Artisan Soul

Chapter 7 Reflection

To be honest, chapter seven was kind of a disappointment after the excellence of the preceding chapters. McManus talked about how we are all masterpieces and God is forming us, though it may take longer for some and the journey may have a lot of bumps and rough patches along the way.

It’s not that I don’t agree with McManus on this front. I do. However, this is one of the most overplayed narratives in Christianity. You start out with someone is rough and they go through a lot of terrible things in life (this is God chipping away at them), before they hit rock bottom, then they find God and their life is reversed (the masterpiece is revealed). I have heard this exact narrative a thousand times. I wish McManus would have ended it in a different way.

He did talk about one thing that stuck with me. Jesus’ first miracle was turning water to wine. He said that some of us are frustrated by how long it takes us to turn to wine, but we must all start as water. I like this idea, that we’re all the same until He makes us into something different.

Chapter 6 Reflection

In the sixth chapter of The Artisan Soul, McManus argues that we are each given a certain amount of canvas, symbolic for creative capacity, and that it is up to us to decide how we will use it. I appreciate the metaphor, and his argument.

“The perceived limitation is the medium, but the actual limitation is the artist. Everyone begins with the same material; it’s what we do with the material that matters.,” (149). McManus goes into detail to describe this, examining the 12 notes musicians have to work with, the three shapes architects have at their tool-belt, the five flavors chef’s have to cook with, the three colors artists have to use, etc. However, he notes that you can create infinite combinations within each of these fields. I love this thought because it is extremely true. Cookies share the majority of their ingredients with bread, but most breads taste vastly different (and inferior) to most cookies. Ariana Grande has the same notes to work with as does Hozier, but her music always comes out vastly inferior to his. Roger Federer could still win a grand slam with a $20 racket, though he would obviously prefer his $300 racket. It’s the utilization of the canvas that is important, that defines the artist, not the canvas itself.

Next, McManus uses another cliche to express a deep truth. “We aren’t limited because we have limitations; we are limited because we haven’t embraced them,” (149). A bad cook can bastardize great ingredients into a disgusting meal while a great chef can turn less than average ingredients into a stellar masterpiece that tastes even better than it looks. We have a tendency to complain about our situation, rather than make the most of it. If people changed their attitude more often, there would be far fewer complaints and far more results. Embrace your situation, find a silver lining and make the most of what you’re given.

I kind of got lost in the middle of the chapter, but I did enjoy the ending, talking about how we’re all working towards a common goal, whether we realize it or not and whatever form it takes shape in. “Well-being is not a journey toward perfection, but a journey toward wholeness,” (167). While I do get tired of McManus speaking in cliches, this one is very true. Too often, people are delusional about wanting a perfect life, without realizing that the life they have is perfect in its own perplexing funny way. To quote J. Cole, “Ain’t no such thing as a life that’s better than yourz.” God has given you the canvas. Make of it what you will.

Chapter 5 Reflection

I think the fifth chapter might be my favorite of The Artisan Soul. Cards on the table, I haven’t read the sixth yet, but still. McManus has a habit of speaking in cliches, but providing new perspectives on them.

The one he focuses on this chapter is that nothing is achieved without hard work. This is an age old adage, hard work pays off. However, an age old tendency is to want to succeed without hard work, which McManus posits, is not possible. “We hope that discovering our talents, and even our calling or purpose, will lead to effortless success. I would propose that the exact opposite is true: if God created us to be successful at something, then he has called us to work hard at it,” (130). I love the end of this, if we were designed to be great in a field, we must work to achieve that greatness; it is not just bestowed upon us.

McManus says this does not mean some people are just naturally talented at something. Of course there will always be people who are naturally talented. But if they don’t work to refine that talent, it will flounder. However, if they do put in the work, “Talent, when fully developed, becomes a strength,” (130). You can see this in all the top athletes in any field. They spend hours and hours every single day for many years practicing it. I’ve always been a fan of Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory, and this is a perfect interpretation of it.

If we want to be great, we must put in the work. However, “Anything we aspire to do an an expression of our artisan soul requires inspiration and strength,” (131). You cannot achieve great things without passion or inspiration. It takes time and commitment and if you are not passionate about it, you will not stay committed.

I love one statement McManus makes in particular. “It’s been a wonderful realization after fifty years of life that if we work hard enough, hard work will eventually be mistaken for talent. And if we refuse to give up, perseverance will eventually be mistaken for greatness,” (133). I had never thought about this prior, but it makes perfect sense.

I am not the most talented writer out there. In fact, I have two impairments that should hinder me from becoming a great writer and editor. I am both dyslexic and dysgraphic. This makes me a slow reader and writer. I will often read the same sentence a dozen times before I realize I’ve already read it. However, this makes me be more deliberate when I read. I also used to be morbidly slow when I typed, but a couple years ago, I decided if I was going to do this for a profession, I needed to type more than twenty-five words a minute. So every day for several months, I would take typing tests for half an hour. It was boring an painstaking, but I now type about sixty words per minute and can type without looking at the keyboard at all. This might seem like a minor feat, but it took a monumental amount of time and work.

I always strive to be the best at my craft. God gave me a bit of talent but a lot of passion for writing. That’s why I work harder than anyone else I know when it comes to writing. I bite off more than I can chew and write as much as I can so that one day my work might be mistaken for talent.

Chapter 4 Reflection

The fourth chapter of The Artisan Soul focused on imagination and image. While I was not nearly as fond of this chapter as the previous two, I recognized the underlying value it had. McManus uses cliches to illustrate how imagination is power and we, as artists, must use that power to create.

Unfortunately, our imagination, according to McManus, can also take leaps and bounds ahead of our reality. He describes how everyone wants to be great, how imagination is bastardized by ambition. “More often than not, our focus is talent—to become a great doctor, a great teacher, a great writer, a great attorney. And it’s completely human to imagine ourselves as the very best in a field for which we have a deep passion,” (103).

I have recognized this level of ambition within myself far more often than I’d care to admit. I write a good story and suddenly I think I’m cut to work at The New Yorker. I lead my team successfully and suddenly I think I’m suited to run GQ. I have done many good things in life, but I am nowhere near at this level yet. I am constantly reminding myself to approach all of my work with a humble attitude and a servant leadership mindset. Because while I may be at The New Yorker level one day, today is not that day and, “The only ideas that really matter are the ones that get turned into realities,” (103).

This is not to shut down my dreams. It is not to halt my ambitions. I intend on achieving my dreams some day, as everyone should. Rather, this is to take a breath, recognize where I’m currently at, and reexamine my approach. I love creating in terms of telling others’ stories, but the story is never about me, it is about them. I am just the messenger. “All art is created both for self-expression and as an extension of self,” (106). My art, with a paintbrush of words, is expression and an extension of who I am as a person. I want it to reflect well on my character, and in order to do that, I need to have the character I want seen in these stories.

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Most people think being a journalist limits your imagination. They think we view the world in black and white. We see fact and we see fiction and our job is to report just the facts. This is true in part. We do not have the power to make up information. We must use facts in our stories. However, we can use our imagination to creatively tell stories. You can create a fascinating, engaging narrative off of pure fact if you know how to weave it together with the right words. “He knows that his unique style will find its own audience when it finds the person who resonates with the story,” (115). I aspire to write in a way that others can resonate with. That is the craft I am working on within my artisan soul.

Chapter 3 Reflection

The same thing that happened with chapter two happened with chapter three. I read it two months ago and decided I was not in a place to write about it.

The interesting thing is that I really related to a lot of what McManus wrote about in this chapter. He talked about how art comes from pain and darkness often provides a more creative space than life does. I agree entirely. “If life is a work of art and life is to become our most creative act, then we must realize that our lives will be our most profound interpretation of what it means to be truly human,” (74).

I experienced the deepest depression of my life for nineteen days after my girlfriend of more than three years and I broke up at the end of March. We had a huge fight and I haven’t spoken to her since. She said some hurtful things as did I, and those hung over my head for nearly three weeks. I felt all the words I had struggled for for months rise up within me and I was tempted to pick up a pen and begin writing.

However, I knew what I would write wouldn’t ultimately help me feel better, it would just temporarily alleviate the pain. I needed to ponder what had led to this, not vent about how it made me feel. “Truth finds its way into the inner recesses of our soul only through interpretation,” (73). I figured out the truth only after I spent many days interpreting. I felt better only after I shared my story with someone new and she listened.

There is a monolithic difference between hearing and listening. My former paramour heard everything I said, but for months, she hadn’t listened. This has a similar structural compostion to McManus’ views, “Truth is not nearly as powerful as interpretation,” (72). We both view two concepts as similar, but one is certainly inferior to the other.

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I loved the example McManus gave from The Tree of Life. I haven’t seen it, but I plan on renting it now. He talks about Brad Pitt in the movie, which reminded me a lot of my father. “By calling his son over to grab his lighter, he was in his own awkward and sublime way inviting his son to come near. It wasn’t the lighter he wanted; it was the kiss. And it wasn’t the kiss that was his ultimate desire; it was the affection of his son,” (71). We often are scared of the unknown, and I assume that much like me, this boy did not really know his father. While I never had a great relationship with my dad growing up, I knew he always loved me, though he had a tough time and interesting ways of expressing it.

McManus compared this relationship to a divine one. “We fear God, so we do his bidding and risk coming near him, all the while waiting to put distance between ourselves and our Creator. God is, however, profoundly misunderstood. Worship is not something we are called to so that God can reinforce his status. It is his way of calling us near,” (71). God is calling us to live out our purpose that he designed for us long ago.

Chapter 2 Reflection

I first read the second chapter of The Artisan Soul way back in February. It is now April and the end of school is just days away. When I first read it, nothing really jumped out at me, so I chose not to write this blog post then. In truth, I did not intend to wait this long before rereading it, but I’m glad I did.

Chapter two describes finding a narrative, finding your own voice, in a world that is constantly trying to keep you from finding it. McManus talks about all the mistake he made and how they made him feel like he was not worthy. However, he eventually over came this: “It is only when our inner voice responds to God that we truly begin to find our own voice,” (59). McManus found his voice after listening to His voice.

This was critical in McManus’ journey because it led him to great things along the way. “Our inner voice not only informs us of who we are but affects everything we touch and in the end becomes the driving force through which we strive to shape the world around us,” (59). McManus shaped the world of thousands by first finding his own voice.

Although he was a bit repetitive at times, McManus really hammered home the message through using other examples, including great artists in Van Gogh, Monet and Picasso. “Who do we become when we stop allowing all the voices in our head to crowd out the one voice we must hear to come to life?” (64). Van Gogh was told he couldn’t be an artist, so he became an artist. Picasso was told if he was a soldier, he would one day become a general, if he was a priest, he may one day become a pope, but he was an artist, so he became Picasso. He defined his own narrative.

I really appreciated the closing pages of this chapter. McManus talked about how he had lost a fortune overnight in a business venture and he sunk into a depression. One of his friends gave him a piece of advice when he questioned his success. His friend said, “You have a story worth telling, and because of that the outcome is irrelevant to your success,” (66). McManus needed a reminder that he was a success, even if his business wasn’t at that time.

Overall, this chapter defined the significance of finding your story. “Our story is what we have to offer the world,” (67). McManus, like all great artists, has loads to offer the world through his story. He has touched countless lives just as the original artist did, He who created us. With this, McManus ended with a Marianas Trench level deep thought, a good place to end this post on as well: “When God speaks universes are created. What is his voice creating in you?” (67).

Chapter 1 Reflection

Erwin Raphael McManus’ The Artisan Soul opens sounding honestly a bit like a self help book. In the first chapter, McManus talks about how everybody is an artist, everyone is creative, everyone is capable of great art, etc. This is positive on the surface level, but not entirely realistic.

I am not an artist. At least not in your typical drawing, painting, sculpting, crafting, knitting, singing, acting, etc., forms of craft that come to mind when you think of the word art. The only way I could describe myself as an artist were if words were my paintbrush. In that case, I might just be an artist.

McManus seems set to convince me and every reader that we are capable of anything. I’m not sure if that is true. However, I do agree with him on one major point. He argues that we are creative because God is creative and God created us; therefore, we are creative.

I do believe God put an innate desire in everyone to create. That’s why we live in houses, not in nature. That’s why we hang art on our walls, not leaving them bare. That’s why I’m typing this on a laptop, not saying it in person.

Here is to seeing what we can all create in this class over this spring.