Being Humble

Does being humble preclude the Christian artist from self-promotion? As artists grow and mature in their skills and ability, there arises the pressing concern of showing work. What good is art if it cannot be shared?

In Open Country, Oil on Canvas, Sara Joseph

In Open Country
"Like a horse in open country, they did not stumble; like cattle that go down to the plain, they were given rest by the Spirit of the Lord. This is how you guided your people to make for yourself a glorious name."Isa 63:15

Initially having family and friends admire and encourage seems sufficient, but eventually there is a growing desire for more. I get emails from artists who, like me, want our art to impact the world. Our desires and aspirations are grand. Surely we must market and promote ourselves.... or shouldn’t we? Are our aspirations vain, or has God placed them there? Do we strive for visibility, or does He bestow it upon us?

Whenever professional artists get together, the talk invariably turns to who is showing at which venue, prestigious galleries to submit art to, who won the last juried show… I've attended many art-marketing seminars that teach artists the essentials of preparing portfolios, the nuts and bolts of approaching galleries, sending out press releases, getting work published… Much of this information is useful because it gives a glimpse of the standards and norms of the art world. It demystified for me some of the processes behind the selection of artists for juried shows, galleries or other projects.

But if I was to boil all of what I learned, it is this – self-promotion is simply that - the active promotion of SELF. "Look at me," it says, "Look at how wonderful and creative I am, see how talented and how gifted! Look at how valuable my art is! Show ME off and you’ll benefit, let MY work grace your walls and you will profit!" You get the picture. Doesn't it seem to leave God out of the equation?

Does that mean that you, as a Christian artist, are not to have an excellent portfolio, or follow the guidelines specified for review at a gallery or juried show? Not at all.

In fact, you are to be exemplary. Your portfolio should be as terrific as you can make it. When you have an appointment at a gallery, every detail of your interview should reflect excellence. Show up on time, respect the unique quirks of each gallery representative, and follow all stated guidelines. You represent the King, and as His ambassador, to be anything less would demean Him.

So how do we reconcile the Bible’s admonition about being humble and feeling the pressing need to self promote? Is there a subtle divide beyond which respecting the guidelines for excellently exhibiting work crosses over to something excessive?

Here are some thoughts to consider:

Self promotion puts ME in charge of my being promoted, I’d rather let Him handle that for me.

"Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips."Pro 27:21

Self promotion shines the spotlight on ME, and exposes my abilities in an unnatural light, while glossing over my many flaws and blemishes.

“The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives.” Pr 27:21

Self promotion could step over into becoming MY way of charting my own course, blinding me to the paths that God may have for me.

Self-promotion is akin to spending an arduous night like Peter did, and catching nothing after much labor, despite his expertise as a fisherman. I would rather put down my net at His bidding, and have more than I can haul in!

Being humble is a lesson slowly learned. I know only a little about it - and that only after some rather painful lessons. False humility is disgusting and it is not what I am advocating. Neither is passivity or, heaven forbid, laziness.

Instead, humility comes easily with the realization that all that I have, and all that I am today, is because of Jesus. It comes with a full recognition of my weaknesses and an honest assessment of my strengths. It flows effortlessly from a quiet confidence in His plan for my life. Being humble also means consciously keeping my passion for art in its proper place, preventing it from consuming me.

I also discovered that His expectations of me are overwhelmingly lofty and would be unattainable, except that they also come with His complete assistance. Anything less is most likely my own limited vision, clouded by insecurities or unclear motives. For every creative Christian, life in Christ, will only stretch you beyond your wildest dreams, not diminish you in any way. God is always the God of increase!

When every aspect of our lives has the unmistakable imprint of His hand, then claiming any form of glory would be ludicrous. We can have no illusions then about the source of our accomplishments or achievements.

Even the awareness of the necessity for being humble, comes from Him. It eventually came to me that my striving to be seen, acknowledged, lauded and praised, hindered, rather than furthered, my mission to be a willing vessel.

I remember with shame an incident at a gallery where I was showing art. Spaces were measured and marked out for each artist. Another artist encroached on my territory by a few inches. Not content to let it alone, I protested and offended the other artist. I immediately sensed the tangible displeasure and disappointment of the Lord. The whole episode left me unsettled and filled with disgust, until I finally called and apologized for my awful behavior.

You would assume that being humble was a lesson quickly learned considering how embarrassingly self-serving I was! Yet all I learned was to never again voice my displeasure. I have yet to master my emotions to not seethe with resentment when I find myself forced to hang my art on a dimly lit back wall, or worse, near the restroom! I still struggle with having to swallow my angst at thinly veiled insults about the content of my work..

Sadly, the artist that I dealt poorly with, never truly accepted my apology and our relationship remained tainted from my selfishness. What a sorry witness I was, and what a costly couple of inches that proved to be!

The Scripture that gives me the chills and truly makes me heed closely God’s insistence on being humble is "..for God resisteth the proud and gives grace to the humble.” 1 Pet 5:5

No amount of self-promotion can help if God actively resists me because of my pride.

Instead, it may surprise you that God’s desire is to exalt you, as you reflect Him!

1 Pet 5:6 surprised me as it may you.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” There seems to be a specific time, a time of His choosing, when He grants a clear reward for being humble and acknowledging His mighty hand in our lives.

Being humble does not come naturally to any of us. It is something to put on – like a garment that requires deliberate action to don. The Greek background for the verse is interesting. The word referred to was the white scarf or apron of slaves, which was fastened to the belt of the vest. It distinguished slaves from freemen.

Therefore, 1 Pet 5:5 should read "gird yourselves with humility as your servile garb" encouraging Christians to show their subjection one to another, and God, by putting on humility.

"This could also refer to the overalls which slaves wore to keep clean while working—an exceedingly humble garment.” Blue Letter Bible.

So instead of joining the frenzy of self-promotion, let us purpose to stay clean by wrapping humility about us, so that our labor may be pure, effective and pleasing to our Master.

He will do your promoting for you by bringing your art to the audience that He intended for it. From all the years that I have exhibited and sold art, I can testify to His faithfulness to do so. I have sold art from the back wall and been seen and remembered even by the restroom!

Work hard at being excellent and trust God with your promotion. Then you can anticipate eagerly the adventure that the creative life is meant to be, full of mystery and unexpected rewards!

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