12 October 2010

Working Artist Initiative::Honoring Your Talent

"Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." ~Henry Van Dyke

This week for the Working Artist Initiative (WAI) our focus readings were largely selections from the Bible with the theme 'God As Artist.'

I found these readings to be a struggle.

Not that I don't believe in the Bible. But more that I am not someone who reads it. And although I do attend church regularly and participate quite a lot {I am a cantor and my ministry comes forth in song} I have never been one to study scripture much.

So, this was a challenge for me.

The readings this week covered creation, law, poetry, parable, ritual and drama. And it was up to us to discuss the common thread and extract some sense from them.

The one reading that I identified most with was the parable. Storytelling is a rare sort of art. Wrangling words into stories where the listener or reader can find themselves and extract a bit of truth is definitely a gift. Jesus had that sort of gift and he used that to great effect in his life.

Here is the gist of The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30):

The Master went on a journey, but before leaving he entrusted his three servants with his property. To one he gave five talents of money, to the second two talents and to the last he gave one talent, each according to his ability.

The first servant took his five talents and went out and doubled the money. The second servant did the same. The third servant buried his talent in the ground.

When the Master returned home he called them forward for an accounting of the talents with which he entrusted each. The first and second servants each came forward to show they they doubled the talents they were given. The Master was very pleased with their efforts and praised them, giving them more responsibility than before.

The servant who hid his talent was called forward. He said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'

The Master called him wicked and lazy, told him he should have invested this talent wiser and eventually took what little talent he had away from him, giving it to the servant with 10 talents before throwing him out 'with weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

* * * * *

For the record, I found out that a 'talent' is a unit of money worth more than a thousand dollars. I find it intriguing that the meaning of that word as we use it can easily be substituted here. Talents can be worth a lot of money. Take your pick for whatever meaning you choose.

The Master entrusted the servants with the talents according to their ability. Not everyone had the same opportunity, but the message is clear that all of them have talents. Now it is up to them to use them wisely.

The first and second servants increased their talents by expanding on them. They weren't content to sit idly by and watch them go to waste. They actively pursued ways to make the most of what talents they had. They were each handsomely rewarded, with more talents and more responsibility, for their efforts.

The one who hid his talent in the ground out of fear and spite was not rewarded. It may seem harsh to have the weeping and gnashing of teeth, but I don't see that as from the Master. I think that this last servant likely had regret for the things he lacked the courage to do. There is nothing worse.

Here is what I took from this reading: We have to use our talents to the best of our ability. With great power, comes great responsibility. We can work at our talents, find ways to make them grow and develop, or we can push them away and pretend that they don't exist.

I firmly believe that we are all talented in our own way. There is no, "You are so much more creative than I am," or "I could never be as talented as you!" That seems to me the saddest thing to say. And it is filled with negativity and lack of confidence.

Sure, I see things that someone has done and covet the knowledge to do that exact thing, to have success in the same area. But that is not going to make it my talent. Trying to capitalize on another person's talent does nothing to honor that which is within me. So I can be inspired and influenced by another without trying to snatch their talent. I have to be still and listen to my heart to find that talent that is mine alone. And I have a responsibility to share it with the world.

People sometimes ask me where I went to school, what training I have to do what I do. I smile and say that I have a G.G.A. {God Given Ability... and I am not afraid to use it!} I didn't need to go to school to hone my creativity. That may have helped set me on a path sooner than the 40 odd years I have behind me now, but it wasn't necessary for me to recognize, develop and celebrate it.

I firmly believe that we are creative beings by nature. To stifle our creativity, our talent, to hide it is to turn away from our true nature, to turn away from whatever Higher Power you believe in. And a big part of hiding it is not believing in it, lacking the confidence in your own ability to create. Yes, someone may not have the same talent that I do, but that doesn't mean they are any less creative. Creativity is a life-force that runs through us all. The key is not in comparing what you have to someone else, but to relish what you have and to use it to grow your talents to the best of your ability. Even if you never create a masterpiece or sell a million dollars or achieve instant name recognition - and so many other external signposts of success, you risk so much more by not honoring the talent that is within you. If you neglect to listen to your heart to tell you where your unique talents lie in favor of comparing yourself to someone, or worse yet letting fear get in the way of finding YOUR truth, you risk losing it all.

The truth is that wherever your particular talents lie, only YOU can get started with it, and you shouldn't wait... for the right time or the right material or the right inspiration. That time may never come, and you will have squandered your talent out of fear of failure.

And I, for one, am trying to live a creative life and a life without regrets. Tall order. But it is my responsibility to honor that within myself.

As my father routinely says, "Life is not a dress rehearsal." {Thanks Dad! I finally get it.}

Start today. Do something with what you have, where you are. Make a difference. Create that which only YOU can create guided by the knowledge that you are a creative being who is being called to live a creative life.

Curious to know what did I do this week on my plan?

  • Played with resin
  • Investigated other options for materials, techniques
  • Purchased and read a tutorial, still trying to digest that
  • Decided that I need more time to fully create my prototypes so I will not rush into anything just to be ready for next week's show
  • Had my first WAI critique on Monday night to assess where I am and where I am going

So... tell me what you think about this reading?

  • What can we, as artists, learn from God as Artist?
  • What talents do you feel called to share? What talents are you hiding?
  • What is holding you back from reaching your full potential?
  • Are there people you know who have been entrusted with a greater responsibility of talent? How are they honoring that?
  • Are there people in your life who are not rising to the challenge of their talent? What can we do to encourage their talent?

Do tell!

P.S. I hope I didn't come off as too preachy. These were just the readings of the week and I wanted to honor my commitment to you to chronicle the WAI through this forum. Thank you for allowing me to do that.

Enjoy the day!


Christine said...

"I firmly believe that we are all talented in our own way. There is no, "You are so much more creative than I am," or "I could never be as talented as you!" That seems to me the saddest thing to say. And it is filled with negativity and lack of confidence."

THIS. This is so near and dear to my heart, having been all my life the person that OTHER people look at and say, "I could never be as creative as you". That has always bothered me. *Everyone* has the creative life force within them, just waiting to be used!

I think most people don't see "creative" as synonymous with "living", and they fail to comprehend a number of daily living activities as 'creative acts'. Most people seem to think that only the ability to draw or paint or do crafts qualifies one as 'creative'. So frustrating.

Thank you for this post; I really enjoy delving into thoughts about creativity and creative living.

Lori P said...

fascinating post! I don't think it's too preachy, but this is coming from someone who's studied the bible for years and enjoys the discussion and thought processes.

I've always been told that my drawing and painting are God-given talents and I shouldn't waste them. As a result I've tried to revive them but it's just not in my heart. That's something I REALLY struggle with guilt over. Having said that, I love what I'm doing now. It's not direct drawing and painting but art in another form. So I hope that in some small way I'm scoring a few points. :)

Marcie Abney Carroll said...

I believe as you do that school is not necessary sometimes. I have never taken classes to do what I do, it is a gift and one that I'm honored to have and also that I hone by practice. I think that we have created a society that relies too much on college degree.

Unknown said...

No it wasn't preachy at all but I will say that I have come away with so many questions for myself that I really need to assess whether or not I am honoring my talents in the learning phase of my journey or not. That's it I need coffee! Awesome post!


SummersStudio said...

Erin, you are always so thoughtful in your posts and I don't find this preachy at all. Your dad is so right, life is definitely not a dress rehearsal! I grew up with that same sort of earthy mid western wisdom. Unfortunately, that same wisdom often steers us from creative into practical so that we can pay the mortgage and put food on the table. In my case being an art teacher was the path that would have been the one that I was steered towards. I didn't do that and it wasn't until my 40s that I left the traditional work world to follow the path I started as a child. There came a point where if I did not take the risk, there would never be a time when I would.

I'm not particularly religious but do find Biblical parables to be full of wisdom. And I know this one well. But I never thought of it in the way you have. Thank you for that! I know for me that to break out of my 'practical' path I had to listen to my inner compass and trust in myself, which is something I have to remind myself of daily. But I do think it is critical to value yourself independent of external praise or to measure yourself using the yard stick of others. I think it's the only way to find personal meaning in the creative work that you do.

So there are my few little thoughts! I'm rethinking the meaning of the childrens hymn I grew up with, 'this little light of mine' :-)

EmandaJ said...

Hello Erin,

I am always inspired by your posts. As I was reading this one, I remembered that I wrote a post about the same passage when I first started blogging. (Here it is if you are interested: http://artemisiastudio.blogspot.com/2008/11/talent-and-risk.html )

Thanks for saying how sad it makes you when someone negatively compares their talents with yours. My mom says, "Emanda has more talent in her little finger that I have in my whole body" -- makes me crazy! Yes, I am talented, but she runs circles around me artisitically. How can I live up to that? Why do I have to??

Anyway, I always enjoy your writings.
Emanda B.A., M.A., G.G.A.
Artymezia@yahoo, etc., etc.

Brandi Hussey said...

This whole post really resonated with me. The overall theme of acknowledging and using your natural talent is so true, and matches so closely with what I believe myself. It's kind of funny, because I'm working on a podcast with a similar (but different) theme for my blog.

The part, though, that really struck home was this:

"I didn't need to go to school to hone my creativity. That may have helped set me on a path sooner than the 40 odd years I have behind me now, but it wasn't necessary for me to recognize, develop and celebrate it."

So. True. I did go to art school, but the desire to create was already there; school didn't inspire that, it was already living in me. Art school helped me form a basis, I think, a foundation to build on, but I like to think it was inevitable I'd be doing this, regardless of the path I took to get here.

Beyond that, I think people don't recognize and appreciate their own journey enough, in that they think they missed something by choosing a different route. It totally doesn't matter, so long as they get to a place where they can acknowledge and recognize their inner abilities.

Well said, Erin!

Silver Parrot said...

Oooh, Erin. This REALLY hit me today. I have been struggling with both my spiritual life AND my relationship with my creative life since my father's death. And this blog post speaks to BOTH (gosh darnit I get annoyed when God hits me upside the head when I'm not lookin' for it). Much to think about and ponder here and I'ma do that just as soon as I stop crying!

rosebud101 said...

Erin, great post. God as the artist! What can we learn? Knowledge and creativity are non ending and ever developing. We might not move as fast as we would like, but we have to be patient with ourselves. Time will bring about the creative flow. Persistence. Prayer. Love. Creativity flows from these.

Artisan Clay said...

I really admire your way with words. I struggle over them myself.

•What talents do you feel called to share? What talents are you hiding?

These are great questions.
Some talents that I feel I am often called to share are often in organization or leadership roles, which I find completely confusing at times. I do not see myself as a very likely leader OR as very organized but I am finding myself in these roles more and more all the time!
I can only guess that there are things that I need to learn,(communication, relationship building,organization) and I am placed in these roles to learn them. So these are the talents that I feel I am being called to share.... but more likely I am being called to develope because at this point calling them "talents" is laughable because I mess up a lot!

•What is holding you back from reaching your full potential?
Hard to say.... But sometimes I feel that I go in too many directions and don't eliminate things or nail ideas down well. I really like to help--- and that will sometimes get me wanting to do a lot more things than is really possible. I find it hard to know what to pursue.

On the flip side--- I feel that I have been making good steps to lessen both pride and self doubt and be more objective with my artwork and myself, which I think has helped me to be more at peace.--something I've needed to work on.

I really enjoyed this post :-)

Cindy said...

Erin, you always challenge us with such great food for thought. I had to reread your final words because they are full of inspiration:
"Start today. Do something with what you have, where you are. Make a difference. Create that which only YOU can create guided by the knowledge that you are a creative being who is being called to live a creative life."
Great words of wisdom.

Hopemore Studio said...

Erin, Thank you for sharing your week. I am pondering your first question 'what can we as artists learn from God the Artist?' It seems I've read a lot of books lately that recommend using nature as the first place to find God or to see as God sees.

I can't even tell you how often I just ponder seeds...they seem so small yet inside is a blueprint for whole plant..how does it get in there, how does it know of it's potential? It does what comes as nature intended without putting up a fight. It may very well have struggles but if possible it will become a beautiful flower, persistent weed, a fruit or giant oak...

They all start as seeds..very small and unassuming, yet very full of talent to do what?...produce more seeds with talent.

Here's a funny idea thinking back to your comment about not comparing your talents to someone else's....do you think a dandelion has ever thought to itself "gee if I were more creative I could be a rose" ?


Unknown said...

First I love your quote! Now, I found this whole post pretty interesting and to answer a few of your questions, I seem to be surrounded by people who are using their talents to the best they can. I think I'm guilty of not living up to my full potential. I want to be more creative but when I try I think my creations look like a child did them. So what's holding me back? Me, isn't that usually the answer? ;)

Pretty Things said...

This post probably meant more to me than any you've ever written.

You know I struggle with my self-worth and constantly comparing myself negatively to other artists. I also struggle with something embarrassing -- wishing for name recognition. I'm mortified to even admit that here. But I also want to be honest. I'd rather be a decent person and a good mother than step on anyone or compromise my integrity to get ahead in the beading world. I figure,if I can't "become somebody" by just being me, then it's not worth it.

It's very, very hard for me to keep remembering that because I do want to be liked and respected -- but I can't MAKE anyone do that. Trying to force myself on people defeats the entire purpose.


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