If you’ve created anything outside of the four walls of a church, you’ve probably heard this question.
“How can you (play, create, write) that kind of (music, art, story) if you say you believe in God?”
Or, even more pointedly, “How can you work or collaborate with artists who _______(fill in the offending act or belief system here)?”
This question always brings out the most critical and confrontational conversations between artists and audiences, creators and congregations, performers and pastors. There are invisible battle lines drawn as soon as the topic arises.
On one side, you have the standard-bearers, those who want faith-focused artists to have no contact or connection with anything they deem secular or ungodly.
On the other side, you have the artists, musicians and creatives who become marginalized into making art that keeps the first category happy. They champion their creative freedoms and point out the idea that their creativity cannot be contained inside temples and in front of church pews.
To each musician, creative, and artist who has dealt with this question, I want to offer three different questions to ask yourself when critics question the content of your creativity, or the quality of the people with whom you collaborate.
- Who am I working for?
- What is my audience looking for?
- Who am I trying to impact?
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?
There’s something about a gift that makes everyone happy.
Whether it’s a for birthday, a holiday, or just because, there’s nothing quite like the moment that someone is presented with a gift. Even the people who know what’s inside the present watch with eager anticipation, waiting to see the gift revealed and the reaction of the recipient. Something about the process of opening a present makes us want to be a part of it.
As a creative, you’re probably accustomed to people referring to you as ‘gifted.’ Your gift was given to you by your Creator, and you’ve likely spent your life unwrapping it and sharing it with others. What happens when people are more interested in the gift than the person that is doing the giving?
Man invents. God creates.
Man invented the automobile, called it “amazing”!
God made a tree and said, “Good”.
Man invented the refrigerator, called it ‘incredible”!
God made a rabbit, and said, “Good”.
The wheels fell off the car. The refrigerator broke down.
The tree’s still up and the rabbit’s still running. – W.H.Cosby
You show someone your latest work, your best creation, something you worked really hard on. You ask her what she thinks of it.
She says, “It’s good.”
How do you feel about that evaluation?
Chances are, you don’t feel very good about it.
Something in our creative DNA makes us dissatisfied unless our work is worthy of superlatives. We want our creations to be considered amazing, ground-breaking, outstanding – anything but simply good. For many, good equals average, unremarkable, acceptable, but not memorable.
But in God’s vocabulary, good is good enough.
It’s a party for many, but for others, it’s anything but.
Those that work in creative disciplines are often the busiest during times of celebration. While others are enjoying each other’s company and reveling in recreation, musicians, designers and artists are often hard at work making sure the celebration goes smoothly.
This means, if we aren’t careful, a time of celebration can turn into a sense of obligation.