Think of the word “artist” and several images come to mind. A frocked, goateed man with a beret and a paint brush. A red-mouthed diva in a glittering gown. An aging rock star with a rider that includes green M&M’s and Evian bottled water. The word implies a lot of things. Talent, excellence, and a level of achievement reserved for people with record contracts or whose work hangs in museums. But also weirdness, eccentricity, capriciousness, and ego.
The word “artist” seems to be an intimidating word for many, and I find a lot of people reluctant to apply it to themselves. In short, the word carries a lot of baggage.
I’ve been speaking to a number of people lately who are trying on the word, “artist.” In various venues, I’ve been talking to people who are exploring what it is to be made in the image of God, the Master Artist who painted the stars, sculpted the planets, formed our beings. And if it is true that we were made to be creative—to build and explore and express and make art—how does that affect the way we see ourselves? Can we use the word “artist” to describe the human condition? Can you use the word to describe you?
One of the recurring themes that keeps popping up in discussions has to do with fear. It comes in many forms, degrees, and flavors, but I think we all have it. Artists crave the approval of others. From the shyest artist to the most egotistical, we all seem to desire the approval of an audience through our work. Our art is such a personal expression of ourselves that we wrongly attach the approval of our art to the approval of ourselves. If they like my song, my painting, my film, then they must like me. And if they hate it, then they hate me. And we all fear the rejection.
There are a lot of layers here. Some seek to compensate for a lack of approval from their families of origin or some other place. Some carry scars that create a low self-esteem, which they hide behind their art. Some carry huge egos about themselves, choosing to believe that they are more than they are, but really it is a defense mechanism for the low self-worth they desperately avoid seeing in themselves. Some hide behind the idea that they don’t want to compromise their art, or that they are simply misunderstood, or that it isn’t mainstream, or that the art just isn’t good enough. And they stand on these excuses to justify never allowing their art to be expressed publicly. Some never really allow their art to be seen because they are afraid—afraid of criticism, afraid of rejection, afraid of being known.
And here is what happens. Artists allow their fear to control their expression. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The journey of the artist who follows Christ should be one in which we courageously strip ourselves from all of these layers, these lies. We must strip away the paralyzing need for approval, the wrong self-perceptions, the elaborate defense mechanisms we create for ourselves, the pride which is fueled by false identity, and most of all, the fear. Because to be an “artist” before God is to simply express the fact that we are His children made in the Imago Dei, the image of the Artist God.
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba Father.'” Romans 9:14-15 TNIV
Yes, it is easier said than done. But the journey toward wholeness in Christ is ultimately the easy yoke we are called to wear. We really are God’s children, dearly beloved, sons and daughters of our Abba Father. To understand that—and to deeply know that only his unconditional and unwavering approval is what matters—is what it is to live and express our art with true freedom, without fear.