[Publisher’s Note: This week’s post is penned by Lori Woodward. She is a terrific artist and writer. She also is a good friend to me and the fine art community. See her bio at the bottom of this post.]
I’m a procrastinator, and sometimes I require external motivation (a deadline) to finally get a task done. While that approach works, it’s rather painful. Why do I choose to work in panic-mode when I could work a little every day in a state of bliss by working a little at a time and loving every minute of it?
I’ve been reading 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 things done while in a state FLOW… a pleasurable experience that feels similar to being in love.
Now, stay with me here… I’m a realistic painter and believe in academic training and self-discipline. I’m not talking about lack of effort or knowledge, but am talking about how to get to your “genius” work, which combines training with intuition and experimentation.
Some call this state of mind, The Zone, but whatever you call it, I’m willing to bet you’ve experienced it. 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 euphoria or dream-state.
Again, it feels akin to being in love, and while that idea may seem ludicrous to academics, feelings of love release Oxytocin, and it’s impossible to release Oxytocin and feel fear at the same time. (yes, there are studies; no I’m not going to look them up right now).
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).
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. Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking the study was flawed, and all studies are somewhat flawed, but the point I gained is that fear of criticism sometimes paralyzes artists.
When we work with fear of judgment, our brains are lack intuition. Worry shuts off the hormone Oxytocin – a chemical that gets released when we feel unconditional love and compassion towards ourselves or others.
McGuinness, the author of the book, advises creatives to avoid thinking about sales, competition, or marketing during your 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! That said, extrinsic motivation rarely contributes to us doing our best art.
McGuinness suggests that we separate the 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. Rather, focus on how to get the work to market and sold.
I recently saw a quote by Chuck Close on Facebook. I wondered if he really did say it, but then I watched a panel discussion online where Chuck reiterated the quote almost word for word. He basically said, “Amateurs wait for inspiration. Professionals just get to work.” He went on to say that creative solutions appear only in the midst of doing the work.
He repeats the quote in this CBS Sunday Morning “Notes to Younger Self” series. He follows it with this one:
I’m reminded of a mentor who once told me, “It’s hard to steer a car if you don’t have your foot on the gas pedal.”
Cognitive theory scientists are at a loss to explain exactly how creativity comes about. They know the right hemisphere lights up when an idea occurs, but they are not sure exactly 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 time. Language turns off the intuitive right brain function.
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 perform, or “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”…