Creativity in the Midst of Crisis
When a crisis comes, we can be tempted to panic, or choose creativity in the midst of a crisis. The current corona virus may squelch or stretch your creativity. Are you frustrated by the new challenges? Previous habits and work patterns won’t always work in the future. Our ways to network, market and sell are all changing. We can be frustrated with the new challenges, or we can see this as a time for new approaches and new stories of hope amidst chaos.
Superman and the Crisis
Superman arose from a crisis. The reason the original Superman comic sold for $2 million dollars in recent years is not simply because it is rare. It spoke powerfully to people in a crisis. A storyboard artist and old friend, Mark Howard, reminded me that our current societal fears are not unlike the terribly unstable climate in which “Superman” was born.
Consider the chaos entering our country when the stock market collapsed in 1929. The United States entered the Great Depression, putting millions out of work and into bread lines. To make matters worse, the Great Plains states were hit with the worst drought in their history. The dust bowl turned productive farms into barren dirt. Farms failed, forcing many families to join the ranks of the homeless alongside those in the city. Then, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime spread like a virus. Hitler was the perfectly evil villain. He oppressed the weak, defenseless and those deemed “racially impure.”
Into that world, arose Superman. The first issue of Superman was Action Comics #1 (June 1938). It is one of the most famous comic book covers of all time, because it launched the powerful icon of Superman. A symbol and story of hope amidst anxiety, despair and chaos.
Hope in the midst of Chaos
The “Man of Steel” creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were teenagers when hope was scarce. Superman is now seen as an overnight success, but why? Maybe it was because Superman, as the “champion of the oppressed”, became a comfort to children during the depression. There was a need for hope, healthy pride in our character, and a leader who stood for justice. Out of difficult times, came a work of art to inspire the masses. It was creativity in the midst of a crisis that led to this artistic creation. If Superman was created in the 1980’s it probably would never have had the same success. People were obsessed with the money made in our culture and the benefits it provided. There was no great longing to be rescued.
The challenges we face culturally create the soil for the stories which will be embraced. We cannot afford to wait and complain. We must speak into the darkness, tearing a corner off of that darkness each day. For we know that chaos is not the end. We know our King is still on the throne. He has allowed this for a reason, but he will not let these troubles have the last word. He has gifted our doctors, researchers and leaders. He is not absent, though we may not ‘see’ his hand. He is here and is engaged. If we take heart in the same hope David had before he slew Goliath, or the hope of the Israelites when they marched around Jericho, then we are exactly the people who can offer hope to our neighbors here and around the world. This may be through the content we create as much as new ways to deliver our stories.
Who Moved Your Cheese?
I remember years ago reading the book on facing new seasons in our life, Who Moved My Cheese? . It is a short book about a simple principle: Demonstrating the habits of four mice named Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw. An older and wiser man named Dennis, working at the Merchant Marine Academy, recommended I read it. We were living in New York, and it was around the time of 9-11. A season of change had been thrust upon us. Like the characters in the book, people were faced with unexpected change. Like the book, some succeed in adapting to radical change in their life. The reality is many mice and men don’t quickly adapt even when the old methods no longer work to achieve success. It is a simple idea, but can be helpful to break out of the rut you may be in, or may be headed towards.
Questions to Consider
It is always important to ask ourselves several questions to make sure we are accurately assessing the outside world, the work we are doing, and our own desires and values. If we don’t force ourselves to examine these dynamics, we will become complacent and assume the past is a good predictor of the future. We will be like the mice who never adapt. And if anything is clear right now, it is that our culture, and our world economy can change rapidly. Businesses that were stable, are now required to adapt in a way they never expected.
So, here are some key questions to ask yourself:
1) How can I maximize my creativity during the “free time” of this crisis?
I remember fondly, growing up in Colorado and having a great time when blizzards shut down Denver and I could spend my time sledding, throwing snowballs, or helping people by pulling their cars out of the ditch with my Ford Bronco. Those were great memories, and that is fine for a time. However, for those of us who need to produce and generate income we need to be careful to resist the “vacation” mindset. You need to find a way to balance time with the kids or family members in this quarantine with you, but you also need to prioritize new creative works, and projects. In fact, it may be the perfect time to do those things you have been postponing.
Consider one of these activities:
a. Write that next script
b. Take time to examine your self-care, devotional habits, and spiritual growth
c. Take an online course
d. Explore new techniques and ideas with your craft
2) How can I maintain my friendships and community during this time?
Don’t take the quarantine during the corona virus as a sign you have to be isolated. You may need to stay away from large groups, but you are not designed to live in isolation. Thankfully, unlike the old days of scarlet fever, no one has to move away from family and live in remote isolation. We have wonderful technological advantages.
Reach out: call other artists, mentors, teachers and share how you are both adapting! Here are a few ideas to help you brainstorm:
a. Brainstorm with other artists on Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, etc.
b. Start using video to give people a “behind the scenes” view of your creative process. Don’t get stuck on the technical details. You can use your cell phone camera when you first start out.
c. Start teaching others online. We can help you get started and help you learn about our tools if you would like. You could teach others how you create, how you network, where you get inspired, and even marketing your art or pitching your projects.
d. Video conference with your patrons, followers and consumers. Most of them are stuck at home as well. So, capitalize on that, and reach out.
As a Christian, one of the great comforts in times like this is the knowledge that God is sovereign. He is not surprised by what is happening in our culture. He is still God. Things happen for a reason. With that in mind, begin to pray about these struggles.
Remember the story in Matthew 8 where Jesus calms the storm? It was terrifying to the disciples, but Jesus had a plan. In fact, he said, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” He got up, rebuked the waves and calmed the storm. Take time, and read that passage of Jesus calming the storm, and remember God is still in control. He wants to stretch our faith. But this isn’t just a test of our faith. It is also a test of our ability as people made in the image of God, to adapt, iterate, and find the new opportunities that arise every morning along with God’s mercies. We need to pray and grow spiritually even while we grow artistically.
Creativity in the midst of a crisis is always needed. We need it from the scientists looking for a cure. We need it from doctors looking to mitigate the risks. We need it from leaders and businesses striving to limit the spread of the virus. God is also calling you as an artist to embrace creativity in the midst of a crisis. God gave you creativity to adapt, find new ways to communicate, relate and survive.
Seize the opportunity. It is a crazy season for everyone, but it is also an opportunity. Don’t miss that point!
God is offering you a challenge. He is nudging you to consider something new. Take the time to listen. Take time to reexamine your assumptions. Take time to write, dance, act, and direct something that speaks uniquely to this exact moment. Use your voice, your mind and your talent right now. Remember the soil out of which came the success of Superman. What stories can you use to speak into this cultural moment?
We need not be afraid. What we need is to embrace the challenge and thank God for the gift of creativity in the midst of chaos. Below, I have written a prayer for you to pray. I hope it is a blessing to you.
A Prayer During This Crisis:
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for already giving us the grace to get through the day.
Thank you that you will provide what we truly need.
Thank you for already giving us creativity to adapt to these challenges.
Thank you as creatives you have given us a voice bring beauty from this chaos.
Help us to trust in your loving care.
Help us not to become anxious, but to place our trust in you.
Help us to reach out to our neighbors in love.
Help us to look to you for our security, not our circumstances.
Have mercy upon us, our neighbors, and our world.
May we be your hands and feet, blessing others and reaching out in love.
We pray this to the God of all Comfort,
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Copyright © 2020 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.