There are some points stated regarding the motivation for art creation that are very often repeated and, since they originate in some considerably influential artists and are usually illustrated with pretty, witty pictures, colorful metaphors and authoritative language, are frequently taken as fact by many people. I am writing this text because these points do not sit well with me at all, and I wish to give you my own, kind-of-alternative view on the nature of artistic motivation.
What Bothers Me
The issue is the definition of a "correct" motivation for art creation, one that consists in the obtainment of self-satisfaction from the very act of creating art, or from the appreciation of its concrete results (the artwork). This approach favors considering the "artist-artwork" pair as an isolated, self-feeding loop: the artist creates the artwork, obtains immediate satisfaction from it (whether from the act or the result, is indifferent), and that motivates them to create more art, and so on. In other words, the artist should create artwork for his own enjoyment. Motivations that depend on external factors are unreliable and lead to a path of self-destruction, frustration and misery, because those factors cannot be trusted to provide the artist with the required feedback to spur the artist towards more art creation. That kind of external gratification must be seen as an "extra" - something not part of the feedback loop.
Let me say that I believe that this argument, even though it superficially makes sense, doesn't hold water. People who advocate this stance seem to be unable to detach themselves from their personal points of view and understand a simple fact of human nature: different people can have different motivations for doing the same activity, and art is no exception. Some artists are able to self-motivate, and that's great! It is the most reliable and stable source of motivation, after all. Does this mean that they are right in telling people that relying on external motivations is "toxic" and that every artist should just do as they do? I don't think so. Does it mean that artists who are not able to motivate themselves should just abandon art creation because of this perceived "weakness"? Absolutely not.
What I Think
The human mind is an incredibly complex system inside which, on each of our waking moments, an imaginary investor makes a countless amount of bets. This investor permanently and (mostly) transparently weighs the costs, risks and potential benefits of each of our choices to determine which action we should take next. If we consider a single action, these factors vary from person to person, depending on life experience, environmental and even genetic factors. We all have different perceptions of what things will bring us greater benefits in terms of personal satisfaction, and there are often several different paths and algorithms that will bring people to similar perceptions of benefit.
Point is, we're all different in our motivations. Some people go to the gym because they enjoy the workout burn. Others specifically want to get in shape, or do it for the health benefits. Still others enjoy the social aspects of it, or want to look good for the beach. We can debate all we want on the objective merits of each one of these motivations, but subjectively speaking, it's perfectly pointless: as long as those people are not harming or bothering anyone and they're all working towards their own goals, we are no-one to say "you shouldn't be doing this for this reason because my reason is better".
The same applies to art creation. There are multiple reasons that spur a person to become an artist, and many of them may not even be associated with emotions and motivations that are considered "positive", in a traditional sense. Things like loneliness, envy, ambition or a thirst for acknowledgment and validation, are perceived as negative because they oftentimes are used to justify destructive action - both towards others and oneself.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
All of these feelings are great engines for motivation, because they place a target ahead of us - something visible (even if sometimes illusory) that we can point to, a beacon showing us the direction to go. That path doesn't have to be one that leads to a destructive finish - it's not about what drives you, it's about how you handle the ride.
It is true that all of these externally induced motivations can be volatile and fragile - much more so than pure self-motivation - but that is certainly not enough reason to invalidate them. As the old adage goes, "do whatever floats your boat". Artists who rely on external feedback for motivation are subjecting themselves to very fickle and unpredictable beasts indeed - and this facilitates the appearance of motivation's eternal nemesis: frustration. This is not to say that self-motivation is invulnerable to frustration, of course - it will still happen. Artists will get burn-out, and many times real life will conspire to cram a spanner in their self-sustained motivation loop.
Regardless of the solidity of your feedback sources and the probability of frustration popping up in your art creation process, one thing remains all-important: an artist must be able to develop strategies to avoid the onset of frustration. To be able to do so and to remain able to carry on creating despite any setbacks to your goals and motivations, constitutes what I consider to be an artist's most important quality: stubbornness. (you may want to call it perseverance instead, but I like the ambiguous connotation of being called stubborn better).
The destructive consequences of some motivations are caused precisely because of frustration taking over the feedback loop of some artists. Since creative methods don't seem to provide the results the artist wants, he ends up progressively slipping into a destructive mindset that deconstructs and devalues the progress he may have achieved by placing blame on his motivation sources and turning on them. However, as long as one is able to adequately manage their expectations and fend off frustration, this definitely does not have to be the case.
In the second part of this text, I will go over ideas of strategies that can be used to achieve this delicate motivational balance and provide a more stable path for artists to develop themselves with a mind to achieving their goals.