T. S. Eliot has this to say: “The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.”
This is the flagship slogan of his “Theory of Impersonality”. As a Christian, I find this statement in line with Jesus’ exhortation toward self-denial in service to God. But as an artist? One who lives by their creativity, who would define themselves as a “creatively minded individual”? At first glance, one might think this to be the antithesis of creative pursuit but lets see if, possibly, there may be a kernel of truth to what he’s saying.
Creativity is a force of varying strength. Of late, science has sought to quantify and localize it neurologically and there may be merit in that. However, in the case of something as fickle and mercurial as the creative impulse, I don’t think it best to try and control something that happens best when it happens naturally and when we’re at our most carefree. In other words, don’t rack your brain. Sure, great art has been made from a position of depression, fear and torment, but for most true art to emerge and blossom, one must be at peace and content. Because that’s when it’s at its most fun and nourishing.
Have you ever awakened from a dream and been astonished at its originality and weirdness? There may be scenes from your dream that remind you of instances in your waking life, but where the heck did everything else come from? Well, for better or for worse, it’s now yours (except the really dark and detrimental nightmares, you don’t have to keep those). Along with any ideas from said dreamed dream comes this sense that it belongs to you. Have you ever felt that? Your dreams are yours. As is your art. But! In the Kingdom of God, the way to fully enjoy and experience that which has been given to you by God is to be willing to give it back up to Him to be used at His direction. And when Eliot speaks of the “impersonality” of art, he’s referring to something greater and deeper that takes a hold and takes control, using us as a conduit in order to see it realized. Ask any artist whose work shows effortless brilliance and they’ll tell you that there’s a point in the process where the gift takes over. This is the beauty of said creative process. You may have an idea as to where it’s going, but after a point, you must sit back and let it flow. Or as T. S. Eliot put it, “continually self-sacrifice”. Because the artist tends to be his own worst enemy. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Even the critique that we level at ourselves must be surrendered to God: “yea, I judge not mine own self.” (1 Corinthians 4:3) says Paul.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
In his teens, Oswald Chambers would have told you that he wanted to be a painter. God had other plans for him, though. Plumb the pithy depths of his writings and tell me what it took to gain the gems of insight that he expressed therein. His creative gift had to have been surrendered in order to learn the things that would become his oeuvre. The body of work that he left behind has helped countless individuals the world over come to know Jesus in a more personal and potent way (myself included). And while his art may not have turned out in the visual arena, his speaking and writing tendencies bore fruit an hundred fold.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship.” (Exodus 31:1-3, emphasis mine)
Whatever your discipline in the arts and creativity, be willing to go one step further and lay it at God’s feet to be used in His service. And jettison the notion that your art must be of a certain Christian-y bent depicting lush pastoral scenes or cloying romance in all its gimmicky glory. Beyond giving it to God, your art is just as much yours as are your dreams.