In what is likely to be the minority position, I’m one of the people who actually love Andrew Peterson’s writing more than his music (and I love his music). I remember the agony as I waited for the final installment of The Wingfeather Saga to arrive in the mail, and the bittersweet elation I felt as I reached the end of another great book. So when I learned that Peterson was going to release a book about the creative process and overcoming some of the inner conflicts experienced by authors/artists/songwriters, I knew I needed to read what he’s written.
Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making isn’t like other books on writing. Peterson’s natural gift for storytelling translates his toolbox of tips into real-world application, as he shares his journey of releasing four novels and ten albums, making the book equal parts handbook and memoir. Some of the central chapters bear titles such as:
- Serving the Work
- Serving the Audience
- Art Nourishes Community
I would not describe myself as creative. Peterson is quick to remind me that while we’re not all songwriters or novelists or painters, we’re all creative and can benefit from honing our craft, whatever God-glorifying work we put our hands to. In his chapter on art and community, Peterson encourages us to surround ourselves with the right kind of people; those who will build us up while correcting us in love; those who get where we are and can see where we desire to go. He calls these people ‘resonators’, and in the context of a community like this (where, most beneficially, everyone is more skilled than you) Peterson shows how you will find a garden in which your gift can not only grow but be appropriately pruned and made to flourish.
In another chapter that instantly won a place in my head and heart, Peterson writes of discernment regarding what art we consume (and are therefore influenced by). There’s plenty of bad art in the world, and Peterson reminds me that being a ‘movie buff’ or even a ‘wide reader’ sometimes is anything but a compliment because it can mean I’m willing to consume the junk food and wholesome food without any thought for the benefit (or lack thereof) to my body. Essentially the chapter boils down to this:
There’s a balance, to be sure, but I actually want my children to have a bit of healthy snobbery about the art they consume. Jamie wants our kids to eat good food, and part of that means helping them develop a taste for kale and Brussel sprouts and fruit.
Discernment (according to Peterson) is:
The better path … the steeper trail with the heart-stopping view. Discernment demands more from a film or a song than mere entertainment, asks questions about content and intent. Discernment means you read the nutritional facts on the back of the box, ask what the ingredients are, and if there’s a bunch of high-fructose corn syrup and monosodium glutamate, for goodness sake choose something else.
Finally, in the afterword, Peterson offers several pithy pointers to aspiring creatives of all kinds. My favourite of these is about honesty, truth, and beauty; which he calls the trifecta of Christian art. Ironically (or perhaps not) this is exactly how Adorning the Dark could be summed up. Peterson is real in sharing his struggles, honest in his self-awareness, and presents the beauty of his all-sufficient Saviour in a way that continually pushes the spotlight away from himself and on to Christ.
Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making is an insightful, helpful resource wrapped up in an engaging story told by a master craftsman. The book can be read in a neat couple of hours, but the principles inside can be perfected over a lifetime.