The Artist's Dance

*I originally wrote this article for CatalystSpace.com and thought I'd repost it here.

When was the last time you danced? – Cee-lo Green

A couple of years ago I took dance lessons, learned a dance that requires you to simultaneously count steps, feel the music, and follow your partner. Found myself thinking less about the steps as my feet intuitively learned what to do. Then, life got busy. I was too tired, too preoccupied with knocking off my to do list to make time for dancing. By the time I tried the dance again, my feet were clueless, slow going like a child’s brain struggling to remember vocabulary words on the first day of school after a summer spent with water slides and ice cream cones.

The artistic journey is like this for many of us. We wrote, painted, danced, sang, played, until we were spent. Then, responsibility got the best of us. We “grew up” became “responsible.” Too busy for dancing.

Your desire to artistically dance will not go away. The Creator of creativity put it there. The question is will you come back to the dance floor. Will you endure the process of your feet clumsily rediscovering what to do?

All artists fear the same thing. Whether it’s a canvas, page, sheet music, or a blinking cursor, we detest the blank. It’s the time when all these creepy, negative voices start peeling out of the darkness like dancers from the Thriller music video taunting you with all of the reasons why no one is ever going to read, listen to, watch, care about whatever it is you're doing. Sometimes in the humdrum of life, jobs, responsibility, we shy away from being artists, because it forces us to reckon with what we’re not doing with the gifts God gave us.

As much as you fear failing and having no audience but your mom who thinks everything you make is amazing, you want the journey, the stumble, to feel the fear blowing hard against your skin. You want to lean into it and do what’s in your heart. The following are some guideposts to help get those creepy Thriller dancers with their negativity, put in their proper place so you can get your art to dancing again.

Cultivate a Creative Place.
Despite the propaganda pushed by many artists, inspiration is not a spontaneous, effortless experience. Creativity is akin to discipline, a muscle that must be worked and stretched to prevent atrophy. Train your creative brain to know when and how to open up and be creative. I can find a creative space anywhere as long as I have pen, page, and John Coltrane. What are your tools of the trade? Where can you go consistently and often to find your creative place?

Giving way to the art inside you will require solitude. Even Jesus had a place where he withdrew to be with God, alone. Prayer and creativity coexist. In the same way that you can find a solitary place to connect with your Creator, acclimating your soul to opening up to him, you can learn the rhythm of creativity straight from the Creator. Find a place to connect with God and bring your instrument of choice.

Hone your craft. When Solomon was getting ready to build the temple he didn’t just call for people who were passionate about what they did, he called for master artisans (2 Chronicles 2:5-7).

Stay connected with the arts scene.
In the book of Acts when Paul was making his case to the people of Athens about how near God was to them, about how they lived, moved, and could find their being in him, he quoted one of their poets. This is an excellent example of why it’s important to know “the poets” or influential voices in the culture where you are living life and sharing Jesus. The only way Paul was able to quote their poets was to listen to them.

Stay current with your arts scene through social networking, blogging, and checking out artistic events in your local city. Try engaging with art that is opposite of the genre you normally work in.

Shine is not a bling reference, nor is this about creating buzz for yourself. This is about shining a Jesus light, the kind of light that never goes out. In a room full of lamps, more light doesn’t so much matter. In a place with only shadow, light rescues. God wants art to introduce all of us to him, in whatever way he chooses to do this.

I love how Paul says it here, “Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night…” (Phillippians 2:14-16, The Message)

How can you engage more with people who may not believe like you? With other artists and creative people?

At some point this week, find your solitary place and grab a pen, paintbrush, instrument, or piece of choreography. Yes you’ll be clumsy at first. You’ll stumble around until you find your way, but eventually you’ll dance again.

Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. – Paul (Galatians 6:5)


Nyam said...

Thank you for this encouragement and challenge. Also, I wanted to say that I've been powerfully impacted by your piece "True Story". It deeply resonates with me as I've grown up in church my whole life and while I know I have encountered God, I'm finding that I've married myself more to religion, rather than relationship with God.

Thanks for sharing your gift and keep doing what you do!

La Donna said...

thank you... I just found this.
I have been struggling with the idea that I am too old to try to revive my stewardship of a talent.
Then I went to a wonderful seminar by Brian Klemmer (Compassionate Samurai Seminar))..he proposed that as Christians we should have 100 200 300 year goals..And why not! We will forever be walking with our savior and we have legacies to pass on..
thank you for putting this here for us who have faltered in our journey but intend to get to the goal in this life and beyond..

I met you at one of the many conferences you do at the foursquare womens't event in Atlanta,,blessings on our life and calling..La Donna Elliott

amena bee said...

@nyam and @la donna thank you both for sharing your stories and encouraging words! i too am on the journey of continuing to keep it real in my relationship God + cultivating my artist side. it's a constant journey, i'm learning. have a great weekend and keep living creatively! :D

Eileen said...

Found you via a study I'm leading... Real Women Real Faith. Thoroughly enjoyed this post.

Anonymous said...

I am Hearing loud n. clear! I really needed to read these words today. Thank you for being real being who u were made to be n not being afraid to shine. Your words gives meaning to the dreams n gifts long hidden in my heart. I need to take that first step. May the music inside you never dwindles but catches others on fire for God