The Wisdom (and Frustration) of Creative Expression

Wisdom is expressed through creativity.

In fact, creativity is so wise it often wins wars more effectively than the most well-trained soldiers.

When Joe Rosenthal’s famous WWII photograph of the marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima was taken, Americans were demoralized about the state of affairs, especially with respect to the war effort. Suddenly, as the photo circulated around the world, appearing on magazine covers everywhere, national morale skyrocketed; resolve was found to win even as vicious fighting lasted for 31 more days to control the island and the whole war lasted a few more months. Many called that photo the turning point of the Second World War. For some mysterious reason, there was something so spiritually powerful about the work of a creative person, a photographer, who had no doubt captured thousands of unremarkable shots in his lifetime, that shifted history more profoundly than the most sophisticated military strategy and advanced weaponry in the world. No one foresaw that picture having the impact that it did.

We should not be surprised. Ever since God, the great Creator-Artist himself, sent a chorus of singers into battle (2 Chron 20:21), the art of war has belonged to the creatives—a fact recognized by Sun Tzu. But the war of art, the struggle of a creator to make a difference, is even more complex and challenging.

Listen to Brandon’s first solo album

The first mention of anyone in the ancient Hebrew scriptures who was “filled with the Spirit of God” was not a patriarch, prophet, or warrior king, but the chief artisan of the temple, Bezalel (see Exodus 31:1-6). That God first put his very substance into a craftsman who engraved stones, carved wood, built sacred furniture and was in charge over the use of incense, holy oils, and priestly vestments ought to tell us something very important about who He is, namely, that He is splendidly creative. Moreover, in Zachariah 1, it was four craftsmen who terrified and destroyed the demonic strongholds that had scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem. Yet another one of God’s crazy battle strategies.

It makes no logical sense whatsoever. But that is how it happened.

Has anyone ever wondered what Bezalel thought of what he made? What if he had stopped creating because he was not happy with what he produced? I can only imagine how long it took him to “get it right” in the almost always frustrating creative process. Did he ever make an undesirable nick in a carving? Did his chisel ever slip while cutting stones? Most artists I know make some awful mistakes before they polish off one “perfect” work. And most of them are also frustratingly messy.

I am a musician, who happens to be a Christian, full of the same stuff as Bezalel, and I write songs about God. My first album has its share of glitches, and is not up to my standard (I had almost no money when I made it). I lament the presence of fluffy schlock out there in the world of “Christian” music. But there is also some good music out there, if you look hard enough. And if you ask any songwriter or creative type, he or she will likely tell you that a good anthem emerges well after they have written a plethora of bad songs. Such is the frustrating, creative process.

So here is a word to every artist who has regularly produces work with which you are not completely satisfied: Keep creating! In so doing, you just might bring about the end of a major war.

Brandon Showalter is a lyric tenor residing in northern California. You can get a free copy of his first solo album, “Song of Psalms,” here.

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