Frustrated artist

Answer from Chabad:

Dear Rachel,

I am an artist, and I have been painting for many years. Over the last few years I have started becoming more religious, and my paintings have come to reflect that. I feel very fulfilled by the fact that by being creative and working on my art, I am also helping to inspire people to have a closer relationship with G‑d.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been very successful. It’s true I sell a few paintings here and there, but certainly not the amount I would like to. I feel like I have so much I want to give. I’m not Van Gogh, but my artwork is good, and people who buy it really enjoy it. But I feel frustrated. Why would G‑d give me this talent if He doesn’t want me to use it? And why wouldn’t He want me to use it to try and draw people toward Him? I feel like He’s rejecting my service to Him. And I feel like a failure.


Dear Disheartened,

G‑d is not rejecting you, nor are you a failure. You are using the talents G‑d gave you to serve Him, to serve others, and to bring beauty and spirituality to the world.

First of all, the problem you face is not new or particular to you. It has been the Unfortunately, I haven’t been very successfulbane of every singer, composer, dancer, artist, sculptor and writer since Yuval fashioned the first instrument soon after the world was created. You mention Vincent van Gogh. Are you aware that Van Gogh only sold one painting in his entire lifetime, and that was to his brother? J. K. Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers before Harry Potter was allowed out of his cupboard under the stairs! So, obviously, recognition is not a measure of the value of someone’s work. You say that your art is good and that people enjoy it, that you do sell paintings, and that your paintings help inspire people to come closer to G‑d. That sounds like success to me. There’s a lot of competition out there, and money’s tight. Every painting sold—and every compliment or smile your art receives—is an expression of people’s appreciation for your art.

It says in the Talmud that Rav Yosef, the son of Rav Yehoshua, died briefly and then came back to life. When his father asked him what he saw in the next world, he answered, “I saw an an upside-down world. Those considered high were low, and those considered low were high.” His father said, “You saw a clear world!"1

What this world considers success isn’t necessarily what is considered success in the World of Truth. That’s because G‑d doesn’t measure success in the superficial way that people do in this world.

No one knows what their tikkun (rectification) is. Everyone has a specific purpose to fulfill, and you may be fulfilling it with the people you touch. Also, do not underestimate the joy and inspiration you bring people with your art. And that doesn’t even include all the people who see your art after you sell it. Even if you inspire one person, or bring one person to do a mitzvah, that’s a great accomplishment. And your own elation at connecting to G‑d through your painting is a very high level of service to G‑d. Although many artists suffer rejection and disillusionment in their attempts to sell their art, there are few people who experience the satisfaction and self-actualization that There’s a lot of competition out therecreative people feel in their work. That in itself is a great gift from G‑d. It’s a blessing many people don’t have.

The wisest of all men, King Solomon, said, “The righteous one may fall seven times and will arise.”2 The rise comes as a result of the fall. Ultimately, you will become a greater artist because of your difficulties, and your paintings will have greater depth.

Finally, I want to say that creativity is one of the 10 ways in which we imitate G‑d. We are instructed to walk in His ways, so every second you are painting or trying to promote your art, you are emulating G‑d. Enjoy the process of creation!

Celebrate your achievements and your successes (what you alone consider to be success). While you look to expand your audience, remember that G‑d is your greatest audience and your number-one fan.

1. Talmud, Pesachim 50a.
2. Proverbs 24:16.