the road to good art

photo by Liz Brown

photo by Liz Brown

"Beautiful art comes from a beautiful soul."

I attended a creative arts conference last fall and I'm still being impacted by the things I learned while in attendance. But there's one thing in particular that has stayed with me; this quote from author Shauna Niequist, "Beautiful art comes from a beautiful soul."

Whether you're drawing portraits for an exhibit, producing content for the Web, or curating experiences for the public it's easy to become mesmerized by the external excitement and neglect the internal altogether. When it comes to my own life, it feels like prominence can make my heart grow warm with gratitude, but lethargic with satisfaction. Even in success, there are hardships and things to wrestle against. It's a big bummer! 

David Brooks (a wonderful New York Times columnist) wrote an essay last year about "the moral bucket list" and how external achievements aren't nearly as fulfilling as internal ones. He actually wrote an entire book about it and it's one of the few books I've taken notes of as I read it (and yes: it made me feel very scholarly and kind of like a young professor.) 

What his book taught me was that success isn't dependent on outward events, but inward ones. You can be well-known in your city, but that doesn't mean your heart is thriving or that you're even a good person. It's not a fun question to ask yourself, but maybe it's wise to ask if people speak as highly of you as they do of your art. I even wonder if your art can truly be beautiful if your heart isn't? 

It requires little effort to focus on your art and ignore the heart and soul, but is your work truly beautiful if your life isn't? Food for thought, friends. It's something I'm asking myself. 

Now I'm not the most successful person in the world, but for the first time in my adult life I'm beginning to feel that I've achieved some small measure of personal prosperity. I may not be wealthy or influential, but I've begun to accomplish what I've long dreamed of doing. But with that success comes distractions and it can be hard to know where my sense of self-worth is supposed to be rooted. It's enticing to root it all in my achievements, but that seems too temporary. There must be another place to root it. 

This has been on mind for some time, but I've been thinking about it more recently because I feel my life is picking up speed and as it does, it's harder and harder to gauge things. As calendar months fly by and I continually looking ahead in planning, it's become more difficult to remain aware of my heart. If it continues, I think my art will suffer because of it. 

So as I consider beautiful art and external achievements, I'm also left thinking about beautiful souls and internal achievements. Honestly, it's hard to understand how one balances the external and internal world, but I know that my best art has come about because my heart was alive. And maybe in some way, keeping your heart whole is just as artistic as painting portraits or writing sonnets. I know that it's just as much as work.

As an artist, it's easy to judge yourself based on the success of your latest artistic endeavors, but those things don't last and a beautiful life is built upon sturdier things than that. I don't have all the answers, but it feels good to wrestle with these questions. You in the same boat? You're creative, you'll figure it out.