Living at the convergence of faith and art.

Creative Self-Motivation: Making Art Anyway

Book Tops-B&WHow many motivational books have been written to help us artists get up off our excuses, step past our challenges, ignore our insecurities, and get on with the business of making art?

Under-used Help

There are books written by Julia Cameron, Eric Maisel, Luci Shaw, Dick Staub and dozens of others. We buy them. We read them. We highlight them. They fill our shelves. With so much encouragement, why do we so often simply embellish our excuses and stay put? Why, with all of this “help” do many of God’s faith-driven creatives still find countless groundless reasons to avoid making art? And I’m as guilty as my creative peers, probably more so.

To move forward creatively, I’m well motivated by either pain (negative) or a dream/vision (positive). I really like positive, so let’s get the negative out of the way first.

Motivations: The Push of Pain

A good friend once said, “Until your pain (discomfort, frustration, dissatisfaction, anger, whatever) is greater than your fear, you won’t move.” Fear seems to be at the root of most of my excuses; nobody will like it; nobody will buy it; they won’t “get it”; it’s not “good enough”. It’s all natural human stuff, but they’re still only excuses.

In marketing circles the motivational talk is all about either the push or the pull. Pain is a push motivator, it’s something we usually want to avoid.

Baby eagles will remain comfortably in their nest until the day they’re either too big, or too hungry to stay. Mom and Dad stop feeding them as a push-motivation. Eventually that nest becomes too crowded, too uncomfortable, and one or more of the young simply fall out. In that moment of free-fall, what they discover is that they can and should fly. I don’t know if they’re motivated by the fear of falling, but in that moment of push and shove, they leap into the realm of personal liberty and they fly. What they discover is that they can and should fend for themselves.

As long as we choose tolerate our pain, in whatever form, our gifts of divinely inspired expression remain unpainted, unwritten, unperformed. The world is waiting to read our novels, watch our plays, view our paintings, and listen to our music. And until we step forward and make our art, nobody benefits by what we have to share.

Motivations: The Pull off a Dream/Vision

Now for the pull. It’s called a dream. Having a dream or vision motivates me far more than pain ever did.

Without a strong pull at our heart-strings we’re adding nothing to the symphony of humanity and just waiting to expire, and that’s not God’s plan for us at all. Scripture reminds us that God has plans for our lives, not to harm us, but to prosper us. [Jer.29:11]

He has begun a good work in each of us, and the only way we can glorify Him is to become all He has built and birthed us to become.[Phil.1:6] It is only in achieving the highest excellence, fullest humanity, and greatest development of our God-given gifts that He is glorified. As living, creative beings we are His image bearers. [Rom.1:20]

Lest We Steal

Recently, Pastor Bryon Burton, Associate Pastor at West Side Presbyterian, preached on the eighth commandment; You shall not steal. That morning he went way beyond talking about merely taking someone’s possessions. As he enlarged our vision of what we steal, it suddenly occurred to me that by ignoring, burying, and avoiding doing all that God has birthed and built me to do, I was, in fact, stealing. It’s as if I were a self-willed flower refusing to bloom. I was ashamed by how easily I allow trivial excuses and minor adversities to stop me from embracing all that I’m capable of. It’s utter nonsense on my part.

I say nonsense because that’s all my excuses really are: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” [Phil.4:13] I had to ask myself: How big, how powerful is my God? How much does He already know about my situation and what I need to do to create space in my life for making art?

Three Motivations: Pain, A Dream, His Glory

So, maybe I’m motivated by three things; pain in some form, a dream/vision/inspiration, and the clear knowledge that if I don’t get up off my excuses and develop some self-motivation; if I don’t do what I’m built and born to do, my art will remain unmade. No one will benefit, and God is not glorified.

Next Week: Dreams & Visions: What they are and how to get one.

Selected Resources: Some of these works speak to the artist, some to faith. All are nurturing and nourishing.

Art From Intuition: Overcoming Your Fears and Obstacles to Making Art / Nimmer & Amenoff

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain / Betty Edwards

How to Avoid Making Art: Or Anything Else You Enjoy / Julia & Elizabeth Cameron

The Artist’s Way / Julia Cameron

The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life / By Twyla Tharp, Mark Reiter

The Crime of Living Cautiously: Hearing God’s Call to Adventure / Luci Shaw

Too Christian Too Pagan / Dick Staub

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art / Madeleine L’Engle


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  1. Pingback: Dreams & Visions: What they are and how to get one. « Creative Harmonies