Part 4: Ways to Bring Gratitude to Your Art Practice

This post wraps up our 4-part seasonal series on Gratitude, which we hope you will consciously practice all year. In part 1, we delved into the scientific ways that gratitude is good. In part 2, we laid out three super-effective exercises to increase your gratitude. In Part 3, we suggested many ways you can spread gratitude (and joy!) around. In this article, we explore how to integrate gratitude into your art practice.

Ways to Bring Gratitude to Your Art Practice

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1: 2-4

A common misconception is that artists must be in pain to do their best work. Difficulties may help reveal strong emotions that find an outlet in art, but there are many other ways to be an artist. Art-making can support your mental and physical health when it brings you joy. In any case, understanding the value of gratitude in our lives (see part 1 of this series!), integrating a few gratitude rituals into our art-making, seems a worthy investment. Here are a couple of ideas to take with you into the theatre, studio, or wherever you make art.

A Gratitude Trigger

A trigger is something that reminds you to feel an emotion. Most of the time, the word “trigger” is used when we are reminded about negative emotions, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Is there an object or an image that could remind you to feel grateful? Perhaps a smooth stone you picked up on a beautiful walk in a familiar wood, a shell from your favorite beach, a cup from your childhood, or a photo of your beloved. It might take a while for you to think of and choose an appropriate object to trigger the feeling of gratitude.

What you are looking for is a gratitude trigger that you can place semi-permanently in your art-making space. Ideally, your gaze would fall on it naturally when you walk into the room before you even start preparing your materials. That way, the first thing you feel when you step into the place where you will make art is gratitude.

There is no reason to use this technique only in your art practice. You can have gratitude triggers placed throughout your home, your workspace, and your car. You can hide them away in places where they will surprise you later. There’s no such thing as triggering too much gratitude!

Art Prep Routine

Many artists have an informal routine to get into the “headspace” to make art. Vocal warm-ups and scales, pulling out and arranging materials, physical exercises, loosening up games, equipment checks, etc. Some artists may put on an apron or check settings on their camera three times.

Have you ever considered including a prayer in your pre-artmaking routine? A quick thank you to God for the physical ability, emotional capacity, training, and skill would not be amiss. Plus, you can ask for help with any challenges you know are facing you during this session or with a particular creative challenge.

Before you say you don’t have time to do something like that, remember that prayer is a conversation with God. You can have that conversation as you walk into a room, arrange your materials, stretch your body, or put on your apron. It can be as simple as “Thank you, God, that I get to be creative today.”

Daily Gratitude Sketch

Visual artists sometimes incorporate a daily drawing exercise into their life. Often it is not during their actual “art time,” but it happens when they’re on the phone, waiting for an appointment, or some other “downtime.” Often, they’ll choose something close at hand and draw an object “from life.” Is there a similar activity in your art form? A quick musical improvisation? Trying on a new character or character trait? Wordplay or tongue twisters? See if you can think of one or more similar skill-building or warm-up activities.

For those looking to incorporate more gratitude into their art practice, perhaps you can “draw from life,” whatever your art form, in a different way. For a visual artist, what if you had a Gratitude Sketchbook where you regularly drew simple sketches of things you are grateful for? When working up a new character, might you include figuring out how this person would feel and show gratitude and what they would be thankful for? Could a little improv session take something you are grateful for as its inspiration?

Epiphany

The word epiphany has two related meanings. It comes from a Greek word that means “to reveal.” It is a liturgical season for Christians celebrating when the wise men arrived in Jerusalem seeking the location of the child “who has been born King of the Jews.” This news was shocking to King Herod, and he was not pleased to think someone was vying for his throne. The modern use of the word means to have a sudden insight into the truth of something, often spurred by understanding some small, common action or object in a new—and revealing—way.

When you make and review your new tools from part 2 of this series—your gratitude journal, your silver linings, and your gratitude bathing—you will be reminded of a lot of meaningful moments. Do some of the things you have documented catch you by surprise? Looking back over them, do you have sudden or dawning insights? Are there patterns you had been unaware of? What in this reflection is interesting to you as inspiration for new work? Themes? Symbols? Areas of inquiry?

While this 4-part Gratitude series ends here, we hope it has shown a light on some of the ways you can extend your “thanks giving” throughout the year. Gratitude can and should be a part of every God-given day. At Engage Art, we especially give thanks for artists of all kinds, people who support all sorts of artists, those who focus their ministry on Scripture engagement, and every person who brings their relationship with God into all aspects of their lives.

Happy Thanksgiving.