Artistic motivation: finding your why in a world that devalues art

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Making art is hard. Like, really hard. Building a career in the arts is also incredibly difficult. Society needs art–everyone wants TV, books, paintings–but no one wants to pay for it, and so many artists are constantly receiving the message that their work is frivolous, a pipe dream, or not a real career. When all this is happening, how are we supposed to have artistic motivation?

If you’re an artist, regardless of your medium, you’re a self-starter. Society isn’t telling you to write a novel, produce a short film, record an album, or try your hand at sculpting. Sure, there may be individual people in your life sending you that message, but that’s not the societal message. You’re a self-starter because you took the time to pour your blood, sweat, and tears into something you care about. You had an internal sense of artistic motivation. Today we’re going to explore the concept of artistic motivation; what makes you want to create and how you stay motivated when it’s a struggle.

Finding your why

Do you ever wonder why people run marathons, even though there are great health benefits to running or even walking shorter distances? As a casual runner, the answer seems clear to me. For some people, it’s just the joy of moving their body. For others, it’s because they genuinely enjoy the feeling of accomplishment, of taking on something difficult and seeing it through. Others want the glory; the cheering crowds at the finish line, adding another medal to their collection. Some want to prove to themselves or to others that they’re strong and capable. For a lot of people, I think it’s a combination of all of those things, and, of course, there are many more reasons for running a marathon that I’m not listing here. Creating art–specifically, creating a long-term artistic practice or a career in the arts–is not dissimilar to running a marathon. Even if you’re picturing the amazing feeling you’ll get when you cross the finish line, the truth is, most of running a marathon is the training that comes beforehand. The drills you do, the time you take out of your weekend for your long run, the grueling miles where you’re tired but there’s no end in sight, and certainly no cheering crowds. A life in the arts is the same. There’s no guarantee of payoff, but we show up day after day, month after month, and create.

 The first thing I think about when considering my own artistic motivation is why I want to create art. Some artists have one clear, concise reason for creating, but I find most people have a lot of little things that add up to a desire–or a need–to create art. Take some time to think about why you want to create art. Here is a list of some common reasons, but maybe spend some time journaling about this question and see what does and doesn’t resonate with you. Maybe your reason for artistic motivation isn’t on this list at all.

Maybe you make art because…

  • You have a story you want to tell or idea you want to express
  • You experienced something you want to share with the world
  • You want to help people who have had experiences similar to yours
  • Art has helped you out and you want to pay it forward
  • You feel an intrinsic need to create something
  • You feel art gives your life purpose or meaning
  • You want to preserve history or culture
  • You want better representation in art
  • You are naturally good at your art form
  • You enjoy studying and improving your craft
  • You enjoy working on your art, it relaxes or invigorates you
  • You don’t want to work a typical 9-5 job in an office
  • Someone told you that you can’t make art and you want to prove them wrong
  • Someone told you that you CAN make art and you want to prove them right
  • You think your art can make you money

Do any of these resonate with you? Why or why not? What would you add to this list? Spend some time thinking about your why. It will help you harness your creativity and sense of artistic motivation.

What feeds your sense of artistic motivation?

Once you have a sense of why you create, we can move on to HOW to create. Lassoing your sense of artistic motivation and learning what makes you feel creative, inspired, and ready to do your best work. Let’s start with the first bullet point: you have a story you want to tell or an idea you want to express. I think a lot of artists have this internal sense that they have something special within them and they want to share it with the world. That’s a wonderful jumping off point. If this is the core of your why, maybe you can take a few minutes each day before you work on your art to reflect on this. Spend some time with questions like “who is out there in the world that needs my art” and “what will my target audience gain from this piece” and “what do I gain from telling this story?” Even just spending two minutes reflecting on this question may get you ready to work. And it’s okay if your answers aren’t that deep; if you’re writing a comedy and your goal is simply to make people laugh, that’s wonderful. There doesn’t need to be some dark, traumatic backstory to bring out a sense of artistic motivation in you.

One thing I like to do is spend some time imagining a future world where I’ve completed my piece and I’m sharing it with the world. I write novels, and as many of you know, it takes months or even years to write a novel, let alone revise, send to agents and editors, and eventually publish. On days when I don’t want to write, or I’m struggling with a plot problem that’s driving me crazy, or I don’t know how I am going to write one more word, I picture myself, years in the future, holding my book. I picture what it will be like when people see it in a bookstore, when people are reading it. This makes me feel more motivated, like all the blood, sweat, and tears are eventually going to be worth it. Maybe your moment of victory, your “crossing the finish line” is as simple as showing your painting to your partner, or watching your short film and knowing that you created something beautiful. Anything that makes you feel like eventually you’ll get there and makes you feel a sense of motivation is perfect for this.

Another trick I like to use to increase my sense of artistic motivation is to give myself deadlines. It’s amazing how much more productive and motivated I am when I have a sense of urgency. Maybe you want to create a painting each week, finish your short story in a month, or wrap production on your short film before the new year. Don’t stretch yourself too thin, but create a deadline that is just slightly uncomfortable for you and then make it happen. I even like to plan a reward that I get for hitting my deadlines.

These are two things that make me feel motivated to work. Other things include lighting a nice candle only when I’m working on my art, having an accountability buddy (I have a group chat that hears all the ups and downs of my publishing process), or developing a mantra that you repeat when you’re not in the mood to work. Make a list of things that make you feel calm, productive, and ready to work. Then figure out how you can use those things to keep yourself on track and focused. 

Get started now

If you’re looking for a sign to get started, stop waiting around, or find ways to increase your sense of artistic motivation, this is it. The world needs your art as only you can make it, and it’s time to focus up and get going. If you need inspiration or support, look through the rest of my articles, check out our digital products, and don’t hesitate to reach out on my Instagram! I can’t wait to see what you create.

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Author

Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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