Today we begin 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.
This came at a really great time for me. I read it just a few weeks after returning from Story and I was kind of amped up about creativity and beauty and what have you. So a book from one of my favorite creatives sounded right up my alley.
So let’s dive right into this.
I was struck by the very opening scene. A few months ago, I felt empty, mostly like I was going through the motions on the blog. It can be really easy to get mired in the daily grind of our creative process. Don’t get me wrong. We have to do the grind. We can’t just wait for inspiration or the muse or whatever to show up. We have to put our butts in the seats regardless of how we feel.
Sometimes we need refreshment.
In the introduction, Gungor describes the Beauty of the Grand Canyon. The color, the texture, the loveliness. He talks about how we see this from the ledge. But most of us aren’t on the ledge. We’re down in the midst of it. From the book:
But if you hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and lay prostrate with your face against the rocky floor, your awareness of her will soon begin to wane. All you see down there is rock. Maybe some dirt or a crawling bug. These are the threads of her dress, but so close to the details, it’s easy to lose sight of her essence. (Kindle loc 37)
That place feels so empty and barren. Gungor reminds us that we need to be able to see the full picture in order to make art that moves others, but that more importantly, moves us.
Chapter 1 – Art and Creation: Speaking the Language of God
Right off the bat, I loved this chapter because of his definition of creativity, “the foundation of the artist’s work is no different than any other human work. It’s simply an intentional ordering of reality.” (Kindle loc 109)
Later he talks about how even plain and practical things like sewers require artistic drive. I so appreciate this because it’s easy to get into our brains that if we’re not creating a painting or piece of music or writing a book, we’re not really creative. But all things can be creative. To me, the key word in the above sentence is “intentional.” In my mind, creativity is a choice.
He then goes on to talk about art being practical. Again, I think this is such a great point to make. One of my favorite artistic outlets aside from music and writing has been crochet and knitting. I always liked it because in my mind, it was something that was more practical than playing the piano or writing a blog. I could mess around with a pattern and create something lovely, but it was also a dishcloth that you could scrub your pans with or a blanket that you could sleep under or a hat that keeps your brain warm.
After some gig, Rich and I were talking about playing, and he was talking about the importance of providing entertainment. That our band helped make positive memories for the couple that got married. It reframed the idea of how practical some of my more “traditional” artistic pursuits were.
Gungor talks about a mural they painted at an orphanage in Uganda. How, even though it was cheesy and not particularly significant, it added color and beauty in the midst of a stark environment, and how that told the people there that they were loved and they were valuable.
Art matters. It is not simply a leisure activity for the privileged or a hobby for the eccentric. It is a practical good for the world. The work of the artist is an expression of hope – it is homage to the value of human life, and it is vital to society. (Kindle Loc 164)
He then goes on to talk about the foundation for art. I loved this quote, “All human creativity depends on something deeper than itself.” (Kindle Loc 194) No matter our beliefs, our art comes from something other than ourselves. Inspiration from those who have gone before. Materials in the natural world that inspire us to use them in a new and interesting way. Seeing a need that needs to be solved in a better way. Whether one believes in the creative muse or in God or nothing at all, creativity depends on more than just us.
Questions for Discussion
- Where do you go to refresh when you have been face down in the canyon for too long?
- How is your art practical?
- Where do you find inspiration outside of yourself when creating?
- How can you be more intentional about creativity this week?
For next week, we’ll look at chapters 2 and 3. 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!