Every artist wants to make something beautiful and alive, but sometimes our creative attempts feel more like a horde of the undead, locked in the twilight realm between amazing and meh.
Deadlines pile up and the stress starts to suck out every last drop of creativity, until the teat finally runs dry. Too often the final product is a hollowed out husk devoid of anything beautiful.
But art is meant to move us, and that movement starts somewhere within, those secret places privy only to the eyes of God and – on less busy days – perhaps our own introspection. The internal impetus propels an idea from the dusty corners of the mind to a tangible form, and in this creative act there seems to be a bit of the residue of the divine act in bringing forth everything into being.
In our lives so many things move us, and beauty can transport the heart and intellect into ecstasy. This can take us by surprise, almost as if the perception of the beautiful can whisk us away, whether we will it or not. But even though passion has its place, so does habit. Discipline is not just for ascetics but also for aesthetics, for no artistic master became so overnight.
What appears effortless on canvas is actually painted with tears and with years.
The desire to create is to be like the Creator, and this very human trait feels so inescapable and irresistible because it rises from the fact that we very well might not have been but actually are, all because someone chose to create us. While we might be paid to make the things we do, ultimately everything we create is in exactly the same position – unnecessary but beautiful for the gratuitous nature of the gift that causes it to be.
After all, the universe can get along very well without art, but it would be a much uglier place.
Creating art that moves cannot be something that is purely gritted out. But neither is it arbitrary nor necessarily spontaneous. Art that moves can only be created by those who are themselves first moved. Our response to the sheer amazingness and depth of existence and the untold wonders of reality can certainly erupt in a shout, but no one listens to random shouting on their iPhones. Creativity becomes a restrained exuberance, not because it feels or loves any less fervently but because being moved is too precious to leave to chance or to make half-hearted efforts to exclaim.
The love I have for my wife is deep and powerful, and in many respects I cannot imagine not loving her. But more fundamentally my love is a choice, an inexplicable yes from my being that moves my will while also being moved. Yet for all of my passion and longing in this love it can still be (and must be) refined and purified, and it is actually in the doing so that it becomes more beautiful. The throes of passion may last for a season, but the disciplined love deepens and ripens as the years turn into a lifetime.
Creating art that moves is thus driven by a love that is deep and willed, one that cannot hold back its wonder at the object of its ardor yet strains to describe the nuances and contours in its beloved. Hard work is the path of both the artist and the lover, and in some respect the difference is usually less defined than language suggests.
And as a love that ceases to seek the good of its beloved will grow weak and wither away, so a creative life that fails to push its own limits will decay, perhaps from sheer boredom. Our lot as humans is to always have becoming as a part of our nature; we cannot abide stasis in any form. When we cease to be moved we cannot hope to be movers ourselves; instead of diamonds in the rough, our creations might end up more like lumps of coal.
Breathing life into your art begins in your own heart, posturing yourself toward the world in a spirit of gratitude and awe. All that is is a gift from God, even when it doesn’t seem like that. The self-donation of God in creating is a picture of the overflowing nature of his love and being. When we create, it must move in a similar way, overflowing out of a heart that is already filled.
And since we are leaky buckets, we are always in need of a refill.
The time you spend being moved by the beautiful may not make for billable hours, but it creates the space in which those creative seeds can blossom and bear fruit.
Never let the pressures of life or the all-too discouraging darkness of the world crowd out the joy of being. Let the works you create arise from the wonder of it all, a gesture of thankfulness for all the beauty that sets the universe ablaze in all its glory.
Let the movements of all that you survey move you to create, and as you do your art may join in that step, dancing in the beauty of everything that God has made.