I sat deflated in the faux leather chair that faced my professor’s desk. Stacks of canvases leaned against the walls of his office—his many works in progress. The one I remember best was dark blue with a yellow moon shining two thirds of the way up. The paint was thick, sloppy and beautiful. I wondered how he’d accomplished the effect. My eyes fixed on it as my professor hesitated, considering what to say. At last he said, “Amy, some people love music. They really love music. But that doesn’t make them musicians. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”
I did understand. It was the same message I’d been hearing in my head for the past few months. You’re not an artist. You don’t have what it takes.
What a discouraging thought. And though I did answer it with some defiance, because I believed I was indeed an artist, it still hit its mark. My mind, usually brimming with fanciful ideas, seemed empty of all but the mundane. I put away dreams of painting the wonderful illustrations I’d always imagined and kept to realism, only using pen or pencil, since my attempt at painting had proved embarrassing.
It would be three years before I dared pick up a paint brush again and longer than that before the wheels of my imagination broke free from fear. With my little children napping upstairs, I stood in the kitchen and stared at the blank canvas. I’d written the words this is a beautiful experiment on a piece of paper, folded it, and propped it up on the kitchen counter. My eyes wandered back to it over and over.
What do you do when discouragement comes? How do you keep going?
At some point along the way, most artists feel a powerful inclination to quit or to hide. To declare it all a waste of time, an embarrassing effort, and to abandon the work of reaching in faith toward something beautiful.
Lately I’ve been thinking of the passage in Hebrews that says, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  That phrase, “for the joy set before Him,” has been echoing through my mind. Surely this is the foundation of hope.
Jesus, the Beautiful One, endured the cross for the joy set before Him. His joy was to do His Father’s will. His joy was to draw me near and it’s my joy to be drawn to Him. When I fix my eyes on Jesus, delighting in His goodness, that’s solid ground. The foundation for my hope.
When my gaze is fixed on other people’s opinions of me or my own opinion of me, or my accomplishments or failures, or money gained or lost, or my artistic skills or talent, then my hope is built on a flimsy foundation—as weak as a cloud or shifting shadow.
Hope is only resilient if it’s founded on solid ground.
God’s love is unchangeable. When I’m knocked down by criticism, doubtful thoughts, and/or disappointments, I recall my solid ground, my sure thing. I remember the joy set before me. These days, it often looks like going for a walk and thanking God. Such a simple thing but it’s holy work. At those times my prayers sound something like this: Thank You for tree tops. Thank You for the sky. Thank You for green. And as thankfulness builds I always come back to thank You for You. Thank You for Your presence. Thank You for never leaving me. In remembering Him, my hope rises. Then I can reach in faith toward something beautiful.
If you’ve been knocked down in your creative endeavors and discouraging voices are ringing clear in your memory—take heart! Your identity as an artist is not riding on the outcome of your past, present or future artistic accomplishments. It’s not riding on other people’s opinions, or even your own opinion of yourself or your work. Your identity as an artist, and as a person, is secure in your Father’s love. From that place of security you can view art and life as a beautiful experiment.
Remember this—dwell on it, and your hope will rise and you will reach again.
 Hebrews 12:2 NASB 1977
The featured artwork titled “Wonder” is (c) Amy Grimes and is used with her gracious permission for Cultivating.
“For me, it all starts with a story. As a child, fairytales and fantastic illustrations captivated my mind and sparked my passion for beautiful artwork and writing. Although I’ve created many kinds of art over the years, my favorite works of art are those inspired by stories. All of my art originates from the stories I write. I see my “story paintings” as windows that provide just enough to start the observer down the path but leave a little mystery to ignite their imagination. Light shining out of the darkness is my favorite and most recurring theme. I believe that artwork that reflects goodness and truth can bring light into people’s lives, encouraging them and giving them hope. My inspiration comes from long walks, rambling prayers, starry skies, and dreamy fairy tales. I enjoy a quiet life with my husband and two daughters, in a house full of treasured books and bright colors. A sleek, black cat and a nervous, brown rabbit keep me company each day while I paint.” ~ Amy Grimes