Many moons ago I started writing a series of blogs about being a resilient artist but the time never seemed right to publish them. I even wrote out an idea for a business called Resilient Creative but life took over and the idea stayed in a notebook. Then the pandemic hit, the world turned upside down and changed the arts arena as we knew it. One evening I was chatting to my long time colleague and friend Rachael Forsyth about the state of the arts and we pondered on how we might recover as an industry. She mentioned some thoughts she was writing about, I mentioned the previous blogs and voilà, we had a book idea. 

If you’re struggling to get back into the rhythm of creating, then How To Be A Resilient Artist is for you. You may be looking to boost your creativity in some way, to find a new way of working or regain some areas of your art that have fallen apart. You’re not alone, many people go through a “wilderness” period with their creativity. It’s all part of the artistic journey. Life is full of difficult twists and turns; recession, divorce, death, illness, failed businesses and of course, the unforeseen pandemic. All of these situations are tough for anyone working in business, however the unpredictable nature of the creative industries can make this a lot tougher. For others it could be that boredom and lack of direction has brought you to a halt and you’re now not sure how to kick start your enjoyment of playing your instrument or picking up your paintbrushes. These “wilderness” periods can be confusing, disorientating and draining. They also give us the opportunity to assess where we’re going and what we want out of life and ultimately, our music. The trick is not to let the “wilderness” journey overwhelm you but redirect you. 

This book is designed to give you some hope that your setback is only a season and not a life sentence! Better times will come and eventually you will feel stronger from what you have learnt through this experience. There are plenty of ideas to get the creative juices going, and stories of how we overcame obstacles and found a new way to make things work. It’s always possible to recover from the pressure and regain a rhythm of working and performing. 

Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, this book has insights and tips on how to reinvigorate your creativity and regain your focus. Whatever season you are in, you can make a fresh start and discover the creativity within you. 

It was early in 1994 when I was listening to an album in my room and received the strangest and yet beautiful experience. I was seventeen years old and had been navigating the rollercoaster of life and had got burned; I was venturing into the early beginnings of adulthood. As the music flowed over me, I began to feel something I’d never felt before. My ears homed in on the sound of the bass line: the rhythm, the frequency, the depth of the sub bass pulsating through me. But something else was happening, deeper and more ethereal than the usual listening experience. It was life changing healing on a profound, unexplainable level. There were no words spoken, just a spiritual, fulfilling moment emanating from the timbre of the music. 

Largely in our western society, we negate the idea that something non-medical could bring healing and our culture is bemused by the idea of the spiritual being able to heal us. Unless it’s a medicine or treatment we can see, it’s not considered to be genuine. The general feeling is that if the medics can’t help us then there is no solution to our problem. We’ve lost our awe, wonder and respect for the divine as it removed the power from our hands. Unless we have the knowledge of how this works, we don’t see it as viable. Modern life dictates that we must understand in order to receive, whereas God wants us to receive without the borders of understanding. However, in receiving from him our knowledge of his power and omnipotence increases. 

It was a unique experience for me, one that has not been replicated since in my life. The metred pulse of the bass line allowed me to receive the frequency of the Lord’s healing as it poured over me. This unusual healing touched me in a way that no counselling, therapy or medical cure could have done. The Lord’s power was able to reach places, emotions and scars that were deep within me, pulling out the root of the problem so that the divine answer to my situation had finality and no possibility of reoccurrence. I am not for a minute suggesting that we shouldn’t put our faith in medical science and psychological therapies, however, that we should start our healing process by asking the Lord which route he wanted to take.  

I find it interesting that the healing only took place between myself and the Lord; no one else was in the room. There is an intimacy to this moment that was just between me and him. I do know other people that have encountered similar healing moments during worship services. Yet this isn’t something that we see in church life on a regular basis. Why? In 1 Samuel 16:14-23, we’re told that David literally drove Saul’s sickness away with music. The very act of playing the lyre soothed Saul into peace. The spiritual frequency prophetically moving through the music made him complicit and disarmed in the presence of the Lord. Only the Lord could offer Saul healing in his circumstances and music was the channel he chose to administer this.  

I suspect that musicians who played on the piece of music I was listening to, had no idea how the Lord use their gifts in that recording. This begs the question for all musicians: how might God use you in your gifting? Have you asked God to use you in a greater way than you could ever imagine? And for those listening, are there preconceptions or limiting beliefs that you need to abandon in order to experience healing? To encounter the fullness that both the divine and music can offer, we must put aside our knowledge and natural understanding, so that we encounter the supernatural. Many years ago, I was improvising over an instrumental during worship, not singing words but using my voice as an instrument. Afterwards, I was approached by a woman who told me that she heard the Lord speak clearly through the sounds I was vocalising. Perhaps by not singing words, God had space to speak clearly through a different medium.  

We’re all waiting for healing of some kind, perhaps we shouldn’t be asking “when will you heal me Lord?” but “by what means do you want to heal me?”. The time has come for us to be more creative in our approach to worship, intimacy with the Lord and more open to the way the Lord wants to work in our lives. It’s time to raise our expectation in what can and will do for us. If we are open to what the Lord may have for us, we may gain more in our relationship with him. He is a creative God and loves to do more for us than we can imagine.  

Here’s another instrumental I composed for Jazz Community Church for the reading Mark 15:21-29 for the online Good Friday service on 1 April 2021 (that’s me reading the passage too). Thanks to Gunter Hauser for mixing the track to Adam Sanders for creating a video.

Instrumental written & performed by Helen Sanderson-White. Copyright 2021 music by Helen Sanderson-White.

Recently I have been working with Jazz Community Church and have been asked to create instrumental music for their services. Here’s an instrumental that I composed to accompany a reading of Isaiah 55 (that’s me reading the passage too).

Music written & performed by Helen Sanderson-White. Copyright 2014 music by Helen Sanderson-White adapted for this reading in 2021.

I always knew that I would be a songwriter and artist right from a very young age. And I think, if I’m honest with myself, I always knew that I probably wouldn’t have an easy life because of that calling to artistry and creativity. Artists generally experience life at a deeper emotional level than others, and this informs and guides our work. Our hearts gets broken and we pour the emotions into our work. But is there any other purpose to this?

Every artist dreams of profoundly connecting with their audience, being able to move someone is a great privilege, and if it helps them on their healing journey, even better. I learnt that the greatest way to connect with my audience was through compassion, if I understand what someone has been going through, I am then able to express these emotions better in my work. 

A long time ago, I asked God why I was suffering so much in life. A series of devastating events had taken over my life, rejection, discrimination, abandonment, rape, domestic abuse, unemployment, debt, housing insecurity, divorce; it never seemed to stop. It was at this point, the Lord was clear with me that he didn’t make those things happen to me, but he allowed me to learn compassion and to soften my heart towards others in the process of dealing with these situations. Learning to be a better artist meant learning how others felt and walking the same path as them. If I wanted to connect with my audience on a deeper level, I had to experience that deeper level. I am not in anyway advocating going out and getting your heart broken to improve your work, but what I am saying is that there is more than one purpose in the pain. 

But God does not leave things there in the ashes. He treats our lives as works of art. Whatever has been broken or stolen from us, is eventually restored to us. If we can walk with others and give them hope, we take them further than just identifying with their pain. God creates a beautiful story out of a desperate situation. Whether we have received restitution or are still waiting for it, the Lord always completes our story. Everything happens for his glory, so that he can reveal his love and compassion for us through our lives. 

And this is why artists often go through more challenging times than others; we’re being prepared to create greater works that reach much further than we have gone before. We are to reflect the glory of God through our work. It is important to share the pain as well as the triumphs with our audiences. Christian life and also the artistic life, isn’t all successes and victories; often the best work is born out of painful journeys. Even if you’re not an artist, there is purpose in every life situation that you face. A failure sometimes has more value than a success because we gain so much through learning how to navigate through the disaster. 

And by the way of example, I wrote You’re So Hard On Me when I was facing opposition as a single mother, I painted Walking Into The Light when I was emerging from the nightmare of domestic abuse and I wrote If That’s The Way when after a miscarriage. None of these projects were easy to create but they connected with my audience in a profound way and were cathartic for me as well. 

So when your heart is broken, remember that there is purpose in the pain. You may not see it yet, but you might produce some of your best work and also help others along the way. We never fully know the impression that our work leaves on someone, but if we handle our creativity well, our calling to be an artist might just save someone’s life…

I just love it when a news headline brings the truth of a matter into sharp focus… Over the last nine months, the state of the arts and its significance in the British economy has been hotly debated. I’ve mentioned before the importance of the large contribution the arts sector brings both financially but also culturally to society. One headline caught my eye recently, Dolly Parton partly funded Moderna Covid vaccine research, partly because I wondered what her motivation for donating to such a cause was but also because the donation came not from the business sector, but the arts. 

I find it ironic in a time when the arts sector feels abandoned by the government that a musician should make a financial gesture of this magnitude to a cause that is so pressing. Often the press portrays superstars as egotistical or fame-hungry, and I will admit that at first the cynical side of me wondered if this was a publicity stunt, however, Dolly’s reputation goes before her in this arena. What we know is that she loves to give back to as many charities and organisations as possible. Her impoverished childhood gave her a good understanding of caring and looking out for others; not only does she regularly donate but she has also set up her own charities. Her business acumen has put in her in position to to give to others, and it is evident from her philanthropy that she takes great delight in doing so. 

So what better than a vaccine where the research has been funded by the proceeds of music! Where someone people are driven by greed, Dolly has used her platform to influence and help others for good. I would even go as far to say that the Lord put her in a position to help others in this very time of need. God always knows the desires of people’s hearts and the timing needed to bring peace; he knows how to make it all work for our good, he is never late but right on time. It’s a wake up call to all of us as to what our motives our for creating art, and what we want to people to take from our creations. It’s about putting others first and then taking the opportunity to give back. And it seems for Dolly that working 9 to 5, made a way to fund a vaccine…

After five weeks of quarantine, the COVID-19 situation is no longer a surprise to the nation. We’re settling into new routines, ways of working and communicating, and accepting that life is going to be very different for the next few months at least. For some people life hasn’t changed at all: key workers are working harder than ever to keep essential services going, whilst others have found themselves unexpectedly unemployed. This has led many people to raise questions as to what this season in life may be all about…

For some time, I have felt that this is a season of rest and resetting. On an international scale, we’ve never had a period of time where so many nations have come to a halt all at the same time. We no longer need to travel to work, school or church. There are no social activities available to entertain us outside of our homes, and our travel footprint has been reduced to one trip a week to the supermarket. We now have to time to stop, think, reflect and enjoy where we are. There is no doubt that we will come out of this lockdown wanting different things in our lives, most importantly, a much simpler existence. The resting period is teaching us that there so many things in life that we don’t need: no non-essential items cluttering up daily living. Things that stop us being who we are, drain our energy, or divert our attention into needless causes. 

This is also a period of incubation. New hobbies have been found, new business ideas developed and there is space for artistic and creative exploits. Even the way we work, shop and reach out to our families and friends has evolved. Technology is almost struggling to catch up with us. There is no doubt there will be an explosion of innovation and development from this period of lockdown. But all of these things emanate from rest. The space to be able to stop, think and relax in order to let the mind wander and create. 

The reflection also helps us to let go of failures and hurts form the past. We have an opportunity to deal with the things that worry and hound us. If we let go of those things now, we will be fit and ready for a new season. Our “busyness” has stopped us from dealing with past issues and now is the time to be healing and forgiving ourselves and others. This truly is a time of divine reset, starting over and rebuilding from scratch. Forgiveness flows from resting in the knowledge that the past has gone, and resetting ourselves by letting go of the past. Forgiveness leads to a fresh start. 

Air pollution is at an all time low for the first time in decades, probably even a century. The earth is recovering from the ordeal that we have put it through. One of my friends commented that “..while humanity struggles to breath with COVID-19, the earth can breath for the first time in years.” An unexpected positive side effect from the lockdown is that our environment is cleaner and safer than ever; humanity is being forced to let the world heal and flourish. 

Although this period of time is frightening and frustrating in many ways, the outcome of resting and resetting life will benefit humanity long after this season is over. If you can take anything from this strange season of confinement, it’s the rediscovery of who you are, and the preparation for the next season ahead. A new season is loading, and this is merely the buffering while the season downloads. So rest ready for the reset. 

Photo by hammondgower.co.uk

It has been said that it takes a crisis for people to see what they truly value. Never has this been more evident in our generation than through the COVID-19 crisis. The national lockdown may have brought people to a stand still but also to a place of deep introspection on personal and national level. We are continually in awe at the NHS response to coronavirus, and as a nation, I think we can see how deeply passionate we are about keeping our uniquely funded National Health Service. In the past key workers have been treated with a lack of respect, however, their true value has now been seen: the least have become the greatest. 

We’ve also realised how complicated our lives have become and discovered that simplicity can lead to contentment. The fact we can’t go out or see our families and friends has lead us to rethink what is important in our lives. We’ve discovered that the internet is not luxury but a necessity in life; everything from schooling, work, business, and relationships has been diverted into online formats. I do believe that something good comes out of every situation. Sometimes it takes us a long time to see it but something good always pushes the ashes. In our crisis situation, a new world order is forming and to be fair, it is long overdue. 

The lockdown has hit the arts sector hard; most arts practitioners are self employed and the work has dried up overnight. The government has put together a package for self employed workers who currently are unable to work and the arts community has come together to support each other and provide new ways of connecting people together for projects. There has been a mixed reaction to this government deal, but to be fair an offer of financial help is better than no offer at all, even if it doesn’t come as quickly as we would like it to. I also speak from a very different point of view, in the last 13 years, I have had two major low points where my business collapsed and the circumstances that surrounded these low points were totally out of my control. There was no government help, no union support and a lot of colleagues fled. For me, the good that came out of it was a resigned resilience and I learnt who was really for me. It left me with a small but extremely committed group of friends and colleagues which is better than what I had before. If you’re going to work in the arts, you need to be resilient, focused and flexible. 

It was during these low points that I began to pray that things would change in the self employed and arts sectors. I do believe that the crisis we are currently in lead us to a new way of working and will also open the door for artists and musicians to campaign for a better working conditions and deals. The plight of artists has been publicly acknowledged and this platform will help to campaign for better working conditions and employment deals in the future. 

The necessity for the arts and its role in society has been brought to people’s attention during the lockdown. How many of us has listened to some music, read a book or watch a film or TV show during this time? Yep all of us. Without the arts, life would be dull, lack colour and also insight. Not only are the arts part of our entertainment, but they are also essential for good mental health, understanding concepts and culture, and provoking thought and conversation. The arts are often seen as frivolous and expendable, however they need to be protected for their philosophical and spiritual values. At some point everyday, we reach for something creative to inspire and motivate us. 

In recent years, the financial and management sides of the creative industry have been abused and ripped apart. Much of this is being exposed and brought to light; we’ve watched as major figures have fallen from grace and organisations have collapsed. Artists have had to work for free, and I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been asked to perform for free or to give my music away. Creative enterprises have been devalued to zero. Maybe this period of introspection will bring a realisation that this can’t continue; we have to build an industry that is sustainable and fair for artists. There’s an opportunity to raise up pioneers who are passionate about encouraging and developing a wide range of genres disciplines and creating new platforms. Whatever we feel about this dark season, it won’t last forever. The temporary cessation is harmful to the arts industry in the short term, but in the long term it could actually bring about good for creatives. 

Sometimes you look back at a song and realise that you have been trying to tell yourself something for a long time. A situation you need to put right, something that you need to do, someone or something that is doing you no good that you need to let go of or even congratulating yourself because you have done really well. Little fragments of our inner thoughts seep into our work and ferment while we are unaware. 

As a songwriter, I always want to write music that moves people with lyrics that make them think. That’s always been my goal, to give people a song that is valuable to them and that they can hold onto. Lyrics and music can be so intrinsically linked that they can move us on a spiritual level. Every artist wants to connect with their audience, but if you can share something in common from experience you have a much deeper connection. 

Recently I found this video clip of comedy actor Jim Carrey talking about his other passion in life, art. I was really intrigued by something he says about the path of creative discovery:

“You really don’t know what a sculpture or a painting totally means, you think you do. Most of the time I start out with a plan and then in like a year later I’ll realise that the painting what I needed to know about myself before.

Sometimes when we create, we start by giving our audience a message but more often than not, we we find out something about ourselves. Six years ago I wrote the song Close That Door, I was actually writing about two different situations that two of my friends were finding themselves in. None of it was pretty and they both had come to the end of themselves and needed to close the door on those situations. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was actually prophesying to myself about something that needed to happen in my own life. I need to close a door, a chapter, a lifestyle and move on into new things. As I was going through the season of transition and change, one of my closest friends pointed out that I had already told myself that this new season was coming and to let go of the old so that I could embrace the new things ahead of me. That was a bit of a shocker at the time! But now I understand it was coming from a place of being led by God into a new season. He likes to prepare us before he makes changes, it’s part of his promise to always be with us. 

“What I needed to know about myself before…” Life is a constant journey of growing, reflecting, making mistakes, celebrating victories but we learn so much about ourselves by contemplating on where we are and how we are dealing with our current moment. Jim acknowledges that his art is therapeutic and helps him process his emotions and experiences, but also that each piece of work contains part of him and his life journey. There are so many different ways that God can speak to us and this really is just scratching the surface of what artists, musicians, and writers channel through their creations. What I’m trying to say is that art isn’t just for an audience, it helps the artist hear what they need to know…