Thesis Update – What Motivates Teen Artists?

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Hello! My name is Jenn Brehm. I’m a visual artist and, for the past five years, I have been a teaching artist working with various non-profit arts organizations within New York City. During that time, I have worked with youth aged 4 – 20. I find great joy in working with a variety of age groups, but lately I have taken a special interest in my teen students.

I have noticed that, during the teen years, some young people begin to make a greater commitment to the arts – they start to see themselves as artists, and some pursue their art practice through participation in out-of-school art programs. I wonder – what motivates these teen artists to engage in art making? What factors fuel their interest in the arts? What keeps them going when they come up against challenges?

Most research on motivation in the arts focuses on how different kinds of motivation affect creativity. Researchers found that when participants are intrinsically motivated, meaning that they are motivated by the enjoyment they get from doing a task, their artistic products are more creative. However, some recent studies have focused more on the experiences of the participants who are making art. These studies have found that people who engage in art making are often motivated by the relational aspects of art practice, meaning that participants are making art in order to communicate something to others, or share an experience with others.

As an artist, it makes sense to me that relational motivations would push people to make art as much as, if not more than, the enjoyment of the creative process. Especially for those of us who have made a commitment to the arts in our lives, the idea that we can share our lived experience with others through the arts is a driving force. In my opinion, this can even push us through those times when the creative process is not so enjoyable!

Through my thesis research, I will focus on a group of teen artists who are participants in a free, self-selecting Saturday art class. I hope to learn the different factors that motivate these teens through their responses to survey questions about which parts of their art practice are most important to them, and through a focus group that will allow me to hear about their motivations in their own words.

By doing this research, I hope to become a more responsive educator. After gaining a better understanding of the factors that draw teens to the arts, the aspects of art making they find most important, and the motivations that push them onward, I will be able to create more meaningful and relevant art instruction in response. I hope that this will be just the beginning of getting to know my students better, and tailoring my curriculum, the class environment, and art activities, to their needs.



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