How To Kill An Artist


by: Jason Watson in: Article 4 years ago

Artists can be vicious creatures, as you well know if you have ever encountered one. Virulent like a plague, they have a tendency to withstand severe emotional and professional adversity that might be more effective against others. They can be especially pesky if one of them gets into your church. Be warned- if you ever come across one that has a modicum of theological insight, you may even find yourself on the losing end of the fight.

We all know how annoying household pests can be, even the ones that can be, at times, useful. But sometimes it is better to be rid of them from the get-go, since it is much easier to do before the infestation gets worse. Like any pest, they can be hard to kill, so we suggest a multi-pronged approach to achieve the best results.

1. Maintain Consistently Unrealistic Timelines

Art has a certain gestation period before it can be born, mature and- horror of horrors- reproduce. Like viruses, art exists in a wide variety of strains, so it can be difficult for the layman to know exactly which type is which. Unless you have access to a specialist, it is best to constrain your timelines as narrowly as possible.

Artists thrive and grow when given enough time to think, plan, experiment and even live into their art. This is usually evident when their creations exhibit a sense of freedom that almost leaps off the medium. To be sure, this can initially be a lovely sight, but even as a virus has a certain beauty under the microscope, so this is merely hiding an infection just waiting to grow out of control.

By curtailing the amount of time allotted to any artistic expression, you can stifle and- best case scenario- kill the creative pestilence in utero. To be sure, from time to time there will be freak outbreaks, but if you are consistent you will ensure that the artist's creative spirit withers. You may never ultimately kill it, but you can be assured that the artist will either become benign or simply leave in search of a more accommodating host.

2. Plenty of Programs and Events

Artists tend to think of their productions as having a certain transcendence. It is of course hard to describe, but they feel as if their art has the ability to reach beyond the content and affect the way in which others think and reflect. The delusion of this sort of thinking is naturally self-evident, but the artist can be a devious contagion. Given enough time, an artist can fundamentally transform and shape the way others see and think, love and pray.

Artists crave the opportunity to express the inexpressible. The naiveté of this mindset has its charms of course, but many of them actually think they can express truths in ways that words cannot. Take the utmost care to not allow these conditions to exist.

The best way to create an inhospitable environment for artists is to focus all of your creative efforts on promotion. Inundate the artist with projects that require very little artistic/creative insight or ability. Postcards for events work very well. Crafting branding for every single conceivable ministry is also extremely effective. (It carries the additional bonus of requiring meaningless one-off graphics and materials for each one.)

The sheer amount of projects with no artistic content will generally be sufficient to stifle all creative expressions and aspirations from your artist. But if yours is especially resilient, you may find it effective to turn the tables and do a bit of design yourself. Be sure to say how you could do the same level of work if you only had Photoshop.

This will almost always be a death blow.

3. Copy, Copy, Copy

The psyche of the artist is geared towards a certain level of minimalism in expression. It is difficult to describe, but often the goal of the artist is to say as much as possible with as little as possible. Normal individuals recognize that meaning is best conveyed by means of language, (and a lot of it!) but artists tend to disagree. You should know up-front that they will almost always try their hardest to have as little explanatory text as possible in anything. It is of course frustrating, but not insurmountable.

(It should be noted that some exceptionally devious artists will attempt to make art out of text. Be especially careful of these.)

Artists can be foiled in their attempts to plague your pieces with creativity by forcing them to incorporate more information than is necessary. This can be particularly successful if combined with pieces like postcards. While of course you don't actually need every possible bit of information about an event or program, and while most would actually be substantially improved with less information overload, it will seriously inhibit the artist's creative tendencies.

More experienced artists will find ways to weave the text seamlessly into a design. If this happens, you may need to add additional copy. Ideally, an event postcard, for example, should have so much information that it is necessary to utilize all available space. Force the artist to reduce font sizes until they are nearly illegible. At this point they will generally give up. If there seems to be a spark of life left, you may find it effective to simply cancel the project.

4. Keep it Trite, Keep it Banal

Artists thrive in environments where they have the space and freedom to creatively explore truth and life in a deep and meaningful way. They will grow and mature more quickly- and may even begin to replicate. In these sort of situations you are technically in a full-blown infestation. It can be extremely difficult to eradicate the vermin at this stage, but all hope is not lost.

If you cannot limit your creative output to events and programs, at the very least ensure that anything with the potential to touch on what is important stays extremely superficial. At this point all of your projects should deal heavily in cliches and platitudes. Do not allow the artists any room to delve into the subject and potentially mine its richer deposits. Be warned- once an artist reaches that point, they will only continue to burrow and become nearly impossible to destroy.

If you deal in sermon series, it is absolutely critical that you remain the creative gatekeeper. It is often highly effective to riff off of popular culture as much as possible. If you continually devise absurd and paltry rip-offs of the most vapid examples of pop-culture, you will almost certainly find the artist writhing in its death throes. Be sure to praise the pop-culture facsimiles highly and denigrate original works to the same extent. Some have seen great success in telling their artists "I just don't get it- could you make it more like this?"

Whatever you do, do not allow the artist to express itself creatively by means of any sort of theological or scriptural theme. The damage this results in is nearly irreversible. However, you can often head-off this danger by once again turning the tables. Make the interaction with the scriptures and theology as topical, superficial and platitudinous as possible. For example, if your artist creates an engaging work that contains a deep and original insight into the Incarnation, simply ask them to throw a cross in there.

If this is done consistently, many artists will develop a severe distaste for the scriptures and theology and decide to pursue other venues.  

5. Input/Output

Artists tend to imagine that they have a distinct and valuable perspective which can be brought to bear upon anything. Naturally, if you are dealing with spirituality this can be a recipe for disaster. Artists can be subtle, so you must never let your guard down.

It is vitally important that you do not allow any input from an artist in regards to content. For example, if you have a particularly widespread infestation you may have no choice but to allow the artist to have some measure of creative freedom. Do not, however, allow this freedom to influence the content or substance of what you wish to convey.

In a laboratory case study, artists were given the freedom to develop a creative theme for a sermon series. In the control group this was not allowed to influence the direction of the sermon series- it was, for all intents and purposes, completely superfluous. Eliminating the artist in the control group was easily accomplished by traditional means.

In the test group, however, the artist's creative expression was allowed to have influence on the content and direction of the sermon series. There were certain theological nuances that were drawn out by the art that had been overlooked in the written development. A certain level of profundity was inexplicably reached in comparison to the control group. (We are still looking into the potential causes of this…)

The results, of course, were disastrous. In the test group the artist found a sense of fulfillment from being able to use its skills. This led to further engagement in subsequent studies, making the artist nearly impervious to traditional methods of control and elimination.

Further research is needed, but initial findings conclude that this sort of negligence will lead to a complete overrun. It is absolutely vital that artists are kept as far from intellectual engagement as possible. (See steps 1-4)


Unfortunately, artists are a fact of life. They are resilient creatures, but not invincible. If you are diligent in following the outlined strategies, you will be able to keep any infestations to a minimum, and with enough effort finally eradicate them from your church.

Keep up the good fight!


Bethany Barkey   Bethany Barkey 4 years ago
This made me laugh!! Thanks :-) It's fun, but true in so many ways.
Jason Watson   Level 1Jason Watson 4 years ago
Bethany- thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. :-)
Samuel Fyfe   Level 1Samuel Fyfe 4 years ago
This reminds me a lot of the Screwtape Letters.  Well said!  Unfortunately I see the strategies listed above used more times than I would like to admit.
Jason Watson   Level 1Jason Watson 4 years ago
Samuel- high praise indeed! Than you.
Aaron Malsbury   Aaron Malsbury 4 years ago
Removed by Aaron Malsbury
Dawn Lamper   Dawn Lamper 4 years ago
I laughed.
Out loud.
In a room.
By myself.

Well done.
Jason Watson   Level 1Jason Watson 4 years ago
Dawn- thanks!
Anthony Foster   Anthony Foster 3 years ago
I laughed at every way!  I have either experienced or seen it.  I have even done this myself.  So VERY true.  One thing he didn't mention that kills me are all the unnecessary, meaningless, trivial, emails! HaHa!!!
Anthony Foster   Anthony Foster 3 years ago
Jason, best article I've ever read on the subject, i can't stop thinking about it!
Jason Watson   Level 1Jason Watson 3 years ago
Anthony- thanks!
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