Image Bearing in the Creative Process

An artists' confession: Friction, fear, and giving birth to big ideas

I once participated in a discussion with a group of artists rehashing the foundational ideas that Dorothy Sayers and Francis Schaeffer tackle in their books on creativity and image bearing. The big idea of their work is that because we are made in the image of our Creator, we are also creators. Many Christian artists have found justification and drive for their work in the pages of these formative books, myself among them.

But I was frustrated by our discussion. The rehashing of ideas fueled a fuzzy, communal feeling among us artists as we politely snacked on store-bought cookies and drank bad coffee in a church basement. I heard myself cautiously complaining to the generous (and patient) group: "But what does this stuff actually mean? How does bearing the image of our Creator influence the difficult process of making work?"

In my experience, the discussion usually ends there. We revel in our creative call, and take pride in how cool (or sensitive) we are because we are capital-A Artists. And then, we crawl back to our studios, desks, classrooms, and theaters, and get frustrated in the messy production process. As soon as I step into the theater or pick up a pen and my coffee-induced, fuzzy feeling has disappeared, I wallow in self-doubt, questioning my poor vocational choices. Right there in the slough of the process, I rarely think of myself as a creative image bearer. No, I'm just faking it until I make it.

As a theater artist, I often rush past the process because I am fixated on the product. Two hundred people are showing up in four weeks to see a performance: tickets are sold, programs are printed, and cast members' grandmas are buying non-refundable plane tickets. I don't have time to reflect with any sensitivity on how I'm incarnating the Creator as I consider the banal (and painfully non-creative) details of the theater. Where will the donors sit? What's going to happen in Scene 4 with an actor out sick? How will I keep actors safe on the obstacle course set? In these times, I don't feel like a capital-A Artist, let alone an effective image bearer. I'm just an underpaid traffic engineer.

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