You Don’t Need to Become an Artist

By Rivka Nehorai, Brooklyn, New York
Essays 2017

MyLife Essay Contest 2017

I see so many people around me who want to be artists, craving to express themselves well. Real artists.To reach inside, through their confusion, fear, and pain, and grab out the pearls of insights they’ve gleaned from their tribulations. They want to be told how to pick out the colors that will reflect their emotions and purpose, and share it with the world, so that it resonates and uplifts others as well. Truly, artistic expression done right heals ourselves and is our offering of the lessons of our personal trials to the world. So they wonder how to reach this artist status; how many classes they need to take or books they need to read. It doesn’t stop there. These good people don’t just want to be ordinary artists. They crave to be exalted artists, filled with inspiration, saying and doing the right things. “How do we become spiritual?” they wonder. “How much Torah do I need to learn?” The answer to both is the same. The answer is found plainly within Chassidus. We don’t need to become anything. We need to return. We’re already there. When we figure out how to shake off the layers that conceal our identity and inner power, we in our truest, finest state, can then shine through. When we reach this inner power state, we find the words, images, and colors. There, from our core, we find our voice and the Spiritual Artist we’ve always wanted to be shines through.

Julia Cameron from The Artist’s Way says it best when she discusses the artistic process:

“Art is not about thinking something up,” she explains. “It is about the opposite- getting something down. The directions are important here. If we are trying to think something up, we are straining to reach for something that’s just beyond our grasp, ‘up there, in the stratosphere, where art lives on high…’ When we get something down, there is no strain. We’re not doing, we’re getting. Someone or something else is doing the doing. Instead of reaching for inventions, we are engaged in listening.”

Julia Cameron switches our mindset of what is going on within and outside of our human bodies. The world according to her is like a huge, vibrating sea of creative ideas, constantly swirling around us. We are not in a sense creators as society commonly thinks of artists. We are conduits, who can choose to have art flow through us.

“When I teach screenwriting, I remind my students that their movie already exists in its entirety. Their job is to listen for it, watch it with their mind’s eye, and write it down. The same may be said of all art. If painting and sculpture wait for us, then sonatas wait for us; books, plays, wait for us, too. Our job is simply to get them down. It is as though all the stories, painting, music, performances in the world live just under the surface of our normal circumstance. Like an underground river, they flow through us as a stream of ideas that we can tap down into (The Artist’s Way).” 

Everyone, she insists, has access to these ideas. We just need to find out how to turn ourselves into the proper vessels. One of her practices she utilizes is what she terms “the morning pages”, which is three pages of stream of consciousness writing everyday. Through consistently accessing our innermost thoughts and feelings through his practice, Julia Cameron shares, “we acquire and eventually acknowledge our connection to an inner power source that has the ability to transform our outer world. In other words, meditation [through the morning pages] gives us not only the light of insight but also the power for expansive change…It is impossible to write morning pages for any extended period of time without coming into contact with an unexpected inner power. (The Artist’s Way)”

Finding our inner artist voice then, becomes a process of listening to who we are, what we think and feel, and through that listening, finding an inner power source, which gives us direction for the creative steps we want to take, the creative ideas that are suspended in front of us, waiting for us to pull them down and channel them through us.

Similarly, the Tanya, written by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi- also known as the Alter Rebbe- wants to be clear about our spiritual aspirations. They are not, he reiterates continuously, outside of us. We are part and parcel of Gd Himself. He is within us. We are connected to him- already. Without any effort. We just need to tune in to that connection, utilize practices that will reveal these connections.

In Chapter 25 of the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe discusses the imperative goal of serving Gd through love and fear, insisting it is not as difficult as it may initially seem. He explains the reason for this closeness is because we don’t need to create these feelings, they already exist in their entirety within us.

“For this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too difficult, nor is it too distant … For this thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” With the words “For this thing is very near to you,” the Torah is introducing something novel. One may think (according to Torah) that Torah and mitzvos is indeed “difficult” and “distant.” The verse therefore informs us that it is “very near to you.” The main novelty here would seem to be regarding “in your heart.” For as the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya: “At first glance, [‘it is very near to you] in your heart’ seems contrary to our experience. For it is not a ‘very near thing’ to change one’s heart from worldly desires to a sincere love of G-d.” Nevertheless, the verse states that it is indeed very near, even “in your heart,” inasmuch as each and every Jew has a natural love of G-d concealed in his heart. Thus, the person need not produce a new love of G-d in his heart through meditation. He needs merely to reveal the innate and inborn love that he possesses deep in his heart. (”

All we have to do is utilize spiritual practices that will arouse these innate feelings from their sleeping state, and then we are able to use them towards realizing our already strong built in connection we have with Gd.

Another mashal commonly used within the Tanya to explain our state of existence is a sun and its rays, paralleling Gd (the Ein Sof) and the world. As he explains in Chapter 33, וככה ממש דרך משל הוא ביטול העולם ומלואו במציאות לגבי מקורו, שהוא אור אין סוף ברוך“ הוא, וכמו שכתוב שם באריכות Exactly so, figuratively speaking, is the very existence of the world and everything in it nullified in relation to its source, which is the light of Ein Sof, as is explained there at length.”

Chabad Chassidus wants us to understand that in order to connect with Gd, we don’t need to strain ourselves. We don’t need to try to become anything new. We need to listen to who we already are, and nullify ourselves to that reality, to become a conduit. How do we listen? One prime tool is through prayer. By reading the words of our sages, formed from creative spiritual inspiration themselves. In truth, these words and their meaning aren’t external to us. As we whisper them, we, our truest selves, our beating souls, listen to the words. Returning to the words and their meaning. Realigning our spiritual makeup to understand our identity, our commitment. Seeing ourselves as the rays that we are to the great sun that is Gd. And through that listening, we are transformed. Our spiritual vocal cords are dusted off, and our inner spiritual voices come out clean and strong.

Through the merging of these two exercises, we can identify our spiritual, creative voices, becoming the types of exalted artists we have always dreamed of. Every one of us.
Because we are humans. We are rays. The ideas and connection are all around us and within us. We just need to meditate by listening to the Great Artist who surrounds and encompasses
us, and align ourselves to let the great lights flow and be uplifted by us.