Start Making Chips

Neal A. Maxwell
Adapted from an article published in the August 1982 New Era.
Creative work is sweet, but it is work. Sometimes the best way to get inspired is simply to get busy.

Start Making Chips

Someone once said to a hesitant, prospective woodcarver who didn’t know quite how to begin, “Start making some chips!”

Our first feeble attempts at creativity are often no more than that. But they are a beginning. Beauty and truth are all about us, beckoning us to respond. But perspiration usually precedes inspiration, and pondering, reverentially, almost always occurs before we make any breakthrough. Creative work is sweet, but it is work!

Noteworthy Results

In this contest issue you can see the work of young Latter-day Saints who have gone beyond making chips. But that is, invariably, where they started. They have worked hard and achieved some noteworthy results. Now, if they will pursue their talents, they will find that they have “miles to go before [they] sleep” (Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”).

And all others who feel creative stirrings within themselves should begin the journey of a lifetime in partnership with God, who significantly has accepted as one of His designations the title of “Creator.”

Righteous work is the process of making manifest our love of God and of our neighbors. Creative work is a special expression, “a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31), of showing that love. Creative expression can also represent the celebration of our gratitude to our Heavenly Father for our gifts and talents.

When by wise self-management we are creative, then we mortals taste what Pascal called “the dignity of causality.” That is the capacity to cause to exist that which had not existed in quite that way before. Something pertaining to truth and beauty occurs that would not have happened quite that way without us! As agents unto ourselves, we use the power that is in us to do good, but also to do it well, whether our creativity involves the use of our voice, our hands, our muscles, or our conceptual powers.

True creativity, as it reflects our capacity to see or produce something in a new way, represents a restructuring that carries our individual imprint and uniqueness. Such can be equally true of the inventor and the painter, of the pianist as well as the poet.

New Possibilities

Thus creativity involves both a process and a result. It springs out of our seeing possibilities we have not seen before, seeing connections between patches of truth and beauty, and responding to them in ways we have not done before. Feelings that lead to poetry, mental imagery that leads to painting, and pondering that gives birth to prose are but examples.

Creativity, therefore, is not simply innovation but organization. Self-discipline is required as part and parcel of that self-discovery which is paralleled by the discovery of the universes, vast and small, of which we are a part.

Gospel gladness can give us a precious perspective about all these things and can spur us on to share that beauty which our Father in Heaven helps us to create. It is a process that should not trouble itself overmuch, initially, with questions of originality and utility but, rather, with quality and excellence.

Artistic and creative expressions that occur in conformity with reality and with the sublime and eternal truths help to deliver on that marvelous promise that “men are that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25) and help us to “have [life] more abundantly” (John 10:10) by showing us “a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31).

Creative Enoch

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright observed, “In much of our preparation we don’t really know what we are preparing for.” We need to trust the Lord as He sculpts and shapes our soul, as did a young man, Enoch.

At the time of his call, Enoch observed, “I … am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech” (Moses 6:31). Yet he trusted the Lord and became the greatest city builder in history. His city-state was the only recorded instance when the righteousness of a people did not relapse. But he began by feeling inadequate and wondering aloud what the Lord had for him to do. Most importantly, he trusted the Lord and aligned himself with the Lord. Then his creative genius and gifts were given special expressions, and many people were blessed.

Eliza’s Insights

A very young Eliza Snow published a poem years before she heard of the restored gospel. Obviously, spiritual stirrings were within her, for a reader of this poem can glimpse in the light in these lines a foretaste of the glorious light of the Restoration.

But Lo! A shining Seraph comes!
Hark! ’Tis the voice of sacred Truth;
He smiles, and on his visage blooms,
Eternal youth.
He speaks of things before untold,
Reveals what men nor angels knew,
The secret pages now unfold
To human view.

(In Vicky Burgess-Olson, eds., Sister Saints, BYU Press, 1978.)

Since all truth comes from our Heavenly Father, when we celebrate truth in creative breakthroughs, whether in new understanding of molecular structure or in the beauty of new sculpture, painting, or poetry, we acknowledge the resplendent order in God’s universe.

Write On

The late Elder Richard L. Evans had a caring mentor, Elder James E. Talmage, who had him rewrite certain pieces for Church publication dozens of times. Irritating though the rewriting must have been, Elder Evans was grateful for such tutoring, and all of his readers—and later on thousands who listened to his radio broadcasts of The Spoken Word—were also grateful. Even though he has passed away, his inspirational thoughts continue to be broadcast in Missouri, where they are one of the most popular programs in the state. (See Wall Street Journal, Feb. 15, 1997.)

Because of the honing and shaping that occurred in the life of that young man, he was permitted to bless the lives of many people.

Soul Satisfaction

While true creativity is something that can be shared by those who appreciate the works of creation, true creativity does not depend entirely upon “consumers” for its satisfaction. It is a highly personal experience in which we are grateful to the Lord for helping us to see beauty and truth and the order of things, for restructuring our understanding of things, if necessary, to accord with things “as they really are” (Jacob 4:13).

Creative experience is intrinsically satisfying. Then whatever appreciation comes from others for one’s efforts is an added blessing.

The greater our sensitivity to the Spirit, the greater our response to beauty, grace, and truth in all their forms as these exist about us. Our righteousness opens us up like a blossoming flower to both detail and immensity. Sin, on the other hand, closes us down. It scalds the tastebuds of the soul.

After all, was it not the Creator of the worlds who called our attention to the beauty of the lilies of the field, to the power in the tiny mustard seed, and to the leaves on the fig tree?

Was it not that same Creator who also asked us, as we observe the heavens, planets, and stars moving in their orbits, to remember that when we have so observed, we have “seen God moving in his majesty and power” (D&C 88:47)?

To Truly See

There is so much to see and so much to celebrate righteously. Indeed, appreciation for the world (and all in it) which God has given us is but a prelude to adoration of the God who has so gloriously displayed His creativity for us. Creativity permits us to see the wondrous order of things, their infinite beauty, their scope, but also their incredible detail. To use the words of Moses, we then see and feel things which we “never had supposed” (Moses 1:10).

I pray that each of us may truly see the wonder of all that our Father and His Son have created for us. And one of the best ways for you, or anyone, to begin that process, is by being creative yourself. If you don’t know quite where to begin, start making some chips. In your righteous desires, the Spirit will guide you.

[photos] Wood carving by Shauna M. Kawasaki. Photography by John Luke.