The Privilege of Christian Artistry

Blog posts are so much easier to write when there are emotions flowing through the writer at the moment of writing. Which is funny, because I also just wrote a Discussion Board post for my Biblical Counseling class at Southern Seminary.

So this all goes hand in hand, which is typical of how the Lord works, isn’t it?

Today, I’m dealing with discouragement.

It happens a lot of the time this time of year, and if you’re a photographer in the middle of winter (albeit a very mild one), you can probably attest to it:

..PEOPLE AREN’T BOOKING YOU.

And with that come specific emotions: discouragement, sadness, a dissatisfaction with your work, a questioning of whether or not you’re in the right field, etc., etc.

So how are we to deal with this as artists?

And why in the world did I title this post “THE PRIVILEGE OF CHRISTIAN ARTISTRY?”

I’ve read so many articles about what to do when clients aren’t booking photo sessions, and all of them say just about the same thing: you need to reconfigure your marketing; you haven’t updated your website in two weeks; perhaps you should spend some time portfolio building; your prices are too cheap or too expensive.

I’m not going to give you any of that (mostly because I have no idea what to do from a business standpoint).

But we live in a spiritual world, and there’s a spiritual aspect to this problem of discouragement.

We’re living in a time when people are peddling a lot of feel-good mantras as a remedy for dealing with sadness and despondency. I have a couple musical artists in my mind right now whose songs revolve around just forgetting about what others think about you and “doing you.” I can think of a handful of photographers on Instagram whose message to the world is to “just be yourself. Everyone else will get over it. Just let go. Follow your dreams. ‘Wanderlust’ is the key to happiness.”

So what happens when you devote all your time and efforts into building an artistic identity, and yet you still fall far short of what you had in mind? Forgetting everybody and saying “haters gonna hate” while following your dreams does not guarantee that those dreams are going to come true.

And that’s a good thing.

All too often, we create idols out of our dreams and desires. In the Old Testament, the prophet Jeremiah (by the way, if you want to complain about discouragement, just spend some time with Jeremiah. You may come away with different eyes) declares, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

This passage comes in the midst of a passage about trusting in the Lord. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,” Jeremiah writes. “He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

The person — for my purposes, I’m going to substitute the word “artist” — who trusts in the Lord is like a tree planted by water. This is an object lesson! A tree planted by water is a very happy tree! In fact, it “sends out its roots by the stream.” This tree is growing, just like a tree is designed to do.

But this is my favorite part when I think about my discouragement: “[he] does not fear when heat comes.” Why not? I’m dealing with discouragement, aren’t I? Here’s why: because “its leaves remain green, and [he] is not anxious in the year of drought…”

This where being a Christian artist has its eternal perks.

In seasons of discouragement, we are called to rest in the Lord. As one who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ and has turned from and is continually turning from sin, you have an amazing promise straight from the mind of God: your leaves will remain green.

Now, please don’t misplace my words.

I’m not saying that God is promising that things will get better. In fact, if I’m being truthful, it’s quite possible that this could be the end for your artistic career. I’m not pulling any punches, because Scripture doesn’t pull any. There’s no sugar that I can put on this, so here it is again: nowhere in the Bible does God promise that your life will go as you plan. In fact, here’s another passage that buttresses it from Proverbs: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Prov. 19:21).

But here is what God DOES promise:

“The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied…” (Prov. 19:23).

There are many, many times when God does not allow your plans to succeed. And at those times, Christian artists need to rest in Him when He promises, “Your leaves will remain green.” That is not a promise that your plans will finally succeed at some point. That’s a promise that God’s plans will ultimately succeed and are succeeding. And that’s FAR better for you.

So the answer to my initial question, “What do I do when I’m experiencing discouragement,” is to look at your priorities. It’s quite possible that you’ve made an idol of success. Far more important is to fear the Lord, for it leads to life, whether your art is noticed or not.

But what if you’re an artist but NOT a Christian?

God has promises for you, as well, but they begin with this truth: your lack of photography clients and artistic noticeability are the least of your problems.

In Malachi, God promises that “I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and DO NOT FEAR ME, says the LORD of hosts” (Mal. 3:5 — emphasis mine).

Your ultimate problem isn’t that fashion houses and magazine editors aren’t noticing you. It’s that you do not fear the Lord, and that’s a far, FAR worse offense.

But the Lord is so, SO kind.

As sinners, none of us deserve life. And yet YOU’RE ALIVE. You have so many things in your life for which you can be thankful, and none of us deserve any of them. If you’re reading this, you have an electronic device that allows you to. You’re living, you’re breathing, you’ve probably drunk something today, etc. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.

You have so many things in your life for which you can be thankful and can consider as the Lord’s kindness to you. Here’s what Paul says about that: “…do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4). All these kindnesses are meant to lead you to repentance for sin and to place your trust in Christ. Don’t assume that things will simply go on as they always have. That’s called “presumption,” and the passage deals with that, as well. Don’t presume on God’s kindness. Don’t take advantage of all the good things that you have in your life and forget that each of them comes directly from the Lord as a gift to you. And ultimately, don’t neglect that final portion of Romans 2:4: “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” Every time you go on a shoot, remember that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” Every time you touch your brush to the canvas, remember that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” Whenever you buy a coffee or eat something delicious, remember that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” When a loved one gives you a kiss on the cheek or shows you ANY sort of love, remember that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” You’re surrounded by it, and that’s by design. God has surrounded you with kindness, in order to lead you to repentance. Don’t presume that you have years and years ahead of you. You may not. Because: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Prov. 19:21).

I repeated that phrase a lot in the previous paragraph: “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” And that’s on purpose. Whenever you experience good things, I want that to come into your mind. I want you to remember that, because it’s TRUE. And you need to act on it, because there are eternal consequences for not doing so.

For Christians, I find that when I’m dissatisfied with where I am in life, I discover that I have been putting expectations on God’s plans for me. I forget that promise in Proverbs, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” God’s plans WILL succeed. Yours may not.

Take this season of discouragement as an opportunity to renew your trust in the Lord. He hasn’t given you the desires of your heart in your artistic endeavors. And that’s for the best. Because His plans are constantly succeeding. If it were for your good that your business would boom and thrive, then it would. But for now, you’re called to trust in the Lord and continue in what He has called you to, whatever that may be. Rest in Him. Rest in His kindness.

Remember that to fear the LORD is far more important than to book more February sessions.

Why Photography, Anyway?

When I was first trained on a Canon 20D ten years ago, I had no idea that I would still be in the photography game a decade later. Originally, I applied at the studio where I got my first experience simply to be a salesperson. I was in my first semesters of college and needed a job. My next-door neighbor in the dorm where we lived on campus was applying, and he invited me to join him. I got the job. We had some down time one afternoon, so an elder employee trained us both on the cameras. And we started shooting… and shooting… and shooting…

And a monster was created.

Yep, I’m talking about myself. Of course, “monster” is simply a hyperbolic term that I intend to mean that someone was created that day who obsesses over photography.

“Geeking out” would be another way to describe it.

And I reflect today on why I do it at all. Why not something else? Why is it that putting this metal box to my face really gets my motor running in the heat of the moment during a session?

And I’ve come to a conclusion…

I don’t think it has anything to do with cameras. I like them, don’t get me wrong. I’m fascinated by both digital and film, and I’ve toyed with the rather expensive idea of buying a box camera and experimenting with silver nitrate, glass plates, and all that fun stuff.

But that’s not really it. I mean, if it were, then I would just hoard as many cameras of as many varieties as I possibly could, much like I do with books (all those who know me well will be nodding heavily in assent at this point).

While studying photography seminar videos, which I do from time to time (especially if they’re free on YouTube), one of my favorite photographers said something profound with which I can relate, and therein lies the secret of my obsession with photography — why I keep returning to it over and over again.

In describing why he loves it so much, Australian wedding photography guru Jerry Ghionis said, “I’m absolutely obsessed with light.”

And it clicked.

I’m obsessed with light! Now, you may be wondering what that means, so let me allow you into my reflective brain for a few quick moments, and I’ll try to explain as best I can, with the hope that you’ll be coming away from this blog post being absolutely amazed by the world that God has created.

Our eyes — and all our senses, really — are drawn to beauty. I’m not going to go into the details of what beauty is or whether it’s objective or relative to the viewer, etc., etc. But what I will do is explain how God has not only created the sun, moon, stars, and fire in order to create a lit world, but He has also created the manner in which these lights illumine their subjects. There are perfect angles for creating moods, and there different qualities of light that change almost in an infinite number of ways to create different aspects of someone’s appearance. You can use harsher light close to the subject and just above the brow line in order to create an old-fashioned, “noir” look. You can use a plethora of candles on a table below someone’s face and get a yellow-ish orange glow that electric light simply can’t mimic. And despite what many photographers say about shooting outside, you absolutely can point someone’s face into direct sunlight, have them avert their eyes, and get a quality of light that you find produced in fashion magazines everywhere.

The possibilities are limitless, and I love exploring those!

But what amazes me even more is that even in our fallen state, God allows culture to thrive. And He has inspired individuals to use these tools — these qualities of light, these different types, different times, different angles, etc., etc. — to mold and fashion them into beautiful, artistic wonders. Michelangelo created sculptures that change their mood when the light around them changes. A simple iPhone portrait can be just another “selfie” (jeez, I hate that word) or a beautiful piece of art, depending on the skill of the person “sculpting” with the light. Ansel Adams would camp out and wait for that PERFECT moment to occur when the shadows fell in just the right places so that he could shoot just one amazing landscape that put the glories of God’s creation on full display.

Sure, you can take a subject outside and just shoot around to see what you can get. Or you can learn about how light works, and you can begin to take incredible photographs that you never knew were possible.

I consider photographers and artists to be explorers, in a sense. God has given us tools. We think, we feel, and we mold our surroundings with these tools. We explore the possibilities. And every time we do it, we put a little chunk of ourselves into what we make.

And for the visual arts, the secret lies in “light:” what it is, why it does what it does, and why it’s amazing.

It’s my desire to instill this passion for light in others. I want to teach you to use light to its fullest in order to transform a normal photo into something that you wouldn’t have believed you could create.

I’m exploring the possibility of teaching some seminars and classes on this, specifically. If you have a basic understanding of cameras, you can shoot. But if you have an understanding of light, you can really begin to take your shooting to a new level and create some beautiful pieces of art.

But I’m not sure how many would be interested in such an undertaking, which is why I’m exploring at the moment.

If you’re interested in learning about light and how to use it, shoot me an email at tmarsee530@me.com…

Comment on this post…

…or send me a message on my photography page on Facebook (http://facebook.com/timothymarseephotography).

I’m really excited to share this with you. I’ve been experimenting with it and trying to perfect it for a number of years, and I think I finally have something worth sharing!