Tradition and Originality: Finding Your Own Creative Voice

Copying Original Tradition

Some musicians have an unmistakable sound. It only takes a few seconds to audibly recognize Billie Holiday in her penetrating rendition of “Love for Sale,” Glenn Gould and his emotive interpretation of J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, or even the Punch Brothers in their progressively intricate compositions for bluegrass ensemble. What makes these artists so distinct? This question lies at the center of every musician’s creative journey. As an artist, one is always seeking a more unique self-expression through his or her medium. Unfortunately, this search is so ambiguous and esoteric, it drives many to give up before that desire can be fulfilled. No musician is born fully realized—creative self-discovery is a rite of passage for all artists. However, by examining the elements of creativity, it is possible to demystify the process and practically cultivate one’s own distinct musical identity.

Those elements can be condensed to two broad categories: tradition and originality. Every creative output inevitably traces back to some combination of these two aspects. The specific utilization and appropriation of each strongly influences the formation of one’s musical identity. One without the other leads to stagnation and artificiality. In contrast, the artists who experience the most distinct creative success are the ones who stand firmly on the experience of past tradition in order to step forward into new original territory. Let’s unpack this a little.

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We Sin Because We Have Bad Taste

goat with bad taste

According to one study, 64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women look at porn at least once a month. Those numbers aren’t all that different from the statistics of non-Christians. Is it at all strange to you that pornography is so popular? It’s singularly one of the most tacky things on the planet. It’s garish, badly acted, badly shot, badly directed, badly “written,” completely unbelievable, contrived, mindless, and absurd.

How do we normally condemn pornography? By calling it immoral, abusive, socially destructive, and shameful (all of which are certainly true). But shouldn’t it be enough that pornography is mind-numbingly tasteless? Somehow that isn’t enough. Which makes me think sin is very much connected to horribly bad taste. Let me explain.

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How to Improve Christian Movies Without Bigger Budgets

Christian Movies header

Have you ever wondered why most Christian movies fall so flat? The vast majority of the Christian films produced in the last few decades rank among the worst movies ever made. In fact, at least one of them, Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, had the dubious honor of being IMDb’s worst-rated movie of all time. (It’s currently tied for last.) It nearly swept the Razzies in 2014 too. One of its wins was for Worst Screen Combo: Kirk Cameron & His Ego. Ouch.

Some of the mockery and scorn leveled at Christian movies certainly stems from ideological differences. Most of the people who call Christian movies “lame” and “preachy” don’t belong to the choir. But as I’ve written before, much of the criticism leveled against Christian movies is completely legitimate, and we should take it seriously.

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Three Stages of Learning: How to Become a Master

Durer Master Three Stages of Learning

If you’re anything like most artists, and you probably are, you have a desire to become a great artist—a master. I have found very little information on how one goes about doing that. Most people talk like you either have genius in you or you do not. Though there may be some truth in this idea, mostly in terms of God’s discretionary privilege to grant gifts as he wills, this article will lay out the three stages of learning that every virtuoso without exception has had to attain. What God has given each of us in terms of raw talent is his business. But your self-awareness, discipline, and commitment to growth is your business. Let’s get to it.


Imitation is the beginning of any learning process. The first step in becoming a master is imitating the masters. If you are a painter, that means trying to mimic the methods, subjects, and styles of famous paintings. You find out what you can about how the masters used light, color, brush types and strokes, formats, and media. And you copy them.

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Beauty is in the Eye of Which Beholder?

beauty eye of beholder

This is the fifth installment in the “Whatever” series on a biblical view of the arts, drawn from Philippians 4:8. If you missed the last four articles, you can read them here: Whatever is True, Whatever is HonorableWhatever is Just, and Whatever is Pure.

Whatever is Lovely

It would be easy to assume that no one needs instruction in what is lovely. Many consider this to be a matter of personal taste without any need for study, discipline, or assistance. This perspective is, however, not biblical. While no particular human aesthetic can claim to have a corner on loveliness, Paul would not have included this phrase in Philippians if loveliness were entirely arbitrary. If anything could be lovely depending only on your taste, what would be the point of directing people to lovely things? We already like what we think is lovely—no instruction or commandment required.

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Naysayers Go to Hell and Other Things I Learned with Micah Stout

Micah Self-Portrait header

I remember every time I played “Naysayers” with Micah Stout. People would cringe. I could see their faces changing when Micah would get around to the chorus, singing in a bracing nasal register just slightly above his range:

Naysayers go to hell! I think you will do we-e-e-ll … Naysayers go to hell, I think you will do well … to say yes to Jesus.

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Has God Really Called You to be an Artist?

Calling in Your Ear header

The Nehemiah Foundation is regularly asked how we decide which Christian artists we support. Our criteria are actually quite inclusive:

  1. You profess Christ as your Savior and your life does not obviously contradict that profession.
  2. You believe you are called by God to be an artist or artisan.
  3. We believe your art is not likely to be served by the current art market.
  4. We believe we are able to provide something to you that you can’t provide yourself (e.g., production assistance, studio space, materials, etc.).

If you meet those four criteria and you want our assistance, we will do everything we can to support you in the way we think will best serve your art, benefit the church at large, and steward our limited resources.

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