The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse: Chapters 4, 5, & 6


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 talked about ways to feed creativity, how the critic can stop our creativity, and how our art will be based in the culture. Be sure to stop by and add your thoughts to that conversation. This week we’re going to begin the process of talking about those roots more in-depth.

Chapter 4 – Noise: Fat Kids and Piano Concertos

This chapter starts with Michael describing a Rachmaninoff concerto and how this particular piece of music stirs an emotional response in him. Any time someone talks about music stirring something spiritual in them, it makes me think of the Aaron Copland Duo for Flute and Piano. Something about that piece speaks to me consistently about goodness and beauty and peace. It has since the first time I played it and every single time I hear it. These six minutes of music still have the power to convince me that God exists in a way that most sermons or theological books are unable.

But we rarely have the opportunity to truly listen to music very often. It becomes the background noise to so many other things. We can see that with blogging. We have Google readers that are jammed full of blogs and sometimes we end up missing the beauty of someone’s heart poured out on their screen because we’re just trying to get to the next one. Go, go, go.

Sometimes the only way we can catch attention is to appeal to baser instincts.

We consume our art like moths. We gather, momentarily, around wherever the biggest, brightest light seems to be. So these days, the most successful art is the art that can elicit the quickest visceral reaction from the largest group of people. (Kindle Loc 733)

He talks about how numb we are to art these days and about the riot that occurred during the premier of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” The ability to listen to the music caused strong emotional reactions. (For more on this, I highly recommend listening to RadioLab’s podcast entitled “Musical Language.” Fantastic.)

This question was probably one of the most important that I read in the book:

As a creator, are you ordering creation from a place of noise or a place of listening? (Kindle Loc 857)

Chapter 5 – Technology: Wolfjaw’s Philosophy

This was a difficult chapter for me, because I’m torn about the whole technology thing.

He starts talking about how technology is kind of out-pacing our ability to create. It’s allowing people who aren’t as accomplished to be better than they seem. Photoshop, Pro Tools, Auto-tune – these all have the ability to hide mediocrity. We then flood the market and we have a difficult time sorting out that which is good from that which is good enough.

I think the key is being able to use technology well. There are some artists, like deadmau5, that are really talented at music that is completely “fake.” I hate to say that their use of technology is a cheat simply because it wasn’t achieved sitting behind a guitar or piano.

I did like what Gungor said here:

I don’t think technology is inherently destructive to art. On the contrary, I think it opens up all sorts of new possibilities. Artists ought to use and explore technology and all of the potential that it opens up creatively, but we also ought to be guarded against using that technology as a crutch for our own artistic shortcomings. (Kindle Loc 1017)

Chapter 6 – First World Mindset: The Decline of the U.S. Empire

In this chapter, Gungor discusses how the Roman empire, at the height of its success, became a bit of a wasteland for art. They had everything they needed and wanted and grew easily bored, so they turned to sex and violence for entertainment.

While we have not gone the way of the coliseum or rampant, normalized prostitution, we have certainly seen a decline in the quality of the art that is being produced. We’ve come a long way from, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” being shocking. And if, as I quoted earlier, we’re competing for the brightest light, it can be easy to turn to the things that shine very bright for a moment. In a culture where most of us have our needs met and we are bombarded from all sides, we want to be able to feel.

Part of the reason people aren’t building cathedrals anymore is that we are too lazy and spoiled for the pain and the work that they demand from us. This sort of laziness leads to an artistic narcissism that creates art as a mere emotional expression of the ego rather than an intentional and profound re-ordering or re-imagining of the world. Art schools and galleries start filling up with self-indulgent narcissists who think that every far of theirs is a work of genius because “it came from deep inside of me.”

Entitlement is not a friend of art. Work is. Pain is. (Kindle Loc 1099)

When we live without something to push against, we can stop being intentional about creation. Michael suggests that all joyful, beautiful moments have elements of pain in them. I think this is likely true.

Questions for Discussion

  • Are you ordering creation from a place of noise or a place of listening? (Thanks, Michael!)
  • Have you ever used technology to cover up sloppiness? How can you use technology better?
  • What is a joy that you’ve experienced that was made sweeter by pain?


For next week, we’ll look at chapters 7 and 8 (my two favorites!). 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!

  • Nathan Stockstill

    I completely disagree with not using technology as a crutch. One of technology’s great benefits is as an assistive device. Technology can allow creative people to overcome their lack of manual dexterity. The world wouldn’t have the benefit of Stephen Hawking’s genius were it not for technology.

    Sure, technology allows one to create shallow work that appears slick. And at the first experience of an effect, we may be wowed, but in general, we’re not going to respond to a piece that’s creatively empty

  • jennybek

    I have definitely used technology to cover sloppiness. I’m a newbie photographer, and using tech helps in the now, but I learn from mistakes I’ve corrected there. I learn to do better in camera, so that I won’t have to try to correct later.
    I think if I just accepted that I could correct mistakes, rather than try to not make them in the first place, that would be sloppiness indeed. And unexcusable. Some may never notice, but I would know.

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