Seth Godin on Creating

Photo by Bjorn Amundsen. Header image stolen from OnBeing.org
 There is no question that Seth Godin is one of a kind. His views on marketing are famous in an age of where the public market has changed rapidly, making it harder and harder to find a large audience for products, books, and arts of all kinds.

His perspective inspires me as a creator, particularly as I listened to this On Being interview of Seth Godin today (the interview is from last year — I’m behind the times, as usual).

He talks with Krista Tippet about how all people have the opportunity to be artists in our new post-industrialization world. He also gives views on finding an audience, spending your best time creating, and how to raise your children to respond to media well.

I can’t recommend this conversation enough! If you get a chance this week, have a listen.

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How to Discourage Artists at Church

Lately, Jeremy and our pastor have been having discussions about incorporating more art (and artists) into our corporate worship at church. This Gospel Coalition article, (incidentally, written by the current president of my alma mater), discusses this very thing, but from the opposite side. It asks, what do churches and Christians do that discourage Christian artists as artists and as fellow Christians?

I love the points this article raises and the place it ends: that the Church should feel like home to artists and nonartists alike. After all, isn’t that the purpose of the Church (with a capital C)? It is a foretaste of the unity and at-homeness we will feel in heaven. I’d love to see all our churches become places that feel more and more like home for the Christians who are apart of them — including Christian artists!

Creative Fires

In the last few days, tensions have built to almost unbearable levels in my city. In case you haven’t heard yet, Colorado Springs, CO, scenic outdoor paradise, is on fire and has been for six days. People have lost their homes even as firefighters desperately defend our city day and night. (We are safe, by the way). The air reeks of smoke and of fear. What can we do?

Living in Colorado, I’ve never tasted the fear and uncertainty that accompanies natural disasters. Along with this week’s fire in Colorado Springs has come a new compassion for the victims of Katrina, Japan’s tsunami, Ground Zero, and the countless other disasters worldwide. At this point, no one has died in the Waldo Canyon fires, and for that I am extremely grateful. Even so, it’s frightening and painful knowing that my parent’s home has likely burned to the ground, along many of my friends’ homes as well.

It’s easy to feel helpless, restless, and angry. I can’t fight fires. What could I possibly do to help?

Two days ago, a friend of mine and owner of a local design firm, sent out an email to a few designers and artists who live and work in Colorado Springs.

“Let’s make some t-shirt designs and give the profits to the relief efforts,” he said.

Everyone was in and “all-in” at that. We worked with feverish energy, fueled by those same feelings of restlessness and frustration. Our creativity burned as fierce as the fires outside. My friend Troy’s design said, “fight fire with fire.” We nodded somberly and kept working.

Within 24 hours, we had three shirt designs and a website. We had hoped we could sell maybe 200 shirts and raise $3000 (much more than any of us could have donated). The site went live the other day with eight shirt designs, and in the first hour sold 50 (my design is below). Last I heard we had made $50,000. I’m still astonished. (UPDATE: we have now raised over $120,000 $200, ooo $270,000.)

My wife Liz is pregnant. During a recent “nesting energy burst,” we rearranged our small house to make room for our little girl who’s on the way. But suddenly, with uncertainty hanging densely in the air, Liz found herself listless and on edge.  What could she possibly do except try to stay cool and out of the smoke? It was simply maddening.

“I need to process,” she said to me yesterday, getting up and grabbing her iPad. “I’m going to a coffee shop to write.”

“Alright,” I said, “try to stay cool and out of the smoke.” We kissed and she left.

Two hours later she returned with a beautiful piece of writing about the fire, about this place we love, and about fear and trust. She submitted it to the arts magazine The Curator, and this morning heard it would be published. (UPDATE: the article can be found here.)

We all have destructive energies inside us. We all have the potential to act out of fear or out of apathy. But there is a better way. We can choose to be creative. We can choose to walk in trust and faith. We can choose to trust in Jesus who was called “Emmanuel,” meaning “God with us.” Jesus who was called “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” We grieve as the land around us is turning to ashes, yet even so, scripture says that God creates “beauty from ashes.” He CREATES. And in the single greatest creative act in all history, Jesus turned a horrible and disgusting death into redemption, into freedom from guilt, shame and fear – for absolutely anyone who believes in him. That’s pretty creative.

I can see beauty from ashes. I can see this community coming together to help the helpless. I’ve read about teens buying toys to give to children in the shelters, children who have lost their own toys to the fires. My co-workers have made care packages for displaced employees, and they have donated to Care and Share. And these creative friends of mine have channeled their energies to help raise money with a few t-shirts. We are fighting fire with fire.

A Tangible Salvation & Why Art Matters

Lately, Jeremy and I have been reading and discussing Timothy Keller’s The Prodigal God with our small group at church. Other than the book being a phenomenal and simple exposition of the parable of the prodigal son (found in Luke 15 in the Bible), the book also touches on an idea that, I believe, applies to the question of why art matters at all in these brief lives we live.

Near the book’s end, Keller discusses the last section of the parable, where the younger son’s return home to the father (who represents God) is celebrated with a great feast that represents “the great festival of God at the end of history” (p. 106).

In the section “Salvation is Material,” Keller continues to develop this idea:

“A meal is a very physical experience. Jesus left a meal, the Lord’s supper (communion), to be remembered by, and the final goal of history is a meal, the wedding supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19). The resurrected Christ ate with his disciples when he met with them (Luke 24:42-43; John 21:9). What does it all mean? It is a sign that, for Jesus, this material world matters.

“The book of Genesis tells us that when God made this world, he looked upon the physical creation and called it ‘good.’ He loves and cares for the material world. The fact of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of a new heavens and a new earth show clearly that he still cares for it… The ultimate purpose of Jesus is not only individual salvation and pardon for sins, but also the renewal of this world… The climax of history is not a higher form of diembodied consciousness but a feast. God made the world with all its colors, tastes, lights, sounds, with all its life-forms living in interdependent systems.

“If the material world were only an illusion, as Eastern philosophy says, or only a temporary copy of the real, ideal world, as Plato says, then what happens in this world or in this life would be unimportant. All that would matter would be issues of soul or spirit. However, Jesus was not simply saved ‘in spirit’ but was resurrected in body” (pp. 110-111).

As Keller clearly sees, Jesus himself, in his incarnation and then in his bodily resurrection, shows us that our bodies and this material reality that he’s created matters. In fact, our own bodily existence matters, just as our bodily lives matter.

I believe it’s easy as Christians to rely on the disembodied, gnostic view of heaven as our future life and discount the drudging reality of our days — “It’s all gonna burn anyway,” Jeremy’s sister likes to joke. It gives us an excuse to check out, to give in to fear and sin, and to escape from bodily suffering with a fully spiritual heavenly existence.

But what I love so much about this teaching is that it makes what we do in our lives so valuable. Thankfully, what we do does not matter enough to disqualify us from the grace of God (being deeply rooted in sin as we are); however, our material actions count for something.

In particular, as Christian artists, we have an instinctual urge to create out of material objects (or to write about material objects, people, and circumstances) and we also have an inherent knowing inside us that tells us that what we see and taste and feel matters. There is something eternal about our physical lives, though we cannot quite say what it is.

In fact, our art is richer for all its concrete details. The best writing does not abstractly describe a scene; it shows us the world of the character, taking us into the tangible, physical world the character lives in, allowing us to walk around in the character’s body for a moment– to see through the character’s eyes, to feel with the characters hands, and to taste with the character’s tongue.

In Jeremy’s found object sculptures, he literally takes material objects that have been discarded and deemed worthless by someone else and turns it and other pieces of trash into an orderly composition. It’s not eco-art; it’s redemption art. It is a remaking of the chaotic material world into something meaningful, something with beauty instead of just burying it in a landfill to decompose over decades. Sounds a lot like how God will remake the earth itself, right?

I cannot tell you definitively that your art and mine will last eternally. I have heard others try to make that argument from the Bible, and I find it a bit weak. Art in itself is not eternal (for example, moth and rust have often destroyed the pieces of trash that Jeremy likes to turn into art). But you and I are eternal, and what we do matters, and because of that, I believe that making art reflects the Creator God himself and that art-making helps us to value God’s material world — and these things have eternal value.

An Arts Revolution & the Documentary “Press Pause Play”

We all know that technology has changed things. New technologies have changed how we cook, how we heat our houses, how we make clothing, how we grow vegetables, and even how we go to the bathroom.

But this recent influx of technological changes in our global culture has been unique. We are connected to people thousands of miles away from us through the Internet, people who we might never have met, and we can stay connected to them at a lower cost than ever before. In the last seven days, this humble blog has gotten hits from 22 different countries around the world. (Actually my brain started smoking when I thought about that fact too hard.)

In the past ten years, arts technologies have also taken major leaps forward. It used to be far too expensive for an ordinary person to own a professional quality camera; today, most people can take HD video and photos on their phones. It used to be too complicated for anyone outside the industries to use graphic design or movie editing programs; today, they are cheaper and simpler, and they’re taught as high school electives. Musicians had to go to a studio in order to record and produce tapes and CDs that sounded professional; today, anyone can record and mix an EP in a home studio.

Of course with technological change comes cultural change. As technologies become cheaper, easier to use, and more widespread, the number of artists experimenting with the new technologies grows. The arts have experienced a democratization. Anyone can do it, right? Just look at Etsy: anyone with a paint brush and yarn are now able to sell their paintings and scarves online.

But the question remains: does more art mean better art? The documentry that we’re featuring today, “Press Pause Play,” asks this question. Both Jeremy and I found it fascinating and it provoked a lot of discussion for us about what makes art ART (if you know what we mean), and also how this new cultural movement allows for truly good artists to rise to the top, as mastery of craft and focus on one medium becomes more important in distinguishing true art from mere experimentation (we hope).

The whole documentary is online at Vimeo, and features interviews and commentary from such notable people as Moby and Seth Godin. We hope it makes you think. You can also download the film for free here. They have a Paypal “donate” button and I’m sure they would appreciate a few bucks if you download the film.

But What Does It Mean?: Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Art Interpretation


Lately, it seems that everyone I know is reading Eric Metaxas’ tome on the life of Deitrich Bonhoeffer. And now I’ve picked it up. (Let’s just say it’s not exactly light reading, though it is excellent.)

I have been taken by an especially interesting section about 18-year-old Bonhoeffer’s semester in Rome. He sees nearly every important piece of art and architecture he can. He also develops definite opinions about how someone should interpret a piece of art, which, having grown up in an exceptional and intellectual family, are quite advanced for his age.

I’d be interested to hear thoughts from any of you readers about his bold assertions (I certainly do not agree with everything he says, although some of it is great!).

From Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer:

“At the moment it gives me great pleasure to try to guess the schools and the individual artists. I believe that gradually I am better able to understand something about the subject than I was before. However, it might be better for a layperson to be completely silent and to leave everything to the artists, because the current art historians really are the worst guides. Even the better ones are awful…[they] arbitrarily interpret, interpret, and further interpret the artworks. There is no criterion for their interpretation and its correctness.

“Interpreting is generally one of the most difficult problems. Yet, our whole thinking process is regulated by it. We have to interpret and give meaning to things so that we can live and think. All of this is very difficult. When one doesn’t have to interpret, one should just leave it alone.

“I believe that interpretation is not necessary in art. One doesn’t need to know whether it is ‘Gothic’ or ‘primitive,’ etc., persons who express themselves in their art. A work of art viewed with clear intellect and comprehension has its own effect on the unconscious. More interpretation won’t lead to a better understanding of the art. One either intuitively sees the right thing or one doesn’t. This is what I call an understanding of art.

“One should work diligently to try to understand the work while looking at it. After that, one gets the absolutely certain feeling, ‘I have grasped the essence of this work.’ Intuitive certainty arrives on the basis of some unknown procedure. To attempt to put this conclusion into words and thereby to interpret the work is meaningless for anyone else. It doesn’t help one person, other people won’t need it, and the subject itself gains nothing by it.”

Why? : A Statement of Purpose


Why Create?

Through the centuries, the sole question that has motivated science, philosophy, religion is the question why. Why do things exist? Is there any purpose to our living and breathing and dying on our planet earth in this one inconsequential corner of the universe?

As artists, I find we ask ourselves the same question, perhaps with another angle. What’s the point? we wonder. Perhaps we have had an audience in the past and don’t have one now. Perhaps we’ve never had an audience at all. Why would I continue to endlessly create? Will anyone ever be moved by my work? Does my creating matter at all

Why We Create

Jeremy and I certainly cannot answer this question for you. But we know our answer, and our answer defines our lives. We do all things — art-making, eating, dreaming, conversing, living amongst our community — for one purpose: to honor Jesus Christ.

The book of Colossians in the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ created the heavens and the earth, everything that we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands, and everything that remains invisible to us (Colossians 1:16-17).

We create because He created.

Colossians tells us that He also sustains all things by His very words; our planet spins because He moves it (Col. 1:17).

We are alive because He sustains us.

Colossians also tells us that in everything, He is preeminent, the most important person of all (Col. 1:18). All things were created for Him. He is God, yet He humbled himself and died on our behalf, to restore our relationship with God. He died bearing our wrong doing on his shoulders — He literally died for every false word spoken, for every hurtful thought, for every shameful act. And then, Colossians tells us that He rose from the dead, that He is really, truly alive!

This is crazy, and we believe it with our whole hearts. Jesus died and then came back from the dead. And then He offers forgiveness to us for every wrong we’ve ever committed against Him and others, which if we accept, can bring us into intimate relationship with God (Col. 1:13-23).

We believe Jesus is alive; we believe that we are sinners saved by His gracious death and resurrection; we believe that everything exists for His pleasure and glory; we believe that we can know and worship Him because we’ve accepted His grace.

Perhaps this all seems unrelated to you. You’d rather me keep my religion to myself. That’s a fair enough complaint, though you certainly don’t have to read what I write. And not all of our posts are this explicit about what we believe.

But I just have to tell you, honestly and truly, that this is the reason why I write stories and sing melodies. This is also the reason why Jeremy make robots and boxes filled with discarded objects. This is what makes us who we are.

It’s because of Him; because we want to honor Jesus, to worship Jesus, to be made like Jesus, and to share Jesus with other people so that they too can experience the freedom of being His.

What about you?

Five Iron Frenzy: A Musician’s Guide to Staying Alive

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“If you help us raise $30,000 we will record a new album.”

Let’s be honest, that strategy doesn’t work for most bands. Why did it work for Denver based ska-band Five Iron Frenzy?
There’s been a lot written recently about Five Iron’s rise from the grave via Kickstarter. Their incredibly loyal fans are responsible for shattering a “help-us-record-a-new-album goal” of $30K. “Shattered” is not an exaggeration. In the first day they raised $60,000. They finished fundraising with over $200,000.

What inspires this kind of rabid loyalty in fans? To help answer that, come back in time with me to 1999 and let me tell you a personal story.

As a youth-group going, punk-rock listening teen I have two favorites: Jesus and Five Iron Frenzy. I wear thrift-store corduroys and a wallet-chain. I spike my hair and keep a bible in my backpack. My first “real concert” is at City Auditorium, where I see Five Iron Frenzy open for P.O.D. in some sort of stylistically schizophrenic show where the only common thread is that all of the bands are “Christian bands.”

Jeremy Circa 1999

I have carefully studied all of Five Iron Frenzy’s album art, learning every lyric, all the band member’s names and what they play. Because of this, I am able to shout all the words along with the other sweat-covered high-schoolers jumping in time to the pounding music.

When their newest album comes out, I am nervous with anticipation. I tear the packaging off Five Iron Frenzy’s LIVE! Album, and push the CD into my stereo. I lean back, lick my lips and close my eyes, head bobbing. This is “sweet.” I turn it up. Suddenly Reese Roper, the lead singer, screams, “To hell with the devil!”

My face pales. I nervously laugh. I look around to see if my parents heard the loudly screamed profanity. “Well, technically that IS where Satan is destined to go…” I say to no-one in particular.

It shouldn’t have bothered me, but I am a good rule-follower at this age, and it seems to me that it’s wrong to swear. There is no grey area, either you’re saying something positive, or you’re swearing. So, I decide to write them a letter.

Dear Five Iron Frenzy,

You are my favorite band. I have all of your albums so far, and listen to them all the time. Your music is really great.

I was a little concerned, however, when I listened to your live album during the part where Reese yells “to hell with the devil.” I think we need to be careful about words we say. It says in Jude 1:9 that when Michael the Archangel fought with Satan, he did not “pronounce the blasphemous judgment, but said ‘the Lord rebuke you.’”

Anyway, just wanted to let you know, and see what your thoughts were about saying that.

You guys are still my favorite band.

Sincerely,

Jeremy Grant

I push my glasses up my nose, lick the envelope, flip it over and wrote “to: FIF” (with one backwards F) on the front. “That should do it.”

A month or two later, I receive a hand-written response.

Dear Jeremy,

Thanks for writing!

Yeah, sometimes Reese gets a little carried away on stage.

[…]

We appreciate your thoughts. Keep reading and thinking about this kind of stuff.

We’re definitely not perfect. Thanks for sticking with us!

Leanor “Jeff the Girl”

So, why does Five Iron Frenzy have such a loyal following?

-The Act of Listening

Five Iron Frenzy started in a time when listening to music was still “an activity” and music was still “a product.” Growing up listening to music, I had tapes and CDs. There was a different kind of consumption of music, it was about an experience, not just background noise. I would sit down and listen to music; it was an activity. Now I think most of us put on music while we do something else. We keep music on our iPods and computers, we buy it digitally, and there are no lyric sheets.

In a time when the physical product of music is no longer popular, how can you, as a musician, develop a personal connection with your audience? Here are some ways I’ve seen artists build loyalty with their fans:

-Releasing special editions, on tape or vinyl only.

-Creating an experience that goes beyond listening: Derek Webb created an experience with a collaborative album featuring work by a photographer and painter. You could choose to buy their art along with Webb’s physical CD.

-Making engaging music videos: This is a classic way (also collaborative) to keep people engaged in your music. If they cannot do something else while listening, they are more involved in your music.

-Personal Connection

Five Iron Frenzy recently announced that they were reinstating their P.O. box, so that fans could write them. They have always made an intentional effort to connect personally with their fans, as evidenced by Leanor’s gracious and humble response to a self-righteous teen.

To keep from being white-noise in today’s saturated market, you have to make a personal connection with fans. Time, place, and experience are becoming much, much more important. If fans can connect with a band, not just online but in person, like no one else can, they will develop a loyalty that won’t be easily broken.

-Create an amazing concert experience, and you will win loyal fans.

-Write a personal blog: Band members from Mumford and Sons are a great example of this. They each have a different blog that they regularly post to. Their subjects are photography, food, band news and a book club, all things the band members love, and they’re great ways to connect with their fans beyond their music.

-Create one of a kind events: House concerts or impromptu shows are great ways to make fans feel special. And with social media platforms like twitter, it’s really easy to spread the word about an impromptu show. (Incidentally, Five Iron did an impromptu surprise show after a recent Switchfoot concert outside of Denver)

Five Iron Frenzy has really set an example in many of these things, in particular through being intentional with their fans. And those fans have responded, stepping up in a big way to fund a new album. Love it. Good luck Five Iron!

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To download Five Iron Frenzy’s new single for free, visit their website here.

Our A to Z Artistic Inspiration

At the start of every new year comes a fresh start, and as practicing artists, we need to take advantage of it!

Resolve to muster your courage and try something new. Or submit your work to a contest or magazine. Or just keep trudging along in writing that manuscript. (Are these examples hitting close to home for anyone else or just me?) And if you have no resolve to keep creating, read this excellent article by Kendall Ruth, published on The Curator entitled “Listening Past Writer’s Block” (don’t worry, it does apply to other mediums as well)

To push you along, here’s part 2 to our earlier inspiration post. From A to Z, here are some of our favorite ways to stay inspired in our art and some of the things and people who inspire us most.

A to Z Inspiration

 Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland

This is THE BEST book we know of that will help stuck and fearful artists move forward. The only thing it lacks is the gospel, but its depth astounds us. Five stars and two thumbs up!

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Bake Something New

The idea is to try a new recipe, which will hopefully be a flaming success (so to speak), which will give you confidence (and snacks) to try something new artistically. Try baking bread from the cookbook Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day (one of Liz’s favorite cookbooks!).

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Critiques

When was the last time another artist (particularly one in your medium) critiqued your work? Critique is essential for the growing artist. If you want to create your best work, you need to seek out other artists who can give you honest feedback about your art.
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DesignSponge

Get inspired to make your house a work of art by checking out DesignSponge‘s daily design and DIY posts.
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Eavesdrop

F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote The Great Gatsby, was famous for eavesdropping. He’d sit behind couples on a train and write down their conversation verbatim to study what makes good dialogue (and it’s possible their words would end up in the mouths of his characters). You never know what you might overhear that would give you an idea for a new direction on a project.

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Host a Film Night

Popcorn, friends, and a thoughtful movie are all you need to have a great discussion at the end of the night. Consider seeing “Tree of Life” (at Redbox), “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (in select theaters), or an old classic like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat” or Charlie Chaplin in “The Great Dictator.

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Get out and About

Everyone needs a change of scenery. Take a sketchbook to the park or your computer to a coffee shop. Or just go for a walk in your neighborhood — the fresh air and exercise will do your right brain cells good.

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Go to a House Concert (or play one!)

This recent trend of house concerts is a lot of fun. Musicians get an intimate stage and the chance to connect with fans more personally. Plus the publicity they get is authentic and relationally-based — the best kind of marketing. Local to Colorado Springs, Fuel Friends music blog hosts house concerts with musicians like David Bazan (of Pedro the Lion) and Joe Pug.

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Invest in your Art

How you spend your money tells you what you value. Is your art worth spending money on, in your mind? That should tell you how important you feel your art is. Treat yourself this January, and stop by Dick Blick or Hobby Lobby and pick up a new set of pens and brushes or just go ahead and buy that letterpress set with your Christmas money. Maybe buying a new desk is in order, or a new chair, one you want to sit in. Investing in good supplies makes you want to make art with them and helps you (and others in your life) place value in your art-making.

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Keep Junk out of your Workspace

Unless you’re a found-object artist, you have no excuse for keeping junk in your art-making space. Do NOT pile bills, books, dishes or anything else on the desk you use for writing or painting. If you designate a clutter-free space for you to work on your art, and you’re more likely to sit down and get to work

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Kill Perfectionism!!

Can you tell we struggle with this? Perfectionism kills artists. It keeps you from being able to keep producing lots of work because you are afraid you won’t produce your BEST work. So pull out your ninja sword, and let this monster die a quick death… daily.

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Listen and Subscribe to Podcasts

We love podcasts because they fill otherwise empty, brainless time (for example, when Jeremy’s searching for the perfect iStock image or when Liz is chopping vegetables or folding laundry). Our favorites include The Moth (live storytelling), the Acts 29 Network (a Christian church planting network), Car Talk (hilarious car advice on NPR), and the New Yorker’s Fiction readings (authors reading short stories).

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Collaborate Across Mediums

Seriously, this is so encouraging for us. When we get stuck, it helps to have someone else speaking into your work, owning your work as half theirs. Our parables book came out of us collaborating in writing and sculpture, and we’re now approaching editors about publishing it. You never know where a collaboration will take you!

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The Library’s New Releases Section

Our library (and probably yours too) has a section for all new books they’ve acquired, which are often books hot off the presses. We have made a habit of stopping by and browsing titles and covers to look for books that pique our interest – and we’re never disappointed. We always come away with arm loads.

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Open a Book

Reading is so inspirational, whether you’re reading a book to learn new art-making techniques or to study master artists or just to immerse yourself in a good story. Get a library card, or buy great (read: cheap) used books on Abe Books (Liz’s fave online bookstore).

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Pinterest

Pinterest is an online bookmarking community (a pin board) of interesting ideas, arranged by photographs. They have every category you can think of, from artwork to recipes to DIY ideas to book recommendations, and I (Liz) could spend hours browsing.

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Be Quiet

It is essential for artists to have quiet so they can remove themselves from the hectic hum of postmodernity and reflect from a broader vantage point. Turn off all your electronic devices for a day so you can get some thinking time.

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Establish an Art-making Routine

We hate to tell you this, but art won’t happen on its own. You need to spend regular time in your studio or at your desk pounding out art. Establishing a routine is the best way to make sure this happens. Jeremy has “art night” on Thursdays, and he used to make himself a pot of coffee each Thursday to prepare himself for the work ahead of him. Liz aims to write at least 500 words every day during the work week, and sometimes she’ll begin by reading another book or article to get her mind going.

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Steal Shamelessly

Picasso once said (supposedly), “Bad artists copy; good artists steal.” We’re not advocating copyright violations. Rather, the point is to study others’ art so that you can master their techniques and incorporate them into your own work and your unique style.

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Make a Spot of Tea (or Coffee)

Who’s to say it’s a bad thing to use caffeine to jumpstart creativity? Give it a go, chaps.

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Use Noisetrade!

Founded by Derek Webb and a few other Nashville-based musicians, Noisetrade is our favorite free LEGAL music downloading website. The musicians post their music themselves, and in exchange for downloading their music for free (or for a tip), you give them your email address and/or post their CD on Facebook — free marketing for the musicians and free music for you. Doesn’t get any better!

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Visit an Art Museum or Gallery

Seeing visual art in person can help spark new ideas. We often bring a camera and take photos of our favorite pieces. We also write down the artists’ names and look them up online later. Jeremy has folders and folders filled with photographs of visual art that inspires him, and when he’s experiencing a creative dry spell, he turns to these photographs for that extra burst of inspiration. And if you need extra incentive, both the Fine Arts Center in Colorado Springs and the Denver Art Museum have free days (and all the local galleries we know of have absolutely free admission)!

Worship (& Enter the Worship Circle)

For me (Liz), singing is freeing. It helps me relax, and I find that when I spend time worshipping God through song, ideas abound! My favorite group for this BY FAR is Enter the Worship Circle‘s folksy community worship. They also have a Chair and Microphone series where individual band members record intimate worship – just them and God. There’s nothing else like it!

Re-eXamine Old Notebooks

The assumption here is that you’re already carrying around a notebook or sketchbook with you everywhere you go, so you can catch new ideas as they come to you (you can’t put eavesdropping into practice quite as well without a notebook handy!). The second step is to go through old notebooks when your creativity has run dry. Often a brilliant idea you thought of on the bus ride home won’t be helpful until months (or years) later.

Take a Lesson from the YMCA

I (Liz) love the YMCA. I love my membership, which makes me get out and about AND exercise semi-regularly. I love how community-minded the Y is, which is not such a bad idea for us artists to consider. Let’s ask ourselves, how can we serve our local communities with our art? I love that I can take yoga classes, a separate hobby from my writing, and that I can meet a truly diverse set of people doing it, which means I have a chance to interact with non-artists and not get stuck in an art bubble, so to speak. Connect the dots and take a lesson from the Y!

Zoo Photography Adventure

Okay, we admit it, we were reaching for a Z here, but the point remains: photography adventures are tons of fun! Maybe decide to take photographs of found letters and make a collage to spell a word when you get home. Or maybe just go on a hike and take a photo of everything that takes your breath away. You’ll get outside, and you’ll be training your eye at the same time. (They also make for great dates, guys)

So get out there and make some great art, friends!

Art is a Gift: Thoughts from Madeleine L’Engle

 

One woman that we consistently admire in her pursuit of art and faith is Madeleine L’Engle, author of the Wrinkle in Time series. During her life, she wrote a number of books related to art and Christianity, most notably Walking on Water (which comes highly recommended to you) and one I (Liz) am reading currently, Madeleine L’Engle: Herself, which is a compilation of her written and spoken words teaching others about writing.

Naturally, faith enters into these writings of hers, and lately, I have made a habit of reading one or two of her thoughts at a time before I sit down to begin writing. The book is written almost in a devotional style, with each page a new thought from Madeleine, and I thought I’d share a few of my favorite readings with you.

ART IS A GIFT OF THE SPIRIT, etc.

“We’re never sure that what we write is true and honest. We try to make it true and honest. How much I succeed is really beyond my control. It happens if I am given the Spirit to write the work.

“It is through the gifts of the Spirit that art comes, that love comes. But because we’re human, we’re never entirely sure. We know we haven’t served the work as well as we would want to. But if I had to serve the work to my satisfaction, I would still be on my first novel. And that would be pride.

“The important thing is to recognize that our gift, no matter what the size, is indeed something given us, for which we can take no credit, but which we may humbly serve, and in serving, learn more wholeness, be offered wondrous newness.

“If the work comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am, serve me,’ then the job of the artist, great or small, is to serve. The amount of the artist’s talent is not what it is about. Jean Rhys said to an interviewer in the Paris Review, ‘Listen to me. All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.’

“I have never served a work as it ought to be served; my little trickle adds hardly a drop of water to the lake, and yet it doesn’t matter; there is no trickle to small. Over the years I have come to recognize that the work often knows more than I do. And with each book I start, I have hopes that I may be helped to serve it a little more fully.

“Picasso says that an artist paints not to ask a question, but because he has found something, and he wants to share — he cannot help it — what he has found. ”

Let us be those servant artists who depend whole-heartedly on the Spirit for our work to get done! Because, boy, we need help. 🙂