oh yes, you are an artist!

inside you is an artist you don't know about

when we were in kindergarten and someone asked the class, “how many of you are artists?” my guess is every hand would shoot up.  ask a group of grownups the same question, and we’re lucky if there one or two cautiously put up their hands.  what is wrong with this picture? what happened to us? somewhere along the line, as part of our socialization and growing up, we lose the freedom that we had as kids to create. it is so sad to me because inside each of us there’s so much amazing creativity and beauty, just waiting to come out.  one of my favorite parts of the refuge is we try to work on cultivating creativity  and giving places for God’s image in us to emerge.

9780802407399matt appling is an art teacher, pastor, and writer from kansas city and has a new book out called, life after art, published by moody press. his blog is great, too–www.mattappling.com. life after art is all about what it means to get in touch with the artist that it’s in us and find ways to let it out.  we need an art teacher for grownups!

i love this topic and asked matt a few questions so we could be challenged to consider this important topic that is so often put on the back burner and reserved for “those creative people.”  oh yes, you are an artist!

you say “everyone was an artist, once.  but somewhere between kindergarten and now, we lost the confidence to create” what do you think happens to us?

That’s definitely a complicated question to tackle, but the short answer is we grow up.  We lose our innocence.  Adult knowledge brings a lot of advantages.  We are wiser, more autonomous, but we take on a hundred problems in exchange.  As children, we were free to create in ways that as adults, are just foreign to us.  I see this happening before my eyes every day as an art teacher – kids grow up and they no long think that what they are creating is great.  They are insecure.  Some become “perfectionists.”  They spend their time comparing themselves to their peers.  It breaks my heart.

what are a few of the best life lessons we can learn from the art room? 

Finishing something is very satisfying, even if it isn’t perfect. (Note: nothing we create ever is perfect.)

We are usually our own worst critics.  We see all the flaws that everyone else glosses over.

Art isn’t just about “being creative.”  (I’ll leave it at that, but I spend a good deal of space on that one in the book!)

how does creating help us connect with the image of God in us?

On my art room wall, I have a poster I made that just has the first five words of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created…”  The act of creating is the first thing we witness God doing.  God creates not because anyone is watching or because He needs to, but because it makes Him unabashedly joyful.  He creates because a creative spirit just bursts out of Him.  I can’t think of many things we can do that can connect us to the mind of God quite like the act of creating (keeping in mind that “creating” takes on a myriad of forms.  It’s not just paint on canvas.)  The act of bringing new, beautiful things into existence should be our mission and expression of worship.

what can we do individually to awaken the creativity in us?

Everyone is unique, so creativity I think is going to look different for everyone.  But I think it starts with giving yourself a chance to be creative.  Give yourself permission to try something.  Adults become such creatures of habit.  When was the last time you tried something new?  Creativity doesn’t have to have any pressure put on it.  You don’t have to start a project with the goal of opening an Etsy store or even showing off your work.  What you create doesn’t have to be “good!”  Just do it because it’s something that affirms you humanity, brings you joy, connects you with your Creator.

what can churches and communities do to awaken creativity in people?

Unfortunately, the church struggles in this regard.  Too often, the art world lacks much influence from the church and vice verse.  Many geniuses of creativity have felt marginalized.  The church appreciates their gifts, sure.  But it’s like we don’t know what to do with them, because creativity doesn’t fit the usual mold of “serving in a church.”  We want everyone to volunteer to fill a list of pre-determined needs for the church.

The problem with creativity is that it is divided into the same clergy / laity model that most churches are.  You have the few anointed people who are “qualified” to do the real ministry.  And you have everyone else who are kept as spectators.

Maybe awakening creativity in churches starts with churches affirming that all people are qualified to serve.  That all gifts are welcome because we belong to one body with many parts.

what inspires you to keep creating?

I’m a very goal oriented person, and my art classroom is the most complex, multi-faceted, beautiful, frustrating vision I have ever tried to fulfill.  Every artist knows the image that’s in their head, and they know that what comes out on paper is usually not quite up to par with their vision.  It’s the same with me and teaching.  I’m still learning how to teach, still polishing myself, still building something that’s not quite finished.  I don’t know if it will ever be quite finished, but I know I can’t quit yet!

if you had one word of advice to people who hear that voice in their head rattling,  “but i’m not an artist”, what would you tell them?  

“Yes you are.”

Ha!  I know, that’s pretty oversimplified, in a way that people might blow off.  But I truly feel badly for people who don’t have any creative outlet.  The thing is, most people are not completely satisfied with their lives.  There is something nagging at them that isn’t quite right.  The act of creating something new is a training ground, a laboratory if you will, for the rest of our lives.  Our lives are our biggest creations, and every day we add a few more brushstrokes.  If you are a human being, then you are born in the creative image of God, and you are an artist.  Don’t let any “professional” tell you otherwise.

thanks, matt!  one of my favorite parts about what you shared is how we have created a strata where there are “real” artists and not so real ones. that is so limiting and so not the way it is supposed to be.  at the refuge is try as best we can to do all kinds of things that foster creativity–art workshops and venues to try new things, pens and paper and playdough at our gatherings, and my favorite–open share nights where anyone can bring any kind of art to share–music, visual art, spoken word, furniture, you name it.  it’s similar to voca femina but with men & women.  it’s one of my favorite things we do because it’s so brave and  there are no hierarchies, no cool kids and not-so-cool kids, just an open, safe space to light up the room with God’s image.

you can buy matt’s book on amazon.com.  yes, you are an artist!

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Love it! thank you Kathy.

    “we lose the freedom that we had as kids to create. it is so sad to me because inside each of us there’s so much amazing creativity and beauty, just waiting to come out”.

    Yes – I loved art at schooland metalwork. But I was told to do physics and chemistry. I was able to take music though which I did well with. And it runs in the family, one of my siblings is a rock star and I sing in a choir.

    I think of the song by Supertramp “The Logicl Song” “When I was young it seem that life was so womderful, it ws beautiful magical … nd then they sent me away to teach me how to be responsible, practical, vegetable.”

    I went into engineering which was something my dad did – for a career. Back in the 70’s and 80’s tht’s what you did. Never really was my thing. But now doing the masters in theology I get to be creative and combine science with art. With trying out somethign new a few years ago with stand up comedy it was frightening and took depedence on God and the encouragement of a comedy tutor to get up there and perform. And at the end of the gig she said I had been the best one there out of the 10 or so acts, tht the audience loved me and that I could take it up professionally then! Fro me it was as if yeah I’m meant to be doing this! And in thanking her she said that all she did was show me where I had talent and believed in me.

    I think maybe tht’s what wem miss when we end up in track tht is not in keeping with who we are created to be. A lack of people to affirm who we are in our true self, and where our gifts and talents can be used for our enjoyment nd for the benefit of others?

    Anyway – another tutor siad this thing which I will never forget – tht comedy like other art forms is about alchemising pain into passages of great beauty and there is a sense of purpose in brining joy to people’s lives.

    Just talking fomr my expereince alone and nothign scientific about it but it has taken a great deal of courage to break the mould I was in and enter into this freedom and every day is a battle. I remeber Rooevelt’s speach about the man in the arena. We don’t know the great truimphs unless we attempt great things nd sometimes fail in them but when we do pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and keep going!

  • Awesome, thank you for this Matt. I remember distinctly being called out in a certain book *ahem* for comparing my work to a really gifted friend. I have practiced awareness about that since. I definitely connect with the perfectionist/ “enough” game, and this helped inspire me. I have lots of thoughts for poems and written word pieces in my head, but often the just stop it already, no one needs to bear witness to that voice gets in the way. This helped give me a little umph. 🙂

  • Thanks Matt, Kathy! Yeah…doing something creative always helps to take those unhealthy urges and turn them into something healthy and beautiful!


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