This week, I finally finished reading The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers. Now I won’t feel totally dumb at Hutchmoot, because I’ve read at least one thing from the book list. (well, I read The Writing Life too, so maybe I’m not so out of the loop after all.)
Anyway, the remarkable thing about the Sayers book is that once I had a breakthrough and “got” what she was saying — somewhere around chapter 8 — I couldn’t seem to get through a chapter without having a minor epiphany and rushing for the nearest notebook to scribble things down. I jotted a ton of notes in the actual book, but sometimes, the margins won’t do.
So, here’s what I wrote during that breakthrough about how art does its work on us. Things got busy and I never posted it, but I didn’t want to abandon these ideas…. so I attempted to fill in the blanks and edit my thinking-out-loud into something coherent. If nothing else, it’ll be useful if I need to jog my memory later, but I hope somebody out there gets something out of it.
By the way… this book is apparently hard to find, but you can pick up a copy at The Rabbit Room Store. Plus, you help an awesome website and lovely people. Win win!
Recently, I mentioned that I was really trying to push through and grasp The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers. Well, breakthrough has arrived. After chapters of real, conscious struggle over this heady book, chapter viii, “Pentecost,” made everything so clear.
Throughout the book, Sayers uses the Christian doctrine of the trinity to explain the creative process. If people are made in the image of God, and if God’s primary business is creation, recreation, and redemption, than we, likewise, are sub-creators. This concept of co- and sub-creation seems to be gaining some welcome prominence among Christian creatives in recent times, but in the history of mainstream Protestant evangelicalism, art and the church have seen little peaceful coexistence. Fear named some of the beautiful art of the medieval church idolatry, while some would still prefer we spent our time doing more practical “Kingdom work.” Not to mention that art is subversive, dangerous, able to gently pry open minds and shift thinking. If anything, our ongoing suspicion of art has relegated a lot of “Christian art” to a ghetto of sanctified culture.
But Sayers would say that the mind if the maker reflects the Trinity in a surprising way, for in all of us are sub-creators, and just like our Maker, a trinity of creative mind exists. There is the Idea, a creation before time, the book (or song, painting, whatever, but we’ll say book here) as a vague concept in the author’s mind. There’s the Energy, the actual creative process of making the book and the physical manifestation of the Idea. And finally, there’s Power, the final result and ongoing effects of the creation, and the influence it holds on those that experience it.
These three concepts correspond to the Father, Son, and Spirit respectively, so it only makes sense that Power be the crafty, elusive one. I can grasp the idea of a pre-written book (God knows I’ve got a few of those!), and of course understand a real, created book I can read and process. But power?
So, what was it about chapter 8 that gave the breakthrough? Perhaps, all is summed up in this quote:
“When the writer’s Idea is revealed or incarnate by his Energy, then, and only then, can his Power work on the world. More briefly and obviously, a book has no influence until somebody can read it.
“Before the Energy was revealed or incarnate it was, as we have seen, already present in Power within the creator’s mind, but now the Power is released for communication ot other men, and returns from their minds to his with a new response. It dwells in them and works upon them with creative energy, producing in them fresh manifestations of Power.”
Throughout the chapter, she describes how a writer synthesizes many things he has read, felt, and experienced into something completely new, and how those reminscient creations are designed to cause the reader to recall their sources.
“… words and phrases become charged with the Power acquired by passing through the minds of successive writers…” and when we create, we have no way of knowing how it may affect someone, perhaps far in the future. An artist can’t possibly predict how others will take his work, what meaning they’ll take away, or what emotions and memories will be triggered, but, as Sayers also points out, when the resonance is felt “[the writer] was a true prophet of your emotion, since he did express it, so that you feel the lines to have been written ‘for you’.”
So this is what power is. Power is the mysterious rapport between the writer and reader, the artist and art student, the singer/songwriter on stage and the listener in the crowd hanging on every word until the lights and smoke whisk the rest of the crowd away.
It’s that moment alone in the car when you hear a song for the fiftieth time and recognize yourself in the lyrics.
Power is the way art does its work on us, unraveling the edge of the curtain between this world and the next. And sometimes, it transfers to another artist, awakening a new idea, begetting fresh energy.
Power does not — cannot — stop. Right now, I am typing a blog post because in 1941, a book was published that was born from the energy of a British mystery writer. And her book was an idea before then, no doubt stirred by something she read.
So, there it is. The same thing that happens when a songwriter takes an idea from a book or a melody from a favorite band and runs with it. And when I write a poem that was planted by a song, a scrap of a line from Buechner or Lewis, a beautifully composed photograph. What came first: the idea or the inspiration? Did the poem always exist, but just needed another to wake it? Or did that first Idea spring from the inspiration?
The most beautiful part of it all is that this inspiration and power stem from a Creator that first loved an Idea enough to bring it about. And when it goes wrong, when we desire to make our own way and destroy the beauty first made, he creates, yet again, redeeming, making all things new.
It was a moment of epiphany, as we used to say in literature classes. The word become alive. I am awakened. So what will I do with this power?