On Art & Motivation


On Motivation, Making Art, and the Pressure for Productivity.

This was a originally a comment I made on Reddit in response to a post about "motivation" in the realm of art, but I really like it as a stand-alone message itself. So I'm copying it here.

Consider reading that original post, and some of the comments, for context.


"I'm not in the mood to draw" says the person who wants to become a Successful Artist

-- u/Gaddammitkyle on Reddit

My Response

I honestly think the whole "motivation/just do it" conversation is totally poisoned by the hyper-capitalistic "sleep is for the weak / I breathe coffee and snort productivity" hustle culture that is slowly killing us all. It's impossible to address issues of motivation for a single individual without talking about the world around us -- the things that lead us to feel pressured into hyper-productivity in the first place.

I don't think just forcing yourself though a task when you are feeling miserable about it is always the right thing to do. If anything, that's a surefire way to make yourself more stressed. If you've got this black cloud surrounding you and your feelings about doing art, there's probably a reason for that. It's something that needs to be addressed.

What exactly is the reason that is keeping you from making the artwork you want to make? Well, there are hundreds of reasons, and your answer might vary a lot from my answer.

Speaking for myself, something that I realized had been keeping me in that rut in the past was a vague "private" sense about my own art. What I mean by that is, that I often just didn't feel any internal drive to share my work. I did art just "for me" and thus when I finished something, it just kinda went into a folder and stayed there.

And that's perfectly fine if that is your goal, and art is merely a personal hobby for you. But I wanted to do more with my work.

What helped me change that, was changing my thought pattern/perspective on what art could be. I tried to think of it less as a "personal" experience and more of a "social" experience.

And further on that point: actually do the actions necessary to turn art into a social experience. "Social" in this context meaning: to get yourself out of that "day-dreaming" pattern and more into a "talking about work you want to do" pattern.

For example, if you're sitting on your couch day-dreaming about art but not feeling motivated, and yourself is the only thing motivating you towards whether you're gonna binge anime or work on art... you're gonna be much more likely to blow yourself off, because its easy for human beings to break "promises" to ourselves. Thoughts that stay in our head, often don't amount to anything.

By verbalizing your intentions to a friend, that simple social action turns your "day-dreaming" into "a promise" -- and once we tell someone we're gonna do something, we are much more likely to follow through, because human beings naturally do not like to be seen as or thought of as liars or promise-breakers. We naturally strive for good-standing in our social circles, and this means keeping to our word.

So essentially, verbalizing your intentions to work on an art piece triggers a sort of psychological trick -- you've externalized that "thought" into a sort of "social contract." Now the completion of your art piece isn't 100% hinged on your internal emotional whims, but also on the social bond you've created by making a promise to another person. They might want to see it completed too! They might even ask you how's your progress on the piece, further incentivizing you to finish.

This is what I meant by breaking the habit of viewing my own art process as merely a "private/personal" affair, and transforming it into a social one -- and that means not just sharing the final complete pieces with a few people, or on Twitter or something -- but making the entire process a social process from the start. Involve other people in your work flow.

And the best way to start is to simply talk about what you're working on, and make those intentions "social" in a sense.

So, what's something you're working on right now? Something specific. Tell us!

And if you don't have anything specific you're working on, I can give you a quick challenge that might get you motivated:

Have you ever drawn an elephant before? Try drawing an elephant from memory, without a reference. When you're done, try drawing a second one with a photo reference, and compare the two. See the differences between your imagination of an elephant, versus your observations of one.

Maybe make it interesting, and give the elephant zebra stripes, or some sort of pattern that no real-world elephant has. Maybe something unnatural, like a plaid or checker pattern -- see how the lines bend around it's body.

I wanna see those elephants!

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2021.03.31 2023.03.08 003