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Finding Your True Motivation

by Lori Woodward Simons on 4/22/2009 8:10:53 AM

This Post is by Lori Woodward Simons, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  Find out how you can be a guest author.

Let's just suppose for a moment that you have been granted to make a million dollars next year working at whatever you want.  Now there are a couple of strings attached to this statement:  One is that you would have to work hard at it, and two - it could only be one thing.

Now, please don't pick the question apart -- it's hypothetical, and I have a good reason for presenting it -- to help you discover what is your true motivation for making the artwork that you do.

I've observed that some successful artists have built their careers with income as their highest motivator, while denying themselves the pleasure of doing what they love to do. I personally know a few portrait artists who enjoy the income but not the process. A couple of them even feel trapped. But I also know some portraitists who adore their careers, so an artist's satisfaction really depends on where his or her motivation lies.

We artists, who are currently emerging, are in a great place because we are yet free to chose our aesthetic paths. How wonderful it would be if we could make a decent living at something we love doing rather than just for the money.

So... if I were offered a guarantee that I would make a million dollars in 2009 doing whatever I wish to do - as long as it were one thing, and I worked very hard at it, what would that one thing be? How I answer this question will make all the difference in how much I enjoy my career and life in the long run.

For those of us who consider ourselves to be Fine Artists, and not Commercial artists - taking time to think about the answer might determine where we are along the "fine" or "commercial" continuum. After all, doesn't the very definition of "fine artist" mean one who follows their heart, paints for themselves. develops their work according to their own vision rather than at the request of a potential buyer or art director? I'm not at all saying there is anything wrong with being a commercial art - my father was a commercial artist, as was my grandfather, and they made very good money at it. However, don't most of us here - reading this now want to be successful as Fine artists?

Too often, we artists get confused about what to focus on because of our need to make money.  I know I do. In the back of my mind, I'm always wondering about some would-be collector, putting myself into their shoes,(even though these people are figments of  my imagination) and speculating as to why or why not they'd want to buy the painting I'm working on. In economic downturns, some of us have a tendency to fall into more of a commercial mindset - trying to guess at what is sure to sell.

There is one thing that I have observed about art collectors - especially those who take it seriously. They buy artwork that is beautiful - no matter the subject. The subject matter is often secondary to the fact that it is exquisitely made. I've never heard any collector say, "I only buy paintings that match my sofa", or "I don't buy landscapes unless they have flowers in them".

So next time someone advises you by saying, "If you'd just put some flowers in your landscapes, I know they'd sell faster" - first determine if putting flowers in your painting is what you want to see there. Andrew Wyeth never listened to anyone but his internal artistic voice. He didn't even paint like his father. How much guts did that take? He gained a wide following by painting his friends - who were homely and eccentric. He revealed  his heart in his paintings. If he made a great living doing that, then what is holding us back from being our true artistic selves?

Getting back to the original question: You're guaranteed to make a million at anything you work at for the next year. How would you answer?  Of course, I can't answer for you, but this I can say - loving what you do will get you through the tough, dry times - because being able to solve difficult problems - is a bitter, but essential part of the recipe for success. You can and should expect there to be times when you feel like giving up... even when you love your job.

If you're just doing it for the money alone, you may continue to succeed, but at what price? It is so much more satisfying (and healthy) to succeed at doing what you love.


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Related Posts:

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A Simple Definition of Great Painting

Pure Art or Selling Out to Commercialism

Choose Your Rut Carefully

Your Personal Definition of Success

Topics: Art Commentary | Creativity and Inspiration 

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Lisa Mozzini-McDill
via web
I like what Lori had to say. However, what if I love doing more than just one thing? Why do I have to limit myself to just plein air or just portraits? I love to paint and I love many subject matters. For me it is about the shapes, colors and light whether it be a landscape or figure. I enjoy switching from one to the other and the challenge of it. I know that some advise to really "make it" or become a master you must concentrate on one thing. You must stand out from the crowd and be known for a certain style or subject matter. Specializing in one thing seems to take away the freedom of being a Fine Artist for me. I did work in commercial art and to me the joy of being a Fine Artist is the freedom to paint what you want.
On the practical side, sometimes we need to paint a commission or make some money in order to have the freedom to be a Fine Artist. I don't think you have to "sell out" in order to make money. Even when doing commercial art I would want to make it my own and my best because I still consider it Art.

Elayne Kuehler
This is great! I love it! What a help! I really believe the things that inspire us to paint the most comes through in the painting! and makes the painting sing! Thanks, I really love it! Enlightening!

Santiago Perez
What a shot of inspiration in the arm! Thank you for your excellent post. I have been struggling with this for many years. I am a software architect and for years now I've been trying to get out of IT and of course being a natural artist always looking for ways to substitute my income with my artwork. Back in 2003 I left a six figure salary position with a fortune 100 company to follow my heart. Unfortunately, I was not well prepared and dove into the wrong realm of art that I had not lived before. See as a teenager I was airbrushing motorcycles and cars and turned away from it when my I got married and had my son to persue a career in IT to make the "big" money. 10 years later and after my divorce I decided to pick up the airbrush again and I was hooked. Started painting a few motorcycles here and there and before you new it I had a waiting list. I decided to take the leap and lasted 8 months for two reasons. One, pointing back to Lisa Mozzini-McDill 's comment, I did not diversify my services enough to take advantage of opportunities when they arose that were outside of my main focus. Two, I had very high overhead with child support. Since I have gone back into the corporate world once again in order to live a stress-free life as far as finances go. But I'm not happy! I have converted my garage into an art studio, purchased a small trailer, tent and panels gearing up for festival season. I am still working on my first body of work but I too am always thinking about what someone else may be looking for in a painting rather than my own vision. I have a small sketch book of ideas that I carry with me and it is loaded with rough drafts of ideas for paintings that reflect my struggles in life as a man, the rat race, family etc. Your article has inspired me to bring those ideas to life.

Thank you!


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