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Contrarian Critters by Robert Genn

Contrarian Critters
by Robert Genn

In the studio or on the road, many artists find they're at their most creative when they're simply on the lookout for joy.


When a job has some sort of outside payoff--typically cash--it's known as an "extrinsic reward." When there's no payoff except for the joy, it's known as an "intrinsic reward." Experts are now seeing intrinsic reward as the silver bullet of motivation and a principal key to evolved work.


A revealing study by Teresa Amabile and colleagues at the Harvard Business School tells some of the story. The researchers asked a number of artists to select 20 of their works of which 10 were commissions and 10 were from their regular production. A panel of curators and art experts, knowing nothing of the nature of the research, were then asked to rate each work on creativity and technical skill. While skill ratings turned out to be pretty well the same, the commissioned works consistently rated lower on creativity.


In my experience, grants can have a similar affect. By the time the bureaucratic slot machine paid off, friends who recently applied for long greens were burdened by "receiver's remorse." Projects lost their lustre and creative quality suffered.


While we may work to perfect our craft, and we definitely need to be challenged, to get the best from ourselves we need to pretend that nothing of what we do is actually work. A creative thriver needs to be an independent self and a seeker of joy. If joy's not in you, you might need to delude yourself that it is.


Blessed are those to whom a sense of joy comes naturally. But artists need to be reminded that the squeezing of joy is also a responsibility. There's an irony to it all--it's been my observation that the most blissful players are the hardest workers.


Best regards,




PS: "The misuse of extrinsic rewards, so common in business, impedes creativity, stifles personal satisfaction and turns play into work. After basic material needs are met, the quid pro quo of if/then rewards--if you do this, I'll give you that--saps the juice from the job." (Daniel Pink)


Esoterica: My son James and I have just wandered 4,800 kilometres in Argentina. We had no agenda and no commissions to fulfill--we were just looking around seeing what came up. Listening to downloads and audio-books on the car radio illuminated the spaces in between. Late each evening, over the spectacular Argentine steaks, creative conversation flowed like Iguasu Falls. Like the sea lions on Peninsula Valdez on the west coast of Patagonia, we artists need to be contrarian critters. It's my observation that, deep down, we artists know what works. It's just that we don't always have the insight--or perhaps the courage--to let the joyous work flow. "Humans are self-directed and work best when we have three things," says Daniel Pink in his audio book, Drive: (1) Autonomy--the ability to control aspects of our time, tasks and techniques. (2) The opportunity for mastery, and (3) A sense of purpose--a connection to something larger than ourselves."

Robert Genn has given ARTAZINE permission to post from his twice-weekly newsletter. For more of his artistic insights, visit his blog at www.painterspost.com.

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