This article is by Lori Woodward, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. She is a member of the the Putney Painters, an internationally known group of a dozen artists who paint under the mentorship of Richard Schmid. Lori authored and illustrated step-by-step articles for Watercolor Magazine from 2007 to 2012. She has taught art marketing seminars at Scottsdale Artist School and at the 2012 Oil Painters of America national convention and show.
I’ve been reading a book about Motivation for Creative People: How to Stay Creative While Gaining Money, Fame, and Reputation by Mark McGuinness. It’s been a real life-changer, or I should say, work-changer, in that the book has taught me how to get painting done while in a state FLOW… a pleasurable experience that feels similar to being in love. Then when the creative side of me is finished, I take off the artist hat and put on my business hat, but I never mix the two types of work emotionally.
Getting in the Zone
Some call the creative state of mind, The Zone, but whatever you call it, I’m willing to bet you’ve experienced it. Clint Watson recently wrote a blogpost, The Maker's High, which describes this same phenomenon. Flow takes hold when you are so engrossed in a project, that time passes without noticing, the space and people around you no longer exist (to you), and you enter a type of euphoric dream-state. It's also when you're likely to do your best work. When you finish your creative session, you're amazed you had it in you to do such wonderful work.
Again, it feels akin to being in love. These feelings release the hormone, Oxytocin. Did you know, it's impossible to release Oxytocin and Adrenalin at the same time? (yes, there are studies). What this boils down to - you can't experience the zone while you're worried about selling your work or even when you're self-critiquing. In order to do your genius work, you'll need to let go of fear and worry while quietly letting your training and experience work intuitively. It's the same way an athlete, who has trained for years, puts it all together intuitively during the competition.
Back to Mark McGuinness’ book. His premise is that there are two types of motivation: Intrinsic and Extrinsic. His book is divided into two parts – the first delves into how creatives are initially motivated intrinsically (love and passion for their craft), while the second half of the book deals with extrinsic motivation (rewards, affirmation, marketing, income).
Creativity and Criticism
The first chapter cites a study where two groups of children are given drawing materials. The first group may draw anything they want, and the second group is told that their drawings will be judged by a panel of adults. Those who do well in the second group will be rewarded. The first group is not informed about any reward at all.
As you might have guessed, the first group (no rules) had the more engaging and imaginative drawings. The study was repeated several times with the same results. What it points out is that fear of criticism sometimes paralyzes artists. That's probably why artists rarely do their best work during a workshop they're taking... too much in the way of perceived competition among the students.
Turning Off Inner Head Chatter
McGuinness, advises creatives avoid thinking about sales, competition, or marketing during their creative time. I can hear you thinking, “But wait, don’t we need to make a living at this?”
Absolutely! That’s covered in the second half of the book: Extrinsic Motivation. Because rewards, selling our work, and even money to pay the bills motivates us too! But it is a different type of motivation than that while actually creating our art.
McGuinness suggests that we strive to separate these two types of motivation by time and space. When you’re in artist-mode, resist thinking about marketing, and when you’re marketing, don’t worry about whether your work is good enough... just put on the business hat and think like a business owner. It's almost as if the business person in you stops worrying about the art - almost as if another person created it. While doing business, take off the creative hat. While creating, take off the business hat and inner critic.
Cognitive theory scientists are at a loss to explain exactly how creativity works. They know the right hemisphere lights up when an idea occurs, but they are not sure exactly how the brain arrives at an idea. It’s almost as if it’s magic.
MRI scans have shown that left and right brain hemispheres never light up at the same time. Sure, these hemispheres can switch sides at great speeds, but never at the same mini-second.
There is certainly a time for training and practice for athletes and artists, but there should also be a time where the artist, after having practiced and experimented, can just “Go With The FLOW”.
Painters, who have had years of training and experience, can do amazing things while in the zone/flow. Just like the figure skater, who practices daily, can just “go for it” during a competition without much apparent effort. “She makes it look so easy”…
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