Internal Motivation and Fluidity

A student asked me why I didn’t use a (positive) reward system to help less motivated students complete their projects. My answer was that (in life) each of us is responsible for the decisions we make. The student responded, yes, but you could try to help the students be successful now.

I thought about this a bit. I wondered why I would not want to help students achieve success with a reward system.

My answer to myself was this. I teach art to encourage something larger, rather than teaching something larger, to encourage art. My goal is to help students find their internal motivation through art. What would they like to express? What is their expression?

Because the skills and techniques of the visual arts can be taught through such a variety of subject matters and mediums, I can be somewhat fluid in helping students find their own interests, styles, gifts, desires. This is where their motivation connects.   If I provide too much external motivation, I have taken from them, their ability to find their own.

Sometimes, what might appear to be external (for example, getting into college or even high school) can be either externally or internally motivated.   If a student is completing their project (not because they like it), but because they believe it would help them to achieve other ends that they want (such as getting into high school or college or anything they desire); then, they are internally motivated. Yet, if the motivation for completing the project is that I believe it would be good for them to get into college, then, they are externally motivated.

Complete internal motivation is only an ideal in our imperfect world. Yet, art seems one exceptional place to search and try to find that motivation. Because art is a very fluid subject, there is a natural forum for self-discovery.

We do not always have a motivation, drive or interest to do something. Yet, it is hard to determine where our motivations exist, without understanding where our motivation doesn’t exist.

It sometimes takes allowing chaos, to allow the fluidity of choice. This is not always possible in our world constrained by limited time and limited energy, for all of us. We have to live in a world with boundaries and sometimes rules. So, I feel particularly lucky, to sometimes remain clear of these, and allow chaos to turn into creativity, both in my own life, and that of younger students.

Fluidity is so important in this process. I can have a starting point. Yet, for me to discover who I am, or for others to discover who they are, I can’t know where that beginning point will lead.   If I decide ahead of time where the journey ends, then I have cut out fluidity, individuality, and ultimately the possibility of internal motivation.

So, I must remain on a journey, without a clear ending, whether it is my path or that of my students. Although I may have started at the point of self -portraits, I must continue at the point of pet portraits and abstract expressionism or perhaps nothing, if no motivation is found. Or, if we start with a still life, I may find that the still life motivates playing with color and experimentation, which leads to swirling colors in a basin and then on to marbleization.  Or sometimes, one can be fluid from the start: Found Object Art: what do you want to create?  Yet, even then, it is possible that a motivation won’t be found.   Although it seems to be!

Yet, what happens when motivation was there, but fails, because the tasks in between seem too big? I would say this is very important and very related, but can perhaps be addressed as part of a perfectionism topic.

Freedom of art expression, has allowed me to develop and see myself more clearly: knowing what colors I am, what colors I am not, and a having an impressionistic idea of what colors I might be in the future. I believe this can be the case for anyone. This is one of my motivations for teaching arts.

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