I recently attended the Calvin Festival of Faith & Writing, and I’ll be blogging through some of the things that I learned while I was there. If you went, I’d love to hear your take on things. If you didn’t, you’ll just have to trust that what I learned is what the presenters intended to be learned.
The first talk I attended was a plenary session with Gene Luen Yang, the award-winning graphic novelist behind American Born Chinese. Yang told us his journey from creating and selling comics to his schoolmates as a boy to belonging to a creative community as an adult to being a husband and father while continuing in his craft. The main question that the talk sought to answer was one with which I have struggled ever since I decided to call myself a writer: Is art selfish?
Yang spoke from personal experience as an author and illustrator who spent valuable time on his craft when he could have been spending it with his family. Fortunately, his projects have sold and he’s been able to justify the time spent because it brought in money. But is money the only way to justify art?
As a creator of things, I want to believe that art is not inherently selfish. I want to believe that it is a good unto itself without respect for any financial considerations. I want to believe that I am creating something that will benefit other people simply by its existence and that art, in this way, can be a selfless endeavor. But I know that creation takes time and that the time is usually taken from those who I love the most.
So, is art selfish? When Gene Luen Yang asked his wife this question, she responded thus: “It can be.”
I agree. Fortunately, Yang went on to provide four considerations to keep in mind when we are creating art.
- Think of art as an icon (in the Eastern Orthodox sense) – Art is a tool to point to something higher.
- Think of art as a prayer – Creativity allows God to speak through us, his creation.
- Think of art as an organ (like a liver) – Many artists cannot function without it, but it is still only one part of the body.
- Think of art as an act of service – Craft stories as maps to assist others through life. Art should renew us as a people.
I’m still chewing on whether or not my personal art is selfish or not. But I think that keeping these four things in mind will help.
What do you think? Have you quit your art because you thought is was selfish? How do you balance it with the rest of your life?