Mixed Motives

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:


I talked once with an artist-turned-social worker about what motivated his career change. He told me that after years of painting he grew tired of his self-absorption wanting instead to help others. He told me that, in his view, all artists are ultimately self-absorbed, spending endless hours exploring their own feelings and perspectives.

I asked to see his paintings. Perhaps, I wondered, he was never really good in the first place. When he showed me his work, I was astonished. An old, damaged door at the end of misshapen stairs, a battered antique car with an ominous storm in the background- images evoking strong emotion, stories embedded deeply within.

Not long ago I was at a poorly attended book-signing of a businessman-turned-writer-of-social-advocacy-non-fiction. He had worked for a large corporation making money for it and for himself. Through circumstance, he saw how negatively his work affected those in poverty and abandoned his aspirations in order to write books with a conscience. An intriguing metamorphosis. Yet, as I talked with him, I couldn’t help but think that he was more interested in selling his books than in changing the world. I wanted to discuss his experiences with him, but when it became apparent that I would not buy, he turned away, waved a copy of his book in the air,  and called out to a passer-by, “Have you read my book?”.

I wish I had never met the author of those books. I would have stood a chance of reading them and being changed.

I wish the artist-turned-social-worker had not judged himself so harshly. I would have loved to have seen his future creations.

Perhaps even poor motives can lead to inspiring work.

Image Source



Today’s 4 Minute Writer  

Instilling Culture

Melissa is ten years old. She likes trying on make-up, playing Star Wars computer games, and making beaded jewelery.

Her mother is cultured, obsessed with museums, art, literature, and ballet. She loves her little girl and seeks every opportunity to pass along her passion.

Mother has decided that it’s time for Melissa to learn the work of Botticelli.

Melissa stares at Venus standing on a seashell that looks like the one in their bathroom. She’s embarrassed by what the lady is not wearing.

Her mother speaks rapidly, hands flying, eyes round, unblinking.

Daughter wishes she could just go back to being an uncultured, happy kid.

Image source

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Filed under Creativity, Writing

15 responses to “Mixed Motives

  1. I love reading your blog. Every day.

  2. Excellent post. We see what people do, and we think we know their motives. But do we? Sometimes we may guess correctly. We can only look on the outside at what we see people do. We can only guess what’s in their hearts and minds, the inside, because we cannot know it. Our knowledge is limited. Intuitively we make decisions because we must.

    I like the story. It shows how motives may be right and the resulting actions may be wrong. Mom, although she may have her daughter’s welfare in mind, seems misguided and out of balance. The child seems to the mom to be rebellious, yet we sympathize with the child more than with the mom. Life is complicated where motives are concerned. I am glad we have an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God to rule throughout eternity. Until then, we muddle through it all and do our best with our limitations. Blessings to you, Zoe…

    • Thanks for your insights. Different people take things different ways too. With the writer, others may have not even thought of his actions as brushing them off as I did. With the second story, had the child been a different person, she may have loved learning about Botticelli- or the mother may have known what may be a more age-appropriate approach for her daughter.
      You’re right, “we muddle through it all and do our best with our limitations”. Somehow it all works out in the end.

  3. Maybe he wanted to sell books so that others would be inspired to change the world?

    Maybe he wanted to sell books to feed his ego?

    Maybe he wanted to sell books to care for aging relatives in nursing homes?

    Maybe he didn’t like the scarf you were wearing? 😉

  4. I wrestle with my motives to the point of paralysis!

  5. I wonder what that mischievous man Stravinsky might have said about his motives? Or Picasso? Or Beethoven?
    I believe strongly that artistic creation is like a great flood. It will come, and it is not choosy whom it affects. Jonah was chosen as a great communicator of a vital message and he ran away from expressing it. That got him into the belly of a whale. Creation happens in strange ways, and for some it is an imperative.

    • There is something wonderful about realizing that the creative impulse is not our own, it is given to us/comes over us at certain times and, perhaps, for specific purposes. What a ride when we are caught up in its flow.

  6. Having considered artists’ motives a lot lately and discussed my own with others, I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you!
    (Sometimes the creation and the creator seem to me very separate, almost ununitable – if that’s even a word – entities.)

    • I once heard an author say that when she re-reads her books she doesn’t even remember ever having written them, that is how removed she is from her work. I am the opposite. I can pick up writing I did years ago and remember exactly how I felt writing those words. I’d like to have the kind of distance that author had.

  7. These are all fabulous comments. Perhaps why we do something is not as important as doing something is.

    • I think our motives are always mixed and it could even be said that most times we don’t judge our own motives accurately, yet are unaware of this. I agree with you- at some point, if something is worth doing we just have to do it- enact the Nike logo 🙂

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