Editor's Note: This is a re-post of a previous article by Chris Symes.
Perhaps the greatest struggle of being an artist is fighting the need to prove it. I think of it this way…
I was 11 years old in my best season of organized basketball. I warmed the bench for a couple of junior varsity teams after that, but my play in my 11th year of living was the pinnacle of my career. Coach Wait ran a simple but effective offense in which I excelled, and every member of the team played an important role. A number of my buddies were on that team, which certainly made it great.
However, I think what made it my best season of basketball was my complete lack of attention to how many points I scored. I didn’t care one bit about how I looked when I played. I just played. And it was wonderful, amazing, and oh so fun. I was free, and I played well. I was certainly not the best player on that team or a prolific scorer, which certainly did not matter to me. I remember Coach Wait approaching me after one of my more notable games asking me how many points I had scored that day. He might as well have asked me what brand of laundry detergent my mom had washed my jersey with. I could care less; we won the game. We got to play the game. “Seven…I think,” I replied.
But then something changed. There was a subtle shift, as I got older. The thrill of playing basketball began to wane away. The sport became a burden rather than a gift. This happened when I suddenly began caring an awful lot about how I looked and what I individually produced when I played. I felt an oppressive pressure to score a particular amount of points for my team, a standard I never met. I compared myself to other players constantly. This resulted in a decline in my quality of play. I lost confidence, and organized basketball no longer was fun for me. Rather than just play the game, I tried to be a basketball player.
Looking back, I have learned that I was created to play and enjoy the game, not to keep score.
I’ve experienced the presence of a similar shift in creating art, the perils of pride. When creating becomes about being a creative, when writing becomes about being a writer, when painting becomes about being a painter, a subtle shift occurs in the artist’s soul that tends to ruin everything. Creating no longer becomes something one enjoys, but it turns into a self-conscious obligation – a way to prove oneself, to fortify one’s reputation, to be better than someone else. When this shift happens, the joy of making things begins to vanish. One may never lose their natural, God-gifted talent, but the joy and thrill of making things can be lost by anyone of us.
When we are no longer able to enjoy and acknowledge the good work of another, perhaps we know that this shift has occurred. When we find ourselves almost neurotically trying to produce something because we’ve got to prove ourselves to others, we may know this shift has occurred. When we attempt to will something into existence without healthy inspiration from our own souls, our souls may be in a perilous and precarious position. We must, in these moments, recognize creating as a gift to be received rather than personal gain to be grasped. I was always warned when I was younger that I tended to hold the pencil I am writing with too tightly. I was warned this would result in a terrible tension in the tendons of my hands and arms. We need to write and paint and draw and sculpt and make with open hands rather than grasping ones to avoid a terrible tension in the soul. I believe creating, like playing basketball, is a gift from God - offered to all of us and owned by none of us.