Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Working With Artistic People

By Eugene Mason

Essentially everyone is creative. That statement is, in part, a result of decades of experience, and how I believe any creative ministry should be structured. But I also think that there are people with talents in areas like writing, music, acting, design, drawing--the arts--that are considered highly creative because of the areas in which their talents lie. We tend to think of a pianist as more creative than, say, an assembly-line worker. The fact is, both are creative. But the pianist is in an artistic field and is therefore perceived as creative where they assembly-line worker is putting nuts on bolts with an air wrench and could be replaced with a robot any day now. So I could say this article is about dealing with highly creative people, but that wouldn't be accurate.
Instead let me talk about highly artistic people. The people who read fiction books and listen to "world music" and laugh at British humor. The people who buy theater tickets just because, and eat tofu for the taste, and can name their favorite painter or composer. Those "artsy-fartsy" people. My kind of people. They make life more interesting and are often instrumental in generating creative energy in areas outside their expertise. They can also drive pastors and other ministry leaders nuts with their odd behaviors, work ethic and habits. We want their brilliant minds full of ideas--just not all the other stuff that goes with that. So how does the non-artsy person relate to them and help them realize their purpose and potential?
Be challenging.
Highly artistic people often seek challenge or unique opportunities for themselves. If their work or service environment is not providing these opportunities they may seek them elsewhere. When you challenge an artistic person, you must challenge them artistically. This is not the same as pushing them to meet a budget or a deadline--that's accountability, not a challenge. An artist wants to be pushed to open their mind to new ideas, to explore their talents in a deeper way, to find new avenues of creativity.
These kinds of challenges are often vague at best--finding a "better way" to do something. Looking for a "more original" solution. Leaders are largely interested in concrete issues like productivity. But artists love "blue sky" challenges because it gives them an opportunity to fly.
Bring humility.
Highly artistic people sometimes carry with them a bit of hubris. This is because they have been told by others that they are very talented all of their lives, have come to believe it, and even depend on praise as acknowledgment of the value of their art. What artistic people often need is a gentle and constructive dose of humility. Gentle because you don't want to crush their artistic spirit, and constructive because you want them to develop their own sense of worth in Christ apart from being admired for their talent.

Usually, injecting humility means restraint on your part--avoid "gushing" over the artist's work. Instead, give credit where it is due--"God has blessed you with an amazing gift. Thanks for using it for His glory." Secondly, don't be shy about calling out any "me" fixation. I once heard that "i" is the center of both the word "pride" and the word "sin." An artist who likes to talk constantly about himself or his work is not in a good state spiritually. Remind the artist that their value in Christ has nothing to do with their work. Instead it comes from simply abiding in Christ and growing in their relationship with Him on a daily basis.
Be flexible.
What seems to be universally true of highly artistic people is an aversion to what would be called a "normal schedule." Artists work weird hours. They are either up early or up late. They work for long hours one day and do little the next. I used to think that this was a character trait of artists. I am an artist and I hate schedules. After many years I began to realize that a bizarre schedule is simply indicative of a lack of discipline when it comes to time management.
This lack of discipline, for most artists, does not negatively affect them, at least not significantly. Some would argue that it makes them more creative or that their creativity is somehow tied to working at odd times. I think that's debatable. I find I do not lose creativity the more disciplined I become--but there is a trade-off in the amount of time I can devote to unbridled thought on a project. Though I now work a more sedate schedule, I am still not an "8 to 5" person. And I'm pretty sure I never will be.
With highly creative people, some schedule flexibility is mandatory. Be flexible, but set limits. A good management technique is to allow the artist to suggest their own project deadlines. Agree on something reasonable and then let them go. Only pull on the reigns if they begin to miss key milestones on a project. An artist needs to feel the freedom to explore their ideas, and they may derive that sense of freedom, in part, from flexibility in their schedule.
Squelch Procrastination.
One flexibility issue that may need attention is "last minute syndrome"--the tendency of artists to wait until the last possible moment and then complete it in one Herculean push to the finish line. This is my personal weakness as an artist--I procrastinate. I don't think this is healthy and I've had to muster a great degree of personal discipline to move away from it. Artists must know that they do not work in a vacuum. Others are depending on their work and progress. The artist may be just fine with staying up late on Saturday finishing the project for Sunday's service, but the other 20 people involved in the service went home Friday with their planning done, and are now sitting at home biting their nails and hoping everything will turn out okay. This atmosphere, over time, creates resentment for the artist and frayed nerves for everyone else. You can create artificially early deadlines, or build in progress checks to alleviate procrastination. My preference is to just call it what it is and deal with it head-on.
The life of the artist.
Highly artistic people can be an incredible blessing to an organization or ministry. Art is the spice of life. Many people like spice--though some prefer Jell-o. The overriding perception the artist has of himself is that he or she is a unique creation and/or possesses a unique set of talents or gifts. Artists are often one-tracked, having great skill in one or two areas but lacking even rudimentary skill in others.
Perhaps the greatest thing a non-artist can do for an artist is to work with them as an individual, versus lumping them into a pile labeled "you people." Take time to build relationships with artists. I think the greatest gifts you can give an artist is encouragement to focus on God alone, and gentle but meaningful accountability in areas where they may be weak. Artists can be wildly creative, but need to stay grounded to those lasting things in life which build them up in Christ.

1 comment:

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