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12 Motivational Prompts for Artists

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Bede is an artist who seeks ways to keep alive the flame of enthusiasm.

Fire is a fascinating entity. With its mysterious flickering and heat-producing radiance, it never ceases to captivate the mind. It warms our dwellings, heats our food, and enlivens a dinner table. And behold, fire can also be found in people! These are usually the highly motivated types whose hidden flame radiates their life with energy. It's as though they fly among the clouds and are generally successful. Can this fire be acquired? After all, it appears as an essential component for success. Artists especially need it. He or she may be eminently talented but if enthusiasm is snuffed, there's no lift or going forward. Let us now discover ways to enkindle the flame, keep it fueled, and so make our journey upward and onward.

The flame of enthusiasm keeps the artist going forward.

The flame of enthusiasm keeps the artist going forward.

1. Have a Transcendental Purpose

If your creative work has an intention that transcends money or personal pleasure, then you possess a prime ignitor—a live spark that generates enthusiasm. Many artists find motivation through the simple act of "doing." No ultimate purpose lies behind it—it's simply pleasurable. While this is often true, the pleasure principle can break down on a dreary day. If, on the other hand, your motivation is altruistic, philanthropic, or religious, then you will more eagerly pull on the apron. Apathy melts under the heat of a noble purpose.

Here are additional motives that may fuel your fire:

  • To brighten people's sad lives
  • To inspire greater hope, love, or faith
  • To soften a world torn by hate and violence
  • To save the world through beauty, as Dostoyevsky suggests.
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2. Simplify Life

Our modern way of life suggests that multitasking and a full schedule are essential to success. However, when our to-do list climbs over the wall, it's time to prune. What are the essentials? How can I simplify? These are important questions to ask, especially for artists. Some actions are good in themselves, such as gardening or communicating with friends, but if they preoccupy, it's time to simplify. Simplicity loosens earth-binding ropes.

3. Refuse to Excuse

Does a flock of trivial matters come to roost when it's time to begin work? "Oh, I should watch that video," or "shouldn't I go shopping?" It's the perennial temptation to sacrifice work time for valuable, but inessential, activities. Thus, the artist needs self-denial to keep the flame alive. Our world improves through self-denying individuals. It's easier to relax with the remote control and procrastinate. Yet, does anything beautiful come about without struggle? No, beautiful art like the oak tree, generally takes time to develop. Creative work often involves small, incremental growth and frequently requires physical, spiritual, or emotional exertion.

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Hence, there is a need for grit to avoid the path of least resistance. With tenacity, the artist can rise above lesser goods to higher ones. Once the habit of industry forms, beneficial results will soon appear. Tell yourself, "I may feel bored, but this work will have lasting value." At the same time, consider rewarding your self-discipline.

4. Reward Your Effort

Sometimes motivation fails because there's no feeling of personal pleasure. To supersede this temptation, it's helpful to provide yourself with a small reward for effort expended. For instance, "Okay, I will give an hour of uninterrupted work then have a cup of tea." The reward principle is helpful provided that you keep things simple and healthy. Smoking a cigar after every hour of work is not recommended. I find that it helps to look at some pictures of beautiful artwork, such as great paintings or sculptures of the past. This not only relaxes the strain of work but can add kindling to the stove.

Here are some additional rewards:

  • Exercise: not only perks up your energy but will clear your mind of stress.
  • Food or drink: every child works harder if he or she knows a cookie and lemonade are on the way.
  • Nature: watching insects, listening to birds, and feeling sunshine refreshes the spirit.

5. Unload Sandbags

If sandbags keep your hot-air balloon earthbound, it matters little if it's fueled and ready to go—it won't rise upwards. In a similar way, an artist may be enthused but some weight prevents liftoff, such as a physical, emotional, or spiritual burden. Strained relationships, the death/illness of a loved one, or financial woes can sap all vitality. Likewise, a grudge can preoccupy our thoughts and drain buoyancy. The following video gives a few helpful hints on the art of forgiveness.

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Finally, some artists are held bound by perfectionism—they allow early-stage deficiencies to halt progress. It is well to remember the gross/fine principle. All great art starts in rough, sketchy, and gross form. Steady perseverance brings refinement; patience brings perfection.

All of these factors can drain an artist's energy. A possible solution is to make a list and try reducing them where possible. For the unavoidable problems of life, adopting a healthy mental attitude works best. It creates peace to become friends with one's troubles and remember that every great artist has suffered.

6. Write a List of Small Achievable Goals

Sometimes the sheer amount of work to do overwhelms the spirit. Where does one begin? It's advantageous to be like a mountain climber who gains the peak by small steps upward. For example, a sculptor may be working on a clay figurine. All the proportions are correct but there is an overwhelming amount of smoothing and refining left to do. To reduce the stress of the remaining steps, it helps to write out what's left to do: left foot, right foot, right-side garment, waistband, etc. Then shuffle the cards and pick one at random and stick with that part until it's mostly done.

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7. Have a Deadline

Self-imposed deadlines may not work for every artist due to the nature of the work itself or personal issues. Research indicates, however, that a self-imposed deadline works minor miracles. Every person operates differently, though. I think an effective method is to have small weekly deadlines rather than extended ones. Write them out and try to stick to them.

8. Simply Start

The hardest part of work is often the firm decision to begin. For some, the impediment may be fear—for others, it may be tiredness or possibly discouragement. However, it's virtually certain that once the work gets underway, hindrances will de-thaw. It's like an athlete who decides to work out; once the session starts, everything goes smoothly. So also, once an artist pulls on an apron and starts, progress usually goes on auto-pilot.

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9. Visit a Museum

This may seem counter-productive. Why should I waste precious time and money? Assuredly it is not time wasted. To visit a museum, page through good art books, or view online collections, helps rekindle enthusiasm. It's also a subconscious reminder that museum-quality work comes about through persevering effort.

10. Respice Ad Finem

By keeping the goal in view, every traveler willingly endures the discomfort of the journey. Respice ad finem goes the Latin saying: look to the end. Visualizing the end product spurs one to not give up halfway. A young pianist keeps practicing in the vision of mastery. The mountain climber pushes on with the joyful thought of reaching the peak. Thus, the end product gives meaning to the labor that produces it. Envisioning a masterpiece ahead of time makes the present sweat worthwhile.

11. Cleanliness

As moist wood prevents combustion, so clutter saps energy. Conversely, order and cleanliness refresh the spirit. How can one work in an evil-smelling den of disorder? Such a studio is not at all conducive to sitting quietly let alone working steadily. Moreover, it helps to be physically clean. Taking a shower or simply washing one's face is like having a cup of coffee. Finally, keeping your mind clear of noisy news and negative thoughts has several benefits; a clean mind generates creativity and sparks enthusiasm. Here's a worthwhile little saying, industriousness is second to cleanliness.

Moses at the Burning Bush by Gebhard Fugel (1863-1939) It's not wasted time to occasionally remove our sandals (cares) and approach the living Flame to gain motivation.

Moses at the Burning Bush by Gebhard Fugel (1863-1939) It's not wasted time to occasionally remove our sandals (cares) and approach the living Flame to gain motivation.

12. Pray

Lack of motivation translates into a dimming of inward light and a drain of inner vitality. When I experience these impediments, I find it helps to pray. In Thee is the fountain of life and in Thy light we see light. (Psalm 36:9) Inspiration, energy, encouragement, and new ideas come through prayer. The very word, inspiration means a "breathing into" of the divine spirit. Many religions understand that inspiration is a breath of God. Hence, whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or non-denominational, it helps to pray. Consider this: fire needs oxygen—enthusiasm needs wind. The word enthusiasm derives from two Greek words, en meaning "in" and theos, which means "God." To be enthusiastic is to be energized and inspired by God's essence.

Upward and Onward!

Some people are naturally enthusiastic—born on fire, by all appearances. If you feel naturally apathetic, there is good news: motivation may be acquired through habit. The dictionary says that a habit is a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance. In other words, practice makes perfect. Motivation, therefore, is a choice of the will and like any habit, can become well-established through repetition. Once ignited, the fire of motivation will lift you upward and onward.

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© 2022 Bede