The Artist's Journey Of Discovery


The Hero’s Journey refers to a story where a hero must move from the known into the unknown. The journey involves great challenges, a death and rebirth, and ultimately change or transformation.

As artists, we understand the power of The Hero’s Journey.

Yet we rarely step fully into our own Artist’s Journey of Discovery. Which is a shame. Because nothing impacts our creativity more than the story we’re living.

We often refer to art as being larger than life. Yet in truer ways, our life is far larger and more eternal than anything we create. The problem is, we don’t tend to see it that way. I mean, really, would you describe your average day as epic? To use the language of the Hero’s Journey, who is your Sage? What threshold have you crossed – and at what cost? When have you gone through a death and rebirth?

What I’m suggesting isn’t easy. The mundane and often insane pace of our lives doesn’t feel much like a Hero’s Journey. Maybe that’s why our day-to-day reality receives far less care – and introspection – than the project we’re working on. After all, we can control the art we’re shaping far more than the day we’re living.

But the cost of this approach is enormous. Our life story will grow stagnant.

Over time, this leads to more formulaic art because the risks we take are primarily on the canvas. And as our real world shrinks, so does our imagination.

Our creations can’t help but possess our DNA. It’s unavoidable. What’s created in our own strength possesses our weakness.  

In a mythic sense, where we haven’t gone, our creations will stumble. The vision of your projects and art will be clouded by your blind spots.

An unexamined life leads to shallow creativity. The more you know your heart, the deeper your art can take others.

Through our art, we can take others on an authentic journey that is infused with the ideas, issues, temptations, questions, and victories we’re going through. The themes of our creativity ring truest when they reflect the themes we are passionate about and, on some level, currently navigating.

From my decade as a Publisher of more than five hundred novels, I can say unconditionally the most unforgettable stories I’ve read are the ones that hold within them the scars, struggles, and discoveries of an author’s own story.

Otherwise, we’re asking our creations – and everyone who experiences them – to dive into deep oceans while we, as creator, remain safely on shore. But it doesn’t work that way. We end up passing our limitations forward like a baton to those for whom we create, expecting them to run in freedom while we walk with a limp.

No matter how powerful your imagination, your creativity can’t express deeper faith, love, or adventure than you’ve risked and tasted in your own life.

We don’t need our art to teach others a lesson from us.

We need our art to invite others on a journey of discovery with us.

What people crave is creativity that is lit with a spark of eternity. That happens as we co-create with God from a deep place of identity, intimacy, vulnerability, and imagination. Only then will our art transcend us and the moment in time it was created.

We long for our art to take us to new and uncharted places but the blank page looks back at us and says, "No, you must go there first."

Here are seven tangible ways to step into the Hero’s Journey of Discovery in this new year:

  • Examine your life as much as your creativity. What is the theme of this season of your life? What is your effect on those closest to you? What are your deepest fears?

  • Ask God what He thinks of your art. Then listen.

  • What do you still struggle with (perhaps secretly) – and how are you fighting for freedom in this area?

  • What does your validation hinge on? This is huge. Whatever has the power to validate you also has the power to invalidate you.

  • Give your heart more attention than your gifting. Psalm 4:23 says we’re to nurture our heart above all else (that includes our calling). Which do you measure more – the ups and down of your heart or your career?

  • Live more before you create more. Put yourself in situations where you aren’t the expert. It’s impossible to usher others into something new when you haven’t been anywhere new recently. Spend time in nature. Learn to play an instrument. Try a new restaurant. Leave behind productivity and expertise to step into an activity that involves risk and requires your full presence.

  • Dream bigger dreams. The kind that can only be achieved with God. Aiming for what’s possible in your own strength sets the bar way too low. (Congratulations for doing what you already knew you could do.) Instead, pursue the seemingly unattainable with God and stay expectant for where that journey will lead.

Let these activities fuel your growth as an artist. Remember, the best journey you can invite others into is the one you’re currently on. This mindset will stretch you and your creativity in powerful ways. You’ll discover new strengths, new questions, new colors, and new ideas. Live more. Then create more.

Every hero’s journey, including yours, reaches that moment when you either cling to the known or move into mystery. Both options involve risk and danger, but only the Artist’s Journey of Discovery will transform both your heart and your art.

© Allen Arnold, 2019

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