Book of the Month: The Crowd, The Critic, & the Muse
Two months ago, Michael Gungor released his book The Crowd, the Critic, & the Muse: A Book for Creators. You may be familiar with Michael Gungor’s band: Gungor. As a band, Gungor creates music that is deeply Christian in content, though not every song is explicitly religious, nor would many of their songs fit the typical mold for worship songs. The band is refreshingly creative, with carefully crafted musical moments and lyrics that show a depth of thought and insight.
Michael Gungor’s book is focused broadly on human creativity, but his examples are most frequently pulled from the world of music. Much of the book is autobiographical, and he shares many of the joys and struggles that he and his band mates have encountered in their musical career.
Gungor sees the world as a place of possibility. He believe that human beings have been shaped by God and given an inherent creativity that must be used to the glory of God. God has given us this good and beautiful world, and he sets us free in the midst of it to continue his initial act of creation.
Gungor insists that our creative expressions reflect the soil in which they grow. A tree is known by its fruit. So when we create out of soil that is depraved and harmful, we should not be surprised when our artistic productions come out lacking. While we can’t change everything about the context in which we create our art, we can carefully guard our souls in order to cultivate the right kind of creative soil.
I’m not sure that we always expect our artists to be theologically deep, but we probably should. Artists tend to stare at the world and ponder its intricacies while the rest of us take things for granted. Michael Gungor has clearly pondered this world, the Bible, God, and the relationship between faith and art. He comes across as a dreamer, to be sure, but not the kind who has lost touch with the world as God describes it.
One of the things that I enjoyed most about Gungor’s book is his thoughts on the Christian Music Industry. He sees many dangers with using the term “Christian” to describe an industry (as opposed to a person). He has some helpful criticisms of how the industry functions and how it might better serve the both the Christian and the secular communities. And yet Gungor (the band) is part of the Christian Music Industry.
He explains that they never signed up for a membership in the Christian Music Industry. They signed with a secular label. They don’t intend to write songs for purely Christian audiences. And yet, for a variety of reasons, they get listed as “Christian” on iTunes and Amazon, and therefore they get pigeonholed into a certain genre (he also explains why “Christian” makes a horrible genre). This isn’t all bad, and Gungor insists that he loves Christians and the people who make up the Christian Music Industry. But he sees its limitations and calls us to look beyond this kind of oversimplified classification.
Not everyone will be interested in this type of book. But if you’re interested in music, I’d highly recommend it. If you’re creative in any regard, I’d recommend it. Michael Gungor is a bit quirky, and he definitely has fun in his approach to writing. In my opinion, those elements combine with a sound theology of art and a good assessment of the human experience to form a strong book.