Motivating creativity


What gets you motivated?

Apparently, artists are supposed to have this intense drive to create. I’ve seen it in documentaries on TV, so it must be true. The artist’s sanity dictates that each and every day is spent immersed, fully immersed, in their creative practice.

TV documentaries are only made about prolific artists. Anyone who fills each day with productive activity on a single topic will be prolific.

What about the undocumented? What gets them … us … motivated to carve out creative focus from the necessary routine and humdrum, particularly after an hiatus?

To answer such questions, I usually start with an internet search. The terms “motivating creativity” threw up articles about motivating employees to be creative problem solvers.  That’s not what I’m looking for.

There was one interesting article that got me thinking … intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation.

Those TV documentaries of successful artists were describing intrinsic motivation – that internal drive to do something you love doing.

In contrast, extrinsic motivation is doing because some one or some thing gave you a reason – a deadline for an assignment, a reward, a culturally imposed need to keep the cockroaches away.

I’m writing this because an item on Facebook struck a cord:


It’s been a problem lately, “absent image syndrome”, the photographer’s equivalent of writer’s block or “blank page”.

I was looking for some motivation.

Yesterday, I immersed myself in 10 TED Talks about photography. It was selection of talks from different perspectives but, given I was looking for motivation, I think those given by photographers about their journey and methods were the most productive.


First, “Gorgeous portraits of the world’s vanishing people by Jimmy Nelson”


Jimmy Nelson was unapologetic. He’s not an activist or an anthropologist. He describes his 4-year photographic project as personally indulgent. His work is about beauty, wonder and awe. Consequently, he wondered how he could share three “profound” lessons with the audience. So he told his personal story instead.

To be honest, I didn’t learn anything new, practical or personally applicable. However, I did come away feeling motivated.

And then came the personal reflection – could I manage a long-term photographic project?

I have tried in the past but enthusiasm ebbed away when the quality didn’t live up to my expectations. Perhaps the potential for success may improve with improvements in my technical skills.


Second, “Impossible photography by Erik Johansson”


Erik Johansson combines images to create an alternate reality. He noted that, for many of us, the process of photography ends when we take the picture. This means being a good photographer relies on being in the right place at the right time. Instead, he wanted the process to start after taking the picture.

Each of Erik’s images is a project in itself, where the idea is planned and the components sourced, photographed and finally assembled.  The quality of the result is dependent upon the quality of the photos that are included.

The take home message: Don’t feel limited and don’t settle for less.


Third and finally, “Ways of seeing by Rob Forbes”


Rob Forbes finds design on the streets in the unexpected juxtaposition of objects and colours. He looks for compositions and relationships while out walking.

Like me, he doesn’t take many photos of people, preferring instead to photograph form. Although I’m happy to include a few landscapes.

He lives in a patterned analogue world. I should get out from behind the computer screen.

What does it all mean?

The love only gets us so far when faced with all that life asks. I’m sure even professional artists find that to be the case from time to time.

When intrinsic motivation is no longer enough, we must look elsewhere. I found some in TED.

What happened?

Late in the afternoon, I picked up my phone with steely determination to find and snap a striking image. I’m sitting in a lounge room in rural Australia, so no engaging with a long lost tribe and no social statements on the nature or plight of our planet.

Just motivational practice.







McNerney, S. “What motivates creativity?” The Big Think Inc, publication date not provided.

Photo Contest Insider, “10 of the Best TED Talks for Photographers”, published 4 January 2017.



What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: