We just finished our 6th Gathering of Artisans conference here in Asheville, North Carolina and as usual, our team got a lot of questions from artists all over the world. Some were brand new to the whole art thing, while others have been honing their art practice for years. No matter where people found themselves within the spectrum of art, one question remained: Is it ok to sell my art if I consider my inspiration comes from the Lord? To be more specific, the question was often “Is it ok to sell something that God gave to you freely?” As you can imagine, I definitely have an opinion on the matter and I hope this article can help clarify this for many of you out there who are struggling with this question.
In short, the answer is a resounding “Yes”! However, not every artist is meant to sell their art and herein lies the issue. It really depends on a few things, namely how an artist approaches their creative expression. For the purposes of this article (Yes, I know that there is a lot of crossover between these and yes, I understand that I’m going to have to speak in generalities since every situation is different) I’m going to focus on artists who approach their work in 3 different ways: their own personal spiritual experience, ministry to others and vocationally.
Art as Spiritual Experience
For most artists, the practice of art making is something that is innate. They can’t imagine life without it. It’s an extension of who they are and when they are creating, there’s nothing else like it! There’s an emotional release, a rush of pleasure and feelings of overwhelming joy that are rarely found in any other experience. Many times, artists also make a deeper spiritual connection with God during this process. Either intentionally or unintentionally, the artist may feel a real sense that they are not creating by themselves but are rather receiving inspiration from the Holy Spirit and creating with Him. Although this is not an experience unique to Christians, I believe the Father is releasing more of Himself, more of His Kingdom and more of His nature to creatives who are taking the time to invite the Holy Spirit into the creative process.
When artists of all creative mediums enter in to this process, it’s an intimate place. Art making becomes a responsive act of worship where their ideas, tools, skills and processes become yielded to the movement of the Holy Spirit within them. There’s no faking it because an artist knows when it’s real. For many, there’s no greater place of connection with the Father than when they are creating; writing a song, painting, singing, dancing, weaving or just dreaming. To downplay this experience would be a huge mistake because it’s this process of connecting and creating that is so visceral and transforming for each artist. It’s foundational to our experience and essential for our ongoing growth and connection with God.
In this place of art as spiritual experience, there are don’t have to be any rules or expectations. The experience of creating with God with no boundaries is all that matters. Whatever comes out comes out. It’s all worship. It’s all valid. It’s all important to the artist’s spiritual journey. The artist probably has a vocation that provides income for them and spends their ‘free time’ pursuing their creative outlet. There’s never any pressure to sell or please anyone but themselves and the Lord. For these artists, growth happens as a result of a nurtured relationship with God and the art making process. There’s no timetable or requirements on how or when that growth happens. It’s art as worship, for the pleasure of creating and that’s enough.
Art as Ministry
It’s rare that an artist creates in a vacuum without anyone knowing about their creative expression. For most creatives, we enjoy sharing our creativity with others – friends, family, our faith community – and that only heightens the experience of creating. Nowadays because of the rise of acceptance of art as spiritual expression within the Church, many artists are finding they have the opportunity to share their art with others through doing things like art shows, painting on stage, performing on their worship team and many other wonderful expressions of creativity. This is an incredible opportunity for all creatives to take what’s been happening in their private studio time with God and welcome others into that process. Instead of their art simply being a place of personal connection with God, now it also has the potential to become a vehicle for others to experience the transformative Light and Light of God through their art.
As with most things that involve other people, sometimes this can get a bit hairy. What do you do when someone doesn’t understand or respond to your work in a way that’s life-giving for you? How do you receive compliments? What if someone has a major encounter with the Lord through your work? It’s never simple for an artist to put their creative expression out for the public to interact with because it’s not just about the work. It’s bearing your soul and allowing others to come into your special place of connection, judge it and many times judge you. Depending on how you’re wired, that can be exhilarating or a real emotional challenge.
Many artists now days are finding real acceptance within their faith communities as they create in the context of worship. People are inspired by their work, it heightens their own spiritual experience and allows them to create with others. It’s from these artists with whom we work most at The Worship Studio. They mostly create as worship and for the joy of the experience, have probably sold a few pieces here and there over the years but mostly enjoy giving their work away to others as a way to encourage them in their own spiritual journey. Artists in this place often struggle with the concept of selling their work because they don’t understand how they can or should sell something that’s such a natural expression of their own heart and given to them by the Holy Spirit in the context of worship.
For artists who are are creating for their own personal enjoyment and spiritual expression, I say “Don’t worry about selling you work.” Allow it to be what it is – a joyful, creative, spiritual experience that you’re sharing with others. Why put the pressure on yourself to sell or not sell when there’s no specific calling to move into vocational art making? For many artists who are, for lack of a better word, hobbyists, they tension of feeling like they should sell their work causes more frustration than anything which only impedes the creative process. I always encourage these folks to enjoy the process, freely give as you have freely received and don’t put undue pressure on yourself or your art making practice.
Art as Vocation
For most artists – especially Christians – who have moved into creating as their vocation, they still create from a place of spiritual experience and desire to connect with God through their own creative process. In fact, most, if not all began in a place of creating simply as a response to their own inner need to create. I call it the compulsion to make, always searching for something to do with their hands. These artists still value the joy, spontaneity and exhilaration of the creative process but at some point began to feel the desire to create as their vocation. It may have been the result of a prophetic word, a longstanding dream of theirs, the recognition that if they were going to keep doing this and getting better they needed to give more attention than just what they could do as a hobby or just because their work started selling and they followed God’s favor on their work. However it happened, did this decision to create for money diminish their spiritual experience? Was God somehow displeased with them because they were no longer just creating for the joy of creating? I believe the answer to that question is a resounding “No”!
Growth in the Kingdom is always based on stewardship of the gifts that a person has been given, regardless of where they find themselves in culture. For the artist, this most definitely includes their artistic gifting and their ability to hear, sense, feel and receive from the Lord. Let me pause and say, however, that I don’t believe becoming a full-time vocational artist means you’ve somehow achieved the ultimate maturity as an artist or as a Christian artist. Many of the best artists around choose to create as a hobby, for their personal enjoyment and have other vocations that they pursue to make their living. Many enjoy this because it allows them to come to their art making with no boundaries, requirements or pressure. It’s simply art for their personal enjoyment, sharing with others and even worship.
Artists who have chosen to move into art making as their vocation however, don’t have the luxury of simply creating for personal enjoyment, although there is always joy that comes from the process. They have to consider the salability of their work, how it’s marketed, priced and presented to the public in a way that represents their values. Vocational artists can’t give most of their work away because for them, this is the primary way God has given them to make harvest their financial provision. They have to think about things like dedicated studio space, gallery representation or direct retail sales, inventory, shows and marketing their work. These artists have to pay attention to who’s buying their work, why, for what price and to be used in what context in order to continue to grow and thrive. To be successful, a vocational artist has to be both artist and entrepreneur. There is no either or if an artist is to be successful in the marketplace.
This is where a lot of Christians who are artists somehow jump ship. They have this notion that artists who have chosen the vocational art path have somehow sold their soul to the art devil and have lost the essence of creating from a place of spiritual connection. How ridiculous! In my opinion, that’s just a load of religious poppycock and emotional gobbledygook! No one would think of making this accusation to someone who gets a million-dollar business idea from the Lord yet somehow, because we’re creative our motives and intentions are called into question. Should a pastor not be paid because they receive inspiration from the Lord for their sermons and daily ministry?
Yes, being a vocational artist requires a different skill set and thought process, but it’s no less spiritual for the artist who approaches their life and work as a Kingdom creative. Being a vocational Kingdom artist is a beautiful collaboration with God in which the artist has the joyful opportunity to see and agree with Heaven, co-create their experience with the Holy Spirit and enjoy the benefits of the Kingdom in their life while expecting transformation to be the result of their life and work. All along the way, they get to trust God completely for their provision, opportunities to sell their work and new creative ideas.
I’m one of these vocational artists who did what I do creatively now as a hobby for 15 years before it became my primary income source. For me, this journey of becoming a full-time working artist has required so much more faith and connectedness with the Father than anything I’ve ever done. I have opportunities each and every day to listen, trust and cooperate with the voice of the Holy Spirit not only as I create art but as I create a life and a business that God is using to bring finances into my family’s life. I love the adventure of being a vocational artist and can’t imagine doing anything else.
Enjoy Your Art
No matter where you are as an artist – creating for the love of the spiritual experience, doing it as a part of your ministry or as a vocation – realize that God’s joy over you is the simple fact that you’re doing what He created you to do. As you grow and dream with Him, the ways you express and present your art will change. That’s ok! Enjoy where you are and enjoy the growth process without putting undue pressure on yourself to be someone you’re not. God has an incredible plan for your life and art whether you sell it for thousands of dollars around the world or offer it to Him as worship in the secret place. Just enjoy the Father, create with Him and follow His lead. You never know where things might lead!
by Matt Tommey, Founder of The Worship Studio
Author of Unlocking the Heart of the Artist,
Crafting Your Brand & Creativity According to the Kingdom