When I first decided I’d start a feature on this blog, I was worried. Worried because I thought I might run out of ideas, or that I might put my opinions across in the wrong way, or that I’d say something I’d end up seeing as wrong itself. It’s not easy trying to hone an artistic discipline in a public place. In fact it’s as hard, or even harder, if you try to do it in private. Something I’ve always wondered about being an arty person of any kind is how a Christian is supposed to deal with the worries you may face every day, especially if you’re just starting out. What do we do to keep working against our fears and doubts, to strive towards what we were inspired to create and the artists we want to become?
Two shows about young artists struggling in the anime industry – Sore ga Seiyuu!, airing this summer, and its often-compared-to recent predecessor, Shirobako – answer that question well.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9
Both shows feature budding voice actors who are far from strong and courageous when it comes to auditions. They are indeed frightened when it comes to the big moment, and they are indeed dismayed when they feel like they’ve failed. In Sore ga Seiyuu!, Futaba Ichinose gets overwhelmed at first by the feeling of isolation in the room she’s auditioned in, and the show’s narrator notes that this feeling is something every Seiyuu must conquer in order to succeed. Shirobako implies a similar set-up with Shizuka Sakaki as she takes an audition for the realistically titled show ‘I Think My Harem Is Slowly Falling Apart, But I Might Just Be Imagining It’. Shizuka is left alone to perform, even told to commence merely by a cue light, and the whole scenes makes us feel how far away she feels from industry she’s trying to join, and perhaps also, on a smaller level, the part she’s trying to play. Yet, she spent so long practising her lines, even on the train to the recording studio.
Like Futaba chooses to buy manga as source material to prepare for the roles she’s taking, paying money for entertainment she’d unlikely read otherwise, Shizuka sets herself apart from normal society (her sexually-charged lines confusing some of the train’s passengers) in order to strive for her goals. But both characters become quickly disheartened with their performance. All the preparation feels inconsequential once they’ve failed their auditions. They go from being isolated from normal life to prepare to being isolated in the audition room, and then finally feel isolated from the glory they visualized.
Art is lonely. As Christians, however, part of our spiritual discipline is to remember that God is always with us. The problem is that it’s easy to only go back to that fact in particular circumstances; it’s easy to forget that God is with you when you’re making art, or commenting about it on a blog, too. Since he works in all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28), he’s working in every word you write, every pixel you draw, every note you sing. It would be folly to ignore that, as doing so would work towards making you feel isolated even more, and it’s unlikely that you’ll cope with any of the burdens art can bring.
What else can we learn from our fictional junior seiyuus?
When both of them fail when it comes to reading their lines, and not just in one audition, the viewer can see the various mistakes that are being made. Futuba is given a single word – the cry of ‘Pipo’ from her character of the same name – and puts her all into it; too much of her all. She overthinks the part, drawing together interpretation upon interpretation of the context of the character and situation, and what comes out is a hilarious yell instead of what should have been a quiet, cute noise from this delicate creature. Shizuka acts similar when given the part of a member in a crowd cheering on a baseball player. While all the other amateur seiyuus blend in together, she tries to stand out with what she says and ends up looking as ridiculous as Futuba.
Overthinking what you do or trying to be the loudest are the results of being afraid – if you don’t know how you’ll perform, you may end up picking over every last detail of what you do, gaining confidence from your dedication while losing sight of what you’re actually meant to be working towards. Likewise, if you’re scared you won’t make an impression, you may try to make too much of an impression, again losing sight of the real goal of your art. Long-term, mastery of an art form gives you confidence (while also opening up whole new worries), but when you’re starting out, dealing with your fears should ultimately involve humility, something Futuba and Shizuka only demonstrated after they’d messed up in their apologies.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom (Proverbs 11:2); focusing on yourself and what you want and what you need to do in your art may seem like a given, but a Christian should actually value God and the people you make art for above that, as all your works, artistic or not, should be for the pleasure and glory of the Lord. If we humble ourselves before him in our artistry, he will lift us up (James 4:10). If we, however, try to boast of our talents in art like futuba and shizuka did, it’s unlikely that we’ll find success, and our worries of failure in the future will only increase.
Something else that struck me about Futuba is how much her idolisation of her superiors affects her work. She’s dumbstruck by the normal conversation Hiroshi Kamiya (a real famous Seiyuu) has with her, which translates into how she’s similarly more nervous than she needs to be when surrounded by seiyuu far more famous than her in the recording studio. What begins as a positive admiration for her peers quickly becomes a self-centred fear of how she will perform alongside them, be it in the studio or in the industry, and that fear gets in the way of her work. It’s something most beginners will have nightmares about – the stresses of feeling inadequate as you create that which those you adore have seemed to master, coupled with the stresses of not knowing how you’ll cope if you ever got to their level.
Being a Christian, however, means putting the self last if you want to be first (Mark 9:35); your main concerns as you create ought to be, as mentioned before, how your work will please God and affect other people. Even if art is what you want to do to pay your bills, your writing/drawing/singing/whatever is your service to other people, and it’s more comforting to treat it like that. Also, over-glorifying your contemporaries and masters from whom you learn leads you away from the comforting knowledge that they are and always were and always will be as human as you – except they may not have been Christians and may not have had God by their side. That being the case, shouldn’t you feel more confident going forward than they did?
As well as Shizuka’s panicking in an audition displaying how important it is for Christians to remember that God is with them, the wisdom she learns from viewing a production of the play Waiting for Godot (a personal favourite of mine) also helps illustrate an important part of how a Christian can conquer their fears when being creative. Beckett’s play is, on the surface, a grim example of the meaninglessness of life when all we are is passive. Vladamir and Estragon can only wait for Godot, who never comes, and thus they have a goal in which they are powerless. The show translates this as a warning to artists to not ‘wait for Godot’ themselves, but to be active in their pursuit of dreams and opportunities, a message Shizuka needs to hear.
Yet, as a Christian, I got another meaning on top of that: we shouldn’t be ‘waiting for Godot’ when it comes to God either. We should be actively and continually seeking him and his strength (1 Chronicles 16:11) to aid us through our struggles, and that means we should be seeking him in our artistry too. Yet, we also know that the Lord is good to those who wait for him; unlike Godot, the Lord does come to those who seek him, so we have to be humbly patient in knowing that our efforts will not go unnoticed. His strength will be a powerful blessing to help you carry your many burdens, so it’s something you have to go after and be patient for. Making art can be an incredibly consuming process, but that’s all the more reason to devote some of that process to getting closer to the Lord and giving yourself the time and space for him to come closer to you.
Part of the reason I’ve explored the issue of worries around being a new artist is because I’m one myself, and these were the exact worries that made this post appear later than I’ve been telling myself it should (I always thought of this as a Tuesday feature). I write creatively as well as critically, so these pointers are things I’m still getting to grips with myself in order to know what to do with my worries as an artist working for God, others, and – last and least – myself:
1) Keep in mind that God is always with you. It’s easy – and often beneficial – to get ‘lost’ in what you create, but whether feel confident about what you’re making or are doubting how it’s going, it’s comforting to remember that God is with you and working in and through you. Even the worries you may be having are part of his plan! Forgetting the presence of God is a grave mistake for any Christian to make.
2) Be humble in everything you do. As self-centred as some people view art, a Christian’s work should be for God and other people. Value their needs and desires above yours and God will not leave your righteous focus unrewarded. A lot of worries can simply stem from not having that humility in the first place, so you can stop your fears before they sprout by getting your priorities straight.
3) Get closer to God as you work, through your work. At the very least, your art shouldn’t be taking you further away from God, should it? Expect God to do bless your work without giving him any worship or attention and failure ought to manifest, as will more worries about what you’re making. But if you make seeking God a priority as you create, your art and your relationship with the Lord will prosper together.
By keeping these simple principles in mind no matter how our artistry develops, we can be doing as God commanded – being strong and courageous in what we create because we know he is working with us, the almighty author of our own ability to create for whom we should be creating in the first place. If you avoid falling into the trap of making art all about you, your burdens will be lighter as you work, and the Lord will help carry whatever remains to weigh you down. He has a purpose for what you’re creating, and there’s little chance you’ll be able to stop him from fulfilling it. Work with God in your art, not without him, and you’ll worry less and achieve the great deeds the Lord has planned for you through what you create.
That’s it for this week’s slightly late feature. Were there any other lessons for young Christian artists you spotted in these shows or somewhere else? Don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!
Thanks for reading, and may God bless all the arty things you do.