faith&foolishness

art.faith.culture.community

You Can Be an Artist; You Already Are

Posted by Sarah Jane on December 18, 2009

“I’m excited about the visual arts and want to continue pursuing my own creativity, even though I’m not majoring in art. How do I go about that?”

That question came to me twice this week. This is one of my favorite parts of teaching – witnessing that moment when the coursework suddenly intersects with a student’s dreams and passions outside the classroom.

Once I quieted the part of myself that kept trying to shout, “Well, change your major!” it occurred to me that my earlier thoughts on nurturing creativity had prepared the way for this question. In the pattern of Joseph Beuys, I believe that everyone is an artist. It’s not confined to a certain college major or to those with gallery representation; the sacred spark of creativity is a defining part of being human.

I think the answer to that question comes in three parts. The first is to start by making something. There’s something very meditative about making things: when our hands are busy in mixing colors or trimming pots or placing mosaic tiles, the mind is allowed to wander freely. In this open-ended time of asking questions, making connections and playing with ideas, we may come to a greater sense of understanding and direction.

My second piece of advice is to listen intently. What is it that we called to bring into being? Sometimes that answer comes through something like gut instinct; other times it’s inspired by reading books, looking at art, or taking a walk. A friend of mine has a ritual of looking through old issues of National Geographic when she’s in need of visual inspiration. In my experience, this is the most spiritual part of the process – the time during which my creative spirit sits in waiting for the voice of its Creator.

Finally, an artist must have a community. We all need someone to both challenge and encourage the creative process – to tell us when we’ve done something brilliant, to act as a sounding board, and sometimes to tell us sternly to get back in the studio immediately and not come out until we’ve made something. This doesn’t have to be a formalized group; just a few people who understand the artistic process themselves and can be as engaged in the actual making of the work as they are in the end results.

I had one last thought, too, a thought that didn’t occur to me until after the last student had left my office and I returned to my grading. Perhaps the most important element of all is one of simple encouragement – you can be an artist; you already are.

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3 Responses to “You Can Be an Artist; You Already Are”

  1. pcNielsen said

    I have to disagree with the statement that “Everyone is an artist.” What I’ve said in the past, though, is that everyone is creative.

    I’ve worked in missions for the past 6 years, and there is a similar semantic debate there. “Everyone is a missionary” is a popular thing to say, and I used to believe it before I was so much a part of concerted mission efforts:

    “I used to be of the mind that everyone’s a missionary, wherever you are. I’m not any longer though, having served in missions mobilization for five years now (with http://mdat.org — just 80 miles east of Tulsa). The problem I see with this mentality is not so much with the idea that we’re all witnesses – “You WILL BE my witnesses” (Acts 1:8), whether you intend to or not — as much as it has to do with clarity in communication among believers.

    To say that everyone’s a missionary waters down the term in the context of what is a very complicated endeavor, taking the Gospel to all Nations. I’ve come to realize we need to delineate different tasks simply to best understand the task ourselves. If we say that everyone is a missionary, it becomes much more difficult to clearly share the need for people to go overseas and engage the unreached people groups, which is still needed (Mal 1:11, Matt 24:14 et al). What do we call those people? Cross-cultural missionaries? Apostles (which, literally, means “sent ones”)? Neither of these really work as there are multiple cultures within a geopolitical area, and you can be sent without going overseas.”

    To say that everyone is an artist, IMO, basically undefines the word, makes it meaningless.

  2. Sarah Jane said

    I appreciate your thoughts here, PCN, and also the overly-generic language that reduces support & appreciation for those whose full-time calling is missions work. Am I understanding you correctly here? If so, it sounds like a very frustrating situation.

    However, I’m not sure how comparable that is to Joseph Beuys’ assertion that “everyone is an artist.” He isn’t envisioning artistry as an exclusive category, but rather an innately human ability — one that we can cultivate as a full-time occupation, but also one that can be combined with our various other abilities and interests. Our language suggests this when we talk about “the art of pediatric nursing,” or “the art of automobile restoration.”

    The word “artist” presents very little meaning when it comes to delineating tasks or callings, either — it applies equally to a poet, a sculptor, a graphic designer, or a cellist. Most of the artists I know already define themselves by tighter categories; I am an installation artist, my friend Kari is a filmmaker, my husband is a chef.

  3. pcNielsen said

    I don’t know anything of Beuys, so I might not have responded in the correct context. However, I have responded to the phrase (as it stands alone) “Everyone’s an artist” in the same manner in the past.

    Cultural vernaculars aside, would it be more accurate to say that someone practices the “craft” of pediatric nursing or auto restoration? I know this is an entirely different can of worms (defining art, art vs craft etc), but they’re related for me. I’m guessing most people who do not pursue what are viewed as the traditional fine arts would argue that the word “art” is suitable; and they may well have a good argument. But I’m guessing a lot of other people would argue for the word craft.

    Me, I don’t really care. I just want everyone to realize that there is craft in all art, but not necessarily art in all craft. IMHO. And I don’t refer to myself as an artist either. (It’s usually an aspiring sculptor or mixed media sculptor . . . )

    In general I understand that arguing semantics one way or another is pretty futile. But for some reason I just can’t help myself and, like I said with respect to missions, how we use a word does matter.

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