Poster Motivation: Push My Button, Please

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.”

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.)

The images  on the poster are not at all like the Keene images, 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.