Tag Archives: Picasso

Drive and Motivation: The Creative’s Urge to Produce Works of Art

If it is your goal is to do creative work it is important to be able to understand your motivation, your drive–is it strong or weak–and to know what drives you personally through difficulties and setbacks to creative fulfillment and joy. Without drive to sustain you, your creative career will fizzle out before you reach your peak. That’s so because drive is not a luxury, but a creative’s necessity.

Drive is that ingredient igniting the human spirit and pushing creative people forward to explore the scope of their talents. It is an irresistible urge to produce-and continue producing–works of your imagination and skill. Strong drive is the reason many successful creatives work so intensely and never give up when so many of their fellow creatives have cried “Enough” and simply quit.

Many people reading this post have been writing, painting, acting, composing–creating–for twenty, thirty, or forty years. How different are they from Vincent van Gogh who said, “That which fills my head and my heart must be expressed in drawings or pictures…Drawing becomes more and more a passion with me, and it is a passion just like that of a sailor for the sea.”

Psychologist Teresa M. Amabile wondered what motivated creative people. Was creativity merely a means by which the creator could reach other goals, or was creativity for the creative an end in itself?  She staked her reputation on proving that creativity increases when you engage in the activity as an end in itself for the sheer pleasure it offers, and that if you do things to earn rewards other than the enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of performing the activity you become less creative. She tested subjects ranging from grade school children to undergraduate women, rewarding some of them for performing creative tasks. Their work was then graded by professional creatives–established painters grading the paintings, writers the writing, etc.

No matter what the reward was or when it was given, if the subjects thought they were working for external rewards they became less creative.  But when they were playing and having fun and no reward was involved, they were more creative. The conclusion was:  a playful approach to the task increases the likelihood of producing creative results and external rewards have the opposite effect on creativity.

Another experiment showed that even the hint that an external reward was riding on performance was enough to make the subject lose interest. The same happens to chimpanzees. Given paint and canvas chimpanzees become so absorbed in painting that they show little interest in sex or food. But if the chimps are tangibly rewarded for their painting, the quantity and quality of their painting declines. They do only well enough to get the reward. Chimps, like many humans, are more likely to be creative when no external rewards are contingent on their performance. Even thinking about extrinsic rewards reduces creativity among many people, possibly you. Playwright Oscar Wilde said, “Genius is born, not paid.”

Enjoying the work itself is reward enough for people who are strongly intrinsically motivated like those chimps. Virginia Woolf was writing about her intrinsic motivation when she referred to her “rapture”: “Perhaps this is the strongest pleasure known to me. It is the rapture I get when in writing I seem to be discovering what belongs to what, making a scene coming right, making a character come together.” Literary critic Alfred Kazin thought writers were intrinsically motivated. He said the writer writes in order to teach himself to understand himself, to satisfy himself. The publishing of his ideas, though it brings gratifications, is a “curious anticlimax.”

Intrinsically motivated creatives enjoying their work don’t have to wait for money or praise or any other kind of external reward to be satisfied. They don’t need anything else but their “rapture.” Intrinsically motivated writers are caught and captivated by the writing itself and compelled to be immersed in it and in making it into something they feel is worthwhile.  The intrinsically motivated creative will often say, “What I do isn’t work. It’s joy. You can say in a real sense I’ve never worked a day in my life.”

But some creatives are driven by a need for extrinsic, not intrinsic, rewards.

Blaise Pascal who wrote that “anything that is written to please the author is worthless” was obviously not intrinsically motivated. Samuel Johnson wrote that no one but a blockhead writes except for money. And Anthony Trollope wrote in his wonderful An Autobiography that all “material progress has come from man’s desire to do the best he can for himself and those about him.” He said that what motivated him was what motivates lawyers and bakers—“to make an income on which I and those belonging to me might live in comfort.” Stronger even than that after a troubled childhood was his drive to make something of himself, “to be more than a clerk in the Post Office…to be Anthony Trollope.”

Pablo Picasso loved being rich, and said he wanted to work without material worries “like a pauper,” “but with a lot of money.” George Orwell thought that a writer’s main motivation was also extrinsic: to seem clever and be talked about, and be remembered after death.

There are other kinds of extrinsic motivating factors than money alone—recognition, praise, encouragement, popularity, acclaim, fame, feedback, and other forms of positive reinforcement that can be far, far more powerful motivators than money. While writers often don’t consider themselves competitive, they are.  When you’re told you’re the best there is, your motivation rises. When a writer’s work isn’t intrinsically interesting, as during those times it’s boring and tedious, an extrinsic reward such as a sumptuous dinner or a compliment might supply the right motivation to continue working.

The best way to recognize extrinsic motivation is to ask if you’d continue doing the work if no reward was to follow. If you’d answer “No way” your motivation at that time is extrinsic. But if you would answer, “Of course I would” it is intrinsic.

The majority of creatives pursue both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

Working skillfully makes writers feel fulfilled intrinsically. But they usually also want to see the work published somewhere—an extrinsic goal. American poet Anne Sexton wrote to her agent: “I’m in love with money, so don’t be mistaken, but first I want to write good poems. After that I am anxious as hell to make money and fame and bring the stars all down.” I suppose it’s possible to imagine anything, but it stretches the imagination considerably to imagine a pure intrinsically motivated writer who cares nothing about receiving some kind of external reward, or to imagine s pure extrinsic motivated writer who works only for rewards.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation aren’t two different types of motivation. They are on a continuum from most intrinsic to most extrinsic.

Whatever else we can say, we know one thing for sure: most human beings don’t do anything without anticipating a payoff. The payoff needn’t of course be monetary. It may be to be paid off for your efforts in other ways: through recognition or acclaim; through feedback and praise.

James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity, said “I do think that the quality which makes men want to write and be read is essentially a desire for self-exposure.” Some people create to produce great art that aficionados will admire. Playwright/short story master Anton Chekhov wrote, “I take pleasure in anticipating that these same passages will be understood and appreciated by two or three literary connoisseurs and that is enough for me.” Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, “A man really writes for an audience of about ten persons. Of course if others like it, that is a clear gain. But if those ten are satisfied, he is content.”

I think most creatives are driven to express beauty, the beauty they perceive in the world–the trees, the grass, a human smile, kindness, and the beauty in their souls that cries out to be shared–even if the subject of the work is not beautiful. Some are driven because they’re obsessed and can’t help themselves.

For some creatives performing their art is therapy. D.H. Lawrence, who should know, wrote: “One sheds one’s sicknesses in books.” Some are driven to have revenge. Mary Higgins Clark said that rejection slips only produced a “wait and see” attitude. She’d show people who doubted her. Perennial best-seller John Grisham said, The good thing about writing is that you can get back at people.”

Other painters, writers, actors, composers, etc., are driven by the desire to have the self-respect they don’t get on their jobs or in social or family life. That desire sparks their creativity, drive, and hard work to succeed and gain respect they haven’t found in any other area of their lives.  Some are driven by the pleasure of doing creative work.

Others are driven by their need for praise, and many others for tangible rewards like wealth that motivates almost everyone to a lesser or greater degree. There are many other reasons why creatives are driven.  Many artists’ main drive is to improve their abilities so they might improve their workmanship to an exceptionally high level just to see how excellent they can become.

Ask yourself, “Where on the Intrinsic Motivation—Extrinsic Motivation continuum would I put myself?  Most of the time I’m:

Rate yourself on a scale from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation. Where do you fall on the scale?



What motivates you most?

“The particular thing that motivates me more than anything else is:”



“Also important to me are:”






It’s worth assessing how intense your creative drive is by choosing one of the following statements to describe yourself:

  • “My drive to survive, improve, and find fulfillment in the arts is very strong.”
  • “My drive is so-so.”
  • “I need more drive because right now I don’t have much.”


Assessing your motivation on the Intrinsic/Extrinsic motivation continuum and the current intensity of your creative drive can help you make changes in your creative practices that will make your work more fulfilling.


© 2019 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Filed under Actors and Directors, Artists, Composers, Creativity, Creativity Self-Improvement, Creators' Work Life, Drive, Motivation, The Creative Process, The Nature of Artists, Work Production, Writers

Inspiration, Information, and Learnings For People In The Arts

Part 6 of a series.  See also Part 1, Part 2 & 3 Part 4, and Part 5

Pink and orange zinnias in impressionist style

Late Season Zinnias by Steven V. Ward


  • “Artists shape the structure of their creative lives not by means of their gifts, but by means of their work. Production–to produce good works– is the artist’s overriding goal. Delicate creatures, when unable to produce works, they almost immediately fall into some form of self-doubt and then despair” (David J. Rogers).
  • “To possess and capture beauty (the artist) will do anything, use anything…be ruthless, murderous and destructive, cold and cruel and merciless…to get the thing he wants, achieve the thing he values” (Thomas Wolfe).
  • Berry branch with shadowy colored background

    Berry Shadows by Steven V. Ward

    “There is nothing we will not give to the person who can show us the undiscovered world within ourselves, for most of us are unaware of the possibilities we hold” (Seymour Krim).

  • “It is all in the art. You get no credit for living” (V.S. Pritchett)
  • “The hunger to succeed in spite of every impediment and the confidence that you can, along with skill, energy, focus, and the knack of overcoming obstacles have proven to be the key indicators of success in art” (David J. Rogers).



  • “The uninitiated imagine that one must await inspiration in order to create. That is a mistake. I am far from saying that there is no such thing as inspiration; quite the opposite. It is found as a driving force in every kind of human activity, and is in no wise peculiar to artists. But that force is only brought into action by effort, and that effort is work” (Igor
    Pink flowers on impressionist background

    Spring Colors by Steven by Ward


  • “It has not been possible to demonstrate that creativity tests are valid” (Howard Gardner).
  • “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing works” (Marc Chagall).
  • “If he thought, he would go wrong; it is only the clumsy and uninventive artist who thinks) (John Ruskin).
  • “If a man has talent and can’t use it, he’s failed. If he uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he uses the whole of it, he has succeeded, and won a satisfaction and triumph few men ever know” (Thomas Wolfe).
  • “Everything you can imagine is real” (Pablo Picasso).
  • “It is important to forget about the opinions of others and to write after your own fashion with careless, proud indifference” (Llewelyn Powys).
  • ”There are no rules. It’s amazing how willing people are to tell you that you aren’t a real writer unless you conform to their clichés and their rules. My advice? Reject rules and critics out of hand. Define yourself. Do it your way. Make yourself the writer of your dreams (Anne Rice).
  • “Most creators know intuitively from the beginning of their serious work on a project what the final product will “feel” like. It may take weeks, months, or years to complete the work. But they’ve had from the beginning some sense of it. And that sense will guide them through the entire creative process” (David J. Rogers).
  • “Great artists feel as opportunity what others feel as a menace” (Kenneth Burke).
  • “A great portrait is always more a portrait of the painter than of the painted” (Samuel Butler).
Three white and pink lotus blossoms on blue background

Lotus Trio by Steven V. Ward


  • “Wake about seven thirty, have breakfast and am working by nine and usually work straight through until two p.m. After that it’s like living in a vacuum until working time next day” (Ernest Hemingway).
  • “Publishing is a very mysterious business. It is hard to predict what kind of sale or reception a book will have and advertising seems to do very little to the good” (Thomas Wolfe).
  • “We should write our own thoughts in as nearly as possible the language we thought them in, as though in a letter to an intimate friend. We should not disguise them in any way” (Leo Tolstoy).
  • “When I write I feel like an artist. When I’m not writing I don’t feel like anything at all) (Saul Bellow).
  • “I work on whatever medium likes me at the moment” (Marc Chagall).
  • “They come and ask me what idea I meant to embody in Faust as if I knew myself and could inform them” (Goethe).
  • “Great artists have no consideration for anyone’s sleep. Left alone and working all night, they phone you at three or four in the morning to announce they’ve thought of something” (David J. Rogers).
  • “We all do better in the future” (Raymond Carver).
  • Yellow Wildflowers on an impressionis style background

    Yellow Wildflowers by Steven V. Ward

    “You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments, and publicity” (Thomas Wolfe).

  • “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working” (Pablo Picasso)

I am pleased to again feature in this post artwork by the talented artist Steven V. Ward whose work can be found on FineArtAmerica.  Some of his work also appears in my post More Inspiration and Information For Creators #5

© 2018 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:


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Filed under Artists, Creativity, Creators' Work Life, Quotations, The Nature of Artists, Writers, Writing

Tidy, Productive Lives and Messy, Creative Lives

dandelion-6296_640Swedes use the term “Dandelion Children” to describe children who thrive in any kind of environment under any conditions in the same way dandelions thrive regardless of soil, drought, sun, or rain. This is a post about dandelion children who grow up to be remarkable.

Tidy, Productive Lives

“The vast majority of individuals whose adult lives have been unusually creative or productive, or who have been unusually capable within various fields of expertise, have been people whose early years have been stimulating ones, characterized by plenty of opportunities to learn and plenty of guidance and encouragement, of one or both parents.” (Michael J.A Howe, The Psychology of High Abilities)

The influential study described in Developing Talent in Young People laid out a process that was generally followed in homes of people who were studied. The parents strongly encouraged development of the children’s talent in a particular area in preference to others, went to extreme lengths to help the child to do well, were always willing to devote their time and energy to the children–playing games, reading to them, or teaching them in one way or another. Parents showed interest in their children’s activities and encouraged them to do their best. Not one of the children reached their potential without strong support and training. Parents would move heaven and earth to give their children rich educational opportunities, finding for them the best teachers and advisors, sparing no expense.

Those paragraphs—those ideas, those luxuries, usually of middle or upper middle-class, highly-educated affluent parents and their privileged children–are the kind psychologists love to write about neat and tidy, ideal upbringings. But even as you read them you’re thinking:

“Who are they talking about? They’re certainly not talking about me!”

Messy, Creative Lives

There’s an alternative point of view:

“When you read the lives of various great men (and women)-of all great men, perhaps, if the account is truthful–you will notice that the conditions of their childhood, their education, or their profession did not predispose them to what they ultimately accomplished. It is not because of their education, it is often in spite of it that they were able to develop. This man grew up without books; that man had to study secretly. It makes you wonder what the word ‘advantages’ really means, what parents mean when they say they want their children to have all the advantages they themselves did not have…Is not the lack of something often more helpful? For the lack of an external thing arouses an inner impulse that replaces it; the ‘I,’ the individual’s native gift is substituted…So you need never pity people who complain that they lack this or that, provided they have pledged themselves to reach their goal.” (Jean Guitton, A Student’s Guide to Intellectual Work)

Popular American author William Saroyan wrote, “I must make it known that I do not believe it is required of art, science, religion, philosophy or family to assure every man born into this life, a secure childhood, in which a child knows only love and harmony…The supplying of such a childhood to a child… may not even be desirable. It may create a nonentity.” Playwright/novelist Gore Vidal wrote, “The protective love of two devoted parents can absolutely destroy an artist.” Creative attainment does not depend on coming from an intact family.

Cradles of Eminence

In a biographical survey of the family backgrounds of 400 eminent people of the twentieth century that included novelists, poets, actors, musicians, opera singers, composers, movie directors, painters, playwrights, dancers, and architects, 85 % had come from troubled homes with very little attachment, warmth, affection, or closeness.

American novelist Willa Cather and her mother arranged their lives so that their contacts with each other were minimal and Willa and her brother were left alone. In Cradles of Eminence the authors who conducted the survey say, “Contentment and creativity do not ordinarily go hand in hand in the homes that cradle eminence.” As children 75% were troubled by a variety of problems such as poverty, and “by rejecting, over-possessive, estranged, or dominating parents; by financial ups and downs; by physical handicaps; or by parental dissatisfaction over the children’s school failures or vocational choice.”

ernest-hemingway-401493_640The great majority of writers of fiction or drama, and a number of poets, came from families where there were tense conflicts between the parents. Sixty percent were dissatisfied with school. Nobel Prize winning author Ernest Hemingway grew up in a dysfunctional home and was convinced his mother’s constant badgering of his father led to his father’s to suicide.

Prolific 19th century English novelist Anthony Trollope achieved fame, fortune, and popularity, and knew many of the rich and the accomplished of his era. But in school he “suffered horribly! I could make no stand against it. I had no friend to whom I could pour out my sorrows. I was big, and awkward, and ugly. How well I recall all the agonies of my young heart: how I considered whether I should always be alone; whether I could not find my way up to the top of that college tower, and from thence put an end to everything…Something of the disgrace of my school-days has clung to me all though life….I feel convinced in my mind that I have been flogged oftener than any human being alive…These were twelve years of tuition in which I do not remember that I even knew a lesson!”

As twelve year old celebrated English novelist Charles Dickens suffered in poverty and was forced to live alone, away from his family, while working many hours a day in a rat-infested factory pasting labels on pots while his father rotted in debtor’s prison. When his father was released, Charles’ mother wanted her son to stay on at that miserable factory. Later Dickens wrote: “I never afterwards forgot, I shall never forget, I never can forget, that my mother was warm for my being sent back…Even now, famous and caressed and happy, I often forget in my dream that I have a dear wife and children; even that I am a man; and I wander desolately back to that time in my life.”

Cradles Of Eminence concludes that contributions to the arts and other fields are likely to be made by the person whose childhood was not trouble-free and who was not an all-round good student, and whose parents were a problem to themselves and the child. In many autobiographies of eminent artists there are frequent references to the positive motivating effects adverse circumstances had on them.

jazz-63212_640Famous jazz musician Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong’s father deserted the family, and his mother was “out on the town.” Louis was committed to an institution for delinquent boys where he learned to play musical instruments and became a band leader. He said, “All in all I am very proud of the days I spent at the Colored Waifs Home for Boys.”

Stephen Crane, Eugene O’Neill, William Faulkner, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were just a few writers of many artists who failed in college. Many, like Hemingway, had no interest at all in going to a college. Pablo Picasso failed at elementary school because he refused to do anything other than paint. Even as a child of nine he would duck out of class and wander the streets of Madrid, painting and sketching.

Psychologist E. Paul Torrance found that 70% of the children who rated high in creativity would not be selected to be members of a special class for intellectually gifted children. High IQ students are likely to prefer conventional occupations–doctor, lawyer, and engineer. Highly creative students find unconventional careers like writer more appealing. Few of the subjects in Lewis Terman’s high IQ study—the “Genius Study”– went on to excel in the fine arts, music, and literature. The group produced many successful people, but not one creative artist.

Boys and girls who’ll become famous are not often ‘all around” competent, conforming students. Creative people are not distinguished by high grades at school. Fathers who were abject failures are common in the lives of great artists and in the lives of eminent people in almost all fields. Writers and actors lived in particularly turbulent homes.

“Ironically the child that grows up with many privileges may have much less opportunity for her or his creativity than the child growing up in the slums. If everything is done for the child, and the child has little opportunity to show initiative, then whatever latent potentials there are for creative work may be suppressed because there is no need to develop these potentials.” Robert J. Sternberg and James C. Kaufman, “Constraints on Creativity.”

I’m betting that the majority of people reading this post, many of them artists, didn’t follow the psychologist’s “tidy” path to their current creative lives, but became successful in spite of—or because of–a “messy” childhood.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:


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Filed under Artists, Becoming an Artist, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Writers