Artists: Courage Required
True artists know the courage required in a creative life. And yet, there is a myth arising from the bohemian imagination that depicts artists enjoying the carefree lifestyle while pursuing their creative whims. In such a world there is no need to pound the pavement trying to sell your art, or a need to raise funds to pay for paints, canvases, a new digital cinema video camera, or to hire actors, crew and producers to produce a great film. Then reality hits, and we realize the cold hard truth: if a professional creative desires to make a living from her art, she must eventually face the snark of the critics, the silence of an empty theater and the pressing questions of wealthy patrons and investors. The real world takes money to buy materials, to rent studios and to market great art for patrons and the masses. It takes risks, brave choices and courage.
Counting the Cost
As the famous saying at PIXAR goes, “fail early and fail often.” It is a key to their success. You can read about it in the fascinating book, Creativity, Inc. The wise man wants the bad news first, and learns to adapt, pivot, or start over. It is the fool and the coward who avoid feedback and cease to grow.
Without courage to fail, to risk being a fool, you will never know what opportunities you have missed. If you succeed by some fluke without risk and without courage, your reward will be hollow – like a participation prize given to a child who didn’t win. And yes, children see through that foolishness. You don’t have to tell a six-year-old it means nothing if everyone gets one. They are smarter than that.
Blood, Sweat and Tears
There is a fabulous quote made famous again in recent years due to the impressive work of Brene Brown. It paints a picture of a warrior, but the metaphor speaks to the work of creatives as well.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
To be in the arena is to take risks by creating new works of art, new novels, new films. There is no guarantee of success or even acceptance. That is the risk and the thrill.
Wrestling with God
You were not created for an easy life, but a life with challenges. We face challenges with work, within our communities and within our very soul. This might seem to be a discouragement at first, but it is far more profound than that. Consider the fascinating aspect of the people of Israel and the origin of their name.
Curiously, they were not all named Cohen, or “priest,” even though they were called a nation of priests. They were not named Shalom, which means peace, even though “Jerusalem” literally means “city of peace.” No. Instead, God gave them the name “Israel”, which means “to wrestle with God.” It comes from the passage where Jacob wrestles an angel of the Lord (Genesis 32:22-32). It is at the end of this wrestling match when the angel of the Lord blesses him. As a part of the blessing, and benediction, the angel of the Lord gives him a new name: Israel.
It is a peculiar and inspiring story. If we pay attention closely, we can all see that this is our own identity – being those grafted in the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob(Israel). Then we will expect life to be a struggle, and a life in which part of our journey is to wrestle with both God and man.
It is a perspective I found among my Jewish friends both here in L.A., and when I lived in Jerusalem. They are not surprised when life is hard. It does not deter them or dishearten them. And yet, sadly, it is a perspective we are not so quick to embrace in the Christian community today. We have spiritual amnesia and have forgotten our heritage in Israel. We need to embrace our heritage, expect the struggle, and learn to wrestle with God and man.
Wrestling in Our Art
Life, like art, is a struggle. Like Jacob wresting with God, the process of creating great art requires courage, and demands all we have. Matisse proclaimed, “creativity takes courage.”
Pioneers, visionaries, and the avant-garde earn their titles because they take risks. We honor the great saints, prophets and martyrs for the same reason. We are moved by men and women so passionate they are willing to take great risks for what they believe in. Great art is no different. If we are to be saints and creatives who live a life of passion, with heart and soul, we must expect the struggle, and lean into the opportunities where we must wrestle.
Taking Risks in Creativity
We are not moved deeply by kitsch. We certainly aren’t inspired by ideas that have become hollow copies of ideas of ages past. We are moved when a man or woman takes risks to speak into the current culture, to say what has never been said before in quite that way, or to express eternal struggles with new color, shape and story.
This is why King David kept saying he wanted to sing a “new song unto the Lord.” The striving to capture the same ideas again and again never ends. Times change. Society changes. The question remains: how does the everlasting word of the Lord resonate in each era and epoch? This is the heart’s cry of the artist who longs to speak into his unique culture.
See the Blessing in the Struggle
Trials have a purpose. God is not an absentee landlord as some vain philosopher’s claim. He is sovereign and he is here. He is not allowing you to struggle without reason. God wants you to grow, to develop and to learn. He won’t give you more than you can handle – even when it feels as though it is. His vision for your life is that you might become more Christ-like in your love of others, and more godly in your pursuit of what is true, good, and beautiful.
These challenges are like the refiner’s fire. Not a curse, but an opportunity. If we see the value of wrestling with God. If we embrace the courage that is required to make the art we are called to make. Then we can grow towards spiritual maturity, bearing spiritual fruit the way God intended- through our words, our deeds, and our art. Sometimes we will speak through our creativity with parables and great nuance, and other times with vulnerability and clarity, but we are called to continue the journey and to continue wrestling.
Comfort in the Courage Required
The challenges of this year are not a surprise to God. He is still in charge. Look for the opportunities he has placed before you to grow and to pray. See them as a gift instead of a mere obstacle. Find new ways to communicate and create art that speak a better word to your community, filled with a fresh wind and fresh fire that comes from God. Embrace the reality artists that courage is required.
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