Andy Warhol, an artist who gained lots of attention due to his unique sensibilities, once said we would all get 15 minutes of it.
A few minutes on YouTube makes it apparent that he was essentially right. Fame is now measured in views, likes and how many followers you can amass on Instagram. And, if everyone can now be famous, then no one is exempt from the pressure to try to do so.
That’s certainly for many creative artists. We seek it in the form of online approval, fans, name recognition, artistic glory, and critical acclaim. While we may say we aren’t interested in fame, there’s no question that there are benefits to being the person everyone has heard of.
But is it a good thing? Should a faith-focused creative want to be famous?
This presents a contradiction. Every major religion reminds its followers to strive for humility – to let God be the only one who receives glory. Yet, even the faithful often look to the famous. Some Christians flock to mega-church pastors based on name recognition alone. Chart-topping music acts fill stadiums. Books by the most famous inspirational authors are snapped up while less-well known authors languish on the shelf. If one wants to have widespread influence, apparently fame is the way to go.
Can we artists reconcile our desire for recognition and influence with the principle of humility?
Who gets the glory?
First, we have to decide why fame is desirable. Perhaps we don’t want all the negative things that come with fame, such as less privacy and increased scrutiny. But we do want the perks – more financial power, more ability to do what we want with our art, more control. Fame implies cultural power and significance, and that is something every artist wants. No one wants to create something that no one notices. Fame, then, is the rubber stamp of approval from the culture-at-large. Like money, fame is not a great master, but it is a very effective tool. It allows the artist to leverage authority and ability in the public space.
Secondly, we must determine if fame can co-exist with a spiritually minded perspective. If we represent our Creator, then we should want none of the glory and want all of it to go to Him. But how can we do that if no one recognizes us in the first place? To bring glory to him, we first need people to look at us as we look to him. That’s why faith-centered creatives often struggle with marketing and promotion. We must acknowledge that while we want God to be glorified, we want to do the glorifying. Deep inside, we have to admit we wouldn’t be happy if we weren’t needed.
It’s a gut check each faith-centered creative must endure. If God told us our help wasn’t needed, would we be OK with that? Are we truly looking for his benefit alone? It’s in that uncomfortable space that the wrestling with our purpose and our calling as creatives takes place. Because if our gift is truly given by God, he gets to decide whether we’ll be part of the glorification process.
This isn’t a judgment. As already stated, fame in the purest sense is simply a sign of cultural acknowledgment and influence. There’s nothing sinful about desiring to make an impact on the world, and to do that, fame often becomes a necessary by-product. The issue isn’t whether we should desire fame, but whether we will be satisfied even if we never achieve it.
There’s a verse in which Paul, writer of nearly two-thirds of the New Testament, states that he has learned how to be rich and to be poor. He’s essentially admitting that at one point, he was part of the top 1% that had resources and influence. He was the man to see, the one that people knew about. By the time he wrote this, however, he had learned how to be part of the bottom 1%, those that were forgotten and unnoticed. And he then states that famous passage about being able to do all things through Christ.
Many believers take that verse as proof that any grandiose goal they imagine is within their reach. I don’t think that’s what Paul was alluding to. Rather, I think he was explaining that he could handle all types of personal circumstances – whether at the pinnacle of fame, or in the pit of anonymity – through Christ. His sense of significance no longer flowed from his cultural position – it came from his spiritual one.
That’s not an easy lesson to learn. Last I checked, Paul was shipwrecked, beaten, bitten by snakes, and in prison a lot. No one signs up for that type of promotional tour unless it is a purpose worth risking your life for.
In fact, we have basically cast fame in a positive light so far. Fame can also have a negative side (being infamous, you might say) but that’s not what this is about. It’s already apparent in our culture that many want fame for the wrong reasons. These are the people who seek attention at any cost, even to the point of posting harmful content and doing unwise and horrible things in order to have their moment of significance. We all know the desire to be known can go terribly wrong. Fame pursued for its own sake is a monster that feeds on our ego. The only way to check that appetite is to have a greater purpose for your life.
The point of it all
The desire to be known, recognized and approved of is a natural extension of the creative drive. But it can never be supersede the purpose for which God has placed us here. Every faith-centered artist must make a daily inventory of motives in order to keep their primary goal intact…
To make Him known.