Does Intrinsic Value Of Art Derive From Intrinsic Motivation to Create It?

Traveling a bit this week and will be occupied with trying to beat my nephews in squirt gun battles. As is my custom, I am reaching back to the archives for some bits of wisdom.

Back in 2009 I pointed to a TED talk by Dan Pink discussing how for most tasks facing companies today, extrinsic carrot and stick motivators are less useful than intrinsic motivators at yielding effective results.

As I wrote in my post back then:

He provides some interesting findings about motivation, namely that when it comes to performing creative tasks conditional rewards (if you complete X by Y, you will receive Z bonus) are not as effective as intrinsic rewards in obtaining results. The conditional rewards actually get in the way of creative thinking. This may explain why arts people are able to create in the absence of monetary reward.

I wouldn’t let this get around lest people insist that paying you more may rob you of your creativity.

He makes a link to our current financial difficulties saying that there is a disconnects between what science has known for over 40 years and what businesses does, which is essentially the carrot and stick approach.

Pink says the new operating model should be based on:
“Autonomy- Urge to Direct Our Own Lives
Mastery- Desire to get better and better at something that matters, and
Purpose- The Yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”

Among the opportunities a non-profit arts and culture work environment affords is for autonomy, mastery and purpose as Pink defines them. There are times that people need to come together as a team, submitting themselves either to the authority of an individual or the will of the team, but what they bring to the table at such gatherings is often the result of intrinsic motivation.

In the context of my recent consideration about separating the intrinsic value value of art from its utilitarian value, I wonder if the intrinsic value of art may be heavily informed by the motivation in its creation.

Of course, this opens up a whole can of worms about the purity of the creative motivation the arts and culture community frequently becomes mired in.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


1 thought on “Does Intrinsic Value Of Art Derive From Intrinsic Motivation to Create It?”

  1. I would instead say that the intrinsic value of art is *inseparable* from the motivation of its creation. “Heavily informed” merely introduces a difference where none exists. That is, the value and the motivation are two sides of the *same* coin. And the same may be said of extrinsic value and extrinsic motivation. The point is you can tell what sort of value we are dealing with by how the motivation plays out. Are we doing it FOR the money? Motivation and value go hand in hand. Are we doing it simply because it is the right thing to do? In itself?

    If no one *treats* things as mattering in themselves, then there will BE no such thing as intrinsic value. We will have expunged it from human cultural practice. It exists only because this-is-how-much-of-our-lives-is-framed. Our motivations *always* speak to the kind of value we are instantiating. We create the value by nurturing it in the things we do. Show me the kid who takes up a crayon in the name of the economy. It is really that simple……

    But it is also easy to complicate things. We second guess ourselves all the time. The world is simply open to many possible interpretations. And if our motivations are sometimes conflicted, then so too will be our values…… Which is also why your post on ‘disavowing credit’ hit the mark. If our intrinsic motivations can at all be *interpreted* as extrinsic, then the intrinsic value will only get subverted.

    Our society has such difficulty identifying intrinsic value simply for the fact that it consistently sees utility as the only reasonable source of motivation. Training a culture to value things intrinsically just means becoming aware that our motivations for doing things does not *always* have to be justified, that the things we do are *self-justified* in this sense, and that we often do not need an explanation for why something has value beyond that this-is-what-we-do, this is where the *meaning* of my life rests, and introducing an outside source of motivation or justification only falsifies what it seeks to explain. Just ask the kid with the crayon whether his efforts will benefit the economy……

    If we are only able to see ourselves as motivated by utility, then we are creating a *false* picture of the world, and the sooner we understand the missing part of our understanding the better. Utility is true of many of our motivations, but not all of them. What you cannot adequately explain through utility requires a different insight. It is time we understood that.


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