Let me tell you something about art. It’s messy, time-consuming and impractical. It will distract you from important things you need to get done. It will turn your normally placid self into an angry bear when an innocent person has broken your concentration one too many times. Art costs money – and rarely makes any. Art is extremely personal. You can pour your soul and hours of your life into a project; and when it’s done, the world won’t stand up and applaud. It may not even notice.
When people do appreciate your art, they will often forget to give you feedback and affirmation. To be an artist, you have to learn to be okay with that. Write for yourself. Draw for yourself. Make music for yourself. Set your own standards and don’t quit until you’ve created something that meets those standards. Design and create the things you want to read, wear, listen to, hold. If you write or sing or draw in an effort to meet someone else’s standards of excellence, you’ll be hard-pressed to also make your art honest. It’s in the honesty that beauty shows up in art. It’s the honesty that will make your piece of art resonate with another human soul.
Let me tell you something else about art. It’s peaceful, balancing and rejuvenating. It helps a frazzled mind find order in a chaotic world. It soothes and comforts during grief or stress. It gives eloquence to the speaker of clumsy words. The act of creating brings validation to a life that may otherwise feel inconsequential or even meaningless.
Art is complicated to define – it’s even harder to define “good” art. It’s not a necessary part of life. But for many of us, life would not feel worth living without it. We are compelled to create. And not merely to create – but to dump the contents of our hearts, the secret places of our minds, onto paper and canvas and fabric and train cars and walls – for you to discover and decipher. If we’ve done it well, what you find there will be more than what we’ve left behind. You will find, mixed in with our best intentions, pieces of your own story; your own unspoken thoughts and fears and dreams.
We do this thing called art partly because we can’t help it. It’s a habit we just can’t kick. In the image of our creator we were created. In the image of our creator, we create. But we also do it to make this world a smaller place – to create a point of connection with you.
“When I run, I feel your pleasure
Your wings fixed upon my back
When I run, I know why you have made me
My foolish heart can come alive at last.” (A Horse and His Boy/Seth Harper)
This is the chorus of one of my favorite songs. It’s about running, but I think that artists of all varieties understand the feeling it expresses. I do what I do because it makes my foolish heart come alive.
This was written as part of a bigger, collaborative piece for the March 2014 edition of The Brotherhood Beacon, the official periodical of the Conservative Mennonite Conference. You can read the piece in its entirety here.