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The HeART of Design Business, Part 5: Motivation

HeART strivingThe HeART of Design Business is a five-part series that addresses the tensions artists feel when they face the creativity-sapping realities of running a business. Part one dealt with matters of money and finances, part two with measuring time, part three with marketing, part four with managing growth, and in this final installment we’ll get to the heart of hearts—our deepest motives for doing what we do, and the ways in which our hearts can betray us.

What gets you up out of bed in the morning? What fuels your day (besides coffee)? What keeps you going day after day, week after week, year after year? Obviously there are the necessities: we work for food, clothing, and to pay our mortgages. But necessities are not the only thing that motivates us. We want more out of our work. We want our work to be interesting; we want it to be successful; we want it to be satisfying; and we want it to be meaningful.

The Artist’s Relationship to the Work
Artists’ relationships to their work is more complicated than most. Everyone struggles to some degree with work life, sometimes finding it satisfying, and sometimes bitter toil. But artists engage in their work differently than other professional practices. They put more of themselves, more of their heart, into their work than is typical of other professions.

If you want to test this idea just compare the average design firm’s website with that of any other small service business. One contrast you’re likely to find is that the average accountant’s, or lawyer’s, or carpenter’s website will emphasize their work product. They very rarely emphasize their own experience in doing the work. Design websites, on the other hand, often feature the firm’s culture, their love for the creativity, and their belief in the goodness of doing their work. They feature their experience in working, as much as they do the work product itself. This contrast points out how artists relate to their work not merely as a product or service to be offered, but as something more, something deeper, something more meaningful in itself. Designers are artists. Accountants produce tax returns.

How you relate to you work, as an artist, is more complex than most. It has deeper roots, because it is connected to your artistic identity and purpose. This series has addressed heart issues designers face with respect to money, minutes, marketing, and management—but now we’re getting down to the deepest motivations of the creative heart.

We’re heading into deep waters! When we looked at each of the other four areas, our goal was tom look past the tactical business issues and consider the way that artists uniquely engage these business realities. Any business owner might struggle with balance sheets, cash flow, time management, sales, and employee problems. But the artist as business owner faces these challenges with an added struggle. On top of the basic business complexities, artists carry an extra burden from how they relate to their work. Art somehow feels different from other forms of employment—from other business models.

Getting To The Heart of the Matter
If you study art history you’ll find that art, down through the ages, has always reflected thought. Some argue that artists create new ways of thinking and looking at the world, and no doubt they do. Thoughts and ideas, and their expressions in the arts, have a way of mutually reinforcing and sharpening each other. But whether art drives ideas, or is being driven by them, there is a tight connection between ideas and art. Art, in a sense, is visual philosophy.

One difference between art and formal philosophy is that the artist is typically working in a creatively instinctive way whereas philosophers engage ideas cognitively as they evaluate them with logical precision. Artists are more like wind chimes whose music is influenced by the direction and strength of the air flowing around them. But they are not merely acted upon. They bring their own vision, expression, and personality into the music, thus pushing forward ideas, in ways that enable others to experience them and reflect on them.

Artists are engaged in the pursuit of ideas and their meanings, just as philosophers are. Now fine artists are more self-conscious about this aspect of their work. Designers, though not as intensely philosophical about their work as fine artists, are still artists after all, and so they bring an artist’s self-reflective engagement into all their work. So even though you may be producing an annual report, you engage in that work in a way that strives for meaning—even when the product may not, in the scheme of things, seem to have all that much meaning in itself. I don’t think accountants approach their tax returns with this same kind of angst.

Continue Reading at HOW Design

RISD Alumni Relations Presents:
The HeART of Design Business Webinar
Tuesday, October 20th, 2015
6:30 pm – 8:00 pm EST
Fees: $12 RISD Alumni, CE Students + Public, Free for RISD Students

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