Tag Archives: art

Ending My Struggle For Art

“[Art] is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.”

― Leo Tolstoy, What Is Art?


Art, like faith, requires nothing so much as imagination.

Yet as a Christian and as an artist, I tend to get so crumpled up by so many things.

Of course, there’s a place for being focused on results. What’s practical. “Reality.” But so often, all that just gets in the way. At the start at least, I have to ignore all that. Even if it means not knowing what’s happening elsewhere.

Somehow, I keep thinking that in finishing this book, this product, is how I will finally be free, me, defined. I don’t know. It’s so embarrassing to admit, but at its core, it’s a lie–a simple lack of imagination.

I’m forgetting my process. I’m forgetting yet again that nothing comes from nothing.

What raises an artist to his or her greatest height is not the final work but the daily work.


I want to create art and capture well-chosen words for books.

And yet, even with my best intentions, it gets life-draining when I forget that I and my art are not defined by the results. I get depleted because I stop believing art is only defined by its process.

And this artist is only defined by one man.

Why do I keep forgetting? Why is this my continual lesson, how to value the basic foundational process?

This is my real work, the point of the art, the pursuit of the process and what it reveals about life and God and my place as his vessel.

Art can’t create value or status. It’s the Giver, and through this creative process, I learn and am caused to grow into who I’m becoming.

If anything can make art more worthwhile than ordinary life, it must be that.


This simple process of creating art, it’s working through the constant changes of life. Each tiny, tremendous discovery is more of my place within it. Secrets are spoken and brought into the light and understanding grows, and hence its value. And with every new discovery, more and more I see the struggle as necessary.

Each step by incremental step, all we rely upon is visible in the work process. Struggle brings motivation. The pain, it makes true joy recognizable. Isolation, rejection, frustration, it all births a greater appreciation of commitment and community. And the strength to speak it all, it rises from the knowledge that these truths have incubated in the dark for years and they demand my respect and my full attention.

The process, it grows my understanding of the Higher Purpose, through all I’ve lived through, learned and been prepared to share.

Seeing this and appreciating it, this is the real point of making art. Valuing the process and all its shaping influences.


But all of that floats away when I get distracted again.

Ultimately the reason the process is so important is because it reminds me that there’s only one place where I can start. And it’s where I will end up. It’s the beginning, the core, and the end of the process–


If I haven’t taken the time to listen to Jesus, how can I expect to have anything of value to share? We’re but channels for inspiration, we have to listen to the source!

The process is so critical to me because it means just this, time and time again: Stop. Wait. And listen.

You’d think I’d start remembering eventually, wouldn’t you?

Luckily, there’s a story about this.


Mark 9:2-9: “Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”

It’s painfully familiar. Peter just wants to get doing something instead of what he should be doing.

i.e. nothing. i.e. listening. i.e. processing.


Don’t I realize I have nothing to say unless I listen to Jesus?

I want to speak. I want to help. I want to be heard.

We can only give when we’ve received. We can only give if he’s given. 

The process is about relearning this until it finally sinks in deep. Maybe like Peter, it takes a lot for me to be able to hear. Maybe the only way to know the depth of love I want to share is through this struggle to receive it.

Maybe this is the only way because I have to be made willing.

The process for me is to get my will out of the way of his will. And I guess I just don’t believe that until I learn it again.

Dang it, I’m the cause of the lion’s share of my struggle.

How much of me is still not what he has made? And who am I in the end if I’m in the way of who I’m ultimately becoming?


We can be disappointed with where we are. Or we can start where we are. That’s the choice (and of course by “start,” I mean Stop. Wait. And listen.)

I guess I do believe God will use whatever we give him.

So maybe it comes down to that one word: will. My will for His.

Am I willing?

“I am wrapped in mortality,

my flesh is a prison,

my bones the bars of death.

What is mortality

but the things related to the body,

which dies?

What is immortality

but the things related to the spirit,

which lives eternally?

What is the joy of heaven

but improvement

of the things of the spirit?

What are the pains of hell

but ignorance and bodily lust,

idleness and devastation

of the things of the spirit?

The imagination is not a state,

it is human existence itself.”

– William Blake

For His Perfect Will, that is the Higher Purpose,


Why editing isn’t just the how but the what  

Whenever I work with new authors, they’re eager and excited. And almost always they want to focus on how they did—whether the structure they used works and how well it “flows.”

But what I find almost 100% of the time is that first, they need help hearing what they said. And without exception, it’s surprising to them to realize what I’m hearing.

We think editing is a matter of mechanics. What we find is, it’s mostly about relevance and authenticity.

More than structure, we need to hear how we sound beyond our own heads.

Picture a singer too focused on all the other instruments to hear what his voice is contributing. Picture a painter thinking only of a person’s shape without perspective and the play of shadow and light on skin.

Language is magic. We don’t control it without patient work. And even then…

Are you open to hearing what you haven’t yet heard?

How else would we expect to learn to affect others with what’s in our minds and hearts that hasn’t yet been said?

Tuesday Morning Pages

“I must write on the novel again. 

It’s got to be finished. All it needs is my attention.”

Wendell and Tanya
Wendell and Tanya

And that was as far as I got last night before falling asleep. And in listening to That Distant Land on my run this morning, Wendell Berry’s collection of Port William short stories about the colorful folks in a small Kentucky community around the turn of the century puts me in mind of that simple fact again. The simple romance of Tol Proudfoot and Miss Minnie Quinch is so perfectly described and articulated, and his use of the poems recited by her students at the pie auction–so perfectly fitting in context and content–the situation seems more real than reality. With such a precise appreciation for human nature and country life, his insight makes you wish it really happened.

I should give a copy to Cec.

And it puts me in mind of the key: When you see it, your job is to respond. Appreciating Berry, I have only to share what I saw. Writing, creating art–any work, really–is a simple matter of responding. We think our task is to improve upon what we’ve seen or experienced, to augment reality in some way, as if we could. Being response-able, and holding that state while we resound in admiration is what allows us to absorb the inspiration and insights, and then translate and transmit them through our own filters.

Why am I constantly forgetting this?

I do know why. We get clouded up and the clarity of our response in words and fashioned images gets thwarted. Too often we think we have to be different or better or less encumbered than we are and we miss our opportunities.

“Not skilled enough.” “Not smart enough.” “Not enough time.”

Poverty of soul kills the work, not any lack in us. When I agree with the opposition, I give him my life and allegiance. And then I have the stupidity to pray for more blessing of these things without having used the abundance already in my possession.

And now that I’ve seen this, my only job is to speak what I know. And in the doing, I’ll find more ability, more skill, and more time. I know this because it’s what happens. All I need is to trust that there’s a process underway and when I show up, I progress. In the listening and slowing and awakening, the responding is inevitable. And in merely being open to life, my work is enabled.

Today, I will simply show up to receive and then share what I see. That’s enough work for one day.