The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse: Chapters 2 and 3

We’re continuing our discussion of The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse by Michael Gungor. I hope to make this accessible to everyone, whether you’ve read the book or not, but you should definitely read the book.


Last week we discussed what it’s like to be stuck in the valley, the ways we make practical art, and how to be intentional. Today we’re going to talk about the next two chapters.

Chapter 2 – Art Like Fruit: Creative Awareness

The music theory geek in me loved this chapter.

Gungor suggests that we can tell a good bit about a society based on the art that it produces. He begins by talking about the various musical styles that we find in the Middle East and contrasts that with the music of China. They have two very different scales and that difference reflects in some ways that culture from which they spring forth. He then says,

Our art does not exist apart from our values or philosophies; it does not transcend our views of God, the universe, or ourselves; it comes directly from then. Our deepest values and beliefs are like the root system of a tree. Everything we think, say, and create is filtered through them, influenced by them.

Yet, as creators we tend to be more mindful of the fruit than the tree. If the fruit is rotten, we tend to criticize the apple rather than looking at the branches from which the apple fell, the roots of the tree or the soil from which the tree draws nourishment. (Kindle Loc 289)

I think this is really key for us as creatives. We can very easily look at our art and wonder what’s wrong with it, but if we don’t take time to consider how we’re feeding our art, we can’t begin to fix any problems.

He then goes on to talk about “the critic” and tells the story of Johnson – a member of the Green Beret and a total bad ass. Johnson told Michael that when he was wounded and thought that he might not survive, there were two people that he was harboring bitterness toward – his father and Michael.

The source of bitterness was an exchange they had years earlier when Johnson had volunteered to fill in on drums for a worship service and Michael had turned him down. It was not an intentional slight, but it stayed with him nevertheless. Because that rejection represented “the voices.” And as creators we all have to decide what voice to tune into, the crowd, the critic, or the muse?

Creators are prone to listening too intently to the voice of the critic. We change ourselves and our art to please the critic so that we can feel safe, feel like we are worth something. But the critic doesn’t care about your work in the same way that you do. The critic’s voice is most often the voice of the preoccupied – a voice concerned with its own issues and its own ego. You are just a brief flicker on its radar screen. The voice of the critic is not sturdy enough to build your work on. It’s too fickle, too fleeting. (Kindle Loc 391)

Chapter 3 – The Crowd: Artists Like Question Marks

Gungor starts this chapter telling us about his up-bringing as a Puerto Rican kid living in Wisconsin. He talked about how being so different caused him to be sensitive to cultural expectations and how his wife Lisa is…less sensitive to the same. I was never one who quite fit in with the crowd, so I can identify with Lisa. Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I’m not one to worry too terribly much about stepping on toes.

Gungor posits that the mark of good art is when creators “infringe upon some of your culture’s rules and expectations.” (Kindle Loc 479) We must be willing to challenge the norm. He suggests that we need the crowd to help give us some context for our art, but that the crowd will always demand the status quo.

As an artist, the voices you listen to ought to align with that inner Voice that knows who you are. When that foundation is set, then the rest of the voices can begin to build and work together, becoming the voice of a community, adding synergy and depth to your art that you couldn’t possibly manufacture on your own. Of course, this sort of harmonization demands a level of awareness that most of us don’t normally operate from. (Kindle Loc 556)

He then goes on to talk about becoming blind to our culture. We feel like we’re just going with our gut as we create, but we are of course influenced by the culture of which we’re a part. He uses the LMFAO song “Sexy and I Know It” as an example of the fruit of our cultural tree.

Even those who may not enjoy LMFAO or any of the most popular expressions of the day should not fool themselves into thinking that the culture that gives rise to LMFAO has no effect on them. Art is always connected to the culture of the artist. (Kindle Loc 605)

This awareness allows us to make intentional changes in our artistic expressions. In the coming weeks, we’re going to discuss six roots that Gungor identifies as feeding American creativity.

  1. Noise
  2. Technology
  3. First World Mindset
  4. Capitalism
  5. Celebrity
  6. Religion

Questions for Discussion

  • What are you doing to feed your creativity?
  • Have you ever allowed the words of a critic to stop you from creating?
  • What changes can you make in your art to separate it from the culture?


For next week, we’ll look at chapters 4, 5, & 6. If you’d like to write about any of this on your own blog, please use the tag #CrowdCriticMuse so we can all follow along.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

  • Ed_Cyzewski

    Oh gosh, the bit about protecting our artistic roots is so important.

  • Dan McMonagle

    Good stuff….. gonna have to get the book, maybe catch up in time for the discussion.

  • jennybek

    I loved the story about Lisa saying ‘nipple’ and getting horrified looks.
    I guess I’m not doing anything at the moment (intentionally) to feed my creativity. I need to do better. I am heading into a season that will bet pretty hectic pretty quickly, so I know that I will need to be protective of my time, setting some aside to explore, read, experience in order to keep creativity from floundering.
    I’m loving this book club, even if it takes me all week to get over here!

    • Alise Wright

      Ha! That nipple story killed me! And yes, the holidays can be a huge creativity suck. I think it’s important to be intentional during this season especially.

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  • RawFaith

    Sorry I’m late for the party. It’s been crazy for several weeks now. One of the things that I do to feed my creativity is to be mindful of what inspires me. If I’m moved by a photo or art or a song I take the time to look at why it moves me.. what about it I love. I also learned a long time ago that I’m crazy busy and that I need to sieze the little moments that come along instead of looking for the perfect time block to create. I make sure that if I have song ideas, or see news articles that might spark a story song that I keep track of them. I write the song ideas down and bookmark the stories. It’s a lot easier now with a smart phone. I’ve also taught myself to play a bunch of different instruments 5 minutes at a time.
    I’ve made a living being creative my whole adult life so I had to learn early that art is really subjective and I had to be careful putting too much weight on what someone else said because it crippled me artistically when I did. Interestingly I still struggle with that in the business part of my life. Because of the sucky economy I find myself pandering too much to my students parents and not taking the time off etc., that I need to get and keep students which is a fear based thing on my part.