways to take your artwork to a new level. Sketch something different, time yourself on a sketch, go copy some great masters at the art gallery.

It can be so easy to lose sight of the end goal - keeping that in mind and constantly questioning your motives can really help your artistic life stay balanced and healthy!


Chris said...

Wow, what a fantastic post. I'm going to bookmark this and re-visit if/when I stumble on to these questions. Which, of course, is inevitable.

Seriously, thank you for this post!

Joanne said...

Thanks for the motivating post Michelle! you covered it all...

Anonymous said...

This is why I chose the word 'analyzing' for you - I always think you should be an art professor.