Artistic Honesty: Inspiration vs. Motivation

Does the artist work for himself or the markets? It can be a conundrum–“to thine own self be true” but, at the same time, I must eat. I ply my trade to make a personal, artistic statement and to make a living.

The fact of financial insecurity…and the momentum of my own work and my efforts to be responsible for it, have thrown me into the open. The open being: I am an artist.”
Anne Truitt 

Sometimes, as though I’m doing a commissioned portrait instead of a painting, I catch myself thinking, “is this what they want?” And I stop myself because, in the end, it is just the artwork that remains to speak for us. We should promise, as George Washington said, “integrity and firmness”.

There is a difference between motivation and inspiration. We are motivated by hunger, by financial responsibility, but art is inspired (notwithstanding the blood, sweat and tears required to produce our creations). Physical money could, and has been, the inspiration for contemporary artists. But, here, it is still not “financial insecurity” that is the muse.

“muse /myo͞oz/1. In Greek and Roman mythology, each of nine goddesses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who preside over the arts and sciences  2. A woman, or a force personified as a woman, who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.”
Oxford Dictionaries

I’m not sure this is as much about how to define art as it is about honesty. Integrity and honesty should paint the picture, mold the sculpture. But does that mean the colors-of-the-day should not guide my brush? If beige and turquoise are “in”, am I less honest in using them in my work in order to increase my chances of a sale? If my paintings aim to emulate the popular style, or couch-matching colors, of the day, is this less than honest? If beach houses sell well am I less of an artist for painting them? With such a strategy there is still an artistic component to it isn’t there?

Beach Bungalows 24x30 oil on canvas by MTMcClanahanMaybe the answer lies in the context, i.e., the patron should know what they are buying, what motivates the artist.  Some buyers only want that piece of art which matches the decor; they are not looking for anything else. Some are enamored of subject matter–most are it is said.

Still, there is a difference between creating and emulating. I don’t want to paint with my calculator. So maybe it does come down to how I define what I do. I put my creations on the high pedestal of “Fine Art”, where response is to nature and God, not to man.

MT McClanahan

An artist and perpetual thinker, MT McClanahan finds inspiration through connecting ideas across a broad range of topics. He especially enjoys philosophy and how art and life interconnect. He is the founder of TPT and his paintings can be seen at

You may also like...

15 Responses

  1. roopadudley says:

    I am intrinsically motivated. If I have something to say, share or confess, I get to work and create. My main objective is to “Delight My Viewer”. If I can do that then I consider my piece to be a success. I don’t paint to make a living because I am privileged — but it most certainly brings me great joy and deep satisfaction when a collector likes a painting so much that s/he has to have and to hold it forever. To me that is what my art about — To delight and remind my viewer that there is much more to one’s life than a mundane existence.

    • The “privileged” are not so often as honest as yourself Roopa. I don’t think I think about delighting the viewer too much. I guess I do want them to see what I am seeing, and that includes harmony/beauty. But my “message” is about life–happy or not–but hopefully honest.

  2. Try to put our best craftsmanship in all we produce.

    • Definitely! I Would hope all would agree on this. You may be saying that craftsmanship comes before all else–that the other question is secondary. I may still agree with you here.

  3. Dawn says:

    I will be the rebel! I hate doing commissions. I have had the commissions from hell. I will not do them anymore. That’s also because of my personality I’m sure. I paint for myself. I am blessed to be able to do that. Only my opinion, but a true artist follows their soul, paints their soul…otherwise you are just copying reality with a twist of color or composition. These are my opinions only. I don’t mean to offend anyone…but sometimes some pepper thrown in does some good!

    • Commissions have become a sore point for me also Dawn. I only do them if the client knows what to expect–in other words, they know what I do and what it looks like and that’s what they want.

      I used to “freeze up” doing them–and my work suffered. Couldn’t stand that–bad work going out the door–even if the client accepted it, it has to be right for me.

      And your other point, artist’s focus on different things. Some work is meant to be illustrative, or designer, and even here these can be highly artistic and creative.

      These two points go hand-in-hand. It is not so easy a thing, as you point out, to do commission work. It is a skill, an art indeed, to be able to give a patron exactly what they want. I think there is too much of “me” that wants to get out and paint the picture.

    • roopadudley says:

      I cannot agree more Dawn. I have a hard time accepting commissions. It also depends upon the type of commission as well. I subscribe to the same philosophy as yours.

      • It can be difficult to pass up a sure thing money wise with a commission. But this is part of the answer maybe–if it leaves distaste to do them then maybe art and money don’t mix.

  4. Brenda says:

    I believe in personal and artistic integrity. In the pursuit of money and fame I lost my soul and my peace of mind. I have
    had to fight back to maintain my joy and artistic muse. Even if I starve tomorrow, it is not worth it to me to follow one and loose the other. I follow a different path and will not be swayed by the
    forces of convention. The price has proven too high for me to pay.

    • Brenda, there is a photo I can’t seem to get out of my head that illustrates the problem I think. It shows an emaciated, starving man lying on the ground. Next to him stands a meaty bovine. This man’s religion would not allow him to kill and eat the cow.

      So do we starve ourselves in the name of artistic integrity. Do I want to die a pauper, secure in the knowledge that I didn’t sell-out, or do I want to reap the rewards of my craft in this life?

      • roopadudley says:

        Yes Marcus. If we have faith in our artistic integrity, there is a good chance we may not starve — given there is a market for that type of artwork. Being a pauper is a state of mind. A lyric from Madonna’s song comes to mind “Poor is the man whose pleasure depends on the permission of another”. One simply cannot serve two masters.

    • roopadudley says:

      Brenda, I believe in you and I appreciate your artistic integrity as well. Everything will fall in the right places once you follow what you MUST. In the end that is all that really matters.

  5. elenaslc9 says:

    It is a big pleasure to see your new article and new art work, Marcus! I love your fresh colors and bold brush stokes.
    And I have to tell you: your “muse” give you a great ideas all the time.
    Follow her voice …
    Best wishes, my dear friend!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *