ArtLex Art Dictionary

Motivation - Giving a reason or incentive to achieve something. The interest in or enthusiasm to make the effort to achieve something. The biological, emotional, cognitive, or social forces that move and direct behavior.

Motivation increases an individual's energy and activity level. It directs an individual toward particular goals. It promotes initiation of particular activities and persistence in those activities. It affects the learning strategies and cognitive processes an individual employs.

Sources of motivation can be either extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic motivations come from outside of the person and a task to be performed, can be superficially effective, and typically require repetition to be effective. Intrinsic motivations come from witin an individual and a task to be performed, are apt to result in greater willingness, and are more apt to have long-lasting effectiveness.

Everyone has motivations to attain success and to avoid pain, often via food, exercise, rest, shelter, parental care, sex, and aggression —  needed behaviors established either genetically or by training which help to insure our survival. Although the need for money comes as a result of several of these motivations, it can help to satisfy a host of others on many levels.


Artists, students, educators, collectors, gallery and museum people —  like every other organism in the world —  have reasons for doing what they do. Although much scientific study has been done on animals and humans at biological and psychological levels, much of which might be useful background to readers of ArtLex, this article will focus on motivational issues for people in the artworld.

Operating on several levels is the motivation for new stimulation —  variously called exploration, curiosity, or arousal-seeking. This is one of several strong motivators in the artworld. Typical of artists' needs are the ones to produce and exhibit the work. Although artists, like everyone else, thrive on praise and financial rewards, many artists  are drawn to their work even more by satisfactions that come from expressing their creative ideas. This can truly be living one's dreams. Some are drawn to the various physical activities or sensory input that comes from working with various materials, tools, colors, forms, allegories, etc., but more artists cite inner satisfactions than outer ones. Although an artist's activities may well be driven by inspiration, more typically they advance from one decision to the next, to the next, . . . . in the expectation that some of an artist's later decisions are better than some previous ones.


The self-control of motivation is increasingly understood as a subset of emotional intelligence; a person may be highly intelligent according to a more conservative definition (as measured by many intelligence tests), yet unmotivated to dedicate this intelligence to certain tasks.


How to motivate others? Although avoidance of pain is a powerful motivator, it has been shown to produce much less desirable results than the lure of success. The studies most often cited are those by such behavioral psychologists as Ivan Pavlov (Russian, 1849-1936) and B. F. Skinner (American, 1904-1990), who found that rewards (called "positive reinforcements") alter behavior more quickly and more enduringly than discouragements (called "negative reinforcements").


To understand how to control motivation, it's important to understand why many people lack motivation. Reasons might be biological, psychological, environmental, etc. Examples include exhaustion, lack of sleep, depression, etc. In the case of teenagers, it can be very helpful to study adolescent psychology and cultures.



Many activities that people find amusing are actually of minimal benefit or are even self-destructive, and yet so many can become habits, even addictions. Often cited examples: drugs, alcohol, smoking, eating, sex, video-gaming, watching television, gambling, religion, and surfing the Internet. Connections in the human brain's neural network are intensified by repeated activity —  a "positive feedback loop" — which means that it is often easier to continue to do what one is doing than to do something else. This is how a daily habit can turn into a psychological addiction that is hard to break.



When an activity or a lesson is presented via text or lecture, it's less likely to generate as positive an emotional response as do audiovisual and other multisensory experiences. Similarly, the more a member of an audience is physically involved in processing new information, the more richly that information is remembered.



Children's brains are much more capable of consuming new information than are those of adults. Brain activity in cortical regions is about twice as high in children as in adults from the third to the ninth year of life. Brain activity in children is much higher than in adults, making early influences critical for motivation in later life. After that period, it declines constantly to the low levels of adulthood. Brain volume, on the other hand, is already at about 95% of adult levels in the ninth year of life. (Harold Chugani, Medical Director of the PET Clinic at the Children's Hospital of Michigan and professor of pediatrics, neurology and radiology at Wayne State University School of Medicine; 1996.) A child who grows up watching television but not reading any books may find it difficult in later life to be motivated by purely textual information; a child neglected by its parents may be unable to make motivating social connections later.



It may also be that exposing children to too much simplistic, emotionally driven entertainment will dumb them down, making them more passive, and less capable of taking the risks that come with creative activities. Unfortunately, learning is often equated with memorizing, relying heavily on motivation derived from discouraging unwanted behaviors. Positive experiences are too often discounted.



Among the most basic means to achieving self-motivation is simply organizing one's life — time management, making to-do lists, filing papers, sorting belongings in storage, making distinctions between tasks to be accomplished and those that have been, and making those activities part of one's routine.



Motivation has a direct link to attitude — to what in psychology is called the affective domain, where we experience feelings, emotions. As vital as motivation is in conditioning one's movement toward success, it is not the only attitude needed in order to achieve. A motivated person can simultaneously doubt that he/she is able to accomplish a task successfully. Whether a person's self-doubt is reasonably founded or not, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy; anticipation of failure easily breeds failure. When confidence-building is needed, here is how to do it: start with easy tasks, and proceed to gradually more and more challenging ones. Studies have proven that every person can learn at any age, no matter what their experience or lack of experience has been.


You might find ArtLex's article on creativity useful. It describes various means to cultivating creativity, and ways to deal with blocks to creativity.
Take the time you need. Gather your resources. Otherwise, you have no further excuse. Get going!






Also see achievement, advocacy, art criticism, artistic temperament, art therapy, attitude, bias, boredom, choose, civilization, cooperative learning, empathy, empiricism, ennui, game theory, goal, incubation, interesting, monetary worth, multiple intelligence theory, muses, posterity, praise, research, standards, success, theory, xenophilia, and xenophobia.



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