The Value of Art
The Value of Art:
Digging into the desires of an artist,
their craft, and their Creator
BY CONNOR DIRKS
You may know the term ‘starving artist’. If you are an artist, this phrase likely came up when you told your parents you wanted to pursue art as a career, or when you made up your mind that nothing else mattered to you but making art.
As a freelance artist, I only know half the struggle. I have never attempted to make a living off my work; yet even making a bit of pocket change can be difficult. Many people I know are somewhat in this boat. But it gets worse. Artists of today are not only “starving” but dying off. Traditional art on paper or canvas has become digital lines on Adobe Illustrator. The art of film has been so degraded that the truly artistic films cannot even scrape up a profit, while cheap-looking CGI, action-packed superhero flicks make billions of dollars at the box office. Music has become less about thoughtful lyrics and more about pounding bass underneath a glaring auto-tune. Five-minute, inspirational videos have become “too long”, and have been replaced by 6 seconds of media.
Art’s value has decreased in the digital age, and the majority of people would rather scarf down a dozen small, insubstantial crumbs of entertainment rather than take time to chew on a satisfying work that is true art. It can be a difficult world for an artist, as culture increasingly disregards art in favor of anything but art.
So where do artists find the value in their work? Where do artists find value in their talents and unique gifts? As one who has been in the world of art for many years, and as one who is a creator made by the Creator, I feel I have the standing to share my perspective with you.
I got into art fairly early, probably around the age of 5 or 6. I remember being “that kid” who couldn't go an hour without doodling during school. I was dead set on being an illustrator when I grew up. I gradually sharpened my skills, mostly by not paying attention in class. I look back now and see that this was a hobby being shaped into a talent.
When I got high school though, my artistry really took off. I’ll never forget that day of my sophomore year when Mr. Gregory (thank God for him), noticed my notebook full of doodles and offered me the chance to skip all the prerequisites for AP Art and jump directly into advanced classes in order to take AP my senior year. Shocked yet excited, I took the offer and started a few months later. While I learned a great deal from Mr. Gregory and art classes gave me a platform to promote my art, it never gave me the one thing I wanted from my talent: value. Though I earned a few awards, I never walked away with the sought after 1st place blue ribbon. I never won an art show. Where was I to find value now? The thing is, the worth I was searching for wasn't to be found in the places I was looking.
Like a younger me, artists have an insatiable desire for not only value but for that value to last. For our songs to play on the radio after we’re gone, for our art to stand the test of time, for our films to become a classic. While this isn't inherently a bad thing to hope for, this is not where the value lies either. It also doesn't exist in how much money is made from our art, how much praise we get for our work, or any other thing we seek worth from. Rather, our worth as creators is in 3 things.
The first is our gift. Whether you are a director, writer, musician, illustrator, avid doodler, tattoo artist, songwriter, or any other extension of the creative arts, your gift is unique. No matter how long you search, you will never find another with the same exact talent as yourself. Think about the comics page in the Sunday paper. Each artist has the same job: write a joke, political cartoon, or satirical mini-narrative, and then illustrate it. But none of them are even close to similar. Different styles of writing overlap distinct cartoons, unique to every artist. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Your gift is unique to you. One of a kind. And anything that is one of a kind is incredibly valuable.
The second also comes from the same verse. Read it again. “...use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Let’s unpack this a bit. We as artists have a gift, but who do we use it for? Ourselves? Perhaps, but where is the joy in that? Imagine if some of the greats (Vincent Van Gogh, Charles Schultz, John Lennon, or Steven Spielberg) had kept their gifts to themselves. The world would not only be missing out on some unique and captivating works, but those creators would never have exercised their talents. See. the amazing thing about having a gift is that it’s best used when shared.
My friend Brendan, the worship pastor at my local church, put it this way: “Being a steward of the gifts God has given me means that I have been entrusted with the very specific things He has created me with, and I must use them to serve Him and His church, or else they are put to waste.” To bring this point home, it would be a very different reality if Jesus had decided to not sacrifice his perfect life for us. So, our gifts from God are exactly that – gifts. (Remembering that these are gifts is paramount to having an attitude of sharing). Our duty as those who have received gifts is to share them and serve others with them. And what better way to live out the commandment to serve one another than with our artistry. Your value may not be found on earth, but in heaven, your servitude will be rewarded – eternally.
The final and perhaps the most important and valuable part of being an artist is something that I still cannot wrap my mind around. To me, this is not just valuable, this is an opportunity, and a blessing. That third place we artists can find our worth is in this: we are artists – creators – made in the image of The Creator. A fellow artist and mentor of mine said this on the topic: “God first reveals Himself as Creator, so having gifts of creativity cause me to worship Him as creator, and we mirror God when we create.” Take a moment to ponder on this. (No seriously, don't read on until at least a full minute has passed). Good? Okay. See, this is the true gift of being an artist. God, in all His infinite creativity and eye for design, has handed down a portion of this incredible trait to us. God created the vast universe in its entirety, yet also perfectly and intricately designed you.
Do you get it yet? God is the Great Artist, the Highest Designer, the All Mighty Creator, and He has gifted us with an immensely powerful way of seeing the world that He has crafted, and allows us to carry on that ability to create with a uniqueness only matched by God himself. To be an artist is to get a glimpse of how God works, to share in the same skills that we were made with. To be an artist is to reflect God into the world, and that is valuable enough for me.
Painting by Steve Johnson