14 ways to make mediocre art

Make love to Fear.
Apologize a lot.
Try to measure your impact.
Compare yourself.
Fear the success of others.
Stay comfortable.
Have imaginary conversations with your critics.
Hold on to regret.
Wait until tomorrow.
Demand appreciation.
Be easily offended.
Do it right.
And by all means, don’t take a risk.


  1. says

    I love all of these–but care to elaborate on number 1? Preach–meaning, talk and talk and talk but no follow through?

    I wrestle with this list all the time as a musician. Oh, to be freed mentally to embrace art as a never ending process rather than trying to make it obey me!

    • says

      Elaborate on preach? Insist you are right. Try to talk people into it. Fear a different way. Leave no room for conversation. Does that help?

  2. says

    i’m so glad that you listed “fear the success of others.” it’s just been a general life lesson for me to learn to take joy for others who have what i want but don’t have yet or can’t have. it’s like we believe that God gives good gifts but that He sells out of them. like, well now that that person has that good thing, i can’t possibly have it too? but He doesn’t. and He’s a good and personal gift giver.

    • says

      And not only do we think God runs out of particular gifts, but we think we want the same gift someone else has. As in, “I wish I could take beautiful photos like she does” or “I wish I were as good a cook as she is”. *sigh* Can you tell where I struggle?

  3. says

    I have been guilty of more than one of these in the past. Thankfully most have or are finding their way out…especially the first one on your list. Thank you for what you do.

  4. says

    Hmm…very thought provoking list. In the last few weeks I’ve been working through issues with some of these items, and I’ve found in learning to let go of them, to look past them I’m more content than I’ve been in a very long time.

  5. says

    fantastic list. all of these creep into our thoughts, and maybe must be visited (and left behind) on our way to a great post. But most of all – YES to “Preach.” Preaching in its worst form is not sharing truth, is not saying “I think I might’ve found a way that might work for all of us, in one way or another.” That kind of preaching is insisting that you have found the ONLY way, and carries with it implicit judgement against people who reject your ‘teaching.’ Hard to swallow.

  6. says

    I feel the need to email this to some dear friends. I especially love #1 and your subsequent comment “insist you are right….leave no room for conversation”.

  7. says

    Oh, yes. I love it.
    And may I add …

    *Wait for the next big idea instead of taking the small, obvious step right in front of you.*

    Love all this arty stuff, Em.
    Can’t wait to read book #3. 😉

  8. says

    Right. On. I get the feeling you wrote this one as much for yourself as you did for us. : )

    {And I love that your text is sort of in the shape of a dress.}

  9. says

    And may I say…this could also be titled, “14 ways to have a mediocre ‘life.'”

    Yesterday as I was doing a surprise make-over for a young friend of mine…I thought of you and what you’ve written….and how hard I try to do everything perfectly. You’ve gotten me thinking and evaluating….in a very good way. Thank you!!!

  10. says

    Have conversations in your head with phantom critics.

    I do that over every little thing I undertake. Parenting, meal-making, blogging, what books I choose to read. It drains the joy right out and leaves me ready for a fight. Not exactly the way I want to live. It’s been a long, hard road, but I am slowly overcoming that aspect of my mentalness. 😉

    Thanks for posting. Enjoy you so much!

  11. says

    Emily, visiting your blog is my new tradition. I have a creative soul but must kick fear to the curb so that I can create! Your words are challenging but generous. Thank you!

  12. Michelle says

    Thank you. I read this while sitting at my dining room table, drinking tea and not cleaning my office. Now I’m going to go downstairs to my office, print this out, post it on my wall… and start cleaning my office. It’s where I would hunker down, focus, and make my art. Halfway through typing this I smelled my teakettle burning on the stove, on a burner I thought I had turned off. Last week’s mini-meltdown was my plastic measuring scale. Giving myself the space to do one thing at one time will be good for me.

    And thank you for defining “preach.” I appreciate passion and conviction; you put your finger on the element that makes a conversation feel like a trap rather than an ebullient opening. I had been wondering this morning how best to respond – what spirit to respond in, and how to decline to engage with antagonism or competitive conversation without being dismissive of the person. My friends, neighbors, and I handle this well with one another, but I find it trickier with strangers – on public transportation, at parties, etc.

  13. says

    Yes! Emily… this *so* struck a chord with me. Just this week I was contemplating this very issue in relation to blogging and while I didn’t synthesize everything as well as you, I did reach the same conclusions. : ) Thanks for putting it so well! I don’t comment very often here, but I do appreciate the time you put in on writing here. You encourage. thanks!

  14. says

    Stay comfortable. Wow am I ever a fan of the comfort zone.

    I took a peak outside my comfort zone a few months ago and it is paying huge dividends. Huge.

  15. says

    OOOOh – ouch Emily! Absolutely right on. You are helping and encouraging me (and causing me to think things through) more than I can say.

  16. says

    Coming by from Jennifer Lee’s blog. I love this list, though I see too much of myself there. I don’t want to make mediocre art. I want to make art that soars and glorifies and floats on a breeze. So what does that look like?

    Live don’t Preach. Live with confidence, don’t make love to Fear. Strive to serve don’t demand appreciation. Look boldly ahead, don’t hold on to regret. Be gracious, don’t be easily offended. Be thankful for my gifts, don’t compare myself. Do it well, don’t just do it right. Try something new, don’t just stay comfortable. Rejoice with those who rejoice, don’t fear the success of others. Leave the results to Jesus, don’t obsess over measuring your impact. Do it today, don’t wait until tomorrow to make it fabulous. Listen to the Spirit, don’t have conversations in your head with phantom critics. Apologize for mistakes, don’t apologize for your opinions. And by all means, take a risk.

    Thanks for the encouragement today.

  17. Alexandra says

    Oh Emily, you have such insight!!! I’m so going to keep a copy of this list where I can see it often, it’ll be such a great reminder to not fall into these traps. God bless you.

  18. says

    Oh Emily … I wish I had seen this list before I gave a talk this morning to a group of women on the way we thirst for approval of others. The talk’s title: “So Long, Perfectionist.”

    I would have loved to share this with them.

    This is, … well, … perfect.

  19. says

    I really enjoy your blog, well I guess it’s your thoughts I enjoy. And grow from.
    It would be nice if you would add a “share on facebook” button.

  20. says

    I need to post this up where I can see it! We must all struggle with something in here. Such a balance. A healthy balance. Too much of one thing throws it all off. Only in Christ do we find that. Thank you. I will be reminding myself of this list often.

  21. Alex says

    why do you say don’t risk? how else can you succeed, if you don’t risk? it can be a controlled risk, backed up with a plan in case of failure, but you have to risk, if you want to grow :)

  22. says

    beautiful post and so true. especially “be easily offended.” we all have different voices; we will harmonize with some and clash with others. sadly, instead of finding (or creating) a symphony of their (our) own, all too often we take up offense while a whole lotta beautiful art could be going on.

  23. Cindy Stahl says

    Great list, definitely worth saving. I’d like to add a few to this list: Try, but don’t put your heart into it., Believe everyone knows your faults, and cares.

  24. says

    I do LUV LUV this for so many reasons. I will ponder this all day today and want to tuck it away somewhere special or better yet put it on the refrig. I am enjoying your blog so much.

    Thanks for doing what you do, girl. Be encouraged.

    Thanks especially for sharing this with us and not keeping it all to yourself.

    I’ll be sharing this with some friends today.

  25. says

    I love your website and this post…just wanted to share these Strategies for Identifying and Developing Imagination in Children from my blog post…

    Fluency, Flexibility, Originality, and Elaboration are the four primary strategies for developing and improving creative thinking or imagination.

    Fluency is the ability to think of many answers to a question, to list many possible solutions to a problem, or to generate a number of responses. Fluency is being able to think of lots of plans or ideas. You are fluent when you can:
    Think of a long list of reasons for not cleaning your room.
    Make a very long list of games to play at a party.
    List many uncommon uses for a common thing, like a shoelace.

    Flexibility is the ability to change your way of thinking about a problem or situation. It is the ability to think of alternative ideas and to adapt to different situations. You are flexible when you can:
    Think of indoor games to play when your birthday party has been rained out.
    Think of another way to reach the top shelf when you can’t find the stepladder.
    Invent an interesting way to wash the kitchen floor.

    Originality is the ability to think of fresh or unusual designs, ideas, responses, or styles. People who are original are independent and creative in their thoughts and actions. They create things that are new, different, or unique. You are original when you can:
    Suggest a unique name for your new baby sister.
    Devise a tool that will help you hold a pencil while your broken arm is in a cast.
    Design a get-well card for a sick friend and write your own message inside.

    Elaboration is the process of expanding an idea by adding detail. To elaborate, you must understand the original idea and see a way to clarify or improve it by adding specific details. You are elaborating when you add to, enlarge, enrich, or expand descriptions, designs, drawings, explanations, instructions, reports or stories. You are using elaboration when you can:
    Add extra details to a community map so that a friend can find your house more easily.
    Tell more about a character in a story so that a reader can identify with him or her.
    Explain the instructions for a game in greater detail than was used by the manufacturer of the game.

  26. says

    You don’t know what this does to me. Really. Truly. Beautiful. All of these I am battling as I’m trying to figure out where my blogging and writing is supposed to go. The unknown is so fearful and I get so wrapped up in the things on this list. I didn’t realize when I started blogging, God would start unwrapping me, revealing the tender hard places. Thank you for letting me relate to someone.

  27. Brenda says

    Emily, I love this list, and will be giving it to women this weekend at our Creativity Retreat. Could you expound on what you mean by, “Make love to fear”? Thanks!

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