Seeking Acceptance & Approval as an Artist

David Bayles and Ted Orland, in their book Art & Fear, suggest that the artist needs two things from their audience: acceptance and approval.  They assert, “acceptance means having your work counted as the real thing; approval means having people like it.”  In other words, we crave the acceptance of our critics and peers and opinion leaders to validate our work.  And we crave the approval of others to validate us.

I think this is normal for any artist, to seek not only approval but also acceptance.  We ask ourselves the deep questions of being. Does what I do have merit?  Am I touching people with my song, my book, my poem, my painting?  Is there some significance to my work, beyond my own skewed self-perceptions?  Is there some significance to me?  These are all valid and deeply felt questions that strike at the very heart of who we are and what we do as artists.

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Like the Stars on a Cloudless Night

I recently participated in the Christian Musicians Summit at Overlake (Seattle area).  During this two-day conference, I shared concepts on the arts and faith from my book to scores of artists—musicians, painters, actors, dancers, and technical artists.  It was a blast.

One of the things I look forward to as I speak more in this context is watching the imaginary light bulbs that start to turn on over people’s heads.  This time, there was a definite corporate “aah!” moment as I shared the idea that we don’t have to be message-oriented in our art.  Christian evangelicals in particular operate under the paradigm that the arts are to be used as a vehicle for a message, and of course, the message is “the Gospel,” however you may define it.  (Note: I originally derived this concept from Francis Schaeffer in his seminal book, Art and the Bible.)

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What is it to sing a "New Song"?

"Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth."    Psalm 96:1

Recently, Worship Leader Magazine asked me (among others) to respond to two questions that they will be focusing on in an upcoming issue.  The questions they posed were quite thought-provoking and, upon further reflection, essential for the worship leader.  I look forward to the January 2010 issue and what others have to say.  Meanwhile, here are their questions and my extended response to them.

WL:  What is New Song?

Before I came to Christ, there were three kinds of songs I typically wrote: “I love you” songs, “You left me” songs, and “You can leave now” songs.  (I think I wrote a song about the circus once too.

Musicians' Most Quoted Movie Scenes

I know.  I don’t typically do this kind of blog. Usually I am trying to tackle issues of theology and the arts, or sharing some insightful life lesson that I’ve happened upon, or summarizing a recent gig or artistic adventure.  If you’re looking for that today, this ain’t it.

I stumbled upon a an internet video of one of my favorite music movie scenes, and it got me thinking about the movies us musicians quote, especially before, between, or after a gig.  We’re a bit of a weird breed of cat, and the things that make us laugh are often left of center.  So here’s a really short list, in no particular order, of movies that rock, blues, and even jazz musicians I play with refer to.  (Note that my mentioning it here is not an endorsement of the movie!)  But if you want to add to the list, please let me hear from you.  And make sure you check out the links!

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The Lost Virtue of Fidelity

My church is going to celebrate our 25th anniversary this week.  As you can imagine, we’ve gone through a lot in that time.  We’ve had our celebrations, births, weddings, funerals, baptisms, Christmases and Easters, retreats and advances.  We've met at a storefront, a high school, afternoons at another church, portable buildings, and finally our own performing arts facility built largely with volunteer staff.  There are hundreds of people to whom I have given my heart—in ministry and in life—for a season and for eternity. 

There are decades of memories wrapped up in this celebration, from special private moments with one or two people to countless moments in public congregational intimacy through worship and other artistic expressions.  There have been large numbers of people (numbers known only to God) who have committed their lives to Christ.  I’ve had the privilege of being able to share the creative process with hundreds—maybe thousands—of actors, dancers, musicians, producers, technical artists, poets, painters, graphic artists, recording engineers, writers, photographers, vocalists, artisans, visionaries.  And I have laughed so hard and so long, that I’ve gone to bed with a sore belly.

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The Art of Bread

Typically, this blog waxes eloquent on the deeper theological points of faith and the arts. But today, I thought I would just be goofy and share a story about my wife about a dozen years ago.  It is a reminder that we, as artists, should strive toward the greater art—and often, it comes with a price.

In our family, this story is folklore, the kind of tale that has been retold over the dinner table over the course of more than a dozen years.  Or to paraphrase the words of Kung Fu Panda: "Legend tells of a legendary bread maker whose bread making skills were the stuff of legend..."

Day 1: My wife, Debbie, finds a book on baking bread in the bookstore.  She buys it, thinking that she'll save the family money in the long run.  "After all, after a few loaves, it should pay for itself."

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Poetry and the Church's Arts Hangover

I know very little about poetry.  Except for the smattering of T. S. Elliot and Edgar Allan Poe in high school, the limericks I read as a kid on the elementary school restroom stalls, and the occasional forays into bad haiku, I really don't know much about it.

There is a young lady at our church, a poet.  In fact, she is such a good poet, she can actually call herself a poet and nobody seems to think that is odd in any way.

I asked her to explain poetry to me once, and her response was a little mind blowing.  She patiently explained that the intent of the arts is to express ideas and emotions that cannot be expressed using words.  The thing about poetry is that you have to use words to express that which cannot be expressed using words.  So the poet employs forms and devices like rhythm, alliteration, metaphor, simile, and other stylistic elements to achieve their art.
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Entering into God's Story

God the Artist

“Daddy, draw me a horse.”  So begins a scene typical to my home a number of years ago.  One of my twin daughters, Rachel or Paige, would appear beside me with a colored marker pen and a sheet of paper, and ask me to become Artist Daddy.  Now, this not difficult.  Horses, stars, dogs, cats, and flowers are typical requests for little girls, and they measure the quality of my work not by their realism, but by whether or not the characters are smiling. So I accept the challenge.  I take the pen from her delicate fingers, smooth out her tousled paper, and draw.

The result is part caricature, part cave drawing, but she is delighted nonetheless.  “Thanks Daddy,” she will offer politely.  And then she would muse, “Her name is... um... Buttercup.”  And then she would add green grass, a yellow sun in the corner, and eyelashes (because this is how little girls distinguish girl horsies from boy horsies).

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Good Free Will Hunting

Talk to anyone who is well-read on the concept of “free will” and you may find yourself discussing any number of heady things, from the five points of Calvinism to the four Spiritual Laws.  In Christian thought, free will is typically associated with our ability to choose to follow or reject God and His grace.  In this sense, it is associated with sin or where you go when you die.  It is a heaven or hell thing. 

But I think that one of the more under-explored aspects of free will is something that defines us as artists: Creativity.

What is creativity anyway?  The word is synonymous with imagination, innovation, originality, individuality, artistry, inspiration. Creativity is a new way to tell a story, a different way to catch a mouse, the silhouette of a new car.  Creativity is a song that makes you tap your foot, or a joke that makes you laugh, or a movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat.  Creativity is the photography of Ansel Adams, or the Wright brothers’ first powered airplane, or a new flavor of ice cream.  Creativity is all of these things.

Human creativity is one aspect of what theologians call “the cultural mandate,” which is essentially our job description here on earth: "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it."  This cultural mandate includes the blessing to prosper and procreate, to be responsible for the care and stewarding of the earth, to develop societies and invent and explore, and also to create and express ourselves in the created universe.  In this sense, creativity is a vibrant and essential part of our free will.

Creativity happens, in part, because all of us were created to be unique beings.  We all see the world in our own special and distinct ways, and are able to express this view uniquely.  Each of us sees the sunset differently.  Each of us feels sadness differently.  The smell of bacon and eggs in the morning is a distinctly different experience for each of us, because we each bring our senses, preferences, physicalities, and memories to the breakfast table.  

Theologian Jeremy Begbie says in his book, Voicing Creations Praise, “I have argued that the Christian faith presents us with a vision of created existence possessing its own latent orderliness and meaning, and that a crucial part of human creativity is to be attentive to that inherent order, to discover it and bring it to light.”  What I think he is implying is that the act of human creativity is in part the act of revelation, a revelation of God’s creation interpreted through humanity.  

And this is my point: Creativity is one inherent aspect of being made in the image of God.  Creativity is an act of the human soul, where our free will and our personality and our intellect converge. It is a gift from God, imbedded into all of humanity.  And more than that, it is mandated as a part of our purpose here on earth.

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A rock musician turned rocket engineer turned Christian artist, MANUEL LUZ is a creative arts pastor, working musician, and author. His new book, Imagine That: Discovering Your Unique Role as a Christian Artist, is released by Moody Publishers.