You’re a twelve year old trying to pass a mandatory art class. You’ve been going hard at a landscape for hours, sweat running down your temples, fingers cramping. And then you glance over and see that classmate Terry has made a fool out of you by drawing such a robust pine tree that in comparison your oak is like a fragile twig someone casually snapped in half. Darn you Terry.
Your classmates wait in line to pay Terry homage. “I wish I could draw like you,” they whisper. You imagine it feels good to be Terry at that moment.
Fast forward a couple years and I found myself in Terry’s shoes. During high school, creative expression became my obsession, a coping mechanism I relied upon so heavily that I struggled to restrain myself from watercoloring during class. My classmates would say to me, “I wish I was good at art like you.” But instead of swelling with pride like I thought I would, I would suddenly find myself feeling insulted. (Never thought the day would come that I feel offended when someone compliments my work!) I came to realize that this unexpected reaction was due to a change in my perception of art. Mainly, I feel my peers and I have at times made two false presumptions about art and its role in our lives.
No. 1. If you're good at art, it's because you were born with it. It’s true many people are born with artistic talent: the ability to accurately translate their imagination to reality. But if you have not devoted your time and talent to artistic pursuits, it is ridiculous to compare yourself to someone who has. Likewise, it is also ridiculous to attribute the value of an artist’s work to the content of their ancestors’ gene pool. This attitude is intrinsically disrespectful of their dedication.
What spectators see is glamorous; what they don’t see is the mess of snot and tears that smudges my page at 2 a.m. or the past eighteen years I’ve spent pressing my lifeblood to paper until my fingers ached.
The reason some people are “good at art” is not because they were born “good at art.” It’s because they stewarded well the varying degrees of talent God bestowed upon them.
No. 2. I'm not good at art. Any art therapist you ask will tell you this statement is false. “If you have a mind then you are an incredible artist,” art therapist wanna-be Moriah Beach told me. “Art is not a skill. Art is an expression of self.”
Let’s think about the Ultimate Artist—you guessed it, God. In the beginning God created. Why did He create? Because His actions are a function of His character. What did He create? Human beings in his own image. He designed us to be expressions of His character. And He saw that it was very good. How did He know creation was good? Because it accurately reflected what He intended it to reflect.
As beings made in the image of the Creator, we also are creators. So what makes our art good? When it accurately expresses what we mean for it to express.
Some artists are born with this talent—this ability to closely portray what we imagine. But contrary to popular belief, artistic talent can be learned. The problem is that most people expect their personal style to look exactly like the nearest art major’s or like Diego Fazio’s. So they do what all of us have tried to do at some point or another: imitate the style of a popular artist.
You find yourself in a dusty white room. You are instructed to recreate the Mona Lisa. What results is a catastrophe so chaotic it could make Jackson Pollock wince. Frustrated, you burn your canvas, accidentally inhaling toxic paint fumes and change your major to Communication.
Here’s what I think: imitation is an excellent practice, but imitation is not the best that we as artists have to offer the world. That’s why it’s called creation. Because it’s new. That’s why the psalmist wrote, “I will sing to Lord a new song.”
Obviously not everyone is called to produce art. But if you enjoy art, don’t let the idea that you are “bad” at art stop you from pursuing what your heart clearly desires to do. Skills can be acquired. But if you choose not to create, this world cannot simply acquire another one of you. Because we are all unique, no one else can take your place or offer what you have. You are an expression of the Father that is unmatched by anyone else on this planet.
Therefore we must be fearless—never letting our destinies as artists bow to the fear of man. When we hide our creative capabilities because we doubt God’s Providence in bestowing them upon us, we distort the face of God.