Creativity and artistry require generosity, and generosity always costs you something.
“I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime….”
I have lately been reminded, as I stretch my song writing muscles for the first time in a while, that to write something which actually means anything, particularly something which may cause your audience to think, is difficult.
Firstly trying to simultaneously be eloquent and succint, is not something I find easy. Those of you who know me, or who regularly read my blog can attest to the fact that I am not short of words. I hope I don’t predominantly waffle, but it’s rare for me to speak my heart in short, snappy soundbites.
It’s difficult. How does one sum up love, or joy, or passion, or pain in only a handful of lines, without sounding trite or cliché? Yet when achieved, often the most sparing lyric will be the most profound. The simple thought which hits you between the eyes on multiple levels, will take you deeper in contemplation every time you hear it.
Secondly, in order to achieve the above eloquence, you as the artist need to be prepared to walk out the journey you are writing or singing about. If you are an actor, you need to be prepared to get into the situation with your character, experience it imaginatively (I’m not personally a huge ‘Method Acting’ fan) and allow it to affect you, so that you can tell the story and honour your character.
This is costly.
Everything you do, say, sing always – as Judi Dench has said – “goes through the seive of yourself”.
Therefore, even if it isn’t exactly your story or personal journey, it will look slightly like you might in the same situation – how you get excited, enthused, passionate – will be some of what is revealed, because it is you who are the vessel it flows through. Therefore to do it well, you have to be prepared to be vulnerable and somewhat exposed. That is a tough place to sit.
When I was at Drama School, I had to choose whether I wanted to be brave – taking risks in order to make something real, something transcendent. Or whether to play it safe – go with good and solid, but not new or exciting.
I always tried be brave, and though it took a lot to achieve it sometimes, it was well worth the leap. I grew immeasurably, and discovered the freedom and exhilaration that comes with expanding your horizons.
It cost me though.
I found that after a first year of steady, solid progression, I came to my final performance and was given the fabulous role of Jacques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. A gift of a comic role, complete with a melancholic edginess to really get my teeth into. I went for the costuming especially boldly, complete with moustache, beard and nicotine tooth enamel, and was unrecognisable to my mother when I later showed her a photograph.
However, despite the opportunity, I became creatively stuck and really struggled to make the role work. I pulled out a good performance on the day, but the whole experience of coming face to face with the yawning difference between myself as I really was and what I had thought I was, in this and in a few key areas of my personal life, took me to the edge of a nervous breakdown. I spent the summer holiday between first and second year, having panic attacks, receiving counselling, and learning to discover God’s grace and forgiveness.
It was painful. It was very revealing. But it was freeing, and when half way through the first term of my second year something was released in me, my artistry and skill grew in leaps and bounds. Being vulnerable had hurt me deeply, but on the other side was a greater freedom and eloquence which made it worth the risk and the journey.
Now I am finding that once again I am in that place of feeling vulnerable, exposed and well out of my comfort zone. I am collaborating with someone new, which is brilliant but still needs time to develop the relationship and trust required to create something new. I have found myself more alive since beginning, but once again sitting between that place of extreme joy and excitement, and desperate pain and restlessness.
It is amazing to feel everything so keenly, a little like taking your outer clothes and shoes off in a winter rainstorm, standing in shorts and t-shirt and getting soaked – exhilirating, but at the same time cold, wet and makes your skin tender and sore. It can be quite frightening too, but an experience you’d never have if you didn’t put yourself out there. Literally.
I am always nervous of what people will think of me, whether they will like what I have to say, like my music, my lyrics, my voice. I want to tell the world how big I am on the inside, yet am equally afraid that I am deluded and don’t have much to offer.
I am still growing in my trust of the ‘audience of one’ – the truth that only what God thinks of me matters.
I know and believe this, but it still has a long way to sink in.
However, if I want to make something which reflects the eternity placed in my heart, want to bring hope and joy and a glimpse of the God who made us to anyone else, then I have to commit to being generous and sharing of myself, whatever the cost, whatever the reception.
Jesus had something more important than me to share, something he was desperate for the world to know and connect with, and he continually wore his heart out in the open, generously offered himself and his love to everyone, and looked only to his Father in heaven for approval. It cost him his life. But through his sacrifice and subsequent resurrection, he was not only raised to life himself, but brought eternal life to all of us who wish to receive it. It took massive courage and generosity.
Therefore, despite my insecurities and fears, I will remain open to the creativity which flows through me from my Father in heaven, and I will choose to be generous and brave with it, whatever the price, and potential rejection, because it is the only way to really live.
BUT I am not alone in this walk. I have the company of a beloved Jesus who knows how it feels to sacrifice your heart for a greater prize, and who cheers me on every step of the way. I don’t really have another choice if I want to live, and of this I am truly glad.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”