Why? Questions for Self-Motivation

Most weeks I write as if I have all of the answers. I don’t. Far from it. I write about what I’ve experienced or witnessed.

When I don’t know an answer, I know the best way to find it: Ask.

Questions can help us think more comprehensively about a situation – especially questions that begin with “why.”

In his exceptional book, Smarter Faster Better, Charles Duhigg notes that “why” questions help us link hard choices to something we care about. He says, “Make a chore into a meaningful decision, and self-motivation will emerge.”

With that in mind, I’ve outlined a number of situations in which you might need a hefty dose of self-motivation. Each has a number of questions to help you make progress and a Big Why to ask yourself.

When You’re Not Making Art

One day off is understandable. Two days is acceptable.

An entire week without thinking about or making art is something to be concerned about when you’re trying to gain recognition and earn money from your art.

Ask yourself …

Why am I not inspired? What can I do about it?

What am I prioritizing above my art? Is it right to do so? (It might be!)

One year today, will I be happy that I chose to spend my time in other ways?

The Big Why: Why do I care?

When You’re Overwhelmed

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the demands of modern life and all that is required to run a business. And you can’t let it stop you.

Take a deep breath and consider …

What do I need to do more of to feel in control?

What do I need to do less of?

What do I need to let go of?

What boundaries do I need to better abide by?

The Big Why: Why am I overwhelmed in the first place?

When Too Many People Want a Piece of You

The gallery needs new work. The art center asks you to teach a class. The organization wants you to serve on the board.

Before you say Yes to everything immediately, it’s worth pausing to think about these questions …

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Processing Loss Through Your Art

Painting by Carol L. Myers

A gentle warning before you read this. This was supposed to be a celebration article, but things happened that led me in a different direction. You might find it sad.

Stick with me because there is a message here that you might need. Maybe not now, but someday. And I promise that there is a happy ending.

Thank you in advance for allowing me to share this story with you.

Let’s start with the celebration. This week I celebrate 15 years of writing a weekly email to artists, which I mark as the anniversary of Art Biz Coach. The newsletter is now posted here on the blog where you’re reading it.

It was on March 25, 2002 that I sent my first private email as a sample to artists I found on the Internet.

I can’t promise this newsletter and corresponding blog post will go on forever. I can’t even promise they will happen next week. But I’m pretty proud that I have never missed a weekly issue. That’s 780 newsletters if you’re counting.

This week’s newsletter – the very one you’re reading now on the blog – was a close call. Here’s what happened.

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Dwell In the Love Not On the Rejection

Plenty of people denounce Valentine’s Day as one that was invented by the greeting card industry, but put me in the column for wanting more love, more hearts, and more sappy cards.

Send away!

Recognize the romantic love between you and your partner.

Celebrate familial love with your parents, children, and extended family.

Commemorate the special love between you and your friends.

And don’t forget to honor the love you have for your buyers, collectors, patrons, and students.

Send cards, flowers, and chocolates. If it’s too late to pop something in the mail, start typing your email messages.

While you’re at it, stock up on the love for yourself because you’re gonna need it.

Ouch!

The artist’s life is full of rejection and criticism.

The gallery doesn’t want your work. That couple praised your recent piece, but didn’t buy it. The residency you want so badly won’t consider your application.

To add insult to injury, nobody commented on your recent blog or social media post. You’re beginning to wonder what the point of all this is.

It’s amazing that any artist thrives at all. It’s a testament to your resilience that you persevere despite the roadblocks you encounter.

You do it because you have an unwavering commitment in the work you do. You can’t imagine doing anything else.

Still, because you are human, the criticism and rejection hurt.

And those voices are louder than any chorus of praise you might receive. The default for so many of us is to dwell on the negative comments and rejections and ignore all of the nice things that people say about our work.

Do this instead:

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Ways of BE-ing

Goals are about action and achievement. They’re about DO-ing. Consider these examples:

You identify challenging goals to move closer to the vision you have for your art career (and life).

And … because you don’t want your vision to get lost in the busy-ness of working toward individual goals, it’s important to remember how you want to feel as you’re striving toward those goals.

With that in mind, I asked my Art Biz Inner Circle members how they wanted to BE in 2017.

Many artists chose a word-of-the-year to answer the question. I thought it would be fun to share with you the wide range of be-ing words, which I’ve grouped into seven categories in this article.

I hope you’ll take a look at this list of ways of be-ing for artists and see if any of them ring true for you.

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Aligning Actions with Words = Success

Do your actions align with your words?

What I mean is: if you say that you want a successful art career, are you doing what it takes? Or are you exerting the minimum effort without any thought of your future?

If you say you want one thing, but aren’t taking action to support that one thing, you are out of alignment. You’re confusing the Universe – probably because you have mixed feelings yourself.

If you proclaim that you want a successful art career, I have six questions to to ensure that your actions align with your dreams.

1. Do you maintain a regular studio practice?

I don’t mean to imply that you have to be in the studio from 8:00am to 5:00pm every day for six days a week. I’m just asking if the art is getting made.

Without the art, you are not an artist. Without the art, you have nothing to promote.

Without the art, a successful art career just ain’t happenin’.

2. Are you promoting your art consistently?

Or are you promoting your art only when you feel like it?

Consistent promotion doesn’t equal bombarding your list and followers with your art. It’s about having a schedule and sticking to it rather than marketing whenever it strikes your fancy.

If you’re a dabbler, you have the luxury of marketing whenever you want to.

If you want a successful art career, you have to get over the idea that

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Own Your Ambition

Geri deGruy's Equanimity

“Ambitious artists hire me because they want more recognition for their art and support as they get their art out of the studio and into the world.”

I strung together these words during a small group discussion at a conference. One of my Inner Circle members happened to be sitting next to me and flinched at the word choice: ambitious. (You should have seen her face!)

Then she challenged me on it. The word just didn’t sound right, she thought.

I said, “You’re ambitious. Don’t you think?” She thought a bit, and agreed with a little hesitation, “Yes, I probably am. It’s just the word I have problems with.”

Ambitious Artists

Definitions of ambition include:

– A strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.

-A desire and determination to achieve success.

– An earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment.

If you don’t see yourself in any of these definitions, you might want to rethink your path as an artist-entrepreneur (all successful artists are also entrepreneurs).

Without the desire, there’s no

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How To Be Happier About Running Your Art Business

You love making art.

You probably think it would be great if you could just make art all of the time and do nothing else.

The title of my book on self-promotion for artists didn’t come out of thin air. It came from hearing artists whine about not wanting to do the business stuff: I’d Rather Be in the Studio.

Yeah, the studio is a great place for you to hang out and to be creative, but two things cannot happen if you stay holed up in the studio:

1. You cannot be financially viable by hiding out in the studio.

2. You cannot be emotionally or professionally fulfilled by keeping your art to yourself.

For these two things to happen, you have to embrace your role as the leader of your business. This doesn’t sit well with many artists who prefer pretending that they can ignore the business stuff.

There are ways to be happier about running a business, but first you must decide that this is what you want. As part of that decision, you can decide to be pouty and grumble about all of the hard work, or you can decide that you’ll find ways to enjoy the ride.

Which way would you rather go through life?

What Makes Me Happy About Running My Business

Running a successful business means long hours and many sacrifices. But if I had known about the deep satisfaction that results, I might have explored the options much sooner.

I love that …

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Lucky You

When it comes to building an art career, I subscribe to Thomas Jefferson’s view of luck:

I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it. ― Thomas Jefferson

In other words, don’t rely on luck to hand you a successful art career. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. Every. Single. Day.

On this St. Patrick’s Day, it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves how lucky we are. But every lucky gold coin has a flip side to be aware of.

Self-Expression

You’re lucky you can express yourself freely through your art form. We take this for granted, but not everyone in the world can safely get away with doing so.

In many countries, artists are a dangerous lot because they refuse to go along with the status quo and have “outrageous” ideas about democracy and freedom of religion.

Above all, be grateful for freedom of expression.

On the flip side:

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How Your Art Makes People Feel

©Margaux Lange, Bust Heart Necklaces. Salvaged Barbie doll parts, sterling silver, and hand-pigmented resins, pendant measures 1.5 x 1.25 inches.

People don’t buy what you do or why you do it. They buy how it makes them feel. – Bernadette Jiwa

When I heard Jiwa utter those words on a stage in Denver last year, I had an AHA! moment. I had previously been sucked in by Simon Sinek’s famous TED Talk, Start With Why.

People don’t buy what you do, or how you do it. They buy why you do it.

It’s a powerful message that is hard to disagree with, yet it fell short for many artists, who were paralyzed for months or years over the inability to nail their Why.

Jiwa’s quote adds clarification. People buy how it makes them feel.

People buy your art because it makes them feel something.

To find your purpose (your why), all you have to do is remember the connection you are making with others through your art.

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It’s a Choice, Not a Sacrifice

©2014 Carmen Mariscal, Au fil de l'Eau/ Al filo del agua 1/1. Installation : cut-out photographs (4 black and white and 12 color), mirrors and transparent thread. Photos range from 39.3 x 59 inches to 11.8 x 6.7 cm. With permission by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France BnF. Photographed by Claude Gaspari. Used with permission.

In 2000 I had been working in art museums for 10 years and had a great job as a director of education.

And I was miserable.

I had a choice. I could keep being miserable, or I could do something about it. I chose the latter. The next year I sold my house and donated many of my belongings. Then I packed up a U-Haul and moved to a small garage apartment in Denver.

I started an art-consulting business and was instantly happier.

I had no steady paycheck, no health insurance, and no idea how to run a business. But I was blissfully happy.

I chose happiness over the security of a museum job.

It was rocky in the beginning, but I kept getting requests for help from artists I had known in my museum career and others who found my art-consulting business online. I chose to listen to them.

I could have easily held firm to my original plan, but I made a different choice that has worked out pretty well.

Choice v. Sacrifice

We often think that building an art career requires sacrifice. You might sacrifice:

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