Have you ever worked on an art piece too much? That is to say, you painted a few too many brush strokes, or played a few too many notes, or perhaps wrote a few more words than your novel or poem needed. And then you realized that you made it worse, not better?
I asked my wife that question, and she admitted that it happens more than she would like. In the midst of happily working on her art journaling, she’ll attempt one too many layers or colors or stencils. And then disaster strikes. So she’ll try to cover up the “mistake” and end up with a piece that reflects what could have been instead of what she hoped for. At least in her own eyes.
When that happens, you enter a danger zone. You might begin to create out of fear instead of out of inspiration. Your art becomes an exercise in risk management, in second-guessing, in settling for something less, and you may never strive toward greatness.
It’s a common mistake. We over-work or under-work our art. One too many brush strokes and the painting goes beyond intention. One too many spices and the entree tastes unpalatable. One too many scenes and the movie feels unfocused. But, one too few of anything might make it feel incomplete.
I remember when I first began working in the recording studio, being afraid of the red light—that dreaded record button that cues you to perform. Perfection is the norm during the recording process, and the goal is always to play perfectly in time, in harmony, in the groove. So the danger is to settle on a take that is flawless but conservative over one that might be a little imperfect but inspired.
Creating is easy. Creating well is hard, frustrating, tedious, painstaking, exhilarating, confusing.
For artists of faith, the book of Genesis can be a helpful reminder. God creates the heavens and earth, moon and stars, waters and dry land, fish and birds and all creatures, man and woman. And at the end of his joy-filled making, He stands back and declares that it is good.
Did you notice it? One thing about this passage that we tend to overlook is this: our Creator God knew when to stop. God wasn’t trying to create perfection; He was trying to create something that perfectly reflected His glory. So He knew when to stop, to step back, and to enjoy His work.
Marty Solomon and Brent Billings, in their BEMA podcast, argues that the one of the names of God in Genesis, “El Shaddai,” isn’t truly understood. So we often interpret it as “God Almighty” or “God of the Mountain.” But if you were to turn the Hebrew consonants into a phrase, it can be interpreted to mean, “The God who knows when to say enough.”
In other words, God knew when to stop. When to say enough. When to rest.
Perhaps this is one of the things we need to learn as artists of faith. To know when enough is enough—both in our art, and in the striving of it. If we are to be more and more in the Imago Dei, the image of God, in our lives, then this makes sense.
As artists of faith, we need to learn when we have said enough. We need to learn how to be at peace with our “happy little accidents,” and embrace the imperfections that make creating worthy. We need to learn to be at peace with ourselves, to let go of the internal turmoils and shame and self-deprecations that fuel us wrongly. And perhaps most important, we need to learn not to strive for perfection, but instead, strive for an expression that truly reflects our heart’s intention.
And then declare that it is good.