Blank Pages

In the beginning. There is so much space, so much life in the possibility of those blank pages.

For me, the most common process where I feel this is in writing. Every time I click "new post," or every time I create a fresh new document to write a book, I feel that rush of newness that comes from seeing all the connections I could make. "Ooh, I could say this...which I could connect to this!" And the pages don't stay blank for long.

For many others, however, it is not quite this way at the beginning. I have mentioned in a previous post the feeling of wanting to curl up into a ball, rocking back and forth, wondering what to create. This is an adequate way to describe the brain of a creative person when they face the beginning. It's time to stop talking about art or thinking about how great it is to be an artist or practice saying "Oh, what do do? I'm an artist" in front of the mirror. It is time to make.

There is a tiny voice floating in the scary part of your brain when it's time to create.

In order to ignore said voice, you set up your workstation ever-so-perfectly. You put your paints in your palette, you arrange your paper, you change the margins and font and line spacing on your document, you make sure the proper music is ready to play when you start making.

But all of this cannot mask the voice, the voice that says

What, exactly, are you going to make?

Particularly, this is a problem for people who have created before, for people who like to call themselves artists. If you have at least one project that you would deem successful (or, at minimum, you're done messing with it), there is an insecurity with beginning again. You've been able to talk a big game about your previous accomplishments, but now you have to start something else. You can't simply remake what you had before, but what else is there to make, since you took so long creating that piece in the first place?

Yet a third problem can be disallowing yourself from creating at all. You were told art is not a valuable skill, or you aren't very good at it, or whatever. Someone said those things to you or you have said them to yourself.

The second two positions, I can sum up as fear of failure.

To begin doing something new is to risk failure, and due to the good ol' American value of Success as some measure of meaning, why would you do something you're not already good at? It's so much safer to scurry under the umbrella of things you have done over and over again. This is why many peoples' lives end up boring, repetitive cycles of going to a job they somewhat disdain and going to lunch at that burger place they've always gone to, because these are things we've practiced. What you practice is what you become good at, and on the whole, adults practice risk- and failure-free activities that shelter them from the possibility of not being immediately good at something.

This fear of failure must be cast aside when you look at those blank pages. The "what ifs" are the kind of limitations that will keep you from ever stepping outside your creative front door.

This is the same reason why so many people, though they claim Jesus, fail to follow the Way he created. Because that path is so different. The idea of letting yourself go, of making life more about loving others than it is about financial gain, the idea of financial gain being entirely insignificant, the idea that outsiders and outcasts are the first in the Kingdom. Those are unsafe things to live, and it's much less risky to make your money doing something you don't like much to make money to get more stuff so your kids can do the same as you.

Your art and your faith call you to risk, right from the beginning. Whether you've never touched a pencil in your life but want to draw, or you've been a Christian your whole life and are scared of following who Jesus is.

Let go of your idea that you have to "succeed" in order to try. That idea will keep you from beginning at all. Practice every time you go to begin something, or when you finally muster the courage to start doing what you've wanted for a long time: Your value has nothing to do with the success or failure with what you're about to do. Instead of worrying about whether it will be good or popular or well liked, just make something you know is true. Even if that's only one thing. I promise you, creating the next thing that is true will always give you a new beginning.

How do you deal with the fear of beginning? Let's talk about it in the comments.

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Interpretation & Meaning

Recently, I've been having conversations with my roommate about symbols. This is a broad discussion: symbols are anything that stands in for something else, something with a greater significance, is a symbol. The triangle, circle, and line of the Deathly Hallows from Harry Potter are a symbol for the desire to live forever. The cross is a symbol for the infinite compassion and forgiveness as well as the nonviolently revolutionary nature of Jesus. Money is a symbol for the value of the good you are purchasing or the service you're providing. The word "dog" is a symbol for a certain species of animal. When you think about it, words are only symbols. Humanity's ability to create such an intricate and accurate system of symbols that are more or less universally understood is a miracle, and it has performed so well that in fact, you can go much of your life without realizing the simple fact that words in themselves are not valuable; their only value is in what they stand for. They depict something while not being much but lines on a page or contortions of your mouth.

The problem comes when you, very intelligent reader, discover that words are only symbols.

Words only mean what we agree on them to mean.

People made them up, and they are not an essential part of nature that just is.

Which means...people can decide that words mean whatever they want.

As a person who spends much of his waking hours slaving over what words to use in order to communicate something I want to say, this realization felt like the rug being pulled out from under my feet. And for people who follow Jesus, read the Bible, and believe it to be inspired, what does it mean that these words in the Bible are symbols?

The church recently had grappled with the idea of postmodernism, which cropped up somewhere in the 20th century. Though it is diverse and complex, and postmodernism in art and philosophy are not always the same, it in essence points out that words are symbols, and further states authorial intent does not matter. Whatever you mean to say is irrelevant; it is only what the other person hears.

We know this, on one level, to be true. You're in an argument, and the other person mentions something about the way you wash the dishes. Whether this person meant to or not, you were hurt because you interpreted their symbols differently than they were intended. It does not matter that the words were not intended that way. They hit your heart, and the pain they caused was real.

But if it is entirely true that everything is one hundred percent up for interpretation, is there any purpose in trying to communicate whatsoever? What is the advantage of trying to say something when in the end, what you want to represent with the symbols you use doesn't matter, and all that matters is someone else's interpretation of what you said? Everything is truly meaningless, then, and there's no point to creating any art, because it's all a wash, because symbols only mean what we think they mean.

I would propose there's somewhere in the middle. The you mean to say, what your art means to say, what the Bible means to say is not irrelevant. If I say the word "dog," most people don't think of a monkey. They think of a certain species of animal. But deeper within the realm of dogs, you have breeds of dogs and beyond that to individual dogs, and on you could go forever. There's a whole lot of room for interpretation, even with that word.

We have agreed together that the word "dog" refers to that species, and even though that's the only reason it has meaning, it still has meaning; the fact that something is a human construction doesn't make it less real.

At the same time, words do not define hard, unwavering limits of art or faith. The word "God" will not unequivocally bring about a crystal-clear image of his true nature (being infinite and all, this is something of a joke). The word "art" is equally ambiguous. Those symbols do not provide some definitive, objectively unquestionable, immovable answer for God or art, with no room for interpretation. These words, and every other word, the Bible, your art, every human communication - these things guide your thoughts and direct your interpretations, rather than defining them. These words bring to mind far more than the sounds they make; within a symbol you can contain so much meaning, can communicate so much that is under the surface, while still being "imperfect": each person will see different facets to the beauty or truth or pain you are conveying.

So however your art is interpreted, it's worth making to guide the minds and hearts of others and yourself toward a deeper meaning, hopefully held with lots of open space for beauty you did not intend.

Where on the fuzzy grey spectrum of interpretation and objective meaning do you find yourself?

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Technique and Truth

I often get caught up in a debate, both in my mind and in the world of art, about whether or not technique matters (or matters very much). Those who say that the most important thing is not technical skill have an excellent point, and can give examples of amazing artists who don't have tons of technical skill and convey what they feel so deeply and heart-wrenchingly. In fact, their art is often more emotional because of its raw simplicity. Somebody like Daniel Johnston, who doesn't employ much complex composition in his visual art or his music, is an example. Try to listen to the song "True Love will Find You In the End" without feeling the heartbreak behind it.

On the other hand, there are voices that say that a lack of technical skill presents a whole host of problems. First, technique can set you apart and make it clear that you have a dedication to your craft. Ultimately, those on the side of studied and mastered technical skill will say that it's lazy to abandon the pursuit at being truly good at what you do. Those who create less technically masterful pieces, then, are serving to allow people who really aren't good at what they do to slip by as some kind of master.

This debate becomes difficult for me, and the feeling of being torn between two very valid points. But where both of them rest is that ultimately, everyone wants to make art where what the artist is trying to say will be said as intended.

A few years ago, I was sitting playing the guitar and staring at some notebook paper, trying to write music. I don't know why it came across my mind, but I thought to myself, I don't want to become a guitarist. I want to become a musician.

That was a pivotal point in the way I started to make music. Up until then, all my energies had been going toward making myself better at the guitar. I wanted to learn how to play faster, how to play longer without my fingers aching for a couple hours, and how to play the guitar solo from Van Halen's version of You Really Got Me.*

But when I decided that in my mind, it was because I had decided that that kind of technical skill wasn't what I wanted to spend my whole life on. It didn't matter if I could technically play all these blazing fast riffs so that my fingers looked like a blur as they hammered the frets with impeccable timing. I had seen Dragonforce do this a lot, and in the end it felt soulless.

So have I stopped technically improving at the guitar since then? Completely the opposite. My learning has been more intense and concentrated since then, and I have become worlds better at playing the guitar. I have spent a lot of hours trying to learn a lot of the guitar fundamentals I missed out on from being self-taught, training my fingers, pushing myself to learn different picking patterns and chord shapes. I have worked a lot on my technical skill.

Was it ridiculous, then, what I said? Was it ridiculous that I said I didn't want to be a guitarist but rather a musician?

Again, the opposite is true. I am a far better guitarist because I committed myself to being a better musician. To draw that distinction more clearly: my goal was not to become the most technically skilled at guitar I could be. The goal for me, in all my art, is to be the best at making that art that I can be.

This is the key: technique is amazing and beautiful only in service to what your art is communicating. By having very little technical skill in your art, you can easily find yourself stifled and boxed in as far as what you can express. Your words will start to feel ham-fisted, your brush strokes too crude for what you want to say. On the other hand, by creating art only to service your technique, all you will create is soulless, precise shows of technical ability. Those can be good, but I would say that they are an example of craft rather than artistic expression.

Ultimately the goal should be to say what you must express through your art. If that requires you to be technically better than you are right now, improve your technique in service of the truth you're conveying. If that means stripping down to the barest bones, saying what you must in the simplest and most raw way possible, then that is your technique being in service to your truth. Artistic technique is a great servant, but a terrible master.

Where do you think the balance is between technical skill and artistic expression should be struck? Share your thoughts in the comments. Be sure to subscribe to the art&faith newsletter to get notified whenever a new post is up.

*This is me at a middle school talent show...unfortunately, my most-viewed performance ever.

Look Closer

Today I was referred by Kyle Steed to an interesting article, which spoke to how people, in their rush to take an iPhone picture to memorialize something beautiful, fail to even see what they're snapping a picture of. How true I've found this to be in my own life. I had to make a conscious decision that if I want to enjoy being somewhere, if I want to enjoy being with people, not to have my phone camera on. Just let it be the experience and not worry about capturing a photo, because doing so is more of a distraction than an engagement. The article quotes John Ruskin, a 19th-century sketching advocate and critic of the medium of photography:

"No changing of place at a hundred miles an hour will make us one whit stronger, happier, or wiser. There was always more in the world than men could see, walked they ever so slowly; they will see it no better for going fast. The really precious things are thought and sight, not pace."

So, then, is art a wedge and a distraction? If you're making art instead of experiencing something, are you preventing yourself from experiencing it deeply?

I think it should be quite the opposite.

Though Ruskin promoted sketching and drawing is the surefire way to look at things closer (and I don't necessarily disagree), I think the idea can be expanded: art in every form, even one Ruskin thought as uninterested in detail as photography, ought to require you to look closer. There are a lot of times, however, as in the case of the mobile photography, where the media you're using will distract you from the beauty you're trying to portray. If it is a distraction rather than a deeper engagement, then I don't know if I call it art. That's the distinction I make between art and entertainment: art is for engagement, entertainment is for distraction.

In every medium I work with, I do whatever it takes to slow down. Read: I do everything to make the process more slow, more difficult, more careful. That instant gratification of "I took a picture" or "I made some music" or "I designed a poster" can be so dangerous. It rewards ease of use rather than depth of understanding. As a practice, I ask myself, "Did you do it that way to make it easier or to make it better?"

The first step to this is literally, physically slowing down. Go somewhere you're surrounded by nature. A river, a forest, a river in a forest, beautiful rock formations--something not man-made. Here's the hard part: don't try to see everything. Stop and pay attention to one thing at a time. Do you remember when you were a kid? When you used to be fascinated with every detail? I think you've forgotten some of them.

The next step is artistically slow down. When you're making art, think about what the slowest way to do what you're doing would be. For instance, as Ruskin suggests, instead of taking a photograph, draw with a pencil. Even if you're bad at it. That's not the point: the point is to look closer. When you're taking a photograph, you don't always have to look at every detail. You don't have to obsess over the tiniest veins of the leaf. But to capture it in a drawing, you have to individually represent every line and stroke and shadow. This can even be applied to a lesser extreme. Instead of taking a photo with your iPhone, try using an all-manual, all-mechanical film camera.

Let two persons go out for a walk; the one a good sketcher, the other having no taste of the kind. Let them go down a green lane. There will be a great difference in the scene as perceived by the two individuals. The one will see a lane and trees; he will perceive the trees to be green, though he will think nothing about it; he will see that the sun shines, and that it has a cheerful effect; and that’s all! But what will the sketcher see? His eye is accustomed to search into the cause of beauty, and penetrate the minutest parts of loveliness. He looks up, and observes how the showery and subdivided sunshine comes sprinkled down among the gleaming leaves overhead, till the air is filled with the emerald light. He will see here and there a bough emerging from the veil of leaves, he will see the jewel brightness of the emerald moss and the variegated and fantastic lichens, white and blue, purple and red, all mellowed and mingled into a single garment of beauty. Then come the cavernous trunks and the twisted roots that grasp with their snake-like coils at the steep bank, whose turfy slope is inlaid with flowers of a thousand dyes. Is not this worth seeing? (John Ruskin, emphasis mine)

When you look closer, when you slow down and allow your art to more deeply engage with the reality you're in, you can express that reality with such an understanding. Affection toward every part of your creation and God's creation leads you to open your eyes and places you into the posture of wonder, which, ultimately, is the definition of worship. When you start looking closer, using your art to do so, and you notice the most beautiful details, each hidden and beautiful, John Ruskin said it right: Is this not worth seeing?

You can read John Ruskin's book, The Elements of Drawing (where all those dazzling quotes came from), for free right here.

How do you make yourself look closer in your artistic practice?

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Process & Product

This is not true for every hand lettering artist, but I have very nice handwriting. When I'm jotting down a quick note, it's in a modified Rennaisance style, Italic (the origin of italicized text). The first time someone sees me write this way, it's rather predictable: "Your handwriting is beautiful! I wish I could write like that." Today, I want to explore that statement: "I wish I could...."

When you see a work of art, you cannot experience it in full. As the viewer, you can only experience a fraction of the real work: the product. The invisible remainder is the process. When I learned this, I felt like it was putting into words what I knew and felt my whole life. If you hear a three-minute song, you’re not watching the experiences I had to go through to produce the thoughts in the song or watching me fumble with chord shapes on the guitar. When you see a piece of lettering I made, you didn’t see the four years I’ve had up to now learning and growing my calligraphy and lettering skills. And when you see my handwriting, you don't see the chicken-scratch it used to be, and the many carpel-tunnel hours it took to transform it into something smooth and flowing.

What I hear when people say they wish they could write like me is a desire for the product without the process. They want to be good at it already. They love the idea of having handwriting like mine. There is so much work and conversation and thought that goes behind every piece of art.

This concept—process and product—I have begun to see in my experience with intentional community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “He who loves community, destroys community; he who loves the brethren creates community.” If all you want is the product, but you aren’t dedicated to the process, which is loving as Christ did, you won’t get either one.

Isn’t it so easy to love the idea of community? Everyone can read a lot of popular Christian books and attend a lot of trendy church services that talk about community and what that would look like. Everyone agrees that community is beautiful, and you get a nice feeling after doing all that thinking about community. Yet as I’ve spent the last eight months in the thick of it, it’s been much less exciting and romantic living in rather than talking about community. It isn’t very fun to see your personal and spiritual faults marching into plain view. You see where you are so different from the people you're living with, inconceivably different, so different that it must be irreconcilable. Once you've reached that conclusion, it's ever so much easier to stuff away the problems you have with your housemate. That is, until the boiling point is reached and you have a massive, uncomfortable conflict resolution session.

This is the process of community, and as with the process of art, it’s basically a mess, and you spend about half the time cursing the fact that you have to do this work. Because you thought it was going to be kind of hard, but mostly just great. And then what you find out is that it's mostly hard, and the trendy Christian books didn't tell you how disproportionately hard it is. The kind of pain you feel when something so unimaginable as someone leaving becomes a reality.

But then….

When the storm passes, when the rain stops, and when the battle is over, you look around and realize you're still there, and these people are still with you, there's this sliver of light coming through. And the more you think about it, the wider the sliver gets. Your community survived what you thought it couldn't, and in fact, they all love each other.

At the other side of that pain, that process, you get to see what those trendy Christian books were talking about when they talked about community. Vulnerability, supporting each other, helping each other to grow as people, even enjoying being with each other—you realize that this is the product of community. After committing yourself to the process of loving each other, you get the product. But you can't have the product without first sticking through the process.

Next time, think about what it means to say, "I wish I could make art like that," or, "I wish I lived in community." Are you committed to the process or the product?

Where have you found joy in the process in your art and your faith? Comment below. Be sure to subscribe to the art&faith newsletter to get notified whenever a new post is up.

Limitations

Art is an unbounded, beautiful wilderness, stretching as far as the eye can see. Art runs deep and wide, brushed with the winds of imagination, filled with everything your mind can imagine. The possibilities reach beyond the horizon, and the whole world of beauty and exploration is your dance floor. All this is true. The world (and all that's beyond it) is a plentiful and abundant resource for your creativity. But you should limit yourself.

"What do you mean I should limit myself? I have so much to explore, and I've got to see everything the world has to offer. How can I put limitations on myself if I can choose from so many options?" I, too, have felt like any attempt at regulating or limiting my art was the ponzi scheme to take away my creative freedom. But put down your defenses for a moment and consider with me how limitations can free your art.

I'm not sure about you, but when I look at a huge variety of options (things like restaurant menus or Netflix), I go into immediate paralysis. This might be a personality issue (it is). But I think anybody, faced with the real scope of creative possibility, would fail to create at all, and instead curl up on the ground, rocking back and forth, wondering where to start.

Anything you have created has had limitations, whether you set them on purpose or not. Creating at all is, at a definitional level, making limitations: you have put borders around what this song is and what it is not. It does not contain every note and lyric possible; it is only one song, and is thus limited.

"Okay, that's a total cop-out. You're getting all philosophical and whatever on me. I'm talking about how you shouldn't limit your creativity on purpose."

Let me ask this question: if your art is limited whether you want it to be or not, why shouldn't you limit yourself with purpose?

No matter what you do, you're going to be limited by something. Your ability, your knowledge, the breadth of your medium. Limitations in themselves are not stifling. The right kind of limitations are the kind of freedom your art needs, because without them you'll end up like me with a restaurant menu, struggling to find "the right thing" to create (or which entree will be the best for the price).

What I like to do is, for a larger project, choose an overarching limitation, and for smaller pieces, smaller and often playful limitations. My last major artistic work was a 6-song EP with my band. The overarching limitation (the theme) was my growing up. Anything within that general theme could be created for the EP. From there, with each song, I gave myself a narrower limitation for the lyrical subject--perhaps how I used to play in the backyard. This calls back to mind all the feelings that came with that: how the few trees lining our fence felt like a great forest, how our four-layer-high brick huts we built felt like a medieval village, the whole mystical imaginative feeling in losing yourself in your own world. This lyrical limitation then brought about a musical idea: a sort of wide-eyed, magical feel with moments of serenity and energy.

See what happened? No artistic paralysis. No painful wishing I could figure out what kind of song to write. Limitations are what gave me the freedom to write that song, whether I realized it at the time or not. I believe that the better you are at intentionally limiting your art, the more focused your art will become.

As creators, we are not tasked with covering, single-handed, everything in and beyond the universe in the same way that humans are not tasked with understanding the full person of God. This is an impossible idea, but instead of despair, what we do is we create what we can: small pieces of beauty that speak beyond the words or paints or vibrations they are, whispering about the great truths they reveal.

Where have you seen the right and the wrong kinds of limitations? What unexpected beauty have you seen from limiting yourself?

Nice Hobby

When you choose art as your profession, a wide range of responses will come plummeting forth from Those On High who Know What They're Talking About. More particularly, your friends, parents, relatives, and strangers at dinner parties. "Oh, well that's really nice," or, "Hmm...interesting choice," if they don't want to say what they really think.

"Do you have a backup plan?" if they're feeling skeptical.

"That's a nice hobby. How are you going to make money?" if they're feeling honest.

More than the disbelief that you can make money with an artistic career, I feel there's a deeper sense that art doesn't have a real, practical, or useful purpose. Art is a "nice hobby," an add-on, extraneous to life, but you're not providing anything real or valuable to the world by making art.

Even more tragic than the wider world holding this belief, many artists (by their own will or by a begrudging acceptance of well-repeated dogma) have decided to listen. Even when every part of that artist's brain and soul feels fulfilled in the process of creation and sharing that with others. Even when God seems to be inviting them to live this beautiful and courageous dream of creating. Artists, too, succumb to the idea that what they do isn't important, and they should minor in business or law or something like that...just in case.

This is a dangerous thought path to take, especially as an artist who follows Jesus, because the focus is on living a safe life rather than living a full life. This idea purports that while having a passion is great and all, that's meant for the sidelines of your life. It's not realistic to center your life around something you love to do. This awakens a personal fear of many artists (myself included) of that day when "they" will find out that you've been having fun doing work you enjoy and it's time to fall back into the land of Dreadful Reality and get a "real job."

I can identify a lot of reasons why this mindset is so prevalent. A fear of failure, personal disappointment or discouragement, what media says, what the educational system says. But I want to address something that's more troubling to me: the idea that the things you love doing that give you life are things you should give up in order to follow Jesus. I have heard time and time again, "Well, I would love to do this, but I don't know if that's God's will for me."

While I agree there's a lot you should be willing to give up to follow Jesus and align yourself with God's will, including for some people what job you want to have, I don't think that means your passions are bad. In fact, I would argue that they are gifts that God has given us to use.

When God gives you a passion, he also gives you the responsibility to put in the work for that passion. You owe it to you, others, and God. I guarantee you that God's will for your life is not to stress yourself out about what his will is and never make decisions, and therefore never live. Jesus made the statement that he came here to give life and life abundantly (Jn. 10:10). Why would abundant life mean excluding the passions that God created you with?

Finally, the response that comes after this: is art worth putting so much time into? Is it as important of a work as, say, providing for peoples' physical needs?

Maybe I'm a bit biased, but I think that art is a vitally important part of the human existence. Art, whether through song or story, painting or photograph, explores and communicates thoughts, emotions, and spirituality in a way that humans deeply desire. That desire, I believe, was given to us by God. Artists have a deeply important part in God's plan and a responsibility to follow the passions God gave them.

The Daily Work of Making

If you are alive, you've probably heard the trope of the scatterbrained artist. Disorganized, messy, erratic, or, to soften the blow, "quirky." Clothes on the floor, half-finished watercolor paintings on the table or desk, a considerable lack of time and financial management (closely tied with the "starving artist" stereotype). The general attitude: "I'll get to it when I get to it." There is a massive temptation to give in to this kind of disorderliness just because it's the way of the "typical artist." Even if there weren't such an expectation, I have a difficult time doing normal adult life-structuring activities, such as keeping a calendar, without risking an anxiety attack. This is to the detriment of my psyche, people who are dependent on my responsibility, and occasionally my checking account.

But where this truly wreaks havoc is in my art and faith.

Like many amateur and professional artists, I have struggled with consistent creation. Like many people, I tried to justify this: "I can't create unless I feel the inspiration. I don't really feel like making much right now. It's not flowing, so why try to force it?"

Waiting for that feeling of inspiration is like waiting for a hip youth conference to live like Jesus. In both cases, these small doses of intense inspiration result in a lot of fruit all at once. For example, in a burst of creativity, I might write two full songs. After a great spiritual experience, I might try to get to know a homeless person for an afternoon and play lots of four-chord worship songs on my guitar.

But after that enthralling flash, what does life revert back to? The same unstructured sloppiness, saying, "I hope I have another one of those moments." Let's face it, no one is excited to live like that.

Those moments of artistic inspiration are wonderful and intense and beautiful and I love the feeling it gives me. But what I've realized is that when you wait for those moments, your art never improves. Maybe marginally, just by figuring a couple things out, but by and large, you aren't practicing your art, so you aren't getting much better. The same goes with our faith journeys. We have these moments--maybe it's after a Gungor concert or you've just finished a Shane Claiborne book or something. Those are both wonderful experiences I have had. But a spiritual life ruled by stagnant apathy and punctuated by little shots of spiritual good vibes doesn't ever challenge you to grow. You're not being pushed, questioned, encouraged daily. You aren't practicing your faith, so you aren't getting much better.

The answer is exactly what artists like me tend to resist: getting up every day and working. If the only time you work is in a time of raw inspiration, do you love your art or do you love feeling inspired to do art? If the only time you listen to what Jesus says is when you feel super spiritual, do you love Jesus or do you love feeling spiritual?

I'm not saying that to love those things is bad. Everyone loves feeling inspired or spiritual. But if you want to get better at your work, you need to do it consistently when you don't feel like it. Daily decisions determine your destiny, and what you practice the most is what you will be best at doing. You will still have times of inspiration and creative doldrums, but what you'll find is that when you're inspired, you will produce better work because you've practiced working when you're not inspired.
The freeing truth is that a lot of the difficulty is up front. Once you start a rhythm of creating, a rhythm of loving others and enemies, it's so much easier to do than you thought it would be. You might find yourself falling in love with the act of creating, the act of following Jesus, more than you love inspiration and spiritual experiences.

Add to the Beauty

Those of us who make things like paintings or music or novels or interesting jokes often try to categorize what it is we do. Most of the time, we use the word "art." Some people think that art is just paintings. Some people think that everything, including sewer pipes, is some form of art. Most people land somewhere in the middle, with fuzzy and often verbose definitions of art that end up missing the mark by a hair's width. Those of us who follow Jesus often try to categorize what it is we do. From the outside, some people think that it's another harmless chance to have a social event. Others see it as a dangerous, uneducated fantasy that leads people to bomb abortion clinics and post angry, politically conservative news links on the Internet. And some from the inside think it's the only moral compass for a world doomed to eternal (and very literal) fire. Most land somewhere in the middle, with the general assumption that you try to lead a good life, go to heaven, and maybe help a couple of your friends "get saved" along the way.

But in both of these instances, I find something deeply dissatisfying in the majority conclusion. In the act of creating, I feel like definitions fail what my heart wants to do. Something like, "Art is the expression of human thoughts and emotions through creative form" seems lacking. And the idea that following Jesus is all about leading a "good life" (whatever that means) and getting a few people to join my church doesn't seem like it touches on the infinity of a God who originated this amazing Universe.

I never expected, however, that I would find the closest description to what I feel about my art and faith in a song classified as "Christian contemporary music." The line disarmed me quicker than Christ disarmed Peter:

"I want to add to the beauty."

This is what I'm doing when I make music by vibrating molecules in the air, when I apply black liquid to tree pulp. This is what I'm doing when I die to myself, when I choose to love other people when it just doesn't make sense, when I fall down and realize that I am so small and that the Creator is so infinite. I am adding to the beauty of this Universe. I am aligning myself with the great Reality, a God who is love.

All this might be overwhelming if you, say, are taking an introductory drawing class or Bible study.

But I want you to know that this, before you dive deep into the technique and theology, the craft and the practice of art and faith, is the deepest and most compelling reality behind why we do this. We are made to add to the beauty. Why else would we so naturally have a compulsion to wonder where it all came from? Why do we have this draw to create, this insatiable creative drive that pulls us to make something worth being?

We are creatures created to add to the beauty. It's deep in the fabric of who we are. This divine conspiracy, the Kingdom, is a call to live in closer alignment with all that is beautiful, all that originates from the Beautiful One. The whole earth is heavy with his significance.

The song in reference is Add to the Beauty by Sara Groves.