How to get on God’s fridge, and other thoughts on creativity

I’m reading Blaine Hogan’s book, UNTITLED: Thoughts on the creative process, and he wrote something at the end of part two that launched me into a deep soul search in regards to my art:

You are not a salesman. You are a storyteller.

How does that work? I agree; no one wants to be sold and convinced of something. We want our hearts to move within us to lay hold of something because we want to, not because we’ve been smooth-talked into something we know we don’t need or want.

But how do I as an artist do that? My starting assumption is that stories communicate truth. Jesus used stories to portray a truth he was trying to explain to those around him. Was he concerned with telling a good story or illustrating his point? Or was his situation different from mine? He was teaching, his main goal was to show others the Father and lead them to eternal life.

… how is that any different from mine?

If it isn’t, should my stories be any different? Can I tell a story merely because it’s good?

Define “good”: imaginative, creative (a new way of looking at things), inspiring, evokes emotions and a heart response. Not just entertaining, or I think a better word would be preoccupation. A large number of the stories told these days are only occupying our minds, taking our minds off the stressful things in life.

Isn’t that a legitimate deed? “You are in pain. Let me tell you a story that will make you forget the pain for a little while.” Perhaps. But at some point the hearer must return to his pain. I don’t want distract him from his pain; I want to offer him answers.

But how do I do that without selling him something? Without heading out the door saying, “I’m off to tell him a story that will help him through his pain”? 

Well hang on. Why would a story be the best thing for him? If a person has a broken arm, he needs a pain reliever, not a story about a kid whose arm gets better.

But a story about the kid could inspire him to hang in there, be patient and let the pain reliever do its work….

I guess it comes down to this question: do I trust that if I set out to tell a good story, there will be meaning in it? Do I believe that if I tell a good story, somehow, someway it will be a story with value, a story that will matter in eternity, that won’t be a waste of people’s time?

A story that Jesus won’t think is a waste of time?

Is that what I’m afraid of? That what I create will be a waste of time? My story had better serve a purpose, change someone’s life, be a vehicle for Jesus’ principles for good living. What I create had better have a purpose behind it, because if it doesn’t it holds no value in and of itself. My art is only valuable if it serves a purpose.

Is that really what I’m afraid of?

“Jesus, if I gave you a picture that was all scribbles and bad colors and outside of the lines and had no meaning whatsoever—but was done out of love and the abundance of my heart wanting to create, would you still like it? Would you hang it on your fridge?”

That seems like a silly question. Of couse he would.

In that case, what is my role as a storyteller? What do I do? Do I simply imagine stuff and put it down?

Let’s say there is a five-year old girl who has a great dad and mom, and she has a dog named Freddy which she adores. At school, the teacher pulls out crayons and paper and everyone draws a picture. The girl takes the paper, thinks for a moment, and then grabs the purple crayon, and then yellow, then orange, then green, brown, blue, and red. What picture is she drawing? Her parents and herself standing outside of their house, holding hands, and Freddy panting at her side with a huge grin on his face.

Does the picture carry meaning? Sure it does. Love, family, home, peace, joy, and animals can be our best friends.

Did she set out to tell that meaning? No. She simply drew what was overflowing from her heart.

Maybe that’s what creativity is: the overflow of our heart expressed outwardly. I don’t have to think long and hard about what kind of meaning I want in my art. I simply create from my overflow, and there is meaning, and value, within it.

Whether my heart is broken or whole, it’s out of it that I create. The five-year old girl whose father beats her and whose mom drinks and whose dog named Butch always chews her dolls will draw a very different picture. One could look at that and say, “See how the dog snarls and the father’s eyes are X’s and the mom is sleeping in the puddle while the little girl flies away and cries? Life is cruel. That is the meaning of this picture.” It goes both ways. But we all create from our hearts.

What am I to do, then? When I sit down tomorrow to write, what words do my hands type? Do I stare at the blank page until I land upon a meaning, or do I wait until an image captures my imagination?

Let’s say all of the world knew Jesus and had healed hearts. Let’s say it’s after Jesus returns and all things have been restored. What kind of stories will we tell? Will they be ones whose purpose is a vehicle of truth? Will our stories still be evangelistic ones, stories whose goal is to open the eyes of the unbeliever and lead them to Jesus? There will come a time when those stories won’t be needed and then what will we do? Will creativity and stories cease?

I don’t think so, because we are made in the image of a creative God. Our very nature is creative. Creativity, the “use of imagination or original ideas”, will never cease because that act is who we are. But if we aren’t using our creative works as vehicles for providing answers, what will their point be?

Surely not to simply be creative….

Is it possible that the world does not need guidelines repurposed from the Bible and put into story form, but instead needs the overflow of my heart? Could they really need to hear the emotions of my heart as I walk through life and interact with friends and family, as I love those around me, as I learn to walk with God and what it means to truly be His son? Are my thoughts and emotions really that important? Maybe they won’t change millions, or thousands, or even hundreds, but what if just one or two people were touched by my experiences? What if, as my heart is stirred within me by imagination and emotion and I express those things through the creative talents God has given me, one person reads my story and is moved to love in the same way? Is inspired to think just a little differently about things? Is moved to hunger for something more than what she thought was possible? Not because I preached a moral at her, but because I expressed my heart, and there’s only One to whom my overflowing heart could point?

I think we should still be aware of the meaning our stories are putting forth. Once I create a story, I think I need to look at it and ask, “What am I saying here? What is my heart saying?” Because there is a right and there is a wrong. The abused five-year old girl’s picture is not right; it’s valid, and real emotion, but it is not the way things should be.

Maybe, oh just maybe, when I sit down to tell a story, my first question doesn’t have to be about its purpose or function, but about what moves my heart.

“Is my creativity enough?” What do you mean by enough? “Um… is my creativity enough to make my art have value?” Maybe that’s not the right question. I think a better question is, are you enough to have value? You have value; therefore, your expressions of yourself have value. How well you create has nothing to do with it. In the eyes of the world it’s all about skill and effectiveness and “Did it work?” But to Me, it’s always about you. And because you have value, your creativity will always have value.

“But I don’t want to be shallow! I don’t want to only distract people and waste their time and just give them preoccupying entertainment!” That’s fine, that’s okay. That’s a great goal. I don’t want you to waste their time either. But I’m working in your heart, and if you talk about that, it’ll be worth it.

“Do I have to worry about how much I talk about you? Do you have to have a certain level of visibility?” Nah. I’ll take care of that. Don’t water Me down if I’m there when you tell the story, but you don’t have to force me in. I don’t have to be mentioned by name a certain number of times to make the story count. You tell the story and talk about your heart and I’ll take care of making sure it’s Me they see.

“But… that seems too simple. Surely there’s got to be more than just going with my heart and telling stories….” Why? Did you think Jesus did more? He talked about what was in his heart, too. I’m his Father and he loves me and does everything I do, so he told his stories out of his heart overflow. You didn’t think he told the story of the prodigal son coming home to a loving father just to prove a point, did you? He told it because he knows my heart and his was overflowing in response to mine. He said, “My Dad is like… hmm, let me think…. My Dad is so great. He is like the father of a son who ran away and wasted his money.” Your stories will have meaning because you and the journey I’m leading your heart on have meaning. You don’t have to meet a criteria or measure up to a standard in order to get on my fridge. I love everything you create and I show it to all my friends.

So don’t worry about being a salesman. Just be a storyteller.


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