It wasn’t always this way. When I was a little girl, I lived in a world of crayons and crepe paper, paint and pencils, making messes of my imagination and exploring worlds made of words. But like all artists – all children, really – the encroaching world of productivity suppressed my instinct to create just because. Even now as I write this post, my thoughts are disjointed and my words fragmented by the big picture, the full post, the comments and the stats and the why am I really doing this mentality that always ails my writing and blogging.
One over-arching theme that I took away from STORY was the idea that expectation can cripple my work. When I cannot see the fruits of my labor, when my expectation for growth and productivity is centered on accolades and attention and conventional success, my well runs dry.
If I create for my own glory, rather than as an outpouring of relationship to my Creator, my work will only appear dim, fragmented, broken.
Of all the STORY sessions, Makoto Fujimura’s message left the deepest impression on me. He drew a parallel to the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13, and though I grew up hearing that story, I love how he used the metaphor of soil to speak, not trite words about individual hearts and salvation, but about the work of creating art to cultivate culture.
“Real artists don’t think about 15 minutes of fame. They think about 500 years from now, what kind of culture will our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, live in?”
and also :
“Culture too is an environment, an ecosystem; it needs stewardship. Artists cannot survive in this culture.”
An artist’s purpose is to plant the seeds faithfully, to write words and paint pictures and melodize stray notes into music. Yet we do this not for the seed’s sake, or for art’s sake.
As sowers of seeds, we have to know our soil and yet plant faithfully, writing the words, painting the pictures, melodizing stray notes into music, whether or not we can predict the outcome.
“The Parable of the Sower is not about the seed. Where the seed lands matters more. Soil is layers and layers of dead things – ground zero. Good soil has gone through many winters. Spring is coming!”
Mako gave the example of Emily Dickinson, whose cache of work lay undiscovered in a box beneath her bed until after her death. Though she had a few poems published while she was alive, most of them were significantly altered, stripped of her slant rhymes and em dashes – all the things that made Emily’s work unique. She never saw her seeds come into full bloom, yet she still created over 1,000 poems because she was devoted to the act of creating, the art of sowing.
“Emily Dickinson’s desk was 17 1/2 inches by 17 1/2 inches. This is all the space you need to change and shape culture.”
Over and over again, STORY reminded me that my purpose as an artist, a sower of seeds, is to create even when the effort feels fruitless. Our work is important, vital even, to the culture we cannot even envision yet.
“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11