This Art-Too Unit Has A Bad Motivator

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-11-16 01:00:00 No comments

More from Steve on the whole vexed issue of doing what you think you want to do, not what you actually want to do:

The Blog - Steven Savage

Now and again me and my friends find people motivated by what they think their motivation should be. It rarely goes well for such people – they’re not driven, they’re not embracing their creative lifestyle, they’re not engaged. Hell, in many cases they just stop caring.

Roger Ebert once wrote about Aileen Quinn, the girl who played Annie in the 1982 film version of the musical: "[She] cannot be said to really play a child --at least not the sort of plausible flesh-and-blood child that Henry Thomas creates in "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial". But Quinn is talented, can dance well and sing passably, and does not seem to be an overtrained puppet like, say, Ricky Schroder. She seems more like the kind of kid who will get this acting out of her system and go on to be student body president." (A check of Quinn's IMDB page shows that she, indeed, seemed to have gotten acting out of her system for the most part and moved on to other things.)

I've known more than a few folks who seem to have been motivated to be creative more by outside circumstances or expectations than anything truly personal. In high school I knew a fellow who was a talented if gimmicky writer -- gimmicky in the sense that he seemed to be enamored of post-modern flourishes and easy effects. With time and discipline I think he could have matured into a truly great writer. But after he left high school, he seemed to have lost interest, or maybe ran up against the limits of his talent, or perhaps both. Whatever the case, I got the impression he'd been interested in writing mainly because it seemed like a cool and fun thing to do, not because there was some part of him that was kept awake at night by the need to communicate something.

Some people simply do not have this impulse. What's more, I don't think it's fair to either them or the rest of us to insist that they manifest it somehow. You can't strong-arm people into acts of self-expression. All you can do is stand back and make spaces for those motivated to inhabit them.

A friend of mine who was a military vet once remarked that he thought the draft was a bad idea because an army works best when it's staffed by people who want to be there. I agreed, although I admit I agreed mostly because I would have done anything to not get drafted at that time. (This was when the first Gulf War was in effect.) But the same thing applies here. People should do the creative thing not because it looks good on a c.v., or because they think it's a fast ticket to a swinging social circle, or because whatever. Rather, it should be because they can't see themselves not doing it.

John Cage once remarked that jazz and folk music "are not cultivated species, growing best when left wild." The implications of this weren't fully clear to me the first time I heard it. Now, I see some overlap between this issue and what Cage was driving at. Our motivations are best when they are organic and spontaneous. It can also be hard to know when they are those things, and so we owe it to ourselves to try and find out.

Tags: Steven Savage Dialogues creativity creators