Posts Tagged ‘motivation’

If you read my title and got offended, you’re not reading it right, but at least you’re here, please read on. I saw it again on social media and it was maddening. A friend posted a study showing the correlation between making music and brain development in children. I used to work for a music education non-profit and one of the things I struggled with was the felt need to associate the study of music with other things, mainly increased test scores. Even though I understood the need to quantify things, and I didn’t hold it against the teachers, it always bothered me that teaching kids to make music wasn’t enough for some people in our culture. People acted as music in and of itself didn’t have enough value. Whatever happened to art for art’s sake?

Well (pardon the pun) I’ve changed my tune somewhat. I now question if art for art’s sake even exists. Think about it. Do people really make art just for the sake of making art, or is there something more? I mean at the very least, people make art to express something that’s going on inside them, or to comment on something in our world. As such, their work isn’t art for art’s sake, the work has a greater purpose, art for expression’s sake. At the moment I am wearing a shirt that shows the work of one of my favorite artists, Jim Henson’s Kermit the Frog. His early work with Sesame Street could be argued to be art for education’s sake and his later work was art for the sake of entertainment, communication, and sometimes art for the sake of provoking thought. Many artists do similar things. Even abstractionists usually often make their nonrepresentational work to convey emotion. Of course there are also those who do their work for the sake of commerce, and I refuse to put them down. I have taken projects at times solely for the money and I say that without apology. Everything in the arts costs money and those projects made possible other work that I otherwise could no have afforded to do.

So I don’t know if there’s art for art’s sake, so instead I determined to do (as much as is possible) art for Christ’s sake. After all, at the end of the day, He gave us this ability for that purpose. Our gifts and talents have been entrusted to us largely for the purpose of knowing Him and making Him known. Think about it. In making us creative, God gives us a small glimpse of what it’s like to be Him, in a small way calling into being that which was not. With these gifts we can spur one another on to love and good deeds, we can communicate the Gospel. We can express God’s love to the people around us. We can give the world a glimpse of His glory. So whatever you do, whatever your discipline, check your motivation. Ask yourself why you do what you do and then make art for Christ’s sake.


There was a time when that question struck fear into the hearts of every young man on a first date. The father would look you in the eye and ask “What are your intentions…” Truthfully I have not ever had to face that question down in the dating world, but it’s a question I ask myself nearly every time I create. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with doing art for art’s sake, but as a Christian creative, I usually have a larger purpose behind what I create. I think these questions will help us focus our creative efforts:

What’s my motivation? We’ve probably all seen the movies and TV shows where some obnoxious actor will ask “What’s my motivation?” They always sound pompous when they say it but there is a valid point behind the question. What he’s really asking is “How should I be reacting in this situation? What is the stimulus that causes the action?” And so it is with our work. What is motivating you to create this piece? What do you want it to accomplish? Knowing why we are creating will help us to create with greater focus and help us to edit and filter the creation.

Who is this for? I truly believe that art is a gift we give to the world. Oh maybe only one person (or in some cases no one) will actually pay for it, but everyone who sees it should receive something from it. That being said we buy different gifts for different people. A gift I would give my nearly two-year old grandson is different than what I would give to my wife. Knowing who I am creating for helps me to zero in on how to create the piece of work, especially in the case of work designed to communicate a message (like the Gospel) or something focused on outreach. Different people are reached in different ways. It’s always been that way. “Who is this designed to reach?” is another way of asking this question. We need to create creations that fit our intended recipients while the rest of the world is also free to look in.

What do I want to accomplish?
Of course this could be followed up with the more important question, “What does God want this to accomplish?” The idea is the simple, we create to induce a reaction. How do we want others to react to what we have created? What do we want them to do as a result of seeing or experiencing this creation? What emotions to we want to trigger? How do we want them to feel? A great way to get a handle on all of this is to go to the greeting card aisle at your local store. Notice the different kinds of art created on the different cards. Some are serious, some are funny, some are touching, but all are trying to touch the emotions in some way. The best art does that. It makes us feel.

These three questions and all the related ones will help us all to be better more focused and as a result more effective creatives. What are your intentions is a great way of finding out why we are doing what we’re doing.

Now go create intentionally!

Well by now a lot of you know, I am not a big fan of snow. I know God is a great artist and he has good reasons for snow, and it is very pretty but I much prefer when he works in his green palette. This year in this part of Pennsylvania, we had very little snow, as a matter of fact we had quite a few days in February where it was near 70 degrees. It was awesome, but now… this…

We are in blizzard conditions, the snow is falling horizontally and piling up in huge drifts. It’s pretty wild out there right now. It seems like we were on a snow diet all winter long and now as we near Spring it’s time for a “snow binge.” It reminded me of an important concept for all of us. The concept of moderation.

So often, in our creative lives we have ebbs and flows, times where we’re blocked and times where we can’t create enough and in both those times, moderation is a key. I have a feeling the reason we get blocked is because we burn out in the times of inspiration. The thing is neither of these things is good. Creative block can be mentally and Spiritually agonizing, but those times of creative excess can be times when we don’t do our best stuff because we just feel so busy. We need moderation.

It’s this simple, your body and mind need rest. There seems to be this “make hay while the sun shines mentality that comes with creative booms. We have to create when we have the inspiration because we’ve all been through those inspiration famines and as soon as I thought of that term, I got the solution. In the Bible during times of famine, there was usually one option, starve and hope you make it through to the next bumper crop, but then we hear from a guy names Joseph. God showed him a famine was coming and told him what to do, and as a result, he not only went from a slave, to the second most powerful person in the most powerful nation on earth at the time, but he also saved many lives including the lives of God’s chosen people. The answer was simple. Save up in times of plenty so that you have something for the times of famine.

When you are in those times if inspiration plenty, what if you saved up some of that inspiration for times when inspiration is lacking? It’s fairly easy to do. You just need a notebook, a sketchbook or some kind of electronic device to store the ideas. Then when the ideas are sparse, you just refer back to them and keep right on going. This is really just good stewardship and faithfulness. After all maybe the reason you’re blocked is because you haven’t followed through on something God gave you.

The bottom line is if we work in moderation, we’ll be healthier and more creative, doing better quality work and we’ll (at least theoretically) never run out of ideas. Well out to shove up some of this snow. There’s more coming, but I don’t want to have to move it all at once. See that, I’m practicing moderation.

It used to drive me crazy. I would go to my son’s school chorus concerts and I could tell the teacher put a lot of heart and soul into getting a good performance out of the 80 plus students on the stage. Then I would go to his community theater performances and see what seemed to be twice the sound coming out of a dozen people. What was the difference? I maintain it probably has to do with “have to versus want to.” Many of those 80 students in that large school group were there because they wanted a grade or perhaps someone pressured them into joining the group and once they were in they had to be there. The community theater, was completely volunteer, the only real benefits being the satisfaction of a job well done, applause and personal growth. With few exceptions, every person on that stage was their because they wanted to be there and they almost always shined. That’s the power of motivation.

Now please don’t misunderstand me, there are things you and I have to do, and we should bring our best to everything, even the “have to’s” of life, but they rarely hold a candle to our “want to’s.” The key then is to find a way to spend most of life in your “want to’s;” the place where your passions align with your gifts. These are the most satisfying places in life and I would argue the places where you will best excel.

There is one other thing to consider. Passion is contagious. Share it well and you can turn a gifted person’s “have to” into a “want to.” It’s not always easy and it starts with finding another person’s gift and showing them the excitement you bring to what you do. For me, art has always been a “want to.” Speaking by way of comparison was a definite “have to,” for most of the first half of my life I avoided it like the plague. It terrified me.

What changed was pretty simple. I met some folks who were passionate about sharing the Gospel, pastors and believers. They started off by showing me that I could use my “want to” of art to serve the Lord, then they slowly began to nudge me into speaking, a skit here, a lesson there. People connecting with the Gospel became a passion for me, and I began to see that in order to share the Gospel, speaking was a component of that. I began to find ways to speak that worked for me while people gently challenged me and opened doors for me. Today speaking is a passion of mine. This represents a radical life transformation and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Have to’s” can be turned into “want to’s” by passionate people who care enough to bring it out of people and show them the way. It almost always starts with the “want to’s,” with passion and gifting spilling over into other areas of life. When you’re passionate enough to do what it takes, we’ll do almost anything to make it happen. That’s the power of motivation.

If you’re like most people, especially creatives, you have probably come to a point of discouragement. The things we create may not attract the attention we think they deserve, critics slam them, we get another rejection letter, and on and on. It’s enough to make you question why you do what you do.

We’re certainly not in it for the money. For every person who has a raging success there are a thousand (maybe a million) who labor in anonymity. You start to look at your peers who have taken an easier path and you start to get a little envious. Some days it’s hard not to.

Here’s what you need to remember. You’re not in this for the money, critical acclaim or anything else. You’re in this because it is what you were created to do. Sure you could do something easier, but would you be fulfilled? Most people aren’t. You have the unique opportunity to bring your dreams to reality and share them with the world. You have the power to do profound good with what you have. Add to that the component of faith, doing what you do to the glory of God and you start to understand the reason why you do what you do.

A wise man once said, “The glory of God is a man fully alive.” and that’s why you do what you do. It makes you feel alive.

I hear far too many creatives talking about waiting for their big break. That is exactly the opposite of what you should be doing. Shows like The Voice and American Idol, give the idea that you need to wait to be picked, let the people vote and the big voice wins. Well there soon won’t be any more American Idols and only one person can win The Voice each season, but that’s not the way to get discovered. Back before all these things existed, people got discovered by starting a band, perfecting their craft and playing in any fleabag and dive that would take them. They honed their talents by sharing them with the world. That’s still the way to do it. Whether you’re a musician, an artist or whatever else you do, the key is to create and share what you create, building your following, or fanbase or whatever you call it and keeping at it, while the people who love what you do help you to spread the word.

The good news is, it’s easier than ever before. With the advent of the web you can get your work out there for the world to see for almost no cost. From there, it’s just a matter of making it stand out, making it get attention. Making it the best, most authentic work you can create. Don’t wait to be picked, put yourself out there.

The other thing to consider is this. Most of the greatest musicians the world has ever seen never would have won a reality show. Their voices aren’t flawless, their look isn’t polished. In this image is everything world, their image would not have hit enough of the masses. What they had instead was authenticity. They touched a nerve. They had a message. They resonated with hearts and minds and hit us where we live. They showed us their best selves and we connected. You don’t have to win a reality show to be an artist, you have to make art, and you have to be motivated enough to fight through the critics and share your best with the world.

The real question for you dear artist, is how bad do you want it?

Are you motivated enough to do what it takes?

a good question
I don’t know Billy Cox, but this meme is spot on. If you’re not making moves toward your goals… today is a good day to make a change. We’re either moving toward our goals or away from it.

Where are you headed?