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Art: You are a Work of Art and an Artist at Work

Oct 13, 2015

Do you remember when you used to make art as a child? You and I drew, colored, painted, and imagined new pieces of art incessantly.

art colored pencils

I want to apologize to my parents for how many random pieces of art I brought home. They don’t have the luxury I have – a smartphone camera with cloud-based storage. “Snap-save-delete” was not an option they had. My iPhone + Evernote has saved me from a very cluttered home.

I have some “art trauma” from my childhood. I failed cutting in kindergarten when I couldn’t cut straight lines or get all the white off the black edges. In second grade, my mom went toe-to-toe with my teacher, Mrs. Boursweicz (Boor-shev-itz). She was as scary as her name sounds! Tall and in control. I got a bad grade on a math assignment because I didn’t color in the lines and correspond the colors to the answers. To which my mother replied, “Is it a math assignment or an art assignment?”

Ever since then – like many of you – I have struggled to claim my identity as an artist.

You are An Artist…

In his book, The Artisan Soul, Erwin McManus explores how many of us reject this identity – artist – because of past trauma or insecurity. He challenges us with this perspective – “you’re a work of art and an artist at work.” As a follower of Jesus, I see this perspective rooted within the pages of the Bible. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul writes about how we are “God’s masterpiece”, using the Greek word “poiema” which means “an artist’s crowning achievement.” In the first chapter of the Bible, we read these words, “Let us create human beings in our own image”. We bear the image of the most creative, imaginative, artistic being in all of the universe. We are works of art and artists at work.

You might find this ironic, but for years, I struggled to believe my art was writing. Even after I had been paid to write published content, the struggle continued. It wasn’t until I was 28 years old and I read this book that I finally claimed my identity as a writer.

I believe many of you are in the same place. It might not be writing, but many of you have a shaming memory as a child where someone told you something which crushed your spirit. Or maybe you failed in an endeavor and decided it was safer to give up and grow up.

Many of us have dream or a hope inside we don’t tell anyone about. We struggle to claim that identity and move forward with the work. Our insecurity leaves us stuck and we run from that dream.

McManus builds on his idea “you’re a work of art and an artist at work” by exploring how our life is our art. We make art everyday – in our jobs, with our friends and family, in our communities, in literally every interaction we have. These are our masterpieces, he says.

How do we get unstuck and begin making our art?

If McManus is right and we have something inside us that we were created to share with others, how do we get past the hangups? As someone who has been stuck himself, the following 3 steps have been huge for me as I’ve gotten unstuck.

1. Stop comparing ourselves to other people.
I love social media but the temptation to compare kills many of our dreams. We each present a filtered thread of our best memories, wittiest phrases, most fun experiences and best-looking selfles. We’re not comparing in a fair way; the comparison is destined to derail our progress. I love how Steven Furtick says it, “Everyone is comparing their behind-the-scenes footage to someone else’s highlight reel.”

Social media is the highlights, the most exciting moments, and the big wins. Rarely do we pull back the curtain and share the gritty reality.

Another person’s success is not an indication of our own failure. It’s just their successful moment. Instead of comparing yourself to someone else, try a different approach. Compare yourself to where you used to be and celebrate how much progress you’ve made. Or give up comparing entirely and allow yourself to enjoy this moment and this achievement without the pressure of living up to the past or someone else’s unique situation.

Comparison can kill our dreams.

2. Reject rigid molds
One of the most dangerous works in the human vocabulary is the word “should.” The expectations of others can destroy us because we feel like we’re constantly measuring ourselves against some unattainable standard. The past performance of others become the only way we can do something and all of our creativity and originality becomes devalued and unnecessary.

Instead of “should”, ask the question, “What’s the next right thing I know to do?” Asking that question frees you to search one-step-at-a-time for the next move which will take you into the future, without the pressure of a collective expectation and prescribed path to take.

3. Embrace practice
In this piece about the four secrets no one tells you at the start, I borrow the wisdom of NPR’s Ira Glass who shares how no one tells you that you’re not very good in the beginning. I wish I had known this when I started. As Glass says, I had great taste but my ability to perform was far inferior to my appreciation of other people’s performance.

How do we narrow the gap? Practice! We have to embrace practice. I can’t hear the word practice without thinking about Allen Iverson’s infamous rant about the worthlessness of practice. While Iverson wasn’t much into practice, it defeats fear! We get better and build a routine over time, as we diligently practice. The growing amount of experience produces a growing level of confidence.

I shared this third step – embrace practice – at the end for one reason. Once you’ve claimed your identity, all that’s left is to do the work.

If you’re a writer, then write.
If you’re an artist, make something out of nothing that moves you…and moves us.
If you’re a mom or dad, nurture some incredible kids.
If you’re a coach, build a great team.
If you’re a leader, solve an interesting problem.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, then become more like Him.

You are a work of art and an artist at work. Now that you’ve claimed this, make something today!

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