This is the first in a series of articles on the life of an artist written by Cameron Miller.
What defines an artist? What makes them who they are? The obvious answer is that they’re people who create art. That’s how the world would define it, surely, from looking at the surface. But I think common wisdom misses some deeper insights, and in talking with God, I’m starting to get a different picture of what being an artist entails.
I believe an artist is first and foremost a person of vision. They see a picture in their head, something no one else can see, something that isn’t yet but should be. I use the word “vision” here, but I’m not just talking about eyesight. Instead, I’m referring to any of the senses, especially those we don’t have names for yet. Your “vision” could be the beginnings of a melody, an idea for a story, a concept for a new dish, or even a new way of living that breaks from old patterns of failure.
An artist is not content to hoard vision to themselves. It must be shared. And they look to any and all tools they can use to communicate this vision so that others can see it with the same clarity that the artist himself sees. We have a name for these tools: art. Art has the power to allow one person to imagine a thing that was previously only in another person’s head. By this definition, the amount of art you create doesn’t determine how much of an artist you are. Instead, you are an artist because God planted a seed deep in your soul that no one can kill or destroy. You can cultivate that seed as you grow your artistic talent. Hardship can slow its growth, but God’s purposes will be achieved and you will grow as an artist. You will improve at expressing the vision inside you but also become able to see visions with greater clarity. To that end, you’ll never be able to fully express what you see this side of heaven. Such is the artist’s struggle.
One of the things that artists can do is to create beauty. God made the world good, but it was not finished. He gave it to us like a parent giving art supplies to a child. Beauty can be a collage that pleases the eyes, music that pleases the ears, a recipe that pleases the tongue, or even a story that pleases the mind.
But art can also reveal truth. We artists aren’t so dazzled by beauty that we can’t see reality for what it is. Scientists search for truth in things that are lower than humanity, that which can be quantified, controlled, and calculated. But we artists search out truths so far beyond us that they can’t be reasoned out by a limited mind, but not so abstract that they can’t be glimpsed by a sensitive heart. We study things like society, story, meaning, emotion, and spiritual matters, things we barely understand ourselves, and often, without meaning to, we paint with those as much as we do oil or watercolor, transcribing the intangible into tangible form. With beauty, we draw people to consider truths they would otherwise not face, and in truth, we reveal the beauty of things others might take for granted.
As Christians, we have a special privilege that no one else has: to see into the heavenly realm and share what we find there. I can’t prove it concretely from Scripture, but I’m convinced that God selects artists to be his modern-day prophets. It’s not because He needs us to get His message across, but our artist hearts long to say something that has meaning, and so He gives us something meaningful to say. If I’m right about this, then it makes Amos 3:7 all the more exciting. The NIV reads, “Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” That would mean that when God’s about to do something, He gets the word out through His artists, and if you want to know what’s coming next, just look at what His servants are putting out into the artistic realm.
Beyond that, I think every work of art is prophetic in some way, because prophecy is not mainly focused on predicting the future but instead on communicating God’s message and His heart to a people distant from Him. For me, sometimes that looks like the Holy Spirit mediating in my dreams to bring me recipe ideas. How does a delicious dessert pizza move forward the gospel and accomplish God’s purposes on this earth? I have no idea. And I don’t need to. Artists function as “watchers on the walls,” raised to an elevated position that allows them to see further and clearer than those on the ground. And it is their duty to report what they see. If what I see is a circle of sweetbread topped with pie filling and frosted, that is what I bake, and I trust God with the results. There’s nothing too small for Him to use according to His purposes.
So that’s what an artist is, someone who has the vision to create what otherwise would not exist. We are gifted to make beauty out of chaos and proclaim truth to the doubter. And we who are in a right relationship with God are given His messages to convey to others with whatever skill we possess. There are other callings in the Kingdom, but this is ours, and I wouldn’t trade mine for anything else.
Cameron Miller, writer
Photo by Victoria Poveda on Unsplash