Culture Making Part IX: Cultivation And Why The Most Creative People Are Also The Most Disciplined

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I’m super excited to introduce this part of the Culture Making series. Let’s dive in with Crouch’s words:

“We cannot make culture without culture. And this means that creation begins with cultivation – taking care of the good things that culture has already handed on to us. The first responsibility of culture makers is not to make something new but to become fluent in the cultural tradition to which we are responsible.”

“Before we can be culture makers, we must be culture keepers.” -Andy Crouch

Admittedly, “Cultivation is a somewhat less appealing word than creation,” but the fact remains,

“The more each of us knows about our cultural domain, the more likely we are to create something new and worthwhile.”

Cultivation as a Child’s First Job

“In the West it is popular to imagine children as innately creative, since they lack the self-censoring self-awareness that plagues grownups. And children certainly do express their creative drive to make something new of the world from an early age. But childhood is much more fundamentally about imitation than creation. Learning language, learning our culture’s vast store of stories and saying and symbols, learning the meaning of street signs and stop lights, learning the rules of baseball, learning to jump a rope and dribble a basketball – none of these are, strictly speaking, acts of culture making. But they are indispensable acts of culture keeping, and they are necessary if the child is ever to grow up to contribute something to that cultural realm. We can only create where we have learned to cultivate.”

What Cultural Cultivation Looks Like

“Cultivation in the world of culture is not so different from cultivation in the world of nature. One who cultivates tries to create the most fertile conditions for good things to survive and thrive. Cultivating also requires weeding – sorting out what does and does not belong, what will bear fruit and what will choke it out. Cultivating natural things requires long and practiced familiarity with plants and their place; cultivating cultural things requires careful attention to the history of our culture and to the current threats and opportunities that surrounded it. Cultivation is conservative – ensuring that the world we leave behind, whether natural or cultural, contains as least as many possibilities and at least as much excellence as the one we inherited.”

Cultivation, Discipline, and Creativity

“The most demanding forms of cultivation are disciplines – long apprenticeships in the rudiments of a cultural form, small things done over and over that create new capacities in us over time.”

“[I]t is intriguing that the domains we often consider the most “creative” – art and music, for example – require some of the most demanding disciplines.” -Andy Crouch

“[U]nderneath almost every act of culture making we find countless small acts of culture keeping.”

“As small and seemingly insignificant as they are, disciplines can have powerful cultural effects. If I make dinner tonight for my family, nothing much will change in my family’s culture. But if I make dinner tonight, tomorrow night, next Tuesday and for the next fifteen years of our children’s lives, seeking to do so with creativity, skill and grace that grows over time – even if I never become an avant-garde chef and always follow the recipe – that discipline alone will indeed create a powerful family culture with horizons of possibility and impossibility that we may not even now be able to glimpse.”

Cultivate and Create

“With any luck, [our children] will be both culture keepers and culture makers – both cultivators and creators. And then they will be prepared to both conserve culture at its best and change it for the better by offering the world something new.”

This, my friends, is why I care about teaching my kids to love good music, and good food, to learn poetry and read the classics. I care about imparting the world’s cultural heritage to my children because it gives them cultural power to go and make something of their world.

Creativity begins with discipline.

No longer are unschooling (a word that to me represents allowing children to exercise their power and creativity) and classical education (a phrase that to me represents training sharp minds and imparting our cultural legacy) at odds in my mind – they are both fundamental to the health and training of productive, powerful, and peaceful human beings.

What’s your take?

Still not convinced? Next week I’ll dig deeper with Crouch’s arguments, but there simply wasn’t room for it all this time.

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