Chris Symes wrote an incredible piece on the pressure an artist feels to create. I know I have experienced this feeling in much the same way as Chris has, and I am sure many of you have as well. Sometimes the push takes the form of external pressure; perhaps from others' expectations of us, a request to perform at a function, or the looming deadline of a commissioned piece. Oftentimes, though, as Chris showed, we creatives are not crushed by outside burdens. Rather, we implode as our own pride consumes us.
In this form, the act of creation ceases to be a gift, a medium conveying truth, hope, or beauty in service to others. It becomes a status symbol, a representation of self-worth and identity. I write, therefore I am. I paint, therefore I am. I make - not just art - but myself. This base is insufficient for our individual identity and it is insufficient for creating good art. It will not hold up. At least not in the long run. To put art into service of ones self, rather than in service to others is to rob art of its true purpose.
I am reminded of Simon Magus (Acts 8-9), a man who witnessed incredible works of power only to miss their true message. The regionally-famous magician was being upstaged by the miracle-working apostles who had come to Samaria to preach the Good News. Simon came with all the other Samaritans to hear and to find out what the Apostles were about and where their power had come from. Mesmerized, Simon offered to buy the Holy Spirit off Peter, to purchase his holy powers from him. Peter gave Simon a tongue-lashing and called him to repentance. Simon did not repent (he only asked Peter to pray that nothing bad would happen to him) and, according to tradition, Simon became the father of all heresies. Simon missed the point of the apostles' work.
The purpose of creating is to share something with another. In his book An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis writes, "We sit down before the picture to have something done to us, not that we may do things with it. The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way." As the sub-creator, we make to share our message with a viewer. As a viewer, we can ignore, misunderstand, disregard, brush-off, or receive the artist's message. Simon Magus was grasping at, striving to hold on to his claim to fame as a magician. He wanted to use the works of power to validate and pedestal himself as the great wonder-worker, Simon the Magician. As a witness or viewer of the apostles' works, Simon missed or ignored the truth their performance art was communicating: the Truth of the Gospel.
Selflessness is needed not only for the viewer, but for the artist as well. When the Creator spoke all into being, he did so out of generosity and love. The triune God has experienced fellowship, love, and communion among Father, Son, and Spirit from eternity past. He desired to share love, fellowship, and community with us and so He created humans in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). He did not have to do this. He was not forced or compelled to create us. He had no need to do so, nor was he incomplete without us. Selflessly and graciously, He created out of love and generosity. Likewise, the artist as a sub-creator (under the Supreme Creator) must craft his or her work selflessly in service to God and his neighbor (the two greatest commandments, Matthew 22:35-40).
I find that I must constantly remind myself of this fact. In doing so, my artistic endeavors and creative priorities can realign accordingly. I must look, listen, and receive. Only then can I truly create. Only then can I truly serve others in love and generosity. Only then can I get myself out of the way.
About A. Christopher Oxsen
I love God, my wife, and my three kiddos. And, I tell stories. Some are better than others.