What motivates people to create art/design?


The contribution artists and designers make to the world is felt from the everyday (think for a moment about the design of the chair you’re sitting on as you read this or the shape and design of the electronic device you are holding to do so) to the rare and spectacular (consider the work of sand artists or extraordinary architectural feats such as the Flatiron Building in NY). What would our world be like without this phenomenal motivation to create?

Have you ever wondered where such motivation comes from? What pushes people to create art or design? It’s an interesting question to ponder. Let’s face it, for most people it’s not because of the lure of fame or financial reward. Unpacking this question a little might help us understand our own creative motivations further.

At first glance the list of possible motivations could include:

  • to communicate ideas, views, way of seeing the world
  • to make a contribution to the world
  • satisfaction
  • a need or craving
  • expression
  • pleasure (and pain)
  • health (it feels good to do it).

Art Junction has posted a list of 21 reasons they think people make art. See what you think.

If we dig a bit deeper and look at the research on this topic it turns out there’s not a great deal to draw upon that focuses specifically on artists and designers and creative motivation. Researchers have focused a lot on motivation generally (for example, the intrinsic and extrinsic aspects), so we know that psychology plays a significant role. But we don’t know much (yet) about how this links to artists and designers’ creative outputs.

A few people have started to research this area though. Let’s take a look.

Mary-Anne Mace has researched this topic with visual artists in New Zealand. She points to the interest, enjoyment and freedom experienced in problem solving and discovery. The self plays a huge role in this too, according to her analysis. Pushing ourselves, exploring particular aspects, testing our limits, personal growth – she argues that all of this is interwoven through the motivation to create among visual artists.

Control and creative freedom appear to be key ingredients too according to Joanne Stohs’s research on male fine artists. Importantly, she questions whether artists relying on intrinsic motivation (such as enjoyment and satisfaction) to create is sustainable over time. In other words, she wonders if extrinsic rewards (such as money or other physical comforts) might play a role in motivating a person to continually be creative throughout their life.

What about designers? Shulamith Kreitler and Hernan Casakin did some research about motivation and design students. They found that motivation for creativity depends on two things: the self and the environment (context). Other aspects are important too such as having a sense of freedom, acting under uncertainty (an openness to risk taking), contributing to society and pushing oneself.

So it turns out the motivation to create for artists and designers is a complex arena. However, the verdict appears to be that much of this motivation comes internally from within the individual with external conditions and rewards assisting in setting up a climate that supports creative behaviour. It’s also possible that intrinsic and extrinsic factors ebb and flow in the role they play in motivating artists and designers over time.

For each individual artist or designer the emphasis on these elements will look a bit different. Take a look here at three artists talking about why they create art.

What motivates you to create? Think about it for a moment. If you’re stuck use the list above from Art Junction as a prompt.

What would motivate you to create more? What changes do you need to make so that this is possible?