A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining with 50-60 Calgary artists to discuss issues facing the arts community in our city. One such question, “Who or what do we serve?” has sparked a lot of thought for me and I want to hear some of your thoughts.
I believe the question of service is really a question of purpose: Why do we create? What is the end goal? In the end, I came to the conclusion that we serve four different people/things with every creative act: ourselves, the art, our community, and God.
It may sound selfish, but creating art is something that is initially done for oneself. I believe that artists create because they must. There is something within that must be expressed. Like breathing or blinking, creation is an inherent process for the artist. I know that when I can’t create something physical or write, I will create worlds and stories in my head. If we ever discover a way to read minds, I don’t envy the person who gets the first peek into my head. It’s a mess. Creating is a way to move those worlds out of my head and into the real world. In this way, I believe we serve ourselves when we create.
In addition, for professional artists, we have a career to maintain. We create to make money, to build a brand/voice/style, to further our careers. We grow as we create, serving our need for progress and direction. We create because it’s how we navigate the realities of the world. In a world where our social identity is so caught up in what we do for a living, artists must create to stay alive and part of their community.
Next, when we create, we serve our art. When we work to become masters of our media, we ensure that those very media continue to exist. When we push the boundaries of what’s been done, we ensure that the art form grows. If people stopped practicing painting, then the art (and the world, in my opinion) would suffer. So, please, continue to take classes, to sketch and stretch, to try new things. The art will be better for your contribution.
Many believe they create to serve humanity, but we have to ask: to what extent are we serving our community when we create? When you sit down to write, or get into the studio to dance, or take up a brush to paint, do you have others in mind? If we really want to serve others, we have to ask who we’re creating for and how we can best serve them. When I write plays for my church, I have a very specific group of people in mind that I’m serving. I don’t push them very far outside their comfort zone on Christmas Eve, and I don’t inundate them with theology on Easter. Knowing who I’m trying to serve allows me to cut out things that don’t serve the mission of the piece and ensures that every step, from conception to rehearsal to performance, makes it easy for my audience to join me in the story.
Finally, as human beings, whatever we do should be in service of God. This isn’t particular to artists, but to humanity as a whole. Whether you are a doctor or a teacher or a web developer or a steampunk maker, everything should be for the one who created you. God has placed the desire and need to create into artists, and our first job in serving God is to do just that: create. Yet, whenever we are faced with choices, we should be asking which option best serves God. The answer may not be obvious, and all options may equally glorify God, but we have to ask.
So, today, I ask you: Who or What are you serving?