Motivation Isn’t Art

They were on the wall of the training room. They hang in the corridors of most offices. You’ve undoubtedly seen them: Big, colorful posters of portent–vivid photographs of kitschy landscapes, sports figures, weather patterns. They are rimmed in black to make the color seem even more intense. Underneath the image a single word: Attitude, Teamwork, Competition and, in smaller type still, an inspirational message. For example, “Winners don’t wait for chances, they take them.” (See below for the complete poster.)chance poster

The first time I saw them, they immediately reminded me of the business equivalent of the big-eyed children in the 1960s illustrations by Keane.

(I didn’t say Walter Keane, because they were most likely painted by one of Walter’s ex-wives, Margaret. In a copyright trial against her, the judge ordered them both to paint one of the big-eyed waifs in front of the jury. Margaret completed hers in 54 minutes, Walter said he has a sore shoulder and couldn’t work.)big eyed waif

The images are not at all alike, but they both have the same purpose–push emotional buttons to get a hyper-emotional reaction, preferably agreement.

I guess companies use them because they are relatively inexpensive (less than $120) and no one can really argue with either the statement or the beauty of the image. It has the same “can’t be real” attraction of a heavily altered postcard.

What I want to know is: Does anyone feel motivated by these ? Do you look at a picture of an eagle and a statement on leadership and think, “I want to be a good leader”? If they don’t work, why are they so popular? If they do work, why? Or are they the artistic equivalent of inoffensive background music–something we can look at but not feel challenged by, not feel pushed to think?

Motivation isn’t art, and neither are these. But I don’t know what they are, either. I just wish I wouldn’t see them so often.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist and creativity coach. See her work at

10 thoughts on “Motivation Isn’t Art

  1. My fave is a poster with an empty space where the photo should be and in big print underneath, “PROCRASTINATION”. In small letters underneath are words to this effect, “I’ll get around to finding a picture for this poster one of these days.”

  2. Vicky– Isn’t that amazing? I see those hand-washing posters in every bathroom lately. Do people really grow up NOT knowing how to wash their hands thoroughly? And in our germ-phobic culture, why isn’t this ritual a holy thing that we have songs for and special appliances? It’s a head scratcher AND a forehead slapper.

  3. I hate them, hate them, hate them. My former company used them on every wall, on every floor, in every office. We got to pick out “our own” posters. It was as if they were saying, “Be motivated, or else.” I had found a bunch of anti-inspirational posters on the net and had the opportunity to use one in my blog in a post I wrote earlier today before seeing your post. It’s an example of the two-faced image my former company presents to the world and to its employees. I plan to use the rest of the posters in another blog.

  4. I don’t find them particularly motivational. I think it is just another example of low opinion the powers that be have of the intellect of the average worker. Rather than repay the workers’ good attitudes with loyalty (as per your “fired at breakfast” post) and pay that is commensurate with the work they do, management prefers to think that they can make people better workers by inspiring them. Yeah, right. If they left the moitvational sayings off the posters, at least they’d be nice to look at.

  5. Nope, not inspired in the least. Now if they had one of THESE posters up, I’d at least laugh 😉

    PS Susan says she keeps commenting on your Blog, but the posts are eaten up and never appear… somewhat frustrating! So she asked me to tell you that she is reading your Blog, and sending you her love.

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