What are the things that can be motivate us to paint? What gets us to the easel to work with the object of producing a work of art? Financial rewards, ambition, experimentation, even possibly the therapeutic value of painting.
Let’s look at financial rewards, in there are two ways this can be our motivation to paint: either we’re working to commission or on a piece with the only object in mind being to sell it. To my mind this is the hardest way to paint if that really is all there is to it. A commission can be satisfying and pleasurable or it can be unbelievably hard, sometimes its brute force all the way, a rigid application of skill to force the painting out in an acceptable manner. In the latter case, to choose to paint a subject that does not excite you in any way just with the object of selling it, well...I wouldn’t bother, to do that makes art no different from any other nine to five job, what would be the point?
Ambition could certainly be a motivational force, without ambition how would we progress as artists? There would be nothing to get us over the rocky patches. Ambition is what keeps us being artists, I’ve never really believed in the modesty that some painters display about their work, if a painting’s on display then the artist has the ambition and self confidence to put it there. I must add that that’s not to say that I’m ever 100% satisfied with my work, if that ever happens then I know I’ll be in trouble. Experimentation can motivate us in much the same way as ambition can; they are linked in that without being ambitious we wouldn’t have the stones to experiment.
And therapeutic value? Well we wouldn’t paint if we didn’t enjoy it would we? I find that to just sit down and draw or paint, no pressure, just a subject that gives us pleasure to portray is a great way to relax and unwind. This doesn’t really fit the bill as motivational though, laudable though it is as an activity this is painting as a means rather than an ends. One can achieve good results through this but that’s not really the point, just a bonus.
There is of course something else that can motivate us, that element that means we can stand to our easel and the painting just flows out almost without effort? I’m talking, of course, about inspiration. We know inspiration when it occurs, whether it’s a scene, a photograph, another painter’s work, a piece of music, whatever it is it draws us in and motivates us. The joy of inspiration is that it can be tied in with other motivational forces, a commission isn’t always a dry exercise of skill, we can be inspired by the subject even if it isn’t one we have chosen. We can paint subjects that inspire us with the motivation of making money; again the combination is greater than the sum of its parts. Ambition & experimentation? How could these have any real worth as motivational forces without inspiration to be the catalyst? When inspiration is paired with any of these motivational elements our art is at its zenith, it’ll be the best of what our skill and talent can achieve at that time.