Willing to Work

Part 18 in the Series:

The Bezalel Blueprint

By Don Enevoldsen

Moses began the Tabernacle program with an announcement to the people, describing what God had said to him, identifying Bezalel as the artist designated to manage the project and Oholiab as his number two. Then he summoned everyone who would do the work, that is, all the other artists involved. Two characteristics of the workers are identified.

“Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work. (Exodus 36:2)

Everyone involved had skill or ability. In this verse, the same Hebrew word is behind “skilled” and “ability,” that is chokmah, the same word we considered earlier under the translation “wisdom.” The term can encompass all of the things we have discussed so far in the series—wisdom, understanding, knowledge, creativity and discipline. These were artists who knew their craft.

The other term is interesting in the sense that it was not included in the criteria until after the entire project was announced. They were all “willing to come and do the work.” The word here is nasa’. The root meaning is to lift up or raise up. It is used in places like Psalm 24:9, “Lift up your heads, you gates,” or Psalm 63:4, “in your name I will lift up my hands.”

The word carries the nuance of bearing or enduring, as in Psalm 55:12:

“If an enemy were insulting me,

     I could endure it;”

These nuances are important in considering how this word applies to Bezalel and his companions. To say that they were “willing” denotes that they chose to endure whatever hardships or hard work would be involved in the creation of art. Endurance is a characteristic of any great artist.

What does endurance look like? It is the result of passion under control. Every artist I’ve ever met had passion. They are driven to create, to express, to design.

A great many of those artists, however, have no willingness to do the work involved.

I became acutely aware of this during the years I directed the drama department at a large church. In that setting, you find a wide range of abilities. Most were amateur actors with varying levels of commitment and talent. Each production had at least one or two exceptional actors, usually with some professional experience.

When I first took over the drama department, I inherited a production schedule of about three months of rehearsal time from the first night of reading lines to opening night. I inherited the schedule for my first play. For my second effort, I reduced the time to about nine weeks and after that to six weeks for most of our efforts. The shorter the rehearsal time, the better the productions were.

One would think that the more someone rehearses, the better he will be. In fact, I had that discussion with the church leaders to whom I answered. (It never quite turned into an argument.) After a few years of working with a cast of mixed ability levels, I finally was able to explain the reason. It actually had far more to do with work ethic than with talent.

To put it as simply as possible, the difference between professional grade actors and amateurs was defined by their approach to their art. The professional actor shows up the first night of rehearsal ready to work. He gets his script and he begins memorizing lines. Two weeks into rehearsal, he knows his lines well enough that he begins to shift his focus to character development. By the time he gets to dress rehearsal, he is locked into his character and he is devoting himself to fine tuning his performance. The professional’s passion for his art is manifested in his diligence to work steadily through the entire time of preparation.

The amateur shows up the first night of rehearsal with visible excitement. In fact, to all appearances, the amateur’s passion for acting is every bit as strong as the professional’s. The difference between the two starts to show up in the second or third week. For amateur actors, it does not matter how long the rehearsal schedule is. The same pattern dominates.

During the first week, the amateur learns about half of what he will bring to the stage opening night. During the last week of rehearsal, he learns about 30% to 40% of what he will bring to the stage. The other 10% to 20% is learned during the in between weeks, no matter how many weeks there are.

The explanation for this lies in the level of discipline. The first week, the amateur is driven by pure passion, the excitement of getting started. Then the tedium of the work of rehearsal sets in and rather than do the work, the amateur keeps telling himself that he has several weeks to go. Suddenly, about a week before opening night, reality suddenly sets in and with the desperation of knowing that opening night is looming, the amateur suddenly works hard.

When the rehearsal schedule lasted 12 weeks, conversation of the final week was filled with comments like, “If only we had one more week, this show would be so much better.” When the rehearsal schedule lasted six weeks, the conversation of the final week was filled with comments like, “If only we had one more week, this show would be so much better.”

The point is that no matter how long you plan to rehearse, for the amateur, there will always be a need for one more week. What I discovered was that part of the art of directing amateur artists is learning to build momentum to peak at just the right time.

For the pro, the total time is not that important. He will adjust his learning curve to whatever time is available and deliver the best he can do within that framework. That’s what makes him a pro.

In the context of Bezalel, a biblical artist is one who is willing to do the work. Passion is great, but passion without willingness to work does not produce great art. In an earlier book, I said it this way:

It is ironic that, while great art will inevitably move us emotionally and be remembered as an emotional experience, the passion of the artist has very little to do with the quality of the art itself. The greatest art depends on work.” (The Quest for Excellence, p. 14)

Norman Mailer connected this trait with character:

“A really good style comes only when a man has become as good as he can be. Style is character. A good style cannot come from a bad, undisciplined character.” (quoted in Writers at Work—The Paris Interviews—Third Series, p. 266)

In the words of the English writer, Samuel Johnson:

“One of the amusements of idleness is reading without the fatigue of close attention; and the world, therefore, swarms with writers whose wish is not to be studied, but to be read.” (Samuel Johnson, The Idler, November 11, 1758)

Or to put it in biblical terms:

“Desire without knowledge is not good—

     how much more will hasty feet miss the way!

(Proverbs 19:2)

Next, Part 19: Part of a Community

Go to the beginning of the series, The Bezalel Blueprint:  Part 1, The Artist Bezalel

Do you have an additional thought on this subject? Please join the discussion and share your insights.

2 thoughts on “Willing to Work

  1. One more thing you can add: the artist works every day because they are excited to work every day. It was four years ago when I decided to take up playing guitar again. I learned one song, then two, then ten. First acoustic, then electric, now bass guitar as well. Now, I have lists of songs I practice, and I write my own. I am just as happy being able to play that first song now as I was the first time I did it successfully. And I practice every day, unless circumstances intervene and force me to be away. Interestingly enough, it is the habit of practicing when I have no audience that will determine if I will practice once I do. The difference between the pro and the amateur starts long before either ever have a script to read. One is already prepared ahead of time, and the other is just chasing a hobby.

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