Why Aren’t You Motivated?

I want to help you with your art business. Each blog post, class lesson, consultation, or live event is designed to help you get one step closer to your dream.

In these formats …

I can teach you what you should be doing to promote your art.
I can teach you how to do things.
I can teach you why it’s good to be doing these things.
I can teach you about other artists getting good results.

But …

I cannot teach you how to get motivated to do the work.

©2014 Diane Gabriel, Young Girl With Icon, Nah Trang, Viet Nam. Pigment print. Used with permission.

©2014 Diane Gabriel, Young Girl With Icon, Nah Trang, Viet Nam. Pigment print. Used with permission.

I’d go so far as to say that I can’t teach you if you are not motivated. I could give you information, but that information is no good if it is merely collected.

I can write motivational articles or respond with positive feedback if you comment on my blog or Facebook page, but I cannot give you the motivation to take action in the first place.

Motivation must come from within you.

If you aren’t motivated to do the work, it doesn’t matter how many books you read or classes you take.

What Motivation Looks Like

Motivation is the spark that sets your art career in motion. And motivation is ignited by motive.

Why are you trying to build an art career?
Why are you trying to sell your art?
Why do you want more people to see your art and respond to it?
Why are you not satisfied with making art for yourself?

©2014 Mei Selvage, Sounds of Prayers. Mixed media, 12 x 11 inches. Used with permission.

©2014 Mei Selvage, Sounds of Prayers. Mixed media, 12 x 11 inches. Used with permission.

Common motives include freedom, sense of accomplishment, greater connection, and recognition. Money, though often expressed as a motivator, is rarely the primary motivation that leads to action.

So if you’ve identified the motive and still aren’t making progress, you have to consider what’s getting in the way of action.

Why aren’t you writing your newsletter?
Why aren’t you updating your blog?
Why aren’t you exhibiting your art?
Why aren’t you (gasp!) making art?

I understand that life happens. There are reasons why art must take a backseat at times.

And yet, after so many years working with artists, I have discovered that sometimes the expressed motive isn’t strong enough for many artists to make a career from their art.

Is Your Motive Strong Enough?

Is your motivation stronger than your reasons or excuses for not doing the work?

©2014 Scott Dykema, Geisha with a Red Flower. Oil and metal leaf on canvas, 60 x 48 inches. Used with permission.

©2014 Scott Dykema, Geisha with a Red Flower. Oil and metal leaf on canvas, 60 x 48 inches. Used with permission.

If the motive were strong enough, you’d do whatever you could to make it happen. You’d take more classes, hire a coach, stay up late, or get up early.

Most importantly, you’d escape your comfort zone. You’d go to art openings and introduce yourself to people. You’d apply to shows and risk rejection. You’d invite feedback in order to grow.

Your heart has to be open to possibilities.

Your mind has to be open to the idea that your life will be different when you commit to the path of an art career.

You have to be committed to your art and the life of an artist, especially if you want to earn a living from your art.

Are you motivated? If not, why not? What needs to change? What’s your motive?

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10 comments to Why Aren’t You Motivated?

  • Hello,

    I decided in 2012 that I would look back in to art(after not drawing since my teen years) and eventually decided to pursue this as a career. One of my biggest flaws is lack of motivation/procrastination when it comes to things that only affect me and it really slowed down my progress.

    I’ve now been working hard to get myself out of that rut and put in serious work. I just did a weekend art workshop (8 hours a day for 3 days) and have signed up for a 6 month mentorship program to get guidance on building my art skills. I also plan on going to the Drawing salons here at the national gallery of art (Unfortunately, I was too late for this month and had to be waitlisted) and I will be going back to open life drawing sessions on Thursdays.

    I’m excited about all the new things I’m doing and can’t wait to see where it leads. Since I was just focusing on getting myself together skills wise I had not bothered to focus on the social/marketing aspect of it all, but I do have instagram and tumblr accounts to post to.

  • What a timely post, Alyson.

    I am motivated to BE IN MY STUDIO. To MAKE Art. I have little motivation to Share my art.

    I don’t have much of a motive TO make a living from my art. I’m not even sure HOW to do it…even after collecting lots of great advice.

    Thankfully, I have occupational bondage to sustain me and my fear. Double-edged sword that gratefulness.

    I’ve acted in the past on the great advice…to receive too little results for what felt like huge efforts. So it goes back to motive to share…and earn a living….

    Very timely. I AM MAKING art…and without a “body of work,” I truly couldn’t go forward when I decide to move forward, eh?

    You are so right about that YOU cannot MAKE me motivated. I see it with working out: I MUST get myself to the gym. NO one can make me work out…and I cannot make anyone work out. No one can make me want to market my art, too. Sigh. LOL

    Can someone else do it for me? LOL

    Hugs and belated Happy Birthday!

  • Bill Sotomayor

    What drives my motivation is an all consuming passion to create art. I create it everyday except Sunday, which for me is a day of rest. When I create art I am in a different world. It consumes me. When I don’t create I feel as if I have missed visiting with my best friend. Motivation is not the problem with me but direction as to what avenues I want to take. I am very comfortable with making business decisions. I just don’t believe that the Internet is always the answer to everything.

    • Marque Todd


      You are SO lucky! I feel passionate and have TONS of ideas. I could paint the rest of my life and not get through all my ideas. The issue for me is that art is HARD work – the work I like to create is details, has perspective and emphasizes accuracy of drawing. I can do it all, but it is still really hard work (both mentally and energetically) and so I procrasitnate and do things that are “easier”. Once I start I too am immersed, but it is the starting part – the activation energy- which stalls me. I say it is much like exercising – getting started is hell, but once you’re going you are so happy to do it. I think the key in your thought is that you do it almost every day. I find that if I go to the studio every day it becomes a habit, something I just do and don’t think about.

      I also had issues on direction. I found that if I just had thought about it the following way it really helped: There are many directions I can go and I have time. I will focus on this one thing for right now. That doesn’t mean that I can’t change that focus anytime I want. I don’t lose the ability to pursue other avenues. Those thoughts seemed to really help and I have been focused in one direction for the past year.

  • Tatjana

    Well, I’ll do something very scary right now, by explaining why my motivations is on a downward spiral. My art career took off nicely in 2005. I was accepted by a few galleries and sales kept climbing for several years. I have been very active in the art community, changed galleries as some went out of business, I did some teaching for art clubs, kept improving my technique by taking inspiring classes. I am very happy with how my art has been evolving. I love painting in the studio and outdoors, and I have been doing it regularly, so my production is good. BUT…the sales kept going down year after year. Show openings see very few visitors and those that show up, come to chat, not buy. This has been going on for the last couple of years and it’s wearing me down. Alison’s courses are helping me clean up the office and studio, increase my marketing efforts, and generally getting my mind busy, but it’s hard to get the motivation back. There, I said it all. I know that no one can fix my problem for me, but at least I got it out. I am carrying on with the classes and hopefully I will hit on things that are my weaknesses, but I am a bit worried that I don’t spend most time on things that are the least of my problems. Alison said it very realistically in the beginning – we can’t do it all at once! So, what is the biggest of my problems? Well, if I knew it, I wouldn’t need this class, right? I’ll keep trucking and putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Thanks to everyone here for all the ideas you have been sharing, I am amazed with the variety of art projects and businesses out there, and with all the sharing that goes around. Great job everyone!

  • Lidija

    For me there are two layers to the motivation cake. On the basic level, I’m super motivated. After my full time job and my time with my three year old and everything else that needs to be crammed into a day, I land at my desk around ten o’clock and before I know it it’s 2 AM and I feel half-dead but I’ve made stuff, shared stuff, written blog posts – the works. I have no problem writing to people, getting turned down, entering competitions, losing competitions – heck, sometimes even winning competitions. On the other hand, going to bed at 2 AM most nights and getting up at 7 is bleedin’ EX-HAUUUS-TING. I go to bed and my heart skips beats – I’ve had it checked and the doctor says it’s totally healthy, I’m just overtiring myself. I physically feel that I can’t carry on like this forever. The hope is that the art will take off enough to let me lose the day job, but I guess I’m racing against the clock in a way. So yeah, sometimes the mind is willing but the body is weak 🙂

  • I have found out that I have to watch out for becoming a human doing instead of a human being. Things like laying down on the bed, not even falling asleep, for an hour and just being are so incredibly key to my creative juices. When my life is so full that I don’t have time for that on a day off, then my creative life suffers.

    As to doing the deal, the whole art biz deal, I have to say that keeping up with classes and doing everything that it requires is sometimes just one more thing to do, and I have to realize that while I work a full time job (that’s not the art business) I can only fit so much more into my time. Not that its not all worth doing and learning about and applying, and ultimately the alternative to my job, just that personally I have to keep my eye on what’s really important in life as a whole. And generally for me that’s a healthy balance, and realize that for me, creating the art is more important than selling it. And unless I am healthy enough to do that, no amount of marketing is going to work, as I won’t have the art to sell.

  • Intellectually I market – but in practice not enough. I read lots i paint lots but belief in selling is a great big problem. I sold well at The Crypt St Ives – hired for the week for a solo show – and have booked for the same time week next year – pleased to get accepted date – first choice – but the work I’m doing now feels like I’m waiting for next October and the Show

  • Great topic! Thanks. Like someone else I am working a “day job” and also building my bookbinding business. Based on the time I spend, the times I say no to other fun activities, etc. I am highly motivated. I often don’t feel sufficiently motivated to get some tasks done that are not so much fun however. This past month I had a student intern who was a wonderful motivating boost! Having her in my studio made ME more productive. I have recently begun a conversation with a retired friend who says she does not have enough to do to take some of the repetitive organizational tasks off my plate. I also have 2 sisters and 2 friends who serve as my advisory board. I find that setting up ways in which I am accountable to others helps my internal motivation.

  • Karen

    I appreciate this compelling article. I wonder if other artists out there are experiencing similar distress at not producing art when they know they are completely capable of it. I believe that one reason for lack of motivation to paint is a self-protective emotional response to an underlying fear.
    It’s scary putting it out there, but here goes. Can the emotional reason for not painting be greater than the logical reasoning that I should be painting because I know I want to?
    Can being shut down as an artist have more to do with self-protection from a much earlier emotional trauma than what is happening right now? All the self-lecturing and beating oneself up for procrastinating cannot win against a subconscious belief that will not allow you to paint.
    Talent and motivation can be 100% but if the belief and fear that stops you is not dealt with, results will be slowed to a snail’s pace or completely stopped, as was my case.
    It took me over 30 years to pick up a brush again. From the time I was a child I never wanted to do anything but be an artist. My future looked so promising, yet because of my circumstances I stopped painting in my 20’s. In spite of decades of attempts to get back to it, I never could. The block was so deep that even picking up a brush felt like a 50-lb weight was attached to my arm and was so exhausting my efforts never lasted.
    I’m happy to tell you that I finally did get my stuff figured out and today that fear is gone and I’m free to paint again. I can answer the questions in Alyson’s post thoughtfully and honestly, which gives me motivation to move forward instead of sending me into a tailspin like it would have in the past.
    I’m now in my late 50’s and paint or draw nearly every day, fear-free! I’ve answered Alyson’s first questions and realized that I really do want to be an artist and am now doing whatever it takes to make it happen. Sometimes our reasons for lack of motivation have nothing to do with our art, but must be examined if we ever want to break free and let our artist thrive.