What Motivates Artists?

November 30, 2010

I speak a lot. I write a lot. I have been in entrepreneurial endeavors for the longest time as I still am today. I appreciate art but I cannot even draw a straight line with the help of a ruler. I like colors. I like paintings. I like going to museums and appreciate the works of the masters and I have always wondered what motivates painters to paint.

Maybe painters and other artists ask themselves the same question too. What motivates a speaker to speak or a writer to write? Do speakers speak for money? Of course they do but being paid to speak and speaking for the mere fulfillment of it even without being paid is certainly not correlated to the amount of professional fees one gets.

Why do writers write? Is it for the money? I don’t think so. You cannot make a lot of money just writing in this country. This is why most writers I know do a lot of income-generating activities on the side. The irony is when artists and writers are asked to do paid work; the happiness and motivation may not be in the pay alone. Rational, left-brained, analytical and logical thinking business people could never understand this. I do but I just can’t put a finger on it until I came across Daniel Pink’s book early this year. And it all made sense.

Pink says “a study of artists over a long period shows that a concern for outside rewards might actually hinder eventual success.”  And then he supports his view with an actual case.

In the early 1960s, researchers surveyed sophomores and juniors at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago about their attitudes toward work and whether they were more intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. Using these data as a benchmark, another researcher followed up with these students in the early 1980s to see how their careers were progressing. Among the starkest findings, especially for men: “The less evidence of extrinsic motivation during art school, the more success in professional art both several years after graduation and nearly twenty years later.”  Painters and sculptors who were intrinsically motivated, those for whom the joy of discovery and the challenge of creation were their own rewards, were able to weather the tough times—and the lack of remuneration and recognition—that inevitably accompany artistic careers. And that led to yet another paradox in the Alice in Wonderland world of the third drive. “Those artists who pursued their painting and sculpture more for the pleasure of the activity itself than for extrinsic rewards have produced art that has been socially recognized as superior,” the study said. “It is those who are least motivated to pursue extrinsic rewards who eventually receive them.” Rewarded subjects often have a harder time seeing the periphery and crafting original solutions.

This is the reason why the material rewards I get from training, speaking and facilitating workshops are great and they give me good income. But when I see the effects the training has on the participants, when they send me messages through email or Facebook telling me how much the training has impacted their lives, the fulfillment and motivation to do more is actually bigger than the motivation derived from the fees alone.

Now this is the strangest thing of them all.

People ask me where I get the inspiration to inspire others. I get it from doing all those pro-bono talks for teachers, parents and students in schools all over the country. I thought about all these, read Daniel Pink’s book and then came up with this conclusion.

I have been called to do what I do. This is the purpose for my existence. My Creator has blessed me with this talent and He has given me the responsibility to use the same in inspiring people. The responsibility is heavy, the work is never done, the efforts to improve is demanding but the fulfillment and joy is there. This is why when people ask me this question: “Are you doing the talks for school pro-bono?”

I smile and my response is: “Not really. I am actually doing this pro-Deo.”

What about you? What motivates you in what you do?

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Albie Marco

    Mr. Kong, Silliman University students and teachers (particularly from the College of Business Administration) benefited from your generous heart. I remember one time when we invited you to speak and we wanted to pay for your hotel at the very least since you didn’t want us to pay for your airfare. We asked the front desk personnel of the hotel where you stayed that we’ll pay in advance whatever your hotel bill will be. When you checked out from the hotel, you demanded that the money paid be refunded to us since you insisted to pay your own hotel bill. Indeed, you did not only do it pro-bono, you did it pro-Deo. May God bless you more to inspire more people!

    1. Francis Kong

      That must have been a long time ago. I could not even remember it but thanks for dropping me a note.

  2. dudesweet

    i just thought of sharing this video clip to accompany this awesome article. This clip is also from Dan Pink. It’s pretty much a summary of his book (Drive), and is also animated so it’s kinda fun to watch. It pretty much opened my eyes on what really drives people. It’s not about monetary profit. It’s about transcendental purpose!


    1. Jonathan

      Thanks @dudesweet for the clip of Drive by Dan Pink.

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