Art, Life & Faith Question of the Week #1: What is the worst thing someone has said to you about WHY you SHOULDN’T pursue your art?

[W]elcome to the Art, Life & Faith Question of the Week. Starting today, I’m going to offer you a Question of the Week because I want to hear from you. If you haven’t noticed, I love to ask questions because good questions are a great way to start stimulating conversations. They’re also a great way to create community in order to learn and grow together.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing a story about a struggling artist who has a peculiar encounter on an elevator. And here’s where I need your help, so I’m offering it to you as my question of the week. The main character in my story has been told a number of hurtful lies and stinging words about being an artist. She’s heard all sorts of reasons WHY SHE SHOULDN’T BE AN ARTIST…and frankly, she’s now bought into these lies. Here’s my question for you…(Everyone who answers the Question of the Week will receive a free copy of my story!)

artlifefaithquestionoftheweek1 Art, Life & Faith Question of the Week #1: What is the worst thing someone has said to you about WHY you SHOULDNT pursue your art?

What is the worst thing someone has said to you about
WHY you SHOULDN’T pursue your art?

How did you respond?

That’s it!

I’d love your thoughts and comments because my goal is to encourage artists to pursue their God-given creative calling.

(If you know an artist friend or two who you’d think like to chime in on this conversation, please forward this on…)

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, snarky or off-topic.

  • Alison

    You will never make any money doing art, what do you mean go to university to study art! that’s not a subject and anyway only posh people go to University, (coming from a working class family I was the first one to go to university, but because of what was said I didn’t go until later as a mature student) I cannot remember how I responded, just kept it in I think as no use debating with someone who has that mindest and doesn’t change their opinions. as a child I had so many creative ideas but the usual response when I expressed them was ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘no’ they thought I was silly and different, I felt different! like a black Sheep, so mainly lived inside the fascinating creative world inside my head.. :) just had some revvy that those words spoken are actualy a curse and I have actually been struggling financialy as an Artist (although I’m trusting God as my provider) think I need to break those words off and any others like it spoken over my creative pursuits!

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Alison, I’ve spoken with many artists who’ve also felt like black sheep and many others who were wonderfully supported. Thank you so much for what you wrote and congratulations on going to college despite some the of setbacks you experiencing.

      You share a good insight about the words that can become curses and inhibit the full, creative and productive life God has designed us to live. Stay focused on your union with Him as you continue you to trust Him to meet all your needs.

  • JVO

    I was painting an abstract mural (freebee) for the church I belonged to at the time and someone commented that “it was very nice indeed, and what was my real job?”… mmm. I was too stunned to come up with anything clever to say, so left it unanswered, which maybe was just as good an answer as any. I was lucky to have a supportive family that believed in the arts, but the comments from church members in particular weren’t always that positive… “A dangerous world full of sin” is the most common one I came across – implying it shouldn’t be something one should get into as a Christian.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Wow…thanks JVO. You know, I always get my best replies about 10 minutes after an awkward conversation ends…when the person is long gone.

      Yes, there is much work to be done to encourage a healthy dialogue between artists and church members who may not “get” or understand the mysteries we are privileged to peer into. Yes, this is a dangerous world, but are we to live in fear? Isn’t Christ above, below, in front, behind, to our left, our right and within our hearts?

      Thanks for your contribution today!

  • LLEffler

    “Well you’ll never make any money until you are dead…it’s like an artists work isn’t worth anything until after they die”. My response: “I know…however not always!! There are some artist that do really well during their lifetime”. I have heard this comment “more times than I care to remember”. Then, they’ll say something like “yeh, but do you know how little chance you have—even though your artwork is great??”. Can be very discouraging when this over & over… Just have to keep going forward knowing ART is where your gifting is & the area of Gods calling for you!!

    • https://profiles.google.com/107350086208954629499 Joey O’Connor

      All these Vincent Van Gogh’isms can be terribly discouraging because an unreal standard is set when the comparison is made that art or the role of the artist is only valued when the end game is art worth millions of dollars.

      What about simplicity, contentment, and clarity of purpose when we are responding to the call of God for work that is meaningful?

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      All these Vincent Van Gogh’isms can be terribly discouraging because
      an unreal standard is set when the comparison is made that art or the
      role of the artist is only valued when the end game is art worth
      millions of dollars.

      What about simplicity, contentment, and clarity of purpose when we
      are responding to the call of God for work that is meaningful?

      By all means, just keep going forward. Press on…

  • RMT

    I paint landscaes and abstracts.While I was fully into art, a relative suggested that we are not supposed to make images . God doesn’t like it (I was also spending more time on art which I’m sure is not good.).I was fully convinced because Exodus20:4 says so.Later on due to other reasons I started painting with Bible verses.Someone voiced that it is not good to sell paintings with Bible verses because I’m trying to make money out of such paintings.Finally I’m confused because of these two opinions and more reasons.Now I am not able to find God’s will regarding my art.

    • https://profiles.google.com/107350086208954629499 Joey O’Connor

      Thanks RMT for sharing your story. A deeper reading of Exodus 20:4-5 is the issue of making idols with the express purpose of bowing down to worship them.

      Art, when ordained by God, enhances worship through beauty, design and transcendence. Again, lets look at the example of the intricacy of the Tabernacle and design of Solomon’s temple. In the New Testament, Jesus’ stories and parables are laden with physical examples and the created order to draw people into a deeper understanding of his truth and kingdom.

      I hope this helps to tear down the walls of conflict you feel over God’s will for your art.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1259686458 Melissa Dumas Diegan

      There are always going to be people out there that think they know what God thinks. Where is the scriptures behind their remarks? And are they actually allowing the Holy Spirit to guide them in their remarks? God blessed you with this gift and the bible states that God expects us to use our talents. I f you are using your gift to bring glory to God then you are doing nothing wrong. You have to make money in order do this ministry. And as long as you pay your tithes and you are not strictly doing this for profits then you are fine. Do not be tossed back and forth by the opinions of men this will cause double mindedness. Seek the Lord with all your heart and He will guide your paths. Jealousy can cause a lot of ugly remarks. Be blessed and encouraged in Jesus name!

      • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

        Those are great words Melissa. Thanks for offering RMT such great encouragement here. We always need to be aware of the spirit of “religious-ness” and legalism versus the freedom we have in Christ. When we are truly free, we are not bound by the key-hole perspectives and opinions of others.

      • RMT

        Melissa ,thank you so much for your reply. I was not glorifying God through my art and I was doing paintings mainly because I could make some money out of it.Infact when I started to paint I did not have the intension of selling them.It was my love for landscapes. True I easily get tossed to and fro by other people’s ideas.You reminded me of Provers3:5-6- a verse that I really need to hold onto.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Thanks RMT for sharing your story. A deeper reading of Exodus 20:4-5
      is the issue of making idols with the express purpose of bowing down to
      worship them.

      Art, when ordained by God, enhances worship through beauty, design
      and transcendence. Again, lets look at the example of the intricacy of
      the Tabernacle and design of Solomon’s temple. In the New Testament,
      Jesus’ stories and parables are laden with physical examples and the
      created order to draw people into a deeper understanding of his truth
      and kingdom.

      I hope this helps to tear down the walls of conflict you feel over God’s will for your art.

      • RMT

        Joey your answer has opened my eyes to the fact that art ordained by God enhances worship through beauty. Yes it has helped me a bit.Surely your question for the week, I guess has something to do with my deliverance .

  • RMT

    Is it not according to God’s will to sell and make money out of paintings with Bible verses? Is art contrary to Bible? Does it come under the category of graven images? These are some challenging thoughts that I faced from people.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      It’s amazing how many people know God’s will when it comes to making art? With that line of thinking, is it not in God’s will for pastors, teachers, and professors to write and sell books with Bible verses in them? Or for doctors or plumbers or school bus drivers to get paid for their services?

      If Moses held up the “graven image” (sculpture) of a bronze snake in the wilderness pointing and gave very, very explicit instructions for beautifully carved objects in the Tabernacle as well as for Aaron’s fine clothing, there’s a bit of trouble with this line of thinking.

      Art is not contrary to the Bible any more than Luke, the doctor, penning his gospel. Is medicine contrary to the Bible too? Thanks RMT…press on!

      • RMT

        Joey,thank you so much for answering my doubt. True even Bibles are sold out through shops. Really your question of the week is going to help many. You are doing a wonderful ministry.

        • https://profiles.google.com/107350086208954629499 Joey O’Connor

          Thanks you RMT…I’m glad you were encouraged!

        • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

          Thanks RMT, I’m glad you were encouraged!

  • AtR

    a disturbing comment I have heard is, “isn’t it against the second commandment to make a visual representation of God through an image or sculpture?”

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Quite disturbing…not a visual representation of God, but the making of idols for the purpose of worship. We make meals out of food for the purpose of eating, not worship, just as the artist makes sculpture for the purpose of seeing something beautiful and satisfying…though some meals I’ve eaten have bordered on the worship of food! :-)

  • sinako

    What if the worst enemy isn’t the comments from people, but within yourself? I believe I’m my worst enemy, I bash myself emotionally comparing my skills to others. There are times, I wonder if I am meant to be an artist, that I should do some other job. I’m glad I came across your website, very imformative, blessings.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Thanks Sinako…you’ve probably heard it said, “When we compare ourselves to others, we either make ourselves higher or lower and neither is an admirable goal.”

      You hit on a key theme I wrote about in my book “The Longing: Embracing the Deepest Truth of Who You Are”. I write about all the nasty voices we tell ourselves, like monkeys hurling handfuls of crap from the trees. It’s free on my website here…I hope you find some encouragement!

      Give yourself plenty of grace and space today as God does to you!

  • http://twitter.com/ryangreen8 Ryan

    I grew up in a church culture and family that valued and encouraged creativity. These stories amaze me and give me a little more insight into why the church is playing catch up in the creative space.

    For some reason have never considered the graven image argument, nor did I know it was an active question in church circles. But now that I think of it, in some christian faith traditions, certain instruments are avoided in worship as well.
    So where does that come from? I’m sure it started with good intentions… avoiding idolatry, wanting to live holy lives… I heard someone say once (and this isn’t an exact quote):
    “If you’re an artist and believe that creating is about self-expression, then you’re a humanist. As Christians, we should be about revealing the character and beauty of God, not ourselves.”
    Do you think the pervasiveness of self expression has caused the church to put on creative blinders as to attempt reverence and righteousness and avoid idolatry? Maybe as a tutor, a new law, to keep it in check?

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Ryan, I just finished “The Gift of Being Yourself” by @drdavidgbenner. Incredible book! He anchors the whole book on a Thomas Merton quote:

      There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend:
      to discover myself in discovering God.
      If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.

      If we are made in God’s image, made to reflect Him and in Him, to see ourselves, why are so many Christians afraid to walk in this place of integration and intimacy. I just liken it to how I feel about loving and walking with my kids throughout life.

      Yes, to answer your question, I do think some Christians go to the extreme in order to avoid any sense of “self-expression” or to avoid “selfish-ambition.” Instead of leading without fear, we shirk back by creating new laws. We don’t need more law or new laws…we have the Old Testament, which no one can live up to. Freedom in Christ is the way of wholeness and holiness.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1233054420 Tracy True Hibsman

    “It’s not good enough.” Someone very influential said this to me about something I made for a relative for her birthday. I was about 7. I was stunned and speechless. It’s been playing in the theater of my mind on continuous loop for decades.

    • https://profiles.google.com/107350086208954629499 Joey O’Connor

      The words we hear as children can help us or hurt us for years to come. These are spaces that we need to allow Christ in to heal the wounds dealt by others.

      Thank you Tracey for your authenticity and sharing your story.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      The words we hear as children can help us or hurt us for years to come.
      These are spaces that we need to allow Christ in to heal the wounds
      dealt by others.

      Thank you Tracey for your authenticity and sharing your story.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anne.collins.545 Anne Collins

    Myself.
    I have planned to write about my childhood for years. During the last few mini reunions, I have gotten into deep conversations with siblings and heard things that destroyed my Pollyanna view of our childhood and upbringing. I began to tell myself I CAN’T write anymore. Nothing I have to say is the truth.
    Now, I have the O’Connor blog and that has been my salvation. I DO have things to say and it doesn’t have to be a book about my still unique and amazing childhood. This way, I can just mention snippets where it fits. I have so much more to say and I can’t let that past discouragement, which paralyzed me for about 5 years, be my total truth.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Don’t let past discouragement keep you from finding your creative voice.

      You’re absolutely right Anne. When we see undesirable elements of our past, a better set of questions for all of us to consider are, “What have I learned about the truth of my past? How can I express it in a way that best reflects my voice? What is necessary and what is not? What is truthful, but not self-indulgent?”

      Many people confuse the truth of their past with the need to “tell it all.” We can be truthful without having to reveal facts that aren’t necessary or distract from the more important things we want to to say.

      Snippets are a good way to put it! Keep writing…

  • Patrick Johnson

    I grew up in an abusive very legalistic church. Individuality and creativity was not praised or allowed. Rather conformity was the norm and what was expected (everyone dressing the same, having the same interests, involved in only church approved activities). Music that was not Christian, was evil, of the world and not permitted. I remember in elementary school while all of the rest of children in my class were down in the gym practicing songs for the Christmas show that was coming up, I had to stay back in the classroom because the church would not let me participate in “sinful holiday music”. The views of this church combined with a family that has not appreciated or encouraged artistic things has made me feel that God isn’t supportive or interested in me being involved in artistic endeavors. Rather He only cares about me being practical, responsible, and engaged in “Christian activities”. I love playing music, writing songs, drawing, but feel guilty when I get excited about these activities and want to pursue them further. It is totally absurd to think and live this way! But these unhealthy feelings have controlled me for so long, it has been very difficult to get free. The fog and confusion is however is starting to lift but it is a constant struggle! Comparing myself to others has also been my Achilles heel when it comes to pursuing artistic. The strong voice of self doubt always seems to creep up!

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Comparing ourselves to others will always be an Achilles heel, whether we are artists or not. This is why find our true voice, who God has made use to be in Him and what He has called us to do is so important to “anchor” our hearts and minds in what is before us.

      Patrick, you tell a powerful story, one I believe others will relate to who have also come very legalistic churches. Keep writing, drawing and singing…I believe the fog lifts as we continue to create in faith that God is doing a deep work in our hearts and in what we make. I’m often reminded that “the water only parts when we step in.” Fear, doubt, confusion, guilt and religious fog will keep us on the shoreline when God is waiting to part the water before our very eyes. Thanks for your story and your good heart!

  • Jan V

    My father once pointed out to me a wall mural that had been painted by his friends daughter and said to me ‘Could you ever do something like that?’ I interpreted the way he said it to mean that I would never be capable of doing something like that. That I did not even like the crude drawing of a Mexican peasant sleeping under a sombrero did not diminish the sting I felt. My father’s statement had more to do with his own lack of self esteem most likely than his esteem of me, but that he did not recognize my potential or desires to be an artist at all was crushing and ultimately depressing.

    The other phrase that has haunted my in the past was an offhand and somewhat bitter comment he made to me as a child when I was eating some fruit over the kitchen sink, “Feeding your face again.” He had come back to the house from working on the farm. I was just feeding my face again. I felt condemned and bad to the core. Somehow eating and getting for myself was a sin.

    That was a tough question Joey – but easy to answer.

  • Terri Isaacson

    “There is no place for art in church”. I have always known that my artistic nature was a gift from God. So this comment has been a long time frustration for me. The only art forms, that the leadership in many churches value, are musicians, vocalists, and teachers. Perhaps it is difficult for artist’s work to be valued in our world culture where rewards are accolades and financial. But surely the church should value the artist’s expression of the gift he/she was given by God. Aren’t we to use our “Time, Treasure, and Talents” in our acts of worship? I find so many of the Christian artists in my congregation are overjoyed when they are given the opportunity to create something for our church. Their art is wanted and valued, and we are blessed by it.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Amazing…why do people think there is no place for art in the Church? You’re absolutely right…your art is a gift from God. You make so many great points here Terri…thank you for your thoughts! So glad to hear your congregation receives the work of its artists.

  • Kathy Self

    As a teen I was told by an authority figure that I would not be able to support myself by my art, and that I needed to take business classes so I could have a real job. Being a dutiful and fairly obedient person, I took art and business classes, but ended up distrustful of my art ever being able to support me financially. It is still hard for me to accurately value my art.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      The lie that artists cannot support themselves by their art is one of the greatest reasons this world lacks greater vision and innovation for solving our toughest problems. If artists were given greater tools, resources and financial backing, perhaps we might see more artists who excel at the art and in the art of business. Your comments, Kathy, raise the all-important question to me, “As artists, how do we define success?” How we answer that question may give us insight to how we trust (or distrust) and value (or devalue) our art? I pray you receive greater insight into the value of your work and art.

  • wayne Lacson Forte

    Hey Joey! Wayne Forte here. I knew I wanted to be an artist since I first finger-painted in kindergarten. When I told my parents about my career plans they said that was OK but not to tell anyone. They said that if anyone should ask, just tell them that I want to be an architect. It took me a while to unravel the negative subtext but it never deterred me because the joy I experienced painting was far greater than the negative innuendo coming from my parents. Not that I would mind being an architect—that would be great. I just didn’t have those gifts.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Great hearing from you Wayne…I saw Monty a couple weeks ago and he said you hung some new art at Mountain View…wonderful. Ironically, you mentioned your architect story and Ellie is now at SLO studying architecture. Thank you for not allowing the negative subtext keep you from the joy you experience in painting…your joy and your work has enriched the lives of so many people…and their joy…mine included. We are way overdue for lunch and catching up…blessings to you my friend.

  • VW

    not sure if this answers your Q: but i have definitely met up with the line “But what does it MEAN?” or “I don’t understand what it’s about” from people who only like representative art. it definitely has quashed me many times to have that response.
    another harsh response was someone assuming i had doctored a piece to make it work well, rather than assuming i had the talent to do something good.
    these types of things have definitely made my inner voice say i am not an artist.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      No matter how we try, some people may never “get” our art. At some point, we need to ask ourselves if we’re water plastic flowers. Though it may be difficult, we can’t let other people’s limited vision or understanding keep up from pursuing the vision He sets before us as artists. I think there’s a strong correlation between listening to the voice of the Lord and knowing our voice as an artist.

  • irene

    My reply was : I don’t want to die regretting not doing what I love to do. My next question to that person will be: What about you? This always put them back to the right perspective of life and start them rethinking about what is actually in them waiting to be set free.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      “I don’t want to die regretting not doing what I love to do.” Can I quote you on that Irene? A great vision for your life, as well as your response. Thanks for challenging us all to consider what is in us waiting to be set free.

      • irene

        sure!

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  • rpmusic

    I would have to say it was the unspoken gestures of individuals that gave me the feeling of insecurity and doubt about moving forward with my song writing and recording them for others to hear. I thought I wasn’t good enough because I doubted myself and god given gift I had that was put there to share with the world. The music industry is not kind but brutal at times, and thats what I experienced so I put my music away for many years. Just a few years ago I celebrated 50 years and I decided I was going to pursue my dreams and embrace my purpose and destiny in life (MUSIC & SINGING ) so I recorded my first full album. I decided it was not important what others think about me, BUT only what God thinks because he created me to be ME. So now, there is no shame, fear, or insecurity; only confidence, excitment, and great joy in sharing my music and song with the world.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Your story of leaving your music dreams and then coming back to them is an inspiration RP. What would life be like if many young artists didn’t listen to words (spoken and unspoken) that cause them to desert their art? What if we could all, from our very steps in childhood, express ourselves and our art without shame, fear or insecurity?

      So glad you are moving forward with “confidence, excitement and great joy!” I’m sure this inspiration is coming out in your music and a joy to others as well!

  • ElizebethP

    Sorry I’m a bit late on any response. Don’t get to involved on the net however, ALL these comments have something in common…1 Discouragement and 2 Encouragement Thank you Joey! I’ve ALWAYS been creative in one form or another, and yes sometimes it seems we don’t get along as well but we are His masterpiece and the simple joy of creating with the Master is good enough. The most recent assault for me was ” I really really like it. I’ll buy it if you fix this part of it” I still have it and I’m considering the request but not taking it personally. That is how she see’s it. and after all isn’t that what real prophetic art is about. How the other person sees? Perhaps I’m just undecided as this is all really new to me. I’ve only picked it up in the last month or so.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Do you change a piece of artwork to fit a buyer’s need or stick with your guns? Your story Elizebeth could make a great question of the week because there are several dilemma’s attached to the scenario you share. What is the artist’s vision? Are we making it to serve the piece we are creating? Are we making it for ourselves? Is our work surrendered to God and thus, we’re creating it for him, though the marketplace may still buy it? Is it not that big a deal because there will be many pieces that will go unchanged in the future, but this sale will help pay the bills…at what point is it a compromise or not? How do other business people have to compromise to sell their goods and services?

      I bet many artists would have a whole lot of opinions on this one. My writing partner and I are in the middle of a comprehensive, dismantling rewrite of our film script (4th. draft) and that is coming after it already won 5 awards, which raises a whole other series of questions, “How good was it then? How good is it now?” Our rewrite is based upon some very valuable input and I know we are creating a much better story…so depending on the art form, we have to ask if it’s collaborative in nature or not?

      Also, a theme I want to write about soon is a discussion I’ve been having with a mentor/friend of mine about “Living an Unoffended Life.” Lots to talk about there…thanks so much for your post!

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  • Nikki C

    Wooo-boy, am I ever late to THIS party! I would say that the most discouraging thing wasn’t exactly done in words. It’s the look, smirk and chuckle I’ve gotten on a few occasions. People have alluded to the fact that I must be joking. Why would I make a “hobby” so important? I had a boss one time tell me, as an aside in a review, that I will go nowhere in art so I may as well make his cafe very important. He never even saw my work! I get that a whole lot too when I tell people I’m an artist; they don’t believe me because I don’t look or act the part. But, I have to say that the silence is the worst. It makes me feel like I missed the obvious path when some do that. However, I do know this, being an artist is the one clear door God has kept wide open. I am the only one in the way of stopping it.

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Thanks Nikki for what you shared. Never too late to come to the party! Hope you’re doing great in CO…yes, it is amazing how people can make off-handed comments without first viewing your work. I’m learning that so much of what people say is just “opinion” that is either simply their perspective or not rooted in reality to make a valuable assessment or judgment in determining what good art is. If God keeps the path wide open to you being an artist, stay that path as you enjoy Him and what you create. Blessings to you my friend.

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