Culture Making Part XI: Creators and Cultivators are Free to Critique, Copy, or Condemn


Last week we discussed various responses to culture and how the only way to change culture is to make more of it. If you don’t like dinner, don’t complain, offer an alternative and make your own.

Let’s dive a bit deeper.

Critiquing is Passive

“The posture of critique also tempts us toward the academic fallacy of believing that once we have analyzed something, we have understood it. Often true understanding, of a person or a cultural good, requires participation – throwing ourselves fully into the enjoyment and experience of someone or something without reserving an intellectual, analytical part of ourselves outside of the experience like a suspicious and watchful librarian.”

I’m reminded of how sometimes observation can kill whatever spontaneous expression or experimentation our kids are engaged in. Are they so used to me delivering judgment that when they see me in the room they know critique is inevitable?

Kids are masters at throwing themselves fully into an experience without judging it first. Surely we must teach them discernment, but maybe we can relearn from them how to fully experience something without constantly judging the activity and ourselves.

For the homeschooler, not everything has to be educational – relax! Fussing too much about attaching educational worth to every activity could kill the very passion and deeper understanding of the world that we desire to teach.


“We breed a generation that prefers facsimile to reality, simplicity to complexity (for cultural copying, almost by definition, ends up sanding off the rough and surprising edges of any cultural good it appropriates), and familiarity to novelty. Not only is this a generation incapable of genuine creative participation in the ongoing drama of human culture making, it is dangerously detached from a God who is anything but predictable and safe.”

Appreciating a Bach fugue takes more work than tapping along to this week’s top hit. Pizza is easier to like than tabouli salad but it doesn’t mean we’re stuck only sharing the simple with our kids. It’s our job to train them to be able to appreciate the more complex creations of beauty. It may take time, but it’s a worthy – and possible – goal.


“[This is] the core premise of consumer culture: we are most human when we are purchasing something someone else has made.”


“Of all the possible postures toward culture, consumption is the one that lives most unthinkingly within a culture’s preexisting horizons of possibility and impossibility.”


“Consumer culture teaches us to pay exquisite attention to our own preferences and desires. Someone whose posture is consumption can spend hours researching the most fashionable and feature-laden cell phone; can know exactly what combination of espresso shots, regular and decaf, whole and skim, amaretto and chocolate, makes for their perfect latte; can take on extraordinary commitments of debt and commuting time in order to live in the right community. . . [A]ll of this involves care and work [but it isn’t creation or cultivation.] . . . [It] is capitulation: letting the culture set the terms, assuming that the culture knows best and that even our deepest longings and fears have some solution that fits comfortably within our culture’s horizons, if only we can afford to purchase it.”

Freedom to Critique, Copy, or Condemn

There is a time and place for condemning culture, for critiquing culture, for consuming culture and for copying culture. The problem arises when one particular response become so habitual that it is our automatic response.

“[T]he simple truth is that in the mainstream of culture, cultivation and creativity are the postures that confer legitimacy for the other gestures. People who consider themselves stewards of culture – guardians of what is best in a neighborhood, an institution or a field of cultural practice – gain the respect of their peers. Even more so, those who go beyond being mere custodians to creating new cultural goods are the ones who have the world’s attention.”

I’ll end with a few quotes on creation and cultivation. Read the book to discover many more great reasons to be a creator and cultivator!

“Like our first parents [Adam and Eve], we are to be creators and cultivators. Or to put it more poetically, we are artists and gardeners.”


“From the beginning, creation requires cultivation, in the sense of paying attention to ordering and dividing what already exists into fruitful spaces. . . This is an important point at a time in history when “creativity” often is associated with the rejection of order and when artists in particular can seem to be trying to outdo one another in provocative acts of chaos making.”


“Creation leads to celebration. Creation at its best leaves us joyful, not jaded. It prompts delight and wonder, even in the creators themselves, who marvel at the fruitfulness of their small efforts . . . Creation, even on a human scale is meant to end with the glad exclamation, “It is very good.”

How can we use our talents and cultural power for creating and cultivating with maximum and long-lived results? Next week we’ll discuss the shocking and counterintuitive answer.

2 thoughts on “Culture Making Part XI: Creators and Cultivators are Free to Critique, Copy, or Condemn”

  1. C. S. Lewis on participation vs. critique: “[The contrasting beauties of two different places] cured me once and for all of the pernicious tendency to compare and to prefer – an operation that does little good even when we are dealing with works of art and endless harm when we are dealing with nature. Total surrender is the first step toward the fruition of either. Shut your mouth; open you eyes and ears. Take in what is there and give no thought to what might have been there or what is somewhere else.”

  2. I love your comment on appreciating the more complex creations of beauty. I was thinking about the subject just yesterday, in the context of how important our influence in that area is for our children. (Something else for parents to worry about.) Of course it’s possible for an adult to gain an appreciation for a Bach fugue or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or tabouli salad, just as it’s possible for an adult to learn another language. But it’s oh so much easier if we grow up with them!

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