Art: Fearfully & Wonderfully Made
I’m talking about the courage to overcome my anxiety about which color to use, which tool to choose, and how to cut the pieces for another collage. I’m talking about beginning a novel with only the slimmest of clues as to what the thing’s going to be about. I’m talking about, as choreographer Twyla Tharp does day in and day out, entering the studio with little more than courage and an emotion to begin moving in meaningful ways. We artists are terribly anxious creatures, and the steps necessary for us to even begin work has spawned a pile of books of encouragement from the likes of Madeleine L’Engle, Julia Cameron, Luci Shaw, and Twyla Tharp; all of them written specifically to help artists unlock, unblock, and begin.
Like Tharp, most of us have our “rituals”; those practices we perform as we approach the Great White Room, the blank screen, the fresh canvas, or the sheet of clean bright paper. We show up to make marks of special meaning, a sacred act of faith in itself. We show up daily to begin anew the journey of making, and very often we do it without a hint of what’s wanting to be made. We begin in faith, and fear, having been entrusted by God with a special opportunity; to make meaning of something He has specifically given to us.
Perhaps for those of us who are empowered and driven by our faith; perhaps the very fact that it is God who has chosen us and entrusted us with something He wants the world to experience is what makes us anxious. “Will I get it right? Will I futs it up? Am I listening? Have I prayed enough, on my knees, in my journal, or during my morning walk? Will my efforts bring Him glory? Am I even listening to God, the work, the process, the materials?” For any of us who have or are raising families, constant demands upon us has its own set of strains. Being one of God’s creatives can feel like a heavy responsibility. Certainly for me it’s the central most important one, for without God, I have absolutely nothing to say.
Even the process of making is fraught with anxious moments. Each step must be tried to see if it works, and if it doesn’t, like a scientist, I take notes, and begin again to discover how to get what I want. We fight with our materials. We struggle with our processes, our ideas, and even ourselves as we grope forward in faith, unable to see ahead into the future.
And why do we do all of this? We do it because without struggle; without the often anxious question of, “Will this work?”; without some sacrifice of our-selves into the work, it has no life. It’s a dead, technically excellent, irrelevant, meaningless… thing. Without a drop of our own metaphoric blood, the work is little more than a blank eyed rag doll.
I once attended a concert and was excited about getting to hear Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The pianist was introduced as some former student with credentials in a list longer than my arm. He approached the piano, seated himself, and I closed my eyes in anticipation. What I heard was perhaps the single most sterile, dry, technically “perfect” performance of that piece I’ve ever encountered. I was sad, not for Gershwin, but for the pianist. He gave us nothing of himself. N’er did he push the tempo, or draw it in emotionally allowing us into his soul; taking us along with him through a sky of starry notes. He just left us there in our seats, alone, disconnected, abandoned. He gave nothing of himself, but instead hid fearfully behind his technical prowess.
I believe we artists of faith need to be scared out of our wits, by the work, the ideas, by life, and yes, even the Lord Himself. For me, these discomforts remind me that I am alive and working with Him who has made me. I am working with Him who has entrusted to me a small piece of meaning to share (to enflesh, as L’Engle puts it). I am reminded that I am a creative scribe to the Creator of the Universe, and it’s a privilege. I am empowered, engaged, enlarged, and alive because of my utter need to rely upon Him who made me, and who has a divine plan for my life and work. I believe I live out a part of that plan every time I make meaning (art).
I’ve learned that instead of “conquering” my fears and anxieties, I can turn them into creative energy, something which causes me to invest more myself in the work; to in effect, give it life. More than the hope and prayer that the work will be done with excellence, I work so that God will be glorified, and that someone, somewhere will experience a meaningful question as a result of engaging that work.
It’s a privilege beyond measure for me to work as some small reflection of the Creator God who set the stars in the heavens, who paints a sunset, and who moulds the mountains. For me, to live this life as one of God’s creatives, is to be driven forward by the deep, abiding intimacy of our relationship. In this collaboration, I embrace my anxieties and move forward anyway because every single time I open the press stack to have a look at the final work, I am amazed at what He and I have made together.
Engage. Enlarge. Become.