Everything is Googleable these days, right?
If you want to know who painted Las Meninas, Google it and you'll quickly find it was Diego Velázquez in 1656. From there, you'll see that it hangs in Room 012 of the Prado and can read about the Infanta Margarita and her mother's maids-of-honor. You can even click on Room 012 and see the paintings of family members that keep the young princess company in that same gallery.
Not into 17th century Spanish painting? Other treasures await you on the internet. You can Google how to write your artist statement, how to grow your email list, and how to use Instagram Stories.
It's easy to find answers. It's harder to know if the answers are right for you and when you should stop looking for answers outside of yourself.
It can be painful to sit in the unknown and explore what might be possible. But … oh! … the rewards that await you when you do.
When you sit in the question rather than looking for answers, you begin generating additional questions and rephrasing your original question to be more in line with what you are seeking.
In his exceptional book, Smarter Faster Better, Charles Duhigg notes that questions beginning with “Why” 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 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. A week? Probably okay.
An entire month 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 from 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 …
Is there someone else who could do this?
Is there a different solution that no one has considered?
Is this in alignment with my vision, goals, and values?
If I make this choice, how will it serve me 3 months from now? 1 year from now? 5 years from now?
What if I pass on this opportunity? What if I agree to it?
What’s the worst that could happen? The best? Which is easier to live with?
The Big Why: Why is it important that I do this?
When You’d Rather Do Anything Other Than Marketing
Yeah, I know. You’d rather be in the studio.
You’d rather the art fairy visit your studio in the middle of the night, wave her magic wand, and sell all of your art. What a joy it would be to enter an empty studio and discover a big fat check on your work table!
Well, you’d better roll over and keep dreaming cuz that ain’t gonna happen.
Your success, whatever that means to you, is your responsibility. Keep in mind …
Who needs to know about this event/exhibition/product?
Who haven’t I been in touch with lately?
Who needs to know about my art?
The Big Why: Why is it important that I share my art?
(Until you know the answer to this, you’ll keep making excuses for not doing the work.)
When Sales Are Slow (or Zippo)
Whether your work sells or not depends on a huge variety of factors, including pricing, competition, quality, venue, marketing, and networking.
You can’t try something once or twice and say it didn’t work. And you can’t fix what you can’t control.
Examine the results …
Where am I not making my best effort?
Where have I been inconsistent?
Have I outgrown this space/exhibition/event?
How has my work changed?
Are my works larger or smaller than what’s selling?
Am I following up?
The Big, Overarching Why: Why is it necessary that my art sells?
When Your Next Move Is a Big One
You’ve been doing the same shows year after year. Or maybe you’re teaching the same classes to the same students at the same level that you were five years ago. Yawn.
If you’ve been stuck in a rut, it is probably time to make a big move if you want to grow as a person and an artist. Step back and review …
What obstacles will I need to overcome?
Where am I playing it too safe?
What makes me uncomfortable, and how might my business expand if I overcome that discomfort?
By when can I make the next move happen?
Where is there opportunity that I’m ignoring?
Am I all in?
Two Big Whys: Why do I want this? Why have I been avoiding this?
When You’re Too Much In Your Head
You’re focusing too much on yourself and not about your place in the bigger world. You have forgotten your vision and all that you can be.
Time to reboot and start thinking about others …
Who can I send a Thank You card to today?
What are my blessings?
What do I need to do to fill the creative well?
Who can I help today?
The Biggest Why of All: Why am I here?
Next time you find yourself feeling unmotivated or stuck, resist the temptation to Google your way through to the light. Try asking yourself the hard questions.
What's the Big Why that motivates you?
As you probably know, I'm a huge fan of journaling—especially when I'm stuck or overwhelmed. Journaling helps me uncover answers that are within myself, which means that my journal is full of questions I want to explore.
As an educator in art museums, I learned that asking the right questions can help visitors explore artwork and “own” their personal experiences with that work. This builds confidence for their next encounter with art and enhances their connection to individual pieces.
Because most people haven't had a visual education (they weren't taught how to look at art), it's critical that, when the moment is right, you are able to teach them how to look. This is something I teach in module 5 of my course, Magnetic You.
This post was originally published on May 18, 2017, and has been updated with original comments intact.