The War Against Your Art
Make no mistake. This art thing is a war. When we artists attempt to make visible an invisible God so the world sees the Great Unseen, please know there is a very real Enemy who will throw some crazy stuff in our direction. He does this in a variety of ways.
But for me, it all boils down to two strategies. One involves writing our scripts. The other involves creating perfectionistic expectations in me.
Both strategies can derail me from creating any art for anyone.
We all have scripts that are writing us. These scripts can be overwhelmingly positive. But they’re usually not.
Our scripts usually consist of accusatory internal and external voices speaking to our hearts. In a moment, these unseen voices seem to grab ahold of our distant past, throw in a few collaborating voices of current friends and family members, and spew out sentences we’ve come to know all too well.
They’ll leave you.
You’re not competent enough.
Your art isn’t good.
No one will read it.
Don’t let them see the real you.
You’re too screwed up to impact others.
You can’t help addicts, because you’re one of them.
We’re not even aware that we’ve come to live our lives believing in the unquestioned validity of these voices. The problem isn’t that the voices are there. The problem is that we’ve become so accustomed to them, we aren’t even aware that we’re living under their abusive authority.
We’ve stopped recognizing them as false messages, and started recognizing them as normal. These voices have become our scripts. And we live according to the script they’ve written for us.
Jesus warned His disciples that “the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). The constant stream of these messages spoken to us is the primary way he steals, kills, and destroys the deep heart of artists.
In another crazy passage of Scripture (Revelation 12), the Christmas story is told, but from behind the spiritual curtain.
“The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour the child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son – a male child who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to His throne.”
Pull back the curtain, and Satan was there. He was present in Bethlehem, waiting to kill Jesus.
After that, there are a few verses that weird me out. You’ll have to figure those out on your own, because I have no idea what they mean. But in verse 17, it all starts making sense again.
“Then the dragon (who has been identified as Satan in some previous verses) was enraged at the woman, and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring – those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.”
Insane description of Bethlehem. It’s an insane description of our lives today, too. Because the most important line is that last one – the one that says Satan is coming after Christ-followers with rage and with vengeance.
We can all agree there’s resistance every time we try to create good art. But Scripture gives that resistance a name and a personality. And in this passage, the name and the personality are also given motive.
One of the most difficult seasons of my life was when I revisited my childhood, and began to identify specific voices that I unknowingly allowed to write my life script. It was painful because the voices never screamed during my successes – only my failures. So I had to revisit my childhood and teenage failures, figure out what lies I came to believe during that time, then begin praying against them.
I’m not writing this so you don’t sleep tonight. And I’m begging you not to go looking for a demon under every rock. They’re not there. But I think it’s extremely important to identify what scripts are writing you. Maturing artists are figuring this stuff out in their lives.
Perfect is a myth. Even after the cross and resurrection of Jesus, Paul wrote these words:
“We ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship – the redemption of our bodies.”
We live in a space and time when we’ve been given the first fruits of the Spirit of God. But even though the Spirit of God is alive and active and entirely resident in our lives, we still eagerly desire something that hasn’t happened yet.
Our lives are excellent. But they’re not perfect.
I think the art we create needs to reflect the same thing. Every artist at every ability level can be excellent. They cannot be perfect. And the war on our art comes largely in the form of our expectation of perfection.
Excellence requires that we take all of the ability given to us, and intersect that with all of the resources at our disposal. And we create from that exact intersection – ability and resources.
Excellence then requires that the art created in that intersection be shown to other artists at similar intersections, in order to gain their honest feedback. These are trusted fellow travelers who speak into the art we create, without killing our inspiration. Choose wisely who you travel with.
Excellence finally requires that our art goes public. The artist defines who their unique public includes.
At no point in this creative process is your excellence compared with my excellence. The two look and feel and taste and touch and smell entirely different.
When I look back at some of the short-films I’ve created, or the writing I’ve done, I’m embarrassed. I think I create art today far better than I used to. Other artists have told me that, too.
But I don’t create anything that’s more excellent than I used to. Years ago, I created my art with the ability and resources at my disposal, with the honest feedback of other artists, and with the understanding that my art would be seen or read by others.
And that’s exactly what I do today.
When artists begin comparing their art with other art that’s more widely known and more globally distributed, it can cause us to get discouraged and derailed from creating anything at all.
But when we create art from our hearts, with the resources we’ve been given, then we more easily come to a point of actually finishing a project.
And that’s art. The finished product. The result of countless battles against your script and against the temptation of perfectionism.
You’ll encounter countless struggles in this war on art. You may leave the battles battered and torn. You may even lose a few. But you can win the war.