Shauna Niequist's Ode to Artists



Last December when my friend Brittney came to visit me in New York, she suggested I read a book by a writer named Shauna Niequist. Shauna has written two memoirs. Both are beautiful essay collections, small snippets of her life and faith. I relate a lot to her voice and her style and sometimes when I'm stuck with my own writing and I can't find my voice, I pick up one of her books and she slowly helps me find it. She points me in the right direction and reminds me why I am writing in the first place.

In her first book, Cold Tangerines, tucked away in one of the final chapters, she presents what I would call an "Ode to Artists." I love it so much that I decided to share a small section of it here in hopes that you might find just as much inspiration from it as I did:


"We're desperate for great storytellers, great painters, great dancers, great cooks, because art does something nothing else does.


"Art slips past our brains straight into our bellies. It weaves itself into our thoughts and feelings and the open spaces in our souls, and it allows us to live more and say more and feel more. Great art says the things that we wished someone would say out loud, the things we wish we could say out loud . . . 


"Art matters, art does, so deeply. It's one of the noblest things, because it can make us better, and one of the scariest things, because it comes from such a deep place inside of us. There's nothing scarier than that moment you sing the song for the very first time, for your roommate or your wife, or when you let someone see the painting, and there are a few very long silent moments when they haven't yet said what they think of it, and in those few moments, time stops and you quit painting, you quit singing forever, in your head, because it's so fearful and vulnerable, and then someone says, essentially, thank you and keep going, and your breath releases, and you take back everything you said in your head about never painting again, about never singing again, and at least for that moment, you feel like you did what you came to do, in a cosmic, very big sense.


"I know that life is busy and hard, and that there's crushing pressure to just settle down and get a real job and khaki pants and a haircut. But don't. Please don't. Please keep believing that life can be better, brighter, broader, because of the art that you make. Please keep demonstrating the courage that it takes to swim upstream in a world that prefers putting away for retirement to putting pen to paper, that chooses practicality over poetry, that values you more for going to the gym than going to the deepest places in your soul. Please keep making art for people like me, people who need the magic and imagination and honesty of great art to make the day-to-day world a little more bearable.


"And if, for whatever reason, you've stopped---stopped believing in your voice, stopped fighting to find the time---start today. I bought a mug for my friend, from the Paper Source in Chicago (which is, by the way, a fabulous playground for creative people), and the mug says, 'Do something creative every day.' Do that. Do something creative every day, even if you work in a cubicle, even if you have a newborn, even if someone told you a long time ago that you're not an artist, or you can't sing, or you have nothing to say. Those people are bad people, and liars, and we hope they develop adult-onset acne really bad. Everyone has something to say. Everyone. Because everyone, every person was made by God, in the image of God. If he is a creator, and in fact he is, then we are creators, and no one, not even a bad seventh-grade English teacher or a harsh critic or jealous competitor, can take that away from you . . .


"'Thank you for writing, for taking the time and spirit and soul to write, because I love to read, and I'm so thankful to writers like you, for writing things for me to read. And keep going. Even when people make you feel like it's not that important. It might be the most important thing you do. Keep going.'


"So to all the secret writers, late-night painters, would-be singers, lapsed and scared artists of every stripe, dig out your paintbrush, or your flute, or your dancing shoes. Pull out your camera or your computer or your pottery wheel. Today, tonight, after the kids are in bed or when your homework is done, or instead of one more video game or magazine, create something, anything.


"Pick up a needle and thread, and stitch together something particular and honest and beautiful, because we need it. I need it.


"Thank you, and keep going."