New Day, New Year

The New Year always feels like a clean slate. There’s a whole year’s worth of crisp pages ready to be filled with LIFE. But the new year is also a tried-and-true moment to look backward. Now 2020 may not have been your cup of tea (for any number of reasons!), but it’s still a worthy exercise to recognize and celebrate the ways you got through it. You may even notice a few lessons you want to take with you into 2021. This post is about looking—both backward and forward—at who you are and who you want to be as an artist. There are even some prompts for journaling or reflection, should you want to record the moment.

Why Do You Make Art?

People call on their creativity for so many different reasons:

  • to record the moment
  • to create beauty
  • to tell a story
  • to shape culture
  • to comment on culture
  • to express emotion
  • to express a a point of view
  • to work through challenges 
  • to remember
  • for the possibility of fame or money
  • because man is inherently creative, just as God is creative

If you are not an artist, do you use creativity in business? parenting? relationships?

Prompt: Where/how do you use creativity? What are your reasons?

Jesus, The Great Creator

If Jesus is our example, how was He creative, in an artistic way? We know Jesus was a skilled craftsman (a carpenter). He spent a long time learning the craft from Joseph, his earthly father. He was also a world-class storyteller, profoundly skilled at sharing relatable stories that would reverberate not only with his 1st-century audience but with people through time. So Jesus was very good at the arts he pursued, and his skill came from long practice with a mentor (at least for the carpentry).

Prompt: How do you get better at your art or at using your creativity?

Sometimes we get caught up in what culture tells us it means to be “successful” as an artist. It will be different for everyone, and it will likely change as you develop as an artist.

Prompt: What would “success” look like for you?

Setting Good Goals

Gallery or museum shows, maybe? A record deal or a prize at a film festival? To dance with the Paris Opera Ballet? Have a million followers? Win an art competition like the Engage Art Contest?

The thing is, no “reason to make art” and no “measure of success” is better than any other. Knowing your own reasons and your own measures and reaching for them, however, will allow you to be fulfilled with your art practice, whatever it is.

It’s definitely wise to set goals for all the things that are important to us: cultivating a deep relationship with God, nurturing and providing for a happy family, developing our artistic skills, getting a trade school certification or academic degree. Sometimes, though, we are so focused on the final goal that we rush the process or expect instant success. We skip steps. We don’t want to put in hard work for years to get better at forgiveness, making a perfectly mitered corner, or audio mixing. Maybe we even consider an honest evaluation of our current skills as an insult instead of a learning opportunity.

Prompt: What are your BIG goals—the ones you want to accomplish by the end of your life on earth?

Celebrate The Steps

Do you remember the first time you wrote a term paper in school? It was the longest thing you’d ever written. There were unfamiliar rules about things you’d never heard of: “margins,” “sources,” “footnotes,” and “plagiarism.” Your teacher probably broke down the process into steps that you and your classmates worked through one at a time. In the end, to your utter amazement, you were able to complete the assignment. The next time you tried, it was more comfortable, and you were better at it.

It’s like that with your art, too, but on a larger scale. Just like that first term paper, no matter what type of creative journey you’re on, developing a step-by-step process for yourself can ease the way. Ask yourself some questions. What are the basic things you need to learn? Where or how can you learn them? How can you get good at them? Do you want to do this work as a hobby or as a profession? What would “success” look like to you? How do you get there? Be prepared for side trips and distractions, some that will prove valuable and some that won’t.

Prompt: How do you get from where you are now to where you want to be by the end of your life? To be on track, where would you need to be in 10 years? 5 years? 1 year?

Savor The Wins

One way to help motivate yourself through the hard work is to “savor the wins” along the way. Striving for your own reasons toward your own measures lets you know when it’s time to celebrate! Each step of your journey will have moments where you can note your progress. Maybe you have a small goal—say improving the intonation of a particular passage. Set a time limit—one 20-minute practice? Over the next week? Or maybe you sketch the same object ten days in a row and work to get the relative lights and darks (the values) more accurate each time? When you have reached that goal, don’t rush on to the next one right away. Give yourself a moment, an hour, a day to just enjoy the feeling of achievement.

Prompt: What are some small “quick wins” that would move you toward your goals?

Some types of art have more significant moments of reflection built-in: the recital or competition for musicians and dancers, art shows at the end of a series of lessons for visual artists, slam showcases, film festivals, etc. For other forms of art, you have to look harder for those opportunities. But you should, even if it’s filming your work once a year so you can record your growth.

Prompt: When or how do you evaluate or reflect on your growth as an artist? Is it formal or informal? How could you celebrate your continued focus on creativity in your life as part of a yearly reflection?

Ditch The Comparisons

It is essential to have regular moments where you savor your wins and reflect on your improvements. This is much more valuable than comparing your journey to that of other artists because, well … you are not them. You lead different lives with different demands, opportunities, and expectations. You have set different goals and have been comfortable with different sacrifices.

Prompt: Do you have a formal review or evaluation process of your growth as an artist? If not, are there ways for you to formalize one at least once a year? Would that serve you in reaching your goals?

Some artists are in a perpetual competitive stance with other artists, but that is counterproductive most of the time. Anytime excellence in the arts is recognized and celebrated, all artists are winners. Scripture tells us not to “slander” (James 4:11) or “grumble against” (James 5:9) each other. Instead, we can “encourage each other” and “build each other up” (I Thessalonians 5:11).

Prompt: How can you encourage and build up other artists? Can you make this a “habit”?

Celebrate Excellence Wherever You Find It

Engage Art recently announced the winners for our Engage Art 2020 contest, which was open to all of North America. If you want to be encouraged, to be inspired, to learn, or to see what contemporary Christian visual art, film, performing arts, and music videos look like, view our Finalists. We hope you will savor your own moments of accomplishment and also join us in applauding the Engage Art 2020 finalists for their excellent work!