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Understanding the Balance: Navigating Boundaries as a Christian Visual Artist


Abstract painting of a seated woman under a tree.
Psalm 1, Acrylic on Paper, Sara Joseph SOLD

Setting boundaries may seem unimportant and yet is vital for Christian visual artists eager to serve the Lord in their chosen creative medium.


I did so rather reluctantly at first, never really perceiving such a need.


I knew that willingness was

important to God as our service itself, perhaps even more so.

 

"If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land;" Isaiah 1:19

 

Intrigued by the promised reward, I toyed with the possibility of setting boundaries in my service. It had little to do with protecting myself from any outside threat. The greatest threat to my destiny would be my own self-will!


Either I could make things happen by my own considerable effort, which was exhausting, or allow God to work circumstances out as I followed His leading. Choosing His way was not necessarily easier, because results were often not apparent nor immediate.


God's work in, and through me, seemed to always take longer than I preferred! Frequently restless, I'm impatient and prone to distractions. Once I recognized this frustrating leaning in my nature, setting boundaries became easier. I knew I was helpless to change, desperately needing His Spirit to guide me to the outer limits of my territory.


There is a peaceful safety in working within a clearly delineated domain. Within His boundaries I'm expected to work faithfully and vigorously. Stepping outside is treading on dangerous ground.

Acrylic painting of a woman seated under a tree.
Psalm 1, Detail 1, Sara Joseph, SOLD

So what is within and what is outside?


TIME: Sacred hours spent with the Lord creating art is to be guarded. Time spent honing skills and striving for excellence is to be carved out of busy days.


GOALS: His kingdom is defined by continual increase. Productivity is encouraged, every action directed towards fruitfulness is to be nurtured. Setting goals at His leading is a refreshing alternative to being driven by other incentives.


MOTIVATION: Assess your reasons for art making. Creating in response to His goodness, awe of His creativity, wonder, praise, worship, delight in the natural world.... are pure reasons for art. Beware of pursuing every fad for visibility, chasing fleeting acclaim and monetary rewards. God does intend to bless the work of your hands, but it is how you procure fruitfulness which matters.


Squandering time, setting selfish goals or being motivated by worldly passions falls outside your God appointed boundaries, so tread with caution. If you venture far alone you can delay, cripple, or even derail, your God given potential.


Is He adding to you, or are you adding to yourself?

 

(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:32-33

 

As I grew skilled in art, something else grew within me. It was the overwhelming desire for affirmation. Having observed other artists, I knew I was not alone in this tendency.

It begins harmlessly enough. We bask in the praise of others and trade our innocent satisfaction at work well done for something more deadly—the urgent and pressing need for approval.


Satisfying that urge by any means can derail our future. The change in my objectives and motives crept up so gradually, that I missed its cues many times. It doesn’t take much to switch from pleasing God to pleasing others, or even yourself. In the guise of normal ambition, all too often self-will and pride can rear its ugly head.


We must bow our knee to no one but Jesus. His approval must become our highest aspiration. The primal drives within us can be redirected to this objective, then we can energetically create art with His pleasure in mind. That is approved ambition.


Let Him make you visible, bless you with finances and grant acclaim when He chooses.

 

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,  1 Peter 5:6

 

Setting boundaries involves staunchly predetermining some radical action:

  • Decide that God alone will initiate all directions for your work.

  • Decide that He alone will guide you into opportunities for displaying, exhibiting or distributing your work.

  • Trust that you will recognize and follow His prompting.


Do I really believe that it is possible? Absolutely!

All it took to convince myself early in my journey was believing the promise below from God.

 

"I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye." Psalm 32:8

 

Acrylic painting of a woman seated under a tree.
Psalm 1, Detail 2, Sara Joseph, SOLD

Decades ago I took this purposeful step to trust God's guidance for all aspects of making art. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made, transforming my life into an exciting adventure!


It released me from the stress associated with looking for venues to show my work, competing to establish my creative skills before indifferent jurors, or the urgency of requiring a continuous stream of sales before seeing myself as a successful artist. As long as I am serving Him, I am a success to the only One who matters—Jesus!


I voluntarily placed myself under His leadership. Whenever I sensed He had opened a door, I boldly stepped in, trusting Him, even if I could not see beyond the threshold!


Viewing progress in my art within these boundaries, keeps me wary of the vanity of seeking prominence, fame and curatorial kudos from jurors or art police at galleries.


Seasons can sometimes pass without any visible progress by the metrics of human assessment. That bothers me less now than it once did.


I discovered that His desire was not to remove me from the art world, but to strategically position me where He felt I would be effective. His purposes for my work are often unclear at first, but when I catch a glimpse in many unexpected events that unfold, I am filled with awe! His use for my art has been beyond my wildest expectations. I now trust Him with everything that seems cloudy in my day to day moments.


Our art as Christian visual artists serves kingdom purposes which may not always be immediately apparent. We must walk that contrarian path by faith. Choosing to do so will put a sizzle of excitement in your life that cannot be matched!


At His leading, you may be called to participate in some shows, stay away from others, exhibit in a certain venue, or not exhibit at all for a season...

You'll work hard, but will no longer be subject to art critics, or even your peers, for validation. In due season, you'll be amazed at the opportunities God will nudge you into.

This manner of living the creative life cannot be learned in any other way except experientially.


Being hemmed in by God is a blessing that will take time, discipline, and patience to experience with joy!


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