I have never been a visual artist.
This is partly a lack of natural talent, and partly a lack of training. My hometown did not provide funding for arts education for most of my elementary school years, so my main memory of art class involves being instructed to draw a portrait of myself brushing my teeth in kindergarten. I recall being frustrated at how awkward and unrealistic I looked on paper, how big and clumsy the hand was that held the toothbrush, and especially how my art teacher praised the way I added the detail of the toilet paper trailing down from the roll in the background. I know now that she was using a standard technique of good teachers everywhere: find something to praise. At the time I latched onto it for dear life. In my head, I was The Official Drawer of Toilet Paper from the Side.
There’s not much call for my specialty.
More than forty years later I’m still focusing more on toilet paper rolls than organic forms, more on drawing lines than on color and shade and nuance. I can see and appreciate many forms of art: thoughtful gardens, paintings and sculpture, textile and fashion, beautifully decorated cakes, intriguing makeup, architectural whimsy, even graffiti. I just don’t see myself as a co-creator in any of it. Don’t tell anyone, but I suspect I consider it a waste of my time.
I don’t consider the appreciation of art a waste of time, and I don’t consider someone else creating the art a waste of their time. I firmly believe that art is an important part of life. I have simply disqualified myself from the process because I’m not good at it, so it isn’t pragmatic.
I’m not sure when I became afflicted with pragmatism. It wasn’t during childhood—I could spend hours sitting and watching the waves on the water, or listening to music, or making “acorn soup” in a frisbee to leave by the trees for the fairies. (Feeding fairies may actually be pragmatic, depending on how you view fairies.)
Somewhere between shoeless summers spent in the lake and now, things got busy. I became a responsible adult, with the emphasis on responsible (more on that another day). I still take time to enjoy things in my life, and I still create to a certain extent through writing. But even writing has become something I do with an end goal in mind: did I finish the blog post on time? (Hint: this is at least three days late.) Where could I submit that poem? If I take the plot of this story down that rabbit hole that will likely dead-end, isn’t that a waste of time?
I realize that I have begun to value time and activity in terms of the end product. A number of friends recently shared this article, which intrigued me and inspired me to reconsider how I structure my time. But even its counterintuitive suggestions are still justified by an end goal of greater output.
If I were to list out my beliefs and priorities, the importance of production would not be anywhere on the list. Not just not at the top—it wouldn’t be anywhere. I believe that life has value because it is. I believe that people have inherent dignity because they are. Yes, we have to make a living and earn money for food and shelter; I’m not talking about providing the necessities of life but of the things that preoccupy our hearts and minds. I believe that we are not only capable of joy for its own sake, but that it can and should be found in surprising places and in surprising ways, and that if we are in fact aiming to please our Creator, we do so best when we take joy in creating.
When did I stop applying this to myself?
I don’t really know, and I’m not going to waste time on the answer. What I am going to do is try to spend some time this month creating—joyfully, messily, poorly—for its own sake. Not with intent to produce, or sell, or even display for evaluation, but just to spend time creating in the presence of my Creator. “I am here, creating with You.”
It may be the most sincere prayer I can offer for 2019.