Some careers come with obvious vocational hazards. Construction workers wear hard hats for a reason. Roofers proceed with great caution. First responders know the life-and-death dangers they brave. The vocational hazards for believers who are creatives are less overt, but very much as real.
Creatives image God the Creator as they seek to make art, music, literature, architecture, or a plethora of other forms of art; however, it is all too easy to make an idol of what they have made. They are prone to self-importance in success and feelings of despair or uselessness in lulls or failure. God delights in his people expressing the creativity he hard-wired into them; however, artists can easily slip into craving validation from others.
Two phrases help me fight the inherent, yet insidious career hazards of creating content for God’s glory. Our work is both significant and insignificant, and our work is both dignified and derivative.
Significant yet Insignificant
The process of creating art, from its imagination stages to its inception, echoes the very nature of God. Whether their art stays at home or hangs on a gallery wall, Christians who practice creative arts honor God. Whether a few or a few thousand read the poem or the prose work, the very act of arranging letters into words into images and stories pleases God because it reflects his very nature. Interior designers who create spaces for beauty and connection are chips off the old block of the Creator who filled this earth with nooks and crannies, gardens and gaping canyons.
As such, creative work in and of itself is significant. Glory and beauty matter to God. If you are not convinced read God’s instructions to Moses for the tabernacle in Exodus chapters 25-30. God even set aside and filled artists with the Spirit of God for this ornate undertaking.
The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son or Uri, son of Hur, of the trible of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft” (Exodus 31:1-5).
Similarly, God’s Spirit inspired the poetry and music that know as the psalms. His son was a craftsman who delighted to make beautiful things out of wood. God cares not just about artists, but also about art, because he himself is the artist par excellence. He made living mobiles out of stars that we know as constellations. He created such biodiversity that there are over 350,000 known species of beetles. That is a lot of creativity in one species of beetle, y’all.
Doing creative work is obviously significant. However, sometimes artists can take their work too seriously. I know I can. Every poem I write is significant to me, because of the intimacy through imaging I experience. But it is wrong to expect every poem I write to be significant to everyone who reads it. Self-importance is a ditch artists and creatives frequent.
This can be seen in a phrase from Isaiah 41, where God is juxtaposing God the Creator with those who create idols (and I mean the actual, physical ones).,
The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith, and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, “It is good”; and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved (Isaiah 41:7).
Here we see God calling out the artists who stood in collusion with one another, propping up each other’s self-importance. The “it is good” has echoes of Genesis 1 where God said over his nascent creation, “It is good” daily.
When we do creative work as Christians, we are often tempted to have people stand back and say, “It is good” in a way that puffs us up. However, true art should cause people to step back and say of God, “He is good.”
If we are falling into the ditch of self-importance, Acts 17:24-25 can instruct our hearts.
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything (Acts 17:24-25).
Our work is significant, yet insignificant. This reality frees us to work heartily for the Lord’s glory without the weights of self-aggrandizement and self-significance.
Dignified yet Derivative
Similarly, our work is dignified yet derivative. Artists tend to pride themselves on individuality and uniqueness. But none of us have every truly had an original thought. Only God, in the deepest sense of the term, makes things that are original. All thought, all beauty, all order, and all color literally originate from him who made everything out of nothing.
Creating art, whether photographic, digital, word-centric or image-centric, is a dignified work. Yet all art, even the most amazing art in the world, is derivative. For God alone gives life and breath and skilled hands and creative minds who make masterpieces.
These two realities free me from the career hazards of creative work. They free me to work under the smile of the Father, whether in feast or famine. There is much significant, yet insignificant work to be done by artists who know that both themselves and their work are dignified derivatives.