In his book The Crowd, the Critic and the Muse: A book for creators, Michael Gungor (of the self-described "liturgical post-rock" band Gungor) had me at snark. In the first chapter, he describes the way many artists connect their work to whatever they call their muse. He recalls how some singers in Christian circles attribute a particular performance to their muse saying, "Thanks, but it wasn't me, it was God." Gungor's snark replies, "Oh in that case, God was a little flat on that second verse."
Now, the book isn't all snark, but I do appreciate Gungor's irreverence and his critique of the limitations of fundamentalist Christianity (and fundamentalist thought of any kind) on the artist. Fundamentalism restricts artistic expression while faith coupled with doubt can actually give wings to the imagination. Without doubt he says, belief calcifies into rigid fundamentalism. Without doubt, there are no questions; and without questions, there is no imagination.
The basic premise of the book is that an artist must decide which voice he/she will listen to: the crowd, the critic or the muse. For Gungor, all of us have creative and artistic power because creativity is the ordering of the potential already found within creation whether that be the making of a computer or the composing of a symphony.
Some of the passages that resonated with me most were the ones about the dangers of creating exclusively for the critic. Sometimes the loudest voice is the critic. And often this is an imagined critic whose voice is so powerful because it resonates with the voices of our deepest fears, those voices speaking from inside of us, telling us that we are not good enough...it is untrustworthy...but the critic doesn't care about your work in the same way you do.
This quote echoes something my mom has often said, "Christiana, no one cares as much about that as you do (except for me, because I'm your mother). So get over it."
While Gungor's book can be a bit meandering at times, I thoroughly enjoyed the way he combines engaging personal stories with musings and philosophising about the value of art and creativity, the importance of what Madeleine L'Engle would call 'obedience' to the work and most beautifully his own struggles with doubt.*
A great read for the creator in all of us.
PS If you haven't heard Gungor's album Ghosts upon the earth, it is well worth a listen.
*Gungor doesn't actually quote L'Engle...but I will take any opportunity to do so...I love her.