There are three kinds of performers: The first, while singing a song or doing a dance, are making love to themselves. The second, while performing, are making love to the audience. The third, while on stage, are making love to the song, to the dance, to the drama itself.
Of course it’s not difficult to discern who the better performer is. The one making love to the song, of course, best honors the song and draws energy from some deeper place. And he or she does this by entering into and channeling the energy of the song rather than by entering into and channeling their own energy or the energy of the audience. What a good artist does, whether that be a singer, a writer, a painter, a dancer, a craftsperson, a carpenter, or a gardener is tap into the deep energies at the heart of things and draw on them to create something that is of God, namely, something that is one, true, good, and beautiful. In the end, and this is true of all good art and all good performance, creativity is not about the person doing the creation. It’s about oneness, truth, goodness, and beauty.
This holds true for all creativity and art, and it holds true too for all good teaching, catechesis, preaching, and evangelization. At the end of the day, it has to be about truth, goodness, beauty, and God, not about oneself or one’s audience.
This is important for many reasons. Not least among those reasons is the fact that many of us hesitate to express our creativity for fear that we will be too-amateur and too-unskilled to measure up. And so we don’t write poetry, write music, write novels, paint pictures, do sculpture, take up dancing, do carpentry, raise flowers, or do gardening because we fear that what we will produce will be too unprofessional to stand out in any way or to measure up in a way that it can be published or exhibited publicly so as to receive recognition and honor. And so, mostly, we mute and hide our creative talents because we cannot do what the great ones do. We punish ourselves by thinking this way: If no one will publish it, no sense writing it. If nobody will buy it, no sense painting it. If nobody will admire it, no sense doing it.
But that’s the wrong idea of creativity. We are meant to create things, not because we might get them published and receive honor and money for them. We are meant to create things because creativity, of all kinds, has us enter into the deep center of energy at the heart of things. In creativity we join ourselves to God’s energy and help channel God’s transcendental qualities: oneness, truth, goodness, and beauty. Ultimately, it isn’t important that what we do gets publicly recognized, gets published, or earns us a monetary reward. Creativity is its own reward. When you act like God, you get to feel like God – or, at least, you get to feel some wonderful divine energy.
Moreover, the energy we feel in creativity, no matter how amateur and private the effort, helps still the fires of envy and hostility inside of us. For example, Michael Ondaatje, the author of The English Patient, in a recent novel, Anil’s Ghost, puts it this way: He describes an artist, Ananda, who has just refurbished a statue. Finishing his work, Ananda looks with a certain pride and satisfaction on what he has just done and, though a non-believer, fills with a godly energy: “As an artificer now he did not celebrate the greatness of a faith. But he knew if he did not remain an artificer he would become a demon. The war around him was to do with demons.” Envy and hostility have to do with frustrated creativity. If we aren’t creating something, we’re hurting something. If we aren’t creative, we soon become bitter. So how do we become creative?
The poet, William Stafford, sharing something he himself did on a daily basis, used to give his students this challenge: Get up every morning and, before you do anything else, write a poem. More often than not, the students would protest: How can you do that? A person can’t always be creative? Stafford’s answer: Lower your standards!
He’s right! We shouldn’t muzzle our creative energies because we don’t feel particularly inspired, or because on one will ever take our efforts seriously, or because we cannot get anyone to publish our work, or because what we produce seems amateur and second-rate in comparison to what professionals do. We don’t write, make music, paint, dance, make crafts, do carpentry, or garden to have our efforts published and critically admired. We do it for our souls, to enter a divine dance, to connect ourselves to the heart of things.
Sometimes we cannot save the world, but we can save our own sanity and help bring God into the world by nurturing our own souls.