The World Needs More Artists

World Needs Artists
Photo credit: Kelly Rowland (Creative Commons)

The heavens are trying to teach me something, it seems.

The other week, I heard Ann Voskamp at a conference advocate for poetry over prose. She reminded me that in a world of reality TV and fear-driven media, beauty can still captivate us.

I saw my friend Mark deliberate over the final iteration of his memoir that’s about to be published.

And I saw my other friend Carl spend night after night, recording his solo EP in a studio in downtown Atlanta.

I see all of this, and I realize something: There is still a place for great art in this world. Still a place for people who think outside the box, for misfit artists like me… and maybe you.

Why we need art

These friends of mine, these artists, are doing something that borderlines on obsession. They’re tirelessly working their fingers to the bone to create something important and meaningful. They’re spending more time on their craft than they ever will be rewarded for.

But none of that matters to them. Because they’re creating art. And while the “reward” may never come, they will leave a legacy.

Art allows us to see the invisible, to call forth light in a world shrouded in darkness. It speaks to that most real part of ourselves we’ve forgotten. It transcends circumstance and gives perspective.

We can’t face great art and not be changed. And the world most definitely needs to change — for the better. What will do the job?

  • Politics won’t do it. Laws and regulations aren’t enough to transform human hearts.
  • Business won’t do it. Economic success doesn’t translate to happiness and wholeness. (We should know this by now.)
  • Science won’t do it. Human progress describes how something works, not why it works.

None of these will work. Neither will intellectualism or sheer brute force. All these may be good for something. But they are not enough to change the world.

We need something more than an explanation or equation. We need to be restored. And only art can do that.

Great art begins with intention

Making great art requires good motives. You can’t set out to do this with the sole intention of making money. It doesn’t work like that. People see through your ruse. The work has to be, first and foremost, a labor of love.

Somehow, God takes notice of this and rewards you in his own, unexpected way. Eventually. Your job is to do the work, not expect the reward. And as you apply your passion, it turns into conviction, maybe even compulsion.

You spend hours and days and weeks and months and years trying to get it “just right.” This is not because you’re a perfectionist, but because art warrants tedium.

Fortunately, it doesn’t end there.

You still must ship

All this obsessing, all your constant tweaking, doesn’t matter if you don’t ship.

If you don’t ship, it doesn’t count.
—Seth Godin

I don’t know how you reconcile the two sides of the creative spectrum (idea generation and production), but I know that it never goes away. If you are an artist, you have to learn to live in this tension.

You have to keep releasing your work into the world, and it has to be good. If it’s excellent, and nobody sees it, it doesn’t count. If it’s on display for the world to see, but ordinary, it’s irrelevant.

The path to compelling work lies somewhere in between the two extremes of genius-but-invisible and ordinary-but-in-your face.

Only the artist knows the true balance; only she can find the harmony. This is the person with the taste and passion to make meaningful work. She’s the ones with enough gumption to create change. These people, true artists, are rare.

And for good reason…

Quality matters

There are a lot of people in the world doing mediocre work. The problem is they think it’s pretty good. And that’s what makes it mediocre.

“Pretty good” isn’t good enough. If your project is not press release material, if it’s not remarkable enough to tell the neighbors, then it needs more R&D. It needs to be more compelling, more noteworthy, more shareable.

Spend time on this. Make your book or album or dance class the most amazing, incredible thing you could possibly make it. And then ship.

Do this so that you don’t have to feel like a sleaze for promoting it. Create something so world-changing that you’re proud to promote it. Make it something you can’t not talk about.

It sure beats the alternative, right?

Go do something amazing

What’re you waiting for? It’s time to begin. The world deserves better than mediocre. So do you, and so does your art.

Remember: If you don’t ship, it doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about failure; worry about stalling. Your art gets better as you go. Just don’t ever use that as an excuse to settle.

And once you’ve created something, do it again. And again. And again, and again, and again…

The world is longing to be changed. It is desperate for great art. We need more artists. Will you rise to the occasion?

125 thoughts on “The World Needs More Artists

  1. Very very inspiring, Jeff. Thank you for speaking to the tension, and encouraging us to find the balance in amazing shipment, not just shipment for shipment’s sake. 🙂 I’m going to chew on this for a while. You’ve got my wheels spinning again!

      1. “Art allows us to see the invisible, to call forth light in a world shrouded in darkness. It speaks to that most real part of ourselves we’ve forgotten.” YES. this is my first time reading your work Jeff and I just wanted to say thank you. I couldn’t agree more. Lately, more than ever, I have been trying to live in courage and live fully alive. Shirking my fears and just writing what I’m inspired to – painting and not hiding it – I don’t think God wants me to live in fear. Not anymore. 
        Jeff, bless you in all you do. 

        my writing – 
        my paintings –


  2. You never cease to amaze me. You are a fantastic writer and while I confess to struggling with bouts of jealousy on occasion, overall you are an inspiration.

    I’m working on improving my writing and improving my blog while gearing up to write a book in November for NaNoWriMo.

        1. Hey KC – send me the link to that info. After hearing you talk about it on Skype the other day, I’ve been wrestling with doing it. I think I need to read up and then bite the bullet and start writing!

  3. I love that beauty, that art, can still captivate and inspire us all. And what a privilege, as a writer, to be counted among those who are offering art to others. What a great blessing from God to be able to offer beauty…

  4. Great post Jeff! I LOVE reading your words.  I couldn’t help but be astonished a how God orchestrates  things all over the world for HIS Glory.  I quit my comfy job just a few months ago to pursue a dream that God had put in my heart… As it has begun to form, God continuously has others that I am following speak more and more to the vision in my heart!  The vision is a women’s Conference called Legacy…seasons of beauty. 
    I believe each of our lives, our stories, are the greatest Art work to be shown.  All crafted by the Master Artist.   Many Blessings to you as you continue to let Him use you through your words.

    1. while i don’t believe in god or any of that other stuff from the bible .i do agree that if there is a god he is a master artist 

  5. The question now, after reading your post, is- am I more fearful of what will happen if I keep my message to myself or am I more fearful of what will happen if it’s heard?
    There will be fear to face either way, right?
    Although I don’t sync with her theology, Julia Cameron has done the best job I’ve read of linking art to Divine Calling.

  6. Politics isn’t just laws and regulations. Economic success may not result in happiness, but neither does Art always do so (I doubt that van Gogh was a happy man). Science can be as much an expression of Art as a painting or a melody. Borders is more than a bankrupt corporation; it’s a verb.

  7. Great advice, Jeff.  I think this is the primary reason I create “Because they’re creating art. And while the “reward” may never come, they will leave a legacy.”  One of things I really desire is to leave a legacy for my son.”   My mom left a legacy for me with her art of writing and singing songs.  Years after her death and they still leave a huge impression on me.  More than anything, I want my creations to inspire others but especially my son. 

  8. Besides the fact that I’m biased (I’m a writer and an artist), I absolutely love creative people for this reason. It’s incredible to see what we’re capable of creating, what new things people come up with that I never would have thought of in my wildest dreams. Art–whether through illustrations, film, literature, music or performing arts–is unique and eye-opening. There are fewer shortcuts to an artist’s inner most being than through their art. 

    Great post, Jeff. Keep shipping your writing out there. 🙂

  9. “Don’t worry about failure; worry about stalling.”  That’s so powerful, Jeff.  I’ve been obsessing over an idea for a novel for some time now.  My wall is covered in sticky notes about characters and plot and arc, but I still cannot get it perfectly right.  Something still feels out of place.  Yet I get comments all the time about how I’m being silly, worrying over details that don’t matter.  But you’re right, art does warrant tedium.  It needs to be captivating because like Dostoevsky said, “Beauty will save the world.” 

     I swear, your blog gets more inspiring each day!

  10. “The world deserves better than mediocre. And so do you. So does your art”WOW ! thanks for the post – and words I needed to hear!

  11. “Don’t worry about failure; worry about stalling. Your art gets better as you go. Just don’t ever use that as an excuse to settle. And once you’ve created something, do it again. And again.”
    As a perfectionist, this can sometimes be hard for me. I want something to be perfect before it ships, which means I end up stalling and even giving up sometimes instead of shipping. Great challenge Jeff!

  12. There are a lot of people in the world doing mediocre work. The problem is they think it’s pretty good.

    Yeah, but there are also a lot of people doing pretty good work thinking it’s mediocre. 

    Scanning the comments so far, I notice that as of yet no one has followed your invitation to share their work. 

  13. When I first read this, I must admit, I had trouble accepting the “if no one sees it, it doesn’t count” remark.  After thinking about it some more and thinking about why this remark could possibly even make me cringe, I recalled Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden”.  I get so scared for numerous reasons in sharing my writing; I don’t want to become prideful, I don’t want to sound as if I am a know it all, I don’t want it out there for all to mock, and I don’t want to be wrong and lead someone astray from the Truth (I guess THAT sounds prideful, as if my influence holds an amount of power to turn someone’s course). I currently write for a ministry online and it’s easier for me because my name isn’t on display and the answers I give are Biblical fact.  I have lately  felt led to share some of the more personal and life parables from my own experiences and in “testing the waters” by doing so, have been met with great feedback (granted, it was shared with family and friends and my grandma thinks everything I do is cute).  I wasn’t quite sold on doing this, until I read your blog.  I realize it isn’t my art, it’s a gift from God.  He’s the Creator, I am just the “branch” He uses to get His creation out.  A humble honor, indeed! As you said, it doesn’t count if no one sees it. This blog post just gave me the final push into displaying the Light within me.  For that, I thank you. Now, the question is where do I go from here?  Where do I display my “light on a hill”?

    1. i get it. what that means to me, though, is that if we’re given gifts and we don’t share them — if we keep them to ourselves — then they don’t have their intended impact.

  14. I may just start my day each morning reading this post. Thanks for the “inspire” and for the reminder of doing. I feel a bit sharpened by your words, fabulous.

  15. I always say that the 2 most important places governments need to put their money is into health and education. Yes, the two are intertwined. Education, for me, refers to education people in the faculties that interest them, and push them to open their minds. Whether it is attending school or taking an extra curricular class to meet new people or learn a new art form- these are the primal things that will help society. Society is made up of people and humanity, frequently gets kicked to the curb. Part of what makes us “human” is our humanity, our ability to connect with the world around us, and education and art gives us that edge.
    In Europe, they are very sensitive that art/education is an essential part of society and culture and can not be dismissed. I feel they value art and education for what is, rather than a means to an end- like we do, often times, in North America.

  16. I was just teaching my art class this week and asked, “What’s the first thing God did in our world?”  He created.  Then He created again, and again, and again…and He saw that it was good.  Our introduction to Him was as the Creator.  Through art and creativity, I think we touch on the very nature of who our God is.

  17. Jeff, this is another great post! 

    I represent my wife, Valerie Stangl Melancon, who is an amazing artist. I completely agree with your points on intention. Artists of any media have to be driven by a pure love for the work in order for then end result to be an honest expression for the world to see. This is not always an easy task since people have their own opinions to share that can influence the work of the artist. I also agree with your points on Quality. Great art is the result of a lifelong pursuit of mastery, and you have to put in the work. 

    Just a great post. Thanks. 

    Here is Valerie’s web site if you want to see her work:

  18. WoW! WoW! WoW! Did I mention WoW? Thank you so much for the encouragement. ‘The world needs my art’ is an amazing concept and one I personally find so hard to grasp. I am getting better at accepting the fact that I am an ‘artist’! I am grateful for the gift of photography and grateful it is a true blue, honest to God passion. I cannot live without taking photos and I enjoy how people talk about them when I do. So there ya go…artist! Thank you so very, very much and please find yourself at my photography blog sometime and leave your footprints; let me know you were there.
    Hope you enjoy! PEACE

  19. Thanks for the inspiration. I agree on this: Your art gets better as you go. I said to myself many times that I am such a terrible artist but I didn’t stop creating and making art  as my lifestyle. Now I can say that I am better than ever before. I realized that the creative journey  is the reward, not necessarily the praises and recognition.

    Kris  [ ]

  20. i’d really loved to be a creative person but sometimes i feel hard because of the failure. anyway, thanks for your inspiration, i still will continue my work for a better life!

  21. After fourteen years, hundreds of rejections, and a dozen manuscripts, my first novel is about to make its way into the world. This is what it means to be human, the urge to create and connect. Thank you for expressing this  — and the importance of art — so clearly.

  22. Jeff, That’s sheer poetry to my ears.

    As a poet/singer/writer/photographer/philosopher…I’m all in 🙂

    Right now my focus is learning to write. Thanks for all your encouragement.


  23. Excellent! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and encouragement! I feel that this is always the struggle for me as an artist. What do I have to offer? This is really encouraging.

    I am a photographer and just launched my latest ongoing series called The Freedom Process. The project is driven by others sharing their stories and the images are my interpretations.

    Thanks again!

  24. Most excellent. And I’ve met a few of these closet artists –painting and sketching their passions on the walls of their rooms. I’m in the performing arts background but I am keen on filmmaking. Here’s a piece I directed for a 48hr Film Project:

    Thanks for allowing me to share it!

  25. Just posted this article on my facebook page after making my art blog public with some daring (for me) paintings.( Thank you Jeff for helping the artists of the world recognize their value – as Cheryl Barker said (beautifully) in your comments below- “what a great blessing from God to be able to offer beauty… ” This article and conversation are transformative. I hope more closet artists are liberated when they read it. What might that world (of liberation – of people waking up and living – offering their gifts) look like?
    Better than this one.  🙂
    Bless you all.

  26. Jeff, you reminded me of something I did quite a bit growing up but have stopped doing as much over the past 20+ years.  I always loved to write poetry.  That was always my creative expression.  Now I write.  I blog.  But rarely turn words into poetry.  I want to stop that in the new year.  Thanks for the reminder!

  27. Thank you for this post.  My favorite quote about artists comes from As a Man Thinketh “Composer, sculptor, painter, poet, prophet, sage,
    these are the makers of the after-world, the architects of heaven. The world is beautiful
    because they have lived; without them, labouring humanity would perish.”

  28. Be true to yourself and strive for excellence, not perfection.  Perfection is a fiction and it’s pursuit will produce stunted work forsaking spontaneity.

  29. “Art allows us to see the invisible, to call forth light in a world shrouded in darkness.”
    It is good to be reminded of this.  Thanks, Jeff. I often wonder if my little bit of art really matters– but then I see that it at least matters to me.

    I have found writing to be not only enjoyable, but a healing balm to my soul.  For instance, I’m in some pain tonight that just won’t go away. But I wrote a poem on the fly, “shipped” it, and already have had some moving responses to it.  Connecting on this level by using the gift God gave to me in a particular way has actually lessened my pain a bit.

  30. Jeff, this is a great post. Thank you so so much for saying what many of us need to hear. I wrestle with the fears that no one will see the value and beauty. I have signed up to show my work and Ive been wrestling with it. My husband said something very similar to these words. “You arent creating for other peoples approval. You are creating because that is what you were created to do, someones opinion of what you have done isnt what gives it value.” I am trying to let these words settle into the marrow of my bones. I may print this post out and re-read it again. and again. You asked us to  share our art.

  31. I didn’t read this with my eyes, I read it with my soul. These were not words lying upon a page but a million tiny fireflies floating around me, inviting me to play. Thank you taking the time to set off these fireworks so that – although I am late to the party – I could still witness their beauty and open myself to change needed in order to change the world. I would like to share a piece of work I shared today as well as my blog because I want to add something amazing to the world just as you have done here. 

    Playground –
    New Inspiring Piece! 

  32. Someone, I’m not sure who, once said “You can’t make the world a better place by making things better: a better world needs better people” and you’re right art does, or should, inspire us to be better.     

  33. Thank you for this EXCELLENT piece. It resonates to the innermost part of my soul. God takes pleasure when we take pleasure in the things that we do for Him.

  34. For the past two years, I’ve been mediating, pondering, and blogging on this very subject! The world needs more artists, because, as Mako Fujimura says, “we need to create the world that ought to be.” I believe art has the greatest potential to influence, shape, and influence a person. Just as good stories ask us questions to shape our lives by, good art gives us a framework for understanding and appreciating the stories of our lives.

  35. Hi Jeff,
    Not sure how permissions work online so I’m checking this with you: I have quoted much of this post on my blog at obviously attributing the piece to you in the beginning and the end, but just want to make sure it’s okay. Please let me know if it’s ok with you. If not, I will remove it immediately.

    1. Oops, just read your post re promoting other people’s work, and that you don’t need permission to give someone a gift. I guess that answers my question so you can disregard my query above. Happy birthday x

  36. Thanks for your great post on creating and … on getting the art out there in the world! 
    I blog about the arts and all things that emerge from my passion for music… family… life… – thanks for your insightful posts! Blogging has been my refuge. It’s mainly for me, for expression to heal my soul. It’s a legacy for my children… a pulpit for my creative energies…  a place to vent… a venue to celebrate! 
    Thanks, Jeff!

  37. Jeff you truly are an artist because not only do you create art but you help bring out the power and strength in those of us that aspire to create. That, is great art in my book.

  38. Thank you Jeff! You are knowledgeable! I will be back for more! There are many goodies here! You have definitely caught my attention! See you tomorrow-Can’t wait to read what you have to share my friend!

  39. This is as inspiring as it gets. It was also a well-timed determination-boost for me as an artist. I am queen of “stalling.” Time to leave the harbor, I suppose!

  40. There is so much truth in this post.
    Art is hard, but it reaches past “reward” to create something beautiful and honest.
    Art promotes empathy, and that is the number one thing we need in this world to promote peace and common understanding.
    Art helps us realize that we are not alone.

  41. “Hope is not a dream, it is not a whim. Hope creates life and it is our job as Artists to observe our world and our communities and create a sense of emotion, experience and action through our gifts. We artists can breed HOPE if we act.” Me….

    “If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.” Émile Zola

    Great words…thank you for sharing.

  42. This comment resonates with me: “Art allows us to see the invisible, to call forth light in a world shrouded in darkness.” Sometimes there is that one piano chord, a painting that reflects the light in such a way that it makes me cry, or the poem that says what I felt but could not put into words.

  43. I discovered your blog today and I’m hooked. More people need to hear this (and live by this advice). You inspired me to go and create some art!

  44. It’s interesting your mention of ‘art’ in this wonderful piece, but what does it mean? Is art an object? Is it anything made with the hands? Is it something classed as creative?

    I feel this part was overlooked?

    For me, art is what results from somebody’s ingenuity, resourcefulness, and creative flair. It could be a digital product (book, manifesto, course, website) or something physical (painting, sculpture, arrangement etc).


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