As an artist and a mentor to Christian artists all over the world, I love to answer questions! Recently on social media, Karen asked me “Matt, as an artist, how do I transition from basically copying the work of artists I admire into a place where I’m actually developing my own voice as an artist?”
This is such a great question and one that I hear often. Over the years I’ve come to understand that if you want to thrive as an artist, then you have to embrace and develop the uniqueness that God has planted on the inside of you.
Three Stages of Development for Christian Artists
All thriving artists grow and develop their talent, skill, and voice over time. It’s rarely, if ever, an instant process. Most often this artistic journey progresses through three distinct stages: Awareness, Awakening and Autonomy.
Awareness is the first stage of this journey. It is in the Awareness stage that you’re starting to understand and embrace the things that inspire you artistically. It’s a journey of discovery, where you discover for yourself the new and uncharted shores of creativity, style, and technique that are just begging to be explored.
Awareness is where you begin to wake up to all the possibilities that are out there for you creatively. And over time, as you begin to process through all of the artistic options, a transformation begins to take place as your artistic voice begins to awaken.
It’s in this Awakening phase of your journey that you begin to gravitate towards a style, an aesthetic, and a creative medium that starts to define who you are artistically. And with that kernel of creative focus, mastery begins to develop.
As you narrow your creative focus, your skill begins to mature, and you start expressing your talent in ways beyond the mere emulation of artists you admire. It's during this Awakening phase that the words of your unique creative language begin to form, and your artistic voice begins to emerge.
As you move from Awareness through Awakening, you eventually arrive in an artistic place I call Autonomy. This is where all the inspiration you’ve absorbed combined with your creative faithfulness and dedication coalesce into a fully formed artistic voice that is uniquely your own.
Now I know some of you are thinking, ‘this place doesn’t exist for me,’ or “I’ll run out of steam long before reaching this creative promised land.’ If this is you, I want to give you four steps that will help you today no matter where you are in your journey as an artist who loves Jesus.
Step One: Cultivate Inspiration
“I don't have any inspiration. I get to the studio and I don't know what to do.” Every time I hear this, it’s a telltale sign that they are not cultivating inspiration in their life.
“So Matt, how do I cultivate inspiration?” Immerse yourself in all things beautiful and creative. Read books, go to the movies, go hiking in the woods, visit a museum or an art studio. Worship, immerse yourself in God’s presence and turn your heart toward His. Surround yourself with images, songs, experiences and people that move your heart.
And when you’re there in that space, feeling the inspiration starting to flow, learn to be a faithful steward of those experiences. Write it down in your journal, flip open to a fresh page in your sketchbook, do something that's going to preserve the moment and allow that inspiration to start marinating on the inside of you.
Step Two: Develop a Studio Practice
“But Matt, if I don’t have a studio, how can I develop a studio practice?” A studio practice is primarily a state of mind and an alignment of your priorities.
The location where you create art, at home, in the shed, or in an art studio, is much less important than the conscious decision to regularly invest your time in the process and practice of creating, and that leads us to our next step.
Step Three: Create A Lot of Work
So many artists never find their unique voice because they don’t consistently create on a daily basis. I’m not talking about jumping into striving but I am encouraging consistency. Never underestimate the power of a doodle to cultivate inspiration and foster your talent.
Nothing replaces experience when it comes to cultivating your talents as an artist. Experience is born from the intentional and consistent application of your artistic skills over time. There is no quick fix or shortcut to skill mastery.
Step Four: Review, Refine, and Repeat
“Review, refine, and repeat, what does that mean exactly?” That means when you create a piece of work, you need to look at it critically and ask yourself a few questions like:
• What did I do in this piece that I loved?
• What did I do in this piece that I don't love?
• What could I have done better?
• What could take this piece to the next level?
You get the picture. This isn’t about beating yourself up or comparing yourself to other artists, this about raising the artistic bar for yourself.
Then with the “Review” done, it’s time to “Refine”. Intentionally make note of what you’ll keep, what you’ll change, and what you’ll try in your next piece. Then create that piece and “Repeat” the process.
Eventually you may consider inviting others into this process, people whose artistic opinions you trust. Ask them to speak into your creative process. Now I know that sounds scary, but this process, overtime, will cultivate and strengthen your skills and talents while at the same time giving you the time to develop and express your artistic uniqueness to the world.
I hope this has been a big encouragement to you. If this article has been a blessing to you, take a moment to share it with a friend.
Thanks for reading!
Want More Help Developing Your Unique Creative Voice?
I’ve put together a great little mini course called How to Develop Your Unique Artistic Voice. In it, I share the Seven Step Process that I developed to help you work through the process of really uncovering the uniqueness that God's put inside of you. Click Here to learn more.
I get this question quite a bit, "what in the world does being an artist and creating art have to do with the Great Commission?” Or better yet, “What does art have to do with savin' souls and seein' people come to Jesus?” These sorts of questions always seem to highlight a lack of understanding about what it means to walk in the fullness of God’s Kingdom.
Another way to approach this question would be like this, "Do we all have to look, act, and do Kingdom life in exactly the same way to be effective for God?" Well, I’m happy to say that the answer would be a resounding “no”.
All of us are in this beautiful symbiotic relationship as the body of Christ. A relationship where each one of us brings a different and unique expression of God not only to each other but also to the marketplace, as well as to the whole world. It’s through our uniqueness, the way God created us, that God chooses to use us as He touches and interacts with people in beautiful and life-changing ways.
This is the way the Kingdom was designed to work. We are not the ministers of a come-and-see gospel, but rather the ambassadors of a go-and-tell movement that God put inside of us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus died, He didn't just die just for your sins; He died to restore you into the fullness of the Kingdom so that you could be everything that God designed you to be. And upon embracing that, God calls us to go forth to uniquely express His glory and His mercy and His love in the Earth.
Maybe the real question needs to be, "What do I have to offer? What can I do uniquely in the Earth to reveal and release God's Kingdom so that other people who may never grace the door of a church, have a myriad of ways to experience the light and life and love of God?"
Think about that for a second, because when everybody does that - business people and teachers, people in government and even artists - we ALL fulfill the Great Commission. And the best part is we’ll be doing it while embracing the unique design and gifting God has placed within each of us.
That is what art has to do with both the Kingdom and with the Great Commission. It’s us - you and I -using our God-given creative vision and talents to do our part in seeing billions and billions of people come into the harvest in our generation.
I hope this has been a big, big encouragement to you. Take a moment right now to say, "God, thank you for making me uniquely who I am so that You can be glorified through me."
Also, if this article has been a blessing to you, take a moment to share it with a friend.
Thanks for reading!
Hey there, my friend, and welcome to my first blog post in 2020. Can you believe it? Oh my gosh. We made it. I'm really glad that you're here and I'm so excited about all that this year has for you, for me, for everybody that's walking in God's Kingdom.
It's going to be an incredible year and I just wanted to start off this year with a little series. You're going to be noticing “a thread” moving through the blog posts and podcast this January. I’m really trying to help you get started, get on the right path and get on a focused on everything that God has for you.
In this post, I really want to jump into this whole concept of taking yourself seriously as a Christian artist and asking yourself, “is this a year I’m finally going to do that thing I’ve been talking about or am I going to keep going around the same old bush, doing the same old thing, expecting different results?”
You know, a lot of artists do just that… talk and hope but never act.
I've done that in different seasons of my life too. I would wonder why I was getting the same results I'd been getting and yet my actions didn't change. It can be frustrating.
I know you this to be the year that you start taking yourself seriously and really embracing everything God has for you as a Christian artist. So in this blog post, I've got a few tips I hope are going to be helpful in that regard.
Think about it. If everybody wants different results and if everybody wants to take themselves seriously, living the life that God called them to live - that abundant, incredible creative flow, Kingdom-oriented, abundance, experiencing life - then why aren't they doing it? Why are they able to live that life, execute on those dreams and really take themselves seriously?
Well, there are several reasons. This isn't an exhaustive list, but let's start with this one: Some artists just don't believe they can.
Some Christian Artists Don’t Believe They Can
Maybe they've been told their whole life, “you can't do it, you're not good enough, you're not this enough, you're not that enough.” They simply have a belief system - a core belief - that they can't do it.
Maybe they have never done something significant in the past. Maybe they've tried things and failed. And maybe that failure has paralyzed them to the point where they're just unable to move forward.
Maybe you can relate to that, too. I know a lot of Christian artists do.
Some Artists Don’t Think They Are Worthy
Many others struggle with another common roadblock, not believing they're worthy to succeed. Think about that for a second. Maybe it's the way they grew up, the relationships that they've had, or the experiences they've walked through in their life. Maybe they struggle with their thoughts about God and what humility, or even pride is supposed to look like as a Christian. It can be any number of things.
Thoughts and fears like these can lead this person to reject taking any credit for anything in their life and worse yet, not wanting to enjoy anything in their lives either. Unfortunately, they have this underlying lie that's churning inside of them all the time saying, “You’re not worthy to succeed. You're not supposed to succeed. You're supposed to let everybody else go first.” Ultimately, the person who listens to and believes this lie ends up completely paralyzed emotionally, spiritually and creatively.
Many Christians Don’t Understand How Change Happens
Thirdly, there's a lot of artists out there that believe a lie about how change is supposed to happen in their life. I teach a lot about this concept in my books and mentoring program and call it “mailbox mentality”. You know how this works. We wait, hope and beg (because that seems spiritual) and then just sit back and tell God, "Okay, you do it. I'm waiting on you." And when it doesn’t happen in our timing, we switch to another common strategy that includes working, sweating and striving on our own.
You know what, my friend, that's not how the Kingdom works. We align with God’s Kingdom when we embrace who God's called us to be and step out in faith by cooperating and co-laboring with the Holy Spirit. If you have a fundamental misunderstanding about how change happens - that somehow it's all up to God and has nothing to do with you - then you're going to be waiting a long time and probably be very frustrated.
It’s Not About You… It’s About the Kingdom
Finally, many Christian artists struggle with is the idea of taking themselves seriously and consequently are never able to make forward progress in their life. A lot of artists in this place feel completely alone in their church, in their family, and maybe even in their local area. They don't know anybody else that understands what it means to be an artist, much less be an artist who loves Jesus and is intent upon pursuing the power of the Kingdom in their life. That “aloneness” can feel overwhelming, stifling and paralyzing.
But here’s the good news! Taking yourself seriously isn’t about you at all! It’s about what God’s put inside you! It’s about His Kingdom flowing through you. As you do that, your ability to accept yourself and God’s design on your life increases. You start to step into a divine flow!
For many artists - maybe even you - that's why you're reading this post today. You want to take God’s call on your life seriously and you want that flow. Not only that, but you want to be a part of a community of other artists who really “get” you and understand what it means to be an artist, to love Jesus, and to pursue everything God has for you.
The great news is that you’re in the right place and 2020 can be YOUR year! 2020 (and this new decade) can absolutely be the time that you start to take yourself seriously and pursue everything that God has for you.
Regardless of what you’ve believed in the past, this is a new year! The very fact that you're reading this post right now proves that you want everything that God has for you as an artist and that is so exciting.
I also believe it proves God set you up. How you might ask?
You see, God's got something incredible for you. He ordered your steps to be reading this at this time, and you're here by divine appointment. The only thing you have to do is say “yes” and start walking.
You Are Not Alone!
Here's my promise to you.
If you'll walk with me this year, pursue God and pursue your calling as an artist this year I promise, you're going to start to see some incredible breakthrough in your life. Your story is going to change, big time!
How do I know? Because I hear it all the time from artists who are in my Created to Thrive Artist Mentoring Program or listen to the podcast or read my books. Artists that start taking life seriously. Artists who are no longer living on autopilot, but have really started pursuing the Kingdom and their calling as an artist.
Make 2020 your breakthrough year! I’ll be here every step of the way and I can't wait to hear your story!
Connect with our free Facebook Group, Thriving Christian Artists.
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Looking for free resources to grow as a Christian artist spiritually, creatively and in business?
Here's 6 great places available now:
✅ The Thriving Christian Artist Podcast: https://www.matttommeymentoring.com/podcast.html
✅ Matt Tommey Mentoring Blog:
✅ Free Video Teaching Inside the TCA Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.10156221585711805&type=3
✅ YouVersion Bible App Devotionals from Matt Tommey: https://www.bible.com/search/plans?q=matt%20tommey
*✅ Start Thriving Now Mini-Course:
*✅ Your Artistic Journey Assessment:
*Only for those artists who are NOT in the Created to Thrive Artist Mentoring Program.
I recently had the great pleasure to sit down for a wonderful conversation with my friend, Libby John who hosts the "Art & Faith Conversations" podcast. We talked about my new book, Created to Thrive along with alot of the back story that has brought me to where I am today as an artist.
Listen to the podcast here or by searching "Art & Faith Conversations" under Podcasts on iTunes or Stitcher.
Starting Mid-May, 2018, you can connect with me via my new podcast, "The Thriving Christian Artist". It's for artists who want to bust through roadblocks that have held them back for years, create the art they love and live the life the they know God created them to live as an artist in His Kingdom.
During each season of the podcast, I'll be sharing encouraging teaching and inspiration from my own journey as an artist plus interviews with both emerging and established artists in every creative medium who are thriving artistically, spiritually and in their business.
You can listen, subscribe and review my podcast via iTunes, Stitcher, GooglePlay or my website www.MattTommeyMentoring.com/podcast
I’ve encountered many artists over the years who really struggle with stepping into thriving because they don’t understand one foundational concept: convergence. Thriving isn’t simply doing one or two things well, but rather doing the right things well at the same time, over time. Although that might seem like a juggling act – and it can feel that way some times – it’s not as out of reach as you think.
Here’s what typically happens with artists. They get two out of the three areas but forgetting that third, continue to struggle. For example, artists who are great artistically and have a strong spiritual connection end up having only a hobby or ministry because they don’t pursue the development of their art business. Artists who are great artistically and have a strong business sense often flourish in the marketplace with their sales but sometimes lack a deep spiritual connection and sense of life in their art practice. Then there’s artists who are deeply connected spiritually and have built a business but their artwork is lacking, leading to immature work and frustration.
For artists who want to pursue their art in the marketplace in the context of their relationship with God, thriving happens when they are growing artistically, spiritually and in their businesses. Each feeds the other and provides momentum for the journey. This place of convergence is what I call your “sweet spot” and it should be a goal for every artist who wants to thrive spiritually, artistically and financially.
This place of convergence is the focus of my artist mentoring program, Created to Thrive. For more information on how to be a part, visit www.matttommeymentoring.com/artist-mentoring
I was talking to a friend the other day who happens to be quite an accomplished artist and a real spiritual father to many creatives around the world. We were chatting about our mutual passion to help artists thrive and, knowing I work with many hobbyist and emerging artists, posed the following question:
"How do you tell someone who is mediocre and not really called (or ready) to make his living with his art (simply because it will never sell) that perhaps God gave you the passion for art just to enjoy and glorify Him with, but it is not your calling to make it your financial sustenance?"
It's a great question and I'm sure the reason no one talks much about it is because it can be a really sensitive issue for the artist... No one wants to have that hard conversation with an artist who's thinking they are ready to take on the world when in reality, they are still stumbling around with the basics. And then sometimes, there are those really hard cases that almost seem like the American Idol auditions where someone thinks they are God's gift to art when in reality, there's not much there but desire and belief.
As I've thought about it, I hope these ideas will help you navigate your own artistic calling and season in that journey.
Matt Tommey is a world-class sculptor, speaker and author who is passionate about helping artists to thrive spiritually, financially and creatively.