I used to tell people that I wasn’t creative. I acknowledged my other skills — I’m organized, can meet a deadline, run a shipshape household — but when it came to creativity, I always balked. “Nope, I’m not creative ‘that way,'” I’d tell people who asked if I did any writing on the side, like poetry or short stories. “I write for a living – annual reports and brochures and stuff like that … but I’m not creative.”
I believed it, too. I assumed other people had talents like that — artists and musicians and poets. But me? I figured I wasn’t created that way, to be creative.
And I was wrong.
As it turned out, I was simply afraid to be creative. I was afraid to take the leap into something outside my comfort zone because I was afraid I would fail. I was afraid what I wrote would be cheesy, or lame or really, really bad. The truth is, when I did finally start to write at the age of 37, some of it was cheesy and lame and really, really bad (some of it still is). But some of it wasn’t. And that gave me confidence to keep writing.
Reading Matt Appling’s new book Life after Art last week brought me back to those days, to all the years I denied my creativity because I was afraid of failing. I loved this book. It’s short; it’s a quick read. But it’s packed with powerful truths about the importance of creating for all of us, not just for the artists and the musicians and the poets, but for everyone.
Matt graciously answered a few questions for me recently, which will give you a glimpse into the book. Better yet though, buy a copy for yourself. It’s required reading for any creative person. And believe me, you are a creative person. God made you that way.
Here are my questions for Matt and his answers about his book and the creative process:
1. Can you tell us a little bit about how art and faith intersect for you in the everyday?
The intersection of art and faith kind of easy for me to identify because I’m an art teacher, and I see my work as ministry. But I’m really interested in people who are not so fortunate, who don’t see their work being creative or necessary to the Kingdom. I think that’s where a lot of adults are at. Wishing they could do more, but feeling stuck where they are at.
2. Why do you think children lose the instinct to be generous with their art?
That’s a tough one. Part of it may just be being surrounded by uncreative adults. Part of it may just be the awareness they gain of their peers in school. By the time a student is in sixth grade, their entire worldview is how their fellows see them, not how they see themselves. If children were educated in complete isolation, maybe that wouldn’t happen…but of course that would cause lots more problems!
Ultimately, I think it’s because we are fallen humans, and as we grow up we grow out of touch with God our creator in lots of ways. Creativity is just one of them.
3. What are some ideas you might offer to an adult who feels she has completely lost her creative side – or perhaps even doubts that she had a creative side to begin with? Where or how should she begin to rediscover creativity?
One of the Creative Giants I highlighted in the book is Bob Ross, the famous PBS painter. He was great because he showed adults that they can do this! They don’t have to be scared to make a mark on a canvas. Even if it doesn’t turn out well, who cares? I think many adults are just too fearful to try new things, myself included. I cannot tell you how many adults have told me they found out they weren’t creative…in art class, usually because a teacher told them. I say “Who cares?” If you want to try something, then try it. There are no consequences for trying.
4. Some of us with kids may be seeing the “good enough” tendency in them already – as in, my art, my schoolwork, my skills, etc., are “good enough” (my kids are ages 8 and 11, and I’ve definitely seen it). What advice would you give parents? How can we encourage our kids to set consistently high standards for themselves, especially when it comes to creativity? And is it possible to stop the “good enough” downward spiral even after it’s already begun?
I think encouraging kids to set high standards starts with parents setting high standards for themselves. Kids see that. Kids see the values that parents live out. And parents have to communicate to kids what their values and standards are. I remember tagging along with my dad on business errands. I got to go into strange offices with strange people inside and watch my dad interact with them. I saw how he conducted himself. It was very educational. Let your kids see into your work life, your spiritual life, your financial life, and yes even your love life and tell them this is how we live and this is why we live this way.
5. As a person who feared failure for a few decades, I like your idea of “reprogramming our view of failure.” What’s the essence of this message in a nutshell?
I too realized – probably much later than I should have – that failure carries a lot of unnecessary baggage. It looms huge in our minds as this world-ending apocalypse that has to be avoided at all costs. When we put failure up on a pedestal like that, we steer as far away from it as possible. Two things we have to learn about failure: first that it is a natural and necessary part of creativity and success, and two that failure is never as big a deal as we imagine it to be.
6. My favorite two lines in your whole book are these, from Chapter Six: “You will be creating for the rest of your life. You might as well do it on purpose.” What does creating look like when it’s not done intentionally, on purpose?
Creating that’s not done on purpose looks like marriages that fall apart from neglect. It looks like kids that drop out of school and give up their faith. It looks like a family running itself ragged with non-stop activities but they are drifting apart emotionally and spiritually. It looks like people who accept everything someone tells them without deep thinking about what they are being taught. It looks like a faith that is just rote ritual, devoid of real communication with the Creator. It looks like a man who has spent forty years at a job he hates but never found the courage to do what he secretly loved. There’s a whole lot of that kind of creating going on.
7. If you could leave readers with one piece of wisdom or advice related to creativity and art, what would it be?
Our schools tried to prepare us for a lifetime of learning, but how many of us were prepared for a lifetime of creating? Creating is simply what we were made to do. Most of us just forgot about it.
8. And something fun … You’re a writer, a preacher, an artist, a teacher – can you name your favorite thing to create?
I have created a lot of things. I was big into painting as a teenager. As a young adult, I loved graphic design, and still do. The last four years, I’ve poured out probably 450,000 words on my blog. But my art room really is my creative pinnacle so far. I love creating…creators! My students make me proud when I hang their work on the walls. It brings me full circle from my years as a youth pastor. My work really is ministry.
I’m also delighted to give away one copy of Life After Art, so leave a comment between now and Monday, April 8, and I’ll draw one random name as the winner.