Making Art For and With People You Love

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I’m often tempted to be envious of friends who make music in community. The harmony on display is so attractive. I have friends in Nashville who have the kind of creative community people like me dream about. Also, singer/songwriters perform regularly and get instant feedback. They might hear clapping and see smiles the day after they write a song. It’s an endeavor closely connected to community.

By comparison, making a book is a solitary act—countless hours spent on writing, rewriting, and rewriting, and rewriting. It’s an insane amount of alone time.

I always knew it would be this way. Solitary.

Except when it isn’t.

In my journey toward the publication of my first book, my eyes have been opened to just how much it involves others. I could never have done this on my own. If I tried, it would have been an awful experience.

One of those people who helped me tremendously was Helena Aman (Sorensen). She is an incredibly gifted writer, songwriter, singer, and on and on. She spent a lot of time editing my manuscript (and yelling at me in all caps to BE BRAVER). Recently, she and I were discussing the often disappointing world of publishing, and she said something that stuck with me. She said, in all the disappointments she has had, all she wants is to make art for, and with, people she loves.

Yes. That’s it.

In the old world of publishing, you begged and waited to be picked by a gatekeeper (publisher/agent) and you hoped they would care. There was no other way. With the flattened world of the internet, connections are available everywhere and finding your audience is now possible in new ways. Not easy, but possible. Connecting with those people you feel called to love and serve with your creative work is available if you have the passion to work at it and the luck/grace to be given lots of gifts along the way.

I have been given so much. The Rabbit Room community? My goodness, what a gift. Story Warren’s little tribe of families fostering imagination? An incredible gift. Facebook has connected me with old friends from my little high school in Huntington, WV, and the other high school I attended: Hoerskool Ferrum in Newcastle, South Africa. Amazing. Because of the era we live in, it really is possible to make art for, and with, people you love. Of course it always has been.

“You don’t have to change the world. All you’ve got to do is show up,” sings Jill Phillips.

You don’t have to change the whole world. You can start with your “little” one. Little is the new big. You don’t have to be a NYT best-seller to change your world. Your world might be three little kids, or a small school, or a rural community that church-planting books don’t talk about.

The internet does provide a vehicle for expanded connection that I’m grateful for. I’m afraid of what we sometimes trade when we look for intimacy on-line that’s designed for true incarnation. “Flesh and blood needs flesh and blood,” as Johnny Cash sang. But that’s not to say that the internet can’t be a launching point for incarnational endeavors, including art.

There will always be people who don’t care. You can tell by how quickly they become disinterested when you stop talking about their money, or their pleasure, or their pride. The texts/emails stop being returned. There’s a transactional nature to relationships that’s hard to avoid. We’re all guilty of using relationships for our own ends. It’s lousy but it’s true.

But what a pleasure it is to have the chance to connect with people you love, to serve and be served in some creative endeavor. I am astonished and grateful at the chance I’ve had through publishing my first book to be on the receiving end of all kinds of loving community. It’s something new to me. I feel like I was given the chance to make art for, and with, people I love. Is that really rare? It feels like it is. I feel spoiled. I feel special. I feel deeply loved.

I’m probably a little naive. But with as little innocence as I feel like I have left in life to experience, I’m going to try to enjoy this.

And I’ll keep on working toward projects that allow me to do this again.

Because no matter what changes for me, more or less readers, more or less money, I think what I want most of all is what Helena said.

I want to make art for, and with, people I love.


14 Comments

  1. Matthew Clark

    This is encouraging, Sam. My brother and I talk a lot about how to be artists in such an interesting time. I’m so glad things are getting ‘small’. And the phrase ‘art for and with the people I love’ is a helpful focal phrase! I’m excited to read the book!

  2. Brian

    I apologize for hijacking this thread but I have no idea where to post this. I have tickets for the BTLOG concert at the Ryman on December 15th. Due to some unforeseen circumstances we are not going to be able to go. I am not looking to make a profit. I just want to sell them at face value. If you are interested, you can email me at brian[at]kudzoo[dot]org.

    Thanks!

  3. Ben Kreis

    Your post makes my soul sing. I too love to make art for people, real flesh-and-blood people.

    But at some point the “marketing” kicks in and people become numbers on a bar graph to track success.

    It gets ugly. And the ugly becomes disheartening.

  4. Mike

    Sam several years ago you (I think it was you) told a story about your daughter and her opinion of a dragon in a story that morphed into a story that I wrote for my son. That story has been written down and passed to all my Grammer teacher friends who have edited, improved, and encouraged. My wife has read to many of her first grade students over the years. Many others have read it that I thought might be able to illustrate it. My daughter has since became involved in some computer graphics and it looks like she may be the person that gets the illustration completed. So yes its been a community. It started in a community that I don’t really know, although I feel like I could be part of it and its spread through one that you are totally unaware of. I love it. Thanks for sharing.

    Mike

  5. Laure Hittle

    i love, LOVE, everything about this. Making art for and with people you love. Community. Incarnation. Connection. Microcosm. This is beautiful, and yes, this is everything i want too. Thanks for writing this and for sharing yourself. i can’t wait to read your book.

  6. Carrie

    Ben – I wonder if it’s possible to pay attention to those numbers–to see the successes (however small they may be)–without our joy being tied to the smallness of them? Can we celebrate that the book (or music, or art) has impacted ten lives without being disheartened that it hasn’t impacted 20?

    I don’t know. But I do know that I love the joy that those moments of connection bring–when something I’ve written touches another life and I get to hear about it–and I like watching those graphs because they show me the moments of connection. And maybe someday I’ll lose my focus and the graphs will be statistics rather than people.

    I think, for me, it’s in part a matter of where I find my identity. Is my value determined by the height of the bar graph or by the fact that God loves me? If I can keep my eye on the latter, rather than the former, maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to continue to watch those graphs with joy rather than being disheartened.

  7. Ben Kreis

    Carrie – I think you’re right that it is an identity issue. It seems that spills into the sin of coveting.

    And the internet is a coveting paradise because we can find out so much about other peoples success.

    I love what my friend, Doug TenNapel advises on this. Whenever he find a massive success story online he says to himself, “That’s not me.”

    I spend too much time trying to figure out how I can become someone else. But, that’s not me. Thank God for who I am and where I am.

  8. Joe

    You guys who have a creative collaboration group can’t imagine how much your are envied (or perhaps you do.. I hope you do actually) I think I would give almost anything to be a part of that.

    I’ve tried writing music on my own and it’s just not much fun all by myself. I can’t get through the many hours required to finally get traction because who likes to rehearse alone? I know it’s not just laziness.. I can literally rehearse and play music with friends until I’m hoarse and the blisters on my fingers have blisters.

    I’ve tried getting people from our church worship team to try something.. but nobody is interested in spending more than the 1-2 hours weekly rehearsal for Sunday service. I’m still confused why anyone would be content just to cover someone’s else’s stuff and not at least try to see what is possible.

    As my abilities sunset with age, I cling to the promise of what comes next. You guys who have your creative posse, God Bless You!

  9. PW

    Sam,

    So excited for your book to arrive in my mailbox this morning. I almost hesitated to open the sweetly wrapped book, but, by golly, I must read it before I send it to the granddaughter for which it was purchased. I saved the paper and tag and will rewrap it before sending it off. Can’t wait to dig in myself. 🙂

  10. Leigh McLeroy

    Congratulations on the book Sam! I’m with you. Nothing beats making art for the ones you love. Merry Christmas.

  11. Lisa

    This is a great perspective to have for all of us who try to “make art”. I haven’t found my community yet, not exactly. Joe’s comments resonate with me, too, but the only way I know of trying to build that community is to keep trying and looking for the ones you can connect with, and above all, keep doing the art you are called to, even if you don’t have that tribe of people to encourage you and collaborate with. Kinda like, “if you build it, they will come.”

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