In centuries past, art was made for the honor and glory of God. Viewed in this light, a career in the arts was a career of service, not egotism. There is a cue there for us.
As artists, we are the bearers of gifts, spiritual endowments that come to us gratis and ask only to be used. A gift for music asks that we give voice to it. A fine photographer's eye asks that we focus it. We are responsible to our gifts for the use of our gifts, and this is a form of accountability too.
When our work is made only in the service of our hope for fame or recognition, it is hampered by our self-consciousness as we wonder, How am I doing?
When we are able to work without such self-consciousness, we are able to work more freely and more fully. Our ego steps aside and is no longer a constrictive valve narrowing our creative flows and focus. We think less about "us" and more about "it," the work itself.
I remember sitting under whispering trees at a music park, listening as a brilliant pianist lashed through blistering performance as dramatic as the incoming storm. I was seated between two grown men who listened to the cascading notes as enraptured as small children, their faces lit with Christmas radiance. Magic was afoot, or, perhaps better, at hand. Later I learned that the musical magician we had so admired had played all evening uphill, against an inner critic that cited that missed chord, this muffled mordent. With a monk's devotion, he had played anyway -- such nights are an artist's Gethsemane, a night to be endured only on faith.
"I have to remind myself there is something larger than me and my skill, something more important than my ego's perception," the pianist confided to me. That something is in art itself, the creative power that moves through us, healing and transforming those who encounter it.
We have very strange notions about art in our culture. We have made it a cult of the individual rather than what it has always been, a human aspiration aimed at communicating and community. We "commune" through art, both with the forces of inspiration when we work and with other humans who encounter us and those forces through our work. To commune is to attune with an open heart, something impossible if are thinking only of ourselves.
Contemplating a piece of work, we do better to think Whom is this work for? Whom will it serve?
rather than How will it serve me?
Once we find a path for our work to be of service --even if that path is merely to create a wonderful role for a friend -- then our work goes smoothly forward. It is not about "us" anymore. We have returned as self-conscious creator and aligned ourselves again with all of creation, a worker among workers, a friend among friends. When we do so, our work is less buffered by own harsh fears. Our fears are set aside every time we simply ask again, "How can I make this work more serviceable?"
Director Steven Spielberg once remarked to an interviewer that he hoped at heaven' gate, God might say to him, "Steven, thanks for listening." This listening for inspiration, this willingness to align our creative will with a sense of higher guidance, is not contrary to a career but a better and more grounded way to establish one. A career solely grounded in the idea of self-advancement is not grounded enough in the advancement of ideas. For all their estimable craft, artists who fail to deepen their goals and their ideas find that their careers run into a certain shallow sameness over time.
We used to routinely call God "the creator." We had a consciousness that our own creativity was a divine gift, an opening for God to work through us. When we enshrined ourselves and our individuality rather than our shared humanity at the center of our consciousness -- we lost our proper understanding or art as service. We disenfranchised ourselves from our birthright as creators and we lost the understanding that art was an act of the soul and not of the ego. When we ask to "listen," we create works worthy of being heard and we ourselves hear the heartbeat of our common humanity, which is grounded in divinity.
We may make a piece of art to promote planetary understanding. We may make beautiful music for the glory and service of music itself. We may write a play for alcoholic women to take heart. We might paint to express gratitude to our creator for the beauty of Queen Anne's lace. When we make our art in a spirit of service, it lightens the burden of our ego. It makes for clarity of focus, purity of intent, and follows a spiritual law that might be simply stated as "Form follows function." When the "form" of our work is open to higher consciousness, its function is raised as well.