Guest post by Evan Dunn
“You’re such a good poet!”
Hearing that is intoxicating. It gives me shivers of satisfaction. It’s like a hit from a drug…which means it also leaves me seeking more hits.
More praise. More words of affirmation.
I’ve always been a people pleaser. That’s bad. But the ability to know what people want helps me be a better poet. “Taste” (i.e. “tastefulness”) comes naturally to me. Being aware of what other people will think is second nature.
But so is caring too much about what people will think.
I have spent so many hours working because of other people. But I have also spent so many hours working in spite of other people. There are those “haters” and there are those gushing “everything-you-say-is-fantastic-ers.” Both tempt me in terrible directions.
It is difficult to have an answer to this problem of hyper-impressionable artistry. It is even more difficult to have an answer that is feasible.
A lot of artists say things like “I don’t care about what other people think.” But that will only make my art suck.
A lot of artists say things like “Get to know your audience and give them what they want.” But that will only make my art suck.
Working for people is a real and necessary part of art. We have to make art that is conscionable and understandable and desirable to our audience. Sure, we can make art for personal enjoyment – but let’s be honest:
A huge part of the creative process is meant to be shared.
Particularly the creative result.
Maybe this is one reason why God chose to make us. Not that he needed to share it with us, but that he wanted a creation that would create for him. He wanted to share and be shared with. We can’t really know, but it’s fun to think about.
The struggle to share art without getting puffed up and arrogant or depressed is one of the hardest – and every artist faces it. There is a very high rate of suicides among artists whose art is their livelihood. It makes sense.
The mob – the crowd – is fickle, demanding, oppressive. People are fickle, demanding, oppressive.
We are fickle, demanding, oppressive.
Especially to ourselves.
As an artist who is a Christian, this struggle becomes about being like Jesus. He made incredible art. I’m not talking about the table he invented in The Passion of the Christ. I’m talking about the people and lives and bodies and minds he transformed, with words, with touch, with spirit.
I need to remind myself of his artistic process.
The weeping in the garden. The waiting. The bleeding. The praying.
The “Please… but let your will be done…”
The “Father, forgive them…”
His art was so powerful it is still transforming his audience.
And I need to remember I am part of his artistic process.
I am his creation. The result of his poetic words.
“For we are his poema (poetry), created in Christ Jesus to make good poema (poetry).”
(For the classically sensitive: this translation is accurate – “do” in Greek – as in other contemporary ancient languages – also means “make”).
Artists tend to sit around waiting for someone to make them famous. (Or for someone to tell them they’re terrible).
I’ve done it.
Christians artists tend to sit around talking about making Jesus famous.
I’ve done it.
Maybe what we need instead is to weep, bleed, pray that God will make himself famous in us and through us.
And he will. He is a good artist.