In a previous post, I mentioned six steps of growing as an artist, and they showed a nice progression from starting out to maturity. But there was one that didn’t fit neatly into the series: education.

By “education”, I mean in part that you need to study your craft. There’s a lot of art that can’t be taught, but there’s a lot that can, and learning more about the process of making art will help you develop as an artist. But that’s only one part of education, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably already aware of the value of learning to be a better artist. But there’s more to education.

We artists gather the tools of the trade around us, the materials with which we create our works. But beyond physical components, we also gather truths to craft our art from. And so we study reality, most especially the realities we’re aiming to depict. You might think I would get a pass on that as someone who writes a lot of fiction. Not so. I’m constantly learning about how other cultures view the world in an effort to uncover my own culture’s unspoken assumptions, so I can create unique and interesting people groups in my fiction. And when it comes to researching my action scenes, my internet search history probably has me on at least one government watchlist. But mostly, I study people. Whether it’s watching a historical video, scrolling through social media, or talking to a homeless person, I’m always trying to figure out how different people think. I study psychology and personalities the way a painter studies pigment, because if I don’t get the people right in my stories, nothing else is going to work.

But beyond that, as an artist, you should study a broad variety of things. Whereas others might divide up reality into separate categories, we artists find the connection between things. The golden spiral may be an abstract mathematical formula, but in the hands of an artist it becomes a key aesthetic feature. The novel Snow Crash draws connections between the reproduction cycle of diseases, the proliferation of business franchises, computer viruses, glossolalia, and ancient Sumerian creation myths, and it’s a very compelling cyberpunk story. All learning can help us spot patterns, draw comparisons, and make interesting connections, and that can in turn broaden our artistic capacity in unexpected ways.

But in your search for truth, don’t neglect the most potent source of it: the Bible. This world is a fallen place, and it has the potential to corrupt you. I periodically encounter art that comes from a dark and disturbing place. It might seem fine on the surface, but as I begin partaking, I feel sick in my spirit. And what gets to me isn’t what’s depicted by the art, but the assumptions that went into it. I’ve come across one series where everything revolved around the idea that in times of crisis, anyone with any sense will take whatever they wish from whoever they can, and anyone who doesn’t recognize this or have the strength to do it is a fool, who’s destined to die. Another was a kids’ program that paid lip service to teaching good messages, but underneath it all was the assumption that your primary worth as a girl is how desirable you are to boys. Romans 12:2a in the New International Version reads, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We need to routinely take in God’s truth and His perspective so that when we sit down to create art, what we make isn’t corrupt and destructive but instead brings healing and truth.

We live in an age of unparalleled access to information, where a child with a phone has access to a greater wealth of information than a scholar in a library did mere decades ago. So what are you doing with this opportunity? How are you improving your craft? What are you examining to depict it more realistically? How are you developing your scope of understanding so you can see beyond the trees to grasp the nature of the forest? And, most importantly, how are you drinking from the fountain of absolute truth so that truth in turn flows out of you through everything you touch?

Cameron Miller, writer
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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