The Work of Art

“‘The principle part of faith is patience,’ and this applies, too, to art of all disciplines. We must work every day, whether we feel like it or not, otherwise when it comes time to get out of the way and listen to the work, we will not be able to heed it.” – Madeleine L’Engle in Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith & Art

Work, time management and daily disciplines might not seem artsy or sexy, but I find them to be the soil, water and roots of artistic growth.

I’ve been songwriting since high school and singing since before I can remember. During my teenage years, creating music was my personal catharsis. I wrote about boys, family fights, Bible stories, TV shows and whatever crossed my mind. All with no regard for how the music was shared or marketed—other than asking all of my classmates at Wheaton College to buy my CDs.

Today, as an independent singer/songwriter, I make daily decisions about how to effectively divide my time between creating art and managing a music business (while also working another full-time job).

Songwriting, singing, performing and meeting with people brings me joy. Booking shows, taking tour mileage, hiring a PR representative and calculating expenses interrupts with headaches. Both are essential, somehow.

Every artist I’ve talked to over the years manages her time, tasks and talents differently. But since I happen to be writing this piece, I’ll share my experience creating music, managing a career and seeking to live a life that glorifies God.

Laying the Day’s Foundation

Through trials and many errors, I’ve learned that every day—even the busiest one—needs to start with prayer and reflection. Pausing to thank God for the gifts of creativity and community, to be nourished by his Word or the words of a trusted adviser like C. S. Lewis or Madeleine L’Engle, and to pre-emptively refute the self-doubt that is routinely hours away.

Recently, my morning readings have consisted of Art & Soul by Hilary Brand & Adrienne Chaplin and the New Testament book of Hebrews. How can an artist not be encouraged and empowered by reading this?

In an age when bald statements of capital-T Truths are discounted, society turns to its poets and artists for the most truthful accounts of the human condition. ‘Grand Stories’ may be treated with the utmost suspicion, but people will listen to any number of stories on a human scale, especially those that come from the depths of experience.

Or this:

Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith… Hebrews 12:1-2

I love coffee, but this time with words activates my mind and warms my soul more than any microbrew ever could.

Managing Competing Demands …

After this pause, I begin the daily challenge of time prioritization. Taking into considerations my iCal and to-do lists, I allocate my time between “Creativity” and “Work” hours. Since these terms have a variety of meanings, let me explain what they mean.

“Creativity” Time: These hours take so many different beautiful and mystical shapes I hardly know where to begin. Here are but a few from the past few weeks:

  • Co-writing new songs with my friend and fellow artist, Jenn Bostic, that explore the travails of travel
  • Writing new lyrics in the grass on an Indian-Summer day
  • Struggling to memorize a new song that I want to share in that evening
  • Playing my keyboard to figure out a melody I’ve heard a hundred times in my head, but can not seem to find on the piano
  • Driving to New York City with a friend to play a concert and talking about ways to sell earrings at my merch table that raise money for an African orphanage
  • Hosting shows and dinners for traveling artists
  • Picking up my guitar in search of notes that communicate the brokenness I don’t have words for
  • Singing my songs for five people the same way I would for 500

In each of these moments, I am grateful for the gifts of melody, voices and words, and humbled by the fact that I am able to spend time in these ways.

“Work” Time: I know exactly where to begin in describing the never-ending routine of repetitive tasks. They include:

  • answering emails
  • booking the next month’s concerts
  • sending details about upcoming shows to the musicians and venues
  • writing fan email updates, Tweets and Facebook posts
  • editing promo and marketing videos
  • tracking recording and travel expenses
  • creating marketing strategies
  • researching promotional opportunities

As routine tasks and clicking computer keys take over, it’s easy to forget that creative moments even exist. Silence often fills the room, and I boil kettle of water for another cup of caffeine.

But as Kate Harris has recently pointed out in “To Dwell in a Household: Menial Work, Meaning, and Motherhood,” “we need not dismiss the fetters and routines of our physical state as inconsequential, but rather offer the simple liturgies, the close relationships, and the ordinary tasks of our days back to [God] in trust that all work is indeed His own.”

Through encouragement like this and similar statements from friends, I have come to respectthe necessity of booking, tweeting, posting, tracking and emailing.  Learning that without accomplishing these details my music would lie stillborn.

… And All the Life In Between 

Though creativity and music-centered work dictate much of my time, “real life” community fills every other nook and cranny.

  • Faithfulness and consistency in my relationships with friends and family
  • Reliability as an employee to my boss
  • Consistently serving my church and participating in small groups
  • Excising to keep this temple healthy
  • Hosting a dinner to create space for deep conversations and connections

It’s these moments of friendship and “regular life” that lead me back to a place of creative response. So I continue to make music, write songs, and explore melodies.

Daily I find that my soil is shallow, but I am compelled to keep digging and planting seeds. I am committed to cultivating the dreams, melodies and passions sowed into me before I can remember. Seeking to create songs that reflect Light, Truth and Beauty, because,

music is … like rainbows. God did not have to make rainbows.  He could have just said it black on white, but it pleased Christ to tell the story of the good Samaritan. And it pleased God to make rainbows in the sky, and to give certain people gifts of drawing, imagining and making melody. – Calvin Seerveld in “Rainbows for a Fallen World”

We Are The Dreamers: The Story of Musical Rainbow

In April 2011, I began touring throughout the mid-West, developing co-writers in Nashville and connecting with producers in Los Angeles.  I’d spent little time in California, but “worked” for three weeks connect with new writers, find free places to stay, book the flights and rental car, and set up meetings with music industry contacts. Along the way, one friend from Ohio connected me with a producer in Nashville who, and after hearing I was going to L.A. connected me with Amy Wallace—a songwriter based in California.

Amy and I arranged a meeting and then a co-write, into which I brought a half-finished song with which I’d been playing for months (during my “creative” time). Amy came into the room with years of writing experience and an ear for hooks and killer melodies.

We spent about an hour and a half of our two hour co-write just talking about life and all the things in-between. But I walked away with a wonderful song called “We Are The Dreamers.”

I then took this fledgling creation to my producer and friend, Phil Danyew—a true artist who had spent years honing his production skills. “We Are The Dreamers” was brought to life by his musical creativity and imagination.

Over the coming months, I recorded three other songs for the “We Are The Dreamers” CD. To get the music out to as many people as possible, I booked a CD release tour and createdpromo materials to tell people about it.

All of this work created beautiful opportunities to share a song about creativity and culture with audiences across the US and Europe over the past year. At each show, “We Are The Dreamers” takes on new life and instigates new conversations. People come up and share their struggle to start or keep creating.

As I drive home from a gig, I thank the Lord for the opportunity to share my songs with another group of people and pray that the encouraging words would sink deep, plant new seeds of hope or water the fragile roots. I also pray for the discipline to do it all again tomorrow.

Article Photo Credit: Matthew Mendelsohn

As originally published on The Washington Institute of Faith, Vocation & Culture