we don’t want your loveless art

Sometimes other people’s art – their plays, their food, their books, their beautifully inspired work – walks next to me like a comfortable friend. I am open to his influence, small in her presence, and happy to be so. When I am free and in good places, I trust her art and look to her to learn more of myself.

But there are those other times when their plays, their food, their books, and all that beautifully inspired work stands heavy on my chest. And just when I find a way to breathe shallow under the weight of it, when I squeeze out an extra hour of work, when I think I’ve got a crazy wide-eyed plan to catch up, they start to jump on my rib cage with all their successes.

Instead of a friend, their art becomes the enemy and I’m certain their good work guarantees I will never work again. The more I think of how much they are shipping and launching and producing and unveiling, the less I’m able to breathe.

When the art others make begins to terrify rather than motivate, it means you are normal. But if you want to create art that matters, something has to change. And the number one thing that works for me is to stop.

The art has become too important.

It seems counter-intuitive to stop just when you’ve convinced yourself you are already so very far behind. But stopping is really the only answer, because to carry on is to become a maniac work-aholic. To carry on is to worship the art rather than the Artist with a capital A. To carry on is to be pushed around by fear.

Fear drives out the love. When you work from fear, there is no love in your work. And we don’t want your loveless art.

So give the world and yourself a gift, and stop.

You are the beloved. So take some time to be the loved.

The fact that you need time to be the loved means you are human. And we want art that comes from human hands inspired by a capable God. Otherwise you will make mediocre art at best. If mediocre art is your goal, you can most definitely achieve it. Along with maybe a heart attack.

Here are 14 ways to make mediocre art – I wrote these last year but they came to mind again yesterday and I thought they were worth repeating. Be the loved, friend. It really is the most important thing.


  1. Holly says

    Are you sure you haven’t met me before? This all sounds very familiar to me…too familiar, I suppose.

    Thank you for the encouragement to stop – comparing, self-criticizing, waiting in fear. Or to keep going, pressing on toward the real goal, the Author and Perfector of our faith.

    Thank you…

  2. susan says

    I so love coming here, to your place where my chest wall visibly relaxes, my breathing automatically slows, the peace of what you are saying, visually or verbally, whether it’s actually peaceful or forcing my brain to *act*, calms my everything. I so love that you repeated part of this one. I needed that! Kinda like the old V8 commercial. :) you’ve heard all this from me before, but I wanted to thank you in a way that really means how deeply YOUR work matters! And it has such a powerful effect on so many of us it IS God -given. And far, very far, from mediocre

  3. says

    Oh. My. I have so much to say I don’t even know how to begin. I won’t lay it all on you though. : ) But I am literally in the throes of crafting a post that says, well, what you just wrote here. And now that you’ve said it, I feel better and normal but also like there’s no point in writing what I was going to write…and that is sort of what you’re getting at it here in a way. I fear the overlapping art, fear that unless I’m utterly original I should just give up and leave it to the experts {or “real artists.”}

    But you’re right, fear makes mediocre art and being the loved really is the most important thing. It really is. Thank you for saying it.

    • says

      Please write it.

      Only the day is new – the ideas are always borrowed, colored, recycled and used. That’s why we so need each other.

      • Bridget says

        “Only the day is new – the ideas are always borrowed, colored, recycled and used. ”

        I so need to know this is true. How often have I not said or written what was bursting in my heart because I thought for sure it had already been said?

  4. says

    Art is often like a form of prayer to me, especially since I let it lay dormant for so long. But this hectic morning, after another night of less than enough sleep for both myself and my daughter, due to my art-making mania, I realized that my favorite form of prayer is too quickly becoming an idol and needs to take a backseat for a little while I spend time with the “A”rtist. Thanks for this reminder.

  5. says

    So true! I love your list of 14 things. Could not be more spot on. I was just talking to someone yesterday and told them “stop apologizing!” When we are afraid to share our own art, it is ultimately fear and pride all mixed into one, isn’t it? Great thought provoking post for this morning!

  6. says

    This has been my battle :( for the past 3 months. And you literally pulled the thoughts out of my head. I’ve been comparing myself, doubting myself, chasing a dream and panicking that I’ll never reach it. So the art that made me feel alive has now become something that is constantly pointing out what I’m not, stealing all of my joy and giving me the biggest writers block ever. Sigh. Thank you for always saying what is so desperately needed.

  7. says

    Do you know that whenever I come here, I am released from that pressure you describe? I’ve been under so much pressure lately, I haven’t had time to read anywhere, but here – I come here when I have time to read something, because you don’t pressure. You just KNOW. You give you here, and you think and feel a lot like me, and you’re one of the safest places God has ever given me. Thank you for helping me breathe, friend. You have no idea how much you mean to me.

    • says

      Kelly? Your thoughtful comments always bring tears to my eyes, especially today.

      Not to get mushy, but I feel the same way about you.

      My soul breathes deep surrounded by your art.

  8. says

    Thank you, Emily. I’m working on a new historical verse novel that is really, really challenging. I set myself a goal of four poems a day, five days a week and was able to keep this up until I hit a wall. I had to return to my research before I could move forward. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but there was that Goal out there I felt I was shirking. And if I were to be honest, there’s the fear that if I don’t push through, this book — if it ever becomes that — won’t be out until 2014. I don’t know if it’s like this in non-fiction circles, but in my world, there’s a book a year drive we all have for stability, for not being forgotten by the reading population, and, yes, for the way it looks to the rest of the world. I’ve realized my motivation has been driven by faulty reasoning and have to be comfortable with working hard, being flexible in the creative process, and letting go.

    May I copy your 14 ways to share at my place?

    • says

      Oh, that book-a-year goal. Or at least every 18 months – that’s what I’ve heard in the non-fiction circles. And even though I’ve done that this year, I doubt I’ll ever have two this close together again. It can all be a bit too much.

      And Caroline? I finished May B. last Sunday – read her straight through in nearly one sitting. It was beautiful, calming, and just plain good. Thank you for writing it and sharing it and being brave.

      And sharing the 14 ways with a link back is always appreciated 😉

      • says

        So the pressure is everywhere, huh? Then what you have to say will stick with me even more, knowing you’re in a similar place.

        Glad you connected with my May girl. It’s been a delight to finally have her out in the world.

        I’m going to post your 14 ways in May (after National Poetry Month has come and gone) with a link back here. Thank you, Emily. So glad to know ya.

  9. Andee Eve says

    Love this! Wow. So true. Thank you for sharing. Love how you sad,” fear drives out the love.” so true. When we pause and realize we are the beloved, then the fear is cast away.
    Beautifully written!
    Thank you for encouraging & inspiring me today.

  10. says

    Oh goodness, this made me all soupy inside. I need moments to stop and breathe it all in … and live. Then maybe it’s time to write about it. Thanks for this.

  11. says

    You can’t help but check the things off on the list that you do that leads to the insecurity you feel as an artist. Life is full of risks. Thanks for putting it in perspective so we can let them go and become the person God made us to be.

  12. says

    This is so something that has been deep on my heart for awhile. With things like pinterest, we are overwhelmingly consumed by creativity and it makes me feel like my art has become less valued. Thank you for this encouragement. I know if I wanted to push my limit I could compete. But I don’t want to push or compete. I want to just be. I want to embrace that I am enough.

  13. says

    It is always a surprise (when I know all along it shouldn’t be) that the Father uses your words to meet me right where I am. It is all so very true and right Emily. The only difference I find is that rather than make me work harder, it causes me to stop working altogether. It is the same old pattern the enemy has used with me for years : make art, get discouraged, resolve to never to another thing again.
    Thank you for faithfully writing what He puts on your heart. He uses it well.

  14. says

    I feel it’s appropriate to make a comment on this post by referencing something you shared in your first book…I am afraid of being happy and afraid of living like God cares that my dreams would come true…or that I’ll find success based on the plans He’s marked for me ahead of time. Thanks for the list…such a great comparison/sounding board for the short and long term goals in which I long to jump at

  15. says

    Thank you for another beautiful (yet challenging) post, Emily! I have really enjoyed “chatting at the sky.” Your space is so tranquil and calming, and I find myself actually taking a full exhale while visiting =) Thanks for sharing authentically with your readers – it truly is a blessing!

  16. says

    “But stopping is really the only answer, because to carry on is to become a maniac work-aholic. To carry on is to worship the art rather than the Artist with a capital A.”

    This is the answer I’ve been searching for all week long, so thank you, really.

  17. says


    I recently discovered your blog, and have been tremendously encouraged by the words from your heart. Today’s post really spoke to me…when you said “you are the beloved, so take time to be the loved” … I struggle so much with that. I shared your 14 reasons on Facebook, and my friend and I agree that an alternate title could be “14 Ways to Live a Mediocre Life.”

    I would like to share this post on my exceedingly random blog, and I will of course link back to you.

    I’m praying for you, sister.



  18. says

    After following your blog for a little while now, I know you wrote these words because you’ve lived them, and had some victory over them, even if they might return to haunt from time to time. There is so much comfort in that for a fellow artist wanting to seek the capital Artist. Thank you again for encouraging words I needed to hear, Emily. Blessings to you and your family today.

  19. says

    Yeah, I’ve found myself in this place lately and so I have stopped. To take time to listen, to learn, to “be loved” as you say. He is the One who gives words and ideas and thoughts and I’m waiting for Him to fill me so I can pour it out again eventually. Your posts keep me thinking of this and keep me moving in some direction-better than none, right ? :)

  20. Gwen says

    I think we can transfer all of these statements to mediocrity in life, not just in art. Too many of these are part of my being. I need to be reminded that I’ve received far too much grace to accept mediocrity.

  21. says

    i have been absent from this space…no reason other than being busier than normal.
    but. i’ve missed it and i’m so glad to come back for this post.

    it is normal to have those non-celebrating feelings rise up in us, but you are so right..when they come knocking at the door of our hearts, we have to s.t.o.p.
    we have to have our hearts checked out and examined and re-examined.

    non-celebrating will stomp out joy and creativity and imagination and uniqueness.
    joy comes from a thankful heart……
    comparison comes in and steals our joy.

    love your truth telling.

  22. says

    How true this post is. I absolutely need to remember to stop sometimes if only to remember that I love being creative and I love the things I make, but not if I constantly compare them to others. Thank you for this reminder!!

  23. says

    How true this post is. I absolutely need to remember to stop sometimes if only to remember that I love being creative and I love the things I make, but not if I constantly compare them to others. Thank you for this reminder!!

  24. says

    Thank you for having the courage to articulate this. I thought it was just me.

    “Instead of a friend, their art becomes the enemy and I’m certain their good work guarantees I will never work again. The more I think of how much they are shipping and launching and producing and unveiling, the less I’m able to breathe.”

    I’m just beginning a faith journey of transitioning into pursuing art full-time, and since taking the first steps toward those goals, I’ve learned that what you are describing is such a tell of where my heart is at. When I am abiding in the Vine, trusting and relying on Him, I can learn and be inspired by other artists. But as soon as my thinking goes the way that you’ve described in the above quote, with the string of self condemning thoughts that follow, I know my focus has wandered from where it should be. The quiet time is essential to re-align that focus.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

  25. says

    Thank you…these words were for me, a constant place of fear to live in. I hope it is okay that I am going to link to this post on my blog. Have a blessed weekend.

  26. says

    Your website is so clean and calm. And so is this post. I’m tweeting it, sharing on FB, etc. The main point that stuck out to me was to “be the loved”. My own work is focused more on teaching than just creating my own things, so sometimes that is missing at times. Thanks for writing this.

  27. says

    Wow, this is so perfectly put, Emily. I’ve struggled with everything on that list, and it’s so helpful to have all in one place as a reminder. I found this via Caroline Starr Rose’s blog, and I’d also love to share it on my own blog with a link back here if you don’t mind. Thanks so much for sharing it!

  28. says

    Oh thank you for the pretty update to the “14 ways to make mediocre art”! I took down the black and white version I taped to wall last year and replaced it with the new version! My 11 year old daughter and I were just talking about today…thanks for the encouragement and the challenge! :)

  29. says

    Thank you again. Thank you again and again. I read your post I believe originally on incourage but most have needed it again today in this context.

    It is such good stuff and speaks deeply to my heart in this season in this moment.

    I am grateful and am enjoying your posts. They bless, they inspire.

    Thanks too for being your authentic you.


  30. says

    I can feel inside myself when my art will come out less than it could be. All those things you listed boils down to one thing, to me, and that’s a lack of love. If I’m not loving what I’m doing, the results will be mediocre. That’s why I stopped taking photos other people’s children for pay. I didn’t enjoy it, and my images were lackluster. It’s a mystical thing that happens if there’s love present. I can tell you the images of mine that were inspired, and sure enough, they’re the ones people stop in front of and spend time.

  31. Rachel says

    Thank you for sharing this. This is an idea that I have thought and felt, but not been able to verbalize. Good words.

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