I recently attended an artist retreat. Now…. I’m not a big fan of artist retreats. I think. In all actuality, I’ve never really been to one. I guess I just imagined a lot of amateurish crafts-oriented people talking about how hard it is to make money selling art and it digressing into a big boo-hoo session. This imaginable scenario didn’t sound appealing to me. But I went this retreat anyway cause I had good friends going and my way was paid. Nice.
The retreat was great by the way. There was admittedly a little bit of boo-hooing, but mostly it was awesome. One thing I did notice though, and this was admittingly about myself, is that I get super comparative around other artists. I The first night I was on the super defensive around everyone – not really wanting to share what I did, being elusive, more focusing on the other person telling me about their art so it sounded like I was super confident… the kind of artist that didn’t need to talk about their art, you should just know about it. Pretty lame I know. I had to have a serious confidence check in my room one night. “Why am I so self-conscious around these other artists?”
This private question in fact was brought out publicly in the group of 70 that were gathered. A well-known musician named David Wilcox asked me in front of everyone during an open conversation about what was in my heart and what I was dealing with. Now, I could have skirted the issue which would have been much more painless. But I knew I was supposed to answer. Ever have those moments when you know someone’s got to cut through the shy wall and get through to the heart of the matter. It’s painful to be the sacrificial goat, but that’s’ what needed to happen. So I sheepishly shared my feelings when being in a group of artists that I get competitive because I don’t want to be the worst artist in the room. I was wrestling with this at this conference and I hated that that was in me.
Okay. Walls broken down. Let the healing begin, right?
The most painful part of this whole story came right after I bared all my insecurities… and no one responded. The conversation just kept going about something else. Oooo…I felt awkward. A half hour later when the meeting ended, I rushed out of the room. Not because shame or anything…. I just really had to go to the bathroom. Well, so much for being honest I thought. But surprisingly when I came back, about five people came up to hug me. Many more thanked me for saying what I said because it was something that they had all been thinking as they were at the conference. I told them I wished I had had more time to share my thoughts because I wanted to explain what I had discovered about why I had felt that way. Here’s what I learned….
It’s because being an artist is hard.
I think the process of being a creator is a process of sacrifice. There is sacrifice in the time it takes to prep and make art. A financial sacrifice on materials, space, tools. A sacrifice relationally with people… taking time away to make work. It’s choosing to deny other things to do this one thing. It’s a giving up of other things. And with all this sacrifice it sucks when you come across someone else’s creation that’s amazing cause your like “why do I keep doing this when they’re around?” Why all this hard work when this person is kicking butt in my field? Seriously God. Couldn’t you just let me do something else? You got them making stuff. Why do you want me to create?
And this is where the Almighty gave me an amazing response. He said “because I like you.”
Now we all know God loves us, right? I mean He has too cause He Himself is Love. So He has to love us…. Just like we have to love our parents or siblings. But “liking” is a whole different thing. I think it’s harder for us to believe that God likes us. Actually likes who we are. Cares about what we are doing. Is sincerely interested in how our life is turning out. That feels different. That’s personal and intimate. You want to be around someone who cares for you that way. Could it be possible that the Almighty has asked us to be artists because He likes us?
Nothing meaningful in this world comes without challenges. In fact the best stories are in comparison to the amount of conflict the person has to overcome to reach their objective. Being an artist is a challenging course. And God’s response to our complaints about the difficulties of this journey is that he’s not doing it because He wants us to suffer. That he wants us to have a hard frustrating life. That he has enough doctors and accountants so he made some artists for filler in this world.
No. His response is that He likes us and considers us worthy enough to take on a challenging task. It’s not a punishment. It’s an honor.
The best assignments are given to the most qualified. The most brave. The most beloved. This is a journey of bravery, and the Almighty has considered you most honorable to walk that path in this world. Being a creator is direct representation of a divine trait. One of the first things we know about God is that He creates. He makes stuff. And it’s good stuff! This is our commission… to make stuff like that.
It doesn’t mean everything you make is instantly great. In fact, everyone is quite capable of making crap. I believe everything creative is on a downhill spiral to being crap. The skill of an artist is being able to turn that emanate crash into something that will fly! That’s the hard work of the journey… the refining of skill. The growth of ability. It’s practice. It’s showing up to work. It’s making time to hone your ability. It’s believing that the best thing you can do in your life is to habitually practice at this skill.
It’s up to you, though, to accomplish this task. It’s up to you to walk that path. Our failures don’t really come from the criticisms of others. They come from us giving up on what we’ve been asked to do.
God likes you.
He’s for you.
He gave you this ability not out of some sick joy of watching you suffer. He gave it to you cause he considers you worthy to take on the challenge of being a creator.
Don’t forget that.
It’s an honor.