The Urgency of Treating Life As Art

A few years ago I read a wonderful book called The Everyday Work of Art. In it, Eric Booth espouses that our lives should be treated not as something to be endured, but as purposeful, crafted artwork. He says,

Art is not apart. It is a continuum within which all participate; we all function in art, use the skills of art, and engage in the action of artists every day. Underneath the surface distinctions that make individual lives seem very different, art is a common ground we share; the work of art is a way we all do things when we are working well.

But in the crush of everyday expectations, deliverables, and – let’s face it – work compromised by unrealistic demands, it’s easy to lose the sense of being engaged in something larger than cranking out, taking care of, and “dealing with”.

I was in conversation with the brilliant Ze Frank a few weeks ago at an event where we were both speaking. As we discussed the creative process, something bolted from my mouth before I had the chance to process it.

“I’m less concerned about the actual dynamics of creating for a living than I am about what my experience of those dynamics says about me as a human being.”

It is impossible to separate the experience of being human from the intrinsic need to find expression. We are – it seems – wired to make. Something. Anything.

But when this desire to make becomes bastardized or corrupted by another basic human need – to feel provided for – we experience a cheapened version of life. It is corrosive to our nature. To our creative soul.

I have determined that this year – the year in which I’m writing my 2nd book, growing two businesses, living in airports, and working to be the father, friend, and husband I must be – I will be treating my life more like the work of art it is.

Here are a few ways I’ll be doing that:

  1. Slow down. I am not a pinball, bouncing from thing to thing. Life is not mine for consumption, it’s mine for experience. Experiences are only real if they are internalized through reflection. I will slow down this year, even in the midst of my busyness.
  2. Synthesize. Great artists are synthesizers. They notice. They take in their environment and weave things together to make them more beautiful. I want to traffic in beauty this year, not pragmatics. I want to take the time to be thematic.
  3. Energize. I aspire to bring more energy into every event, meeting, and encounter than I take away. I want others to feel energized by my presence, not drained. Even when I see my own energy level diminishing, I aspire to pour whatever I have into that moment.
  4. Immerse. I want to be present – deeply, truly present – in my work, with my family, in my thoughts. My writing. My relationships. My serving. I want to be…here…now. Always.

Art is not perfect. It is not ideal. It is not comfortable. It challenges, provokes, stands for itself. There isn’t always a rationalization for its ineffable value. Yet, it stands.

Of course, as life and its various expectations heat up there is always the temptation to cave. To become compromised. There is nothing wrong with strategically choosing how to engage, but then you must stand by your choices. An artist always stands by her choices.

I start chapter 10 of The Accidental Creative with a quote from one of my favorite thinkers, Thomas Merton. He said,

There can be an intense egoism in following everybody else. People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular–and too lazy to think of anything better. Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. They want quick success and they are in such a haste to get it that they cannot take time to be true to themselves. And when the madness is upon them they argue that their very haste is a species of integrity.

Friends, treat your life as art. Spend yourself wisely. Whatever path you are on, walk it well. Live, make, love with conviction.


Your challenge: How will you treat your life more like a work of art? (Please reply in the comments.)



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