The Pain of Art

20 months ago I shared my deepest, darkest secret to anyone who was willing to read my first published book. I didn’t even hide it on the last page, I placed it front and center in chapter one.

the-lonely-manFrom the outset of writing the book I had no intention of sharing anything about my secret. In fact, before publishing the book less than 10 people knew about it. What began as sin, became a wound, and as I opened up to those 10 people I began to heal, but even still, a scar remained.

The day the book released I spoke in front of a small crowd of friends and family about the book. I read quotes that exposed my scars. Like any artist I couldn’t fight off the thought of, “I wonder what they think of me now…” And then I wondered if it was worth it. I became more human, but at what cost?

My wounds, now healed, were something I kept close to me, not something I shared with strangers, and certainly not part of my art. Or so I thought. Until I realized, my scars are in the care of God and he can accomplish greater things than I can by bringing them into the light.

It’s the scars that shape you into who God is remaking you into. Why is it we prefer to keep our art away from our scars? I think we’re afraid of rejection: “You’ve been a failure this whole time!” Or we’ll be found out to be frauds: “That’s who you are!?! I knew it all along!”

We keep our secrets hidden because deep down we wonder if anyone will understand.

Of course, you can go the opposite direction when dealing with your pain, scars, and secrets. Artists often glorify their wounds knowing that a glamorized wound can push products. Everyone wants to know they aren’t alone and quickly a wound goes from a human experience to a monetary value.

The ultimate sellout artist is the one who shares his experience not because he must, but because he can profit from taking off the band-aid. The harder the band-aid is ripped off the skin, the brighter the lights shine on the artist.

And so we’re stuck in between these two unfortunate ways of engaging pain, struggle, and humanity as artists: we hide or we glamorize. For each artist the third way looks a bit different, but here’s the underlying theme:

Tell your story of pain, wounds, scars, and secrets because you must.

Tell your story because by telling it other people become more human.

Exposing the pain then isn’t about profiting, it’s about benefiting others. As you open up the healing breath of God provides the salve needed to heal the wound. In opening up you not only heal yourself but you start the healing process for others.

If art is ultimately about giving a person a greater understanding of life, then giving art is a gift of the utmost value.

Artists tear themselves down, exposing their most intimate wounds, so others can move forward in life with a greater picture of who they are and what they can become.