Culture Making is now archived. Enjoy five years of reflections on culture worth celebrating.
For more about the book and Andy Crouch, please visit andy-crouch.com.

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"Der Bibelschreiber," by robotlab, from the installation bios [bible], 2007 :: via pietmondriann.com
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[UC San Diego psychologists Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt] ran three experiments with a total of 12 short stories. Three types of stories were studied: ironic-twist, mystery and literary. Each story -- classics by the likes of John Updike, Roald Dahl, Anton Chekhov, Agatha Christie and Raymond Carver -- was presented as-is (without a spoiler), with a prefatory spoiler paragraph or with that same paragraph incorporated into the story as though it were a part of it. Each version of each story was read by at least 30 subjects. Data from subjects who had read the stories previously were excluded.

Subjects significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories, where, for example, it was revealed before reading that a condemned man's daring escape is all a fantasy before the noose snaps tight around his neck.

The same held true for mysteries. Knowing ahead of time that Poirot will discover that the apparent target of attempted murder is, in fact, the perpetrator not only didn't hurt enjoyment of the story but actually improved it.

Subjects liked the literary, evocative stories least overall, but still preferred the spoiled versions over the unspoiled ones.

Sean Quigley - Little Drummer Boy, 30 November 2011 :: thanks @MichaelMeinema!
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"Colonial Dress (detail)," by Susan Stockwell , 2009 :: via WHATTHECOOL
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from "On the impracticality of a cheeseburger.," by Waldo Jaquith, 3 December 2011 :: via kottke.org

Further reflection revealed that it’s quite impractical—nearly impossible—to make a cheeseburger from scratch. Tomatoes are in season in the late summer. Lettuce is in season in spring and fall. Large mammals are slaughtered in early winter. The process of making such a burger would take nearly a year, and would inherently involve omitting some core cheeseburger ingredients. It would be wildly expensive—requiring a trio of cows—and demand many acres of land. There’s just no sense in it.

A cheeseburger cannot exist outside of a highly developed, post-agrarian society. It requires a complex interaction between a handful of vendors—in all likelihood, a couple of dozen—and the ability to ship ingredients vast distances while keeping them fresh. The cheeseburger couldn’t have existed until nearly a century ago as, indeed, it did not.

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

Steve Jobs was a supreme example of a culture maker. 

He made cultural goods, in every sense of that word. “Real artists ship,” he famously told his engineers. Culture is only changed when you make more of it, and, boy, did Steve Jobs make more of it.

He pursued excellence, and in particular he pursued beauty. In every market Apple entered, it did things more cleanly, elegantly, and beautifully than its competitors. It’s not too much to credit Steve Jobs with the return of beauty to the center of our culture’s aspirations.

He built teams. Yes, by all accounts he could be an abrasive manager, to say the least (though one hears fewer stories of that from the last ten years, when Apple had been rescued from disaster and, perhaps, illness had chastened him in some ways). But he pulled together teams of 3, 12, and 120 that demonstrated tenacious loyalty and disciplined creativity in the otherwise fickle world of Silicon Valley. He was a celebrity, but he was not a rock star—he was a leader. That makes all the difference in the world.

But all this, and so much more, is fairly obvious. I think something less obvious will be Steve Jobs’s greatest legacy.

The most fundamental question of our technological age is this: Will technology make us more, or less, fully human?

Steve Jobs just may have decisively shifted the answer to that question. He embodied the hope that the answer is more. 

The Mac was launched with this brilliant promise: “1984 won’t be like 1984.” Apple’s products respected human beings—their embodiment, their quest for beauty and meaning and even joy—in a way that their competitors’ did not. And Steve himself, who exuded calm and confidence and vision even while he stirred consumers to frenzies of desire and competitors to distraction, envy, and imitation, represented our vision of ourselves as we hope we can be: not slaves to technology, but free and creative users of it.

In this broken, beautiful world, there are no pure icons—but neither are there any completely empty idols. Apple’s bitten apple is not an icon—like all idols, the more fervent the worship the more it will disappoint. And yet, it is, and Steve Jobs was, a sign of something true and worth seeking: a fully human life. For all of us who seek that life, the only proper response to Steve Jobs’s extraordinary culture making is: thank you.

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

Timothy Dalrymple has a typically thought-provoking post up at Patheos today about his upcoming World Magazine article on COURAGEOUS, the new movie from Sherwood Baptist Church, producers of FIREPROOF and other movies. A lot of folks have asked me what I think of what they’re doing, and Tim kindly includes a couple quotes from me about the real importance of these movies. Understandably, he couldn’t include my whole reply when he asked for my comments, but with his permission, here it is.

I’ve seen neither FIREPROOF nor COURAGEOUS. My friends who know movies are pretty skeptical of their artistic merits (to say the least). For my part, I suspect they are pretty thin artistic efforts (like an awful lot of stuff that passes for cultural creativity from Hollywood itself). But I celebrate them, for two simple reasons.

First, it is better to create something worth criticizing than to criticize and create nothing.

Second, one or two Christian kids with real talent somewhere in this vast land are going to see these movies, get the sacred-secular dichotomy knocked out of them at an early age, move to LA, work their tails off, dream, fail, and try again . . . and one day make truly great movies. These movies are significant not for their own excellence but for the door they open to cultural creativity that the church never should have lost.

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from "Penne for Your Thought," by Gerald Dworkin, 3quarksdaily, 9 March 2009 :: Vertemnus / Rudolf II, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527–1593), Wikipedia :: first posted here 18 March 2009
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What issues might we be thinking about in trying to decide whether to classify cooking as one of the arts? Here are some.

1) Is the person who says of the Chateau Petrus they have just tasted that it is a work of art to be taken literally?

2) Is the experience we have of a Beethoven String Quartet sufficiently different from that we have when eating a great meal so that we should distinguish them as different kinds of experience?

3) Does it make sense to say of someone that they have been moved by a meal?

4) Is it significant for classifying something as an art form that a meal is consumed in the process of appreciation?

5) When I say of Grant Achatz that he is an artist in the kitchen how does this differ from saying he is a genius at the stove?

6) Why do we distinguish between the architect who designed Notre Dame and those who built it by designating the latter as craftsmen and the former as an artist? Is there a class bias exhibited by this distinction?

7) A piece of music can express sadness. A pate cannot. So?

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from "Kerala: mad about books," by Mridula Koshy, Le Monde diplomatique, June 2009; cover image from M.T. Vasudevan Nair's Bandhanam, DC Books :: via languagehat.com :: first posted here 12 June 2009

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Outside the big cities, a very small minority of Indians – only seven to eight million – read in English. India has an overall rate of 65% literacy – measured in people’s own mother tongues. But where India drops into the Indian Ocean, in the state of Kerala, home of Malayalam literature, literacy is close to 100%. Not surprisingly, the population of Kerala – some 31 million – reads books.

Malayalam writers are in the enviable position of writing for [2008 Booker-prize-winning White Tiger author Aravind] Adiga’s rickshaw puller and not just about him.

Paul Zacharia, one of the best-known contemporary writers in Malayalam, says: “In the Indian picture, Kerala’s book readers are a record. They are the product both of the literacy movement and the earlier library movement spearheaded by a one-man army called PN Paniker [the founding father of the literacy movement in Kerala]. A whole world of grassroots readers keep emerging from the villages.” ...

In a recent report in The Hindu, Ravi DC, CEO of DC Books, Kerala’s leading publishing house, said the sale of Malayalam books has been growing by at least 30% a year. At the sixth international book fair, which DC Books organised in Kerala in November 2008, sales had doubled in a year. And, he added, “the demand for books in rural areas is on the increase”. The marketing strategy was now based on the concept that “books should go to people instead of people coming to book houses”.

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

Amy Julia Becker is a remarkable young writer whose book A Good and Perfect Gift, a memoir about discovering that her first child had Down Syndrome, comes out this fall. She sent me an email asking how I handle speaking requests, and especially the question of how to handle the occasions when invitations come without any apparent plans to compensate her for her time. With her permission, here’s a slightly expanded version of what I wrote in response.

I have a pretty standard reply when I receive speaking requests that require travel outside the Philadelphia area. It starts this way: “My speaking fee is $2,500/day or partial day, plus travel expenses, which I work hard to keep to a minimum.” If I have reason to expect that they will be taken aback by that number, I add: “I realize this may be out of the reach of some academic or nonprofit budgets.” (Note that I don’t offer to reduce the amount. :) ) I sometimes also emphasize: “I’m all yours during the time I’m with you—please feel free to pack my schedule! I’m happy to wash dishes if that would be helpful.” (That’s true! I actually like washing dishes. Not many groups take me up on the dishwashing, but a lot sure do take advantage of the packed schedule, and I love it.) And I often add: “My family and I have decided to focus my volunteer speaking time on the Philadelphia area, where I never charge at all. However, this means that when I do travel, I have to charge my full fee.”

Now, there are a few exceptions worth noting. I often make different arrangements when my travel is connected with my day job at Christianity Today—this approach applies to the roughly half of my time that I spend on my own speaking and writing. Another exception is that in the months following the publication of a new book (which will happen, God willing and me writing, late next year) I generally do several events, ones that my publisher’s marketing team feels are especially significant, for little or no compensation except travel. It’s a recognition of all the investment they are making in the book. I only do this in consultation with the publisher, though.

Also, there are a handful of people who are most significant in my own life and growth, with whom I want to spend as much time as possible in order to sustain and deepen the relationship. If discounting my fee or waiving it altogether means we get to do something together, then I’ll do so.

This approach is hard won over several decades of experimenting and learning from my mistakes—in particular, things I found myself desperately wishing I had not agreed to do. :) To be honest, in my experience there are few times where traveling any great distance to speak without payment is actually a good idea. As for the specific amount I charge, it’s based on essentially one criterion: an amount just high enough that even if my hosts were to do a terrible job preparing for my visit (alas, that does happen from time to time), I could happily cash the check and know that if nothing else was accomplished, the income had helped to set me free to do other things at other times without worrying about money. For various reasons the amount has gone up over the past few years, but interestingly, the higher I’ve set that number, the more lasting fruit my work has seemed to bear.

That said, I think the least important thing in my whole approach is the dollar amount I charge—much more important are the principles behind it. Most important is the commitment Catherine and I have made that in Philadelphia, we will discourage churches and ministries from paying me altogether. We have decided we are called to “tithe” our time as well as our money, and we want to tithe our time in the place where God has placed us and where there are the greatest chances of building and nurturing ongoing relationships. So with my fellow Philadelphians I set all these considerations aside and try just to serve generously and wholeheartedly, expecting nothing in return—and that, too, interestingly, has borne a lot of fruit in the form of joyful friendships and partnerships of a sort I could only dream of when we moved here eight years ago.

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image from "Beach Calligraphy," by Andrew van der Merwe, Japan Letter Arts Forum, 21 October 2008 :: via The Ministry of Type :: first posted here 8 September 2009
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from "Have Mercy on My Logo," by Steff Geisbuhler, Brand New, 11 December 2009 :: first posted here 11 December 2009
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A typical identity project involves plenty of personal creative investment, hours upon hours devoted to rounds of sketching, revisions, and the painstaking final tweaks to create a singular, perfect end result. Once the identity is complete and leaves our hands, though, we can’t protect the precious qualities of what we delivered, and it’s at the hands of clients to see if it remains in its intended form as time goes on. Yet, during a routine check-up call — something I do from time to time with previous clients — one of my logos definitely strayed from any branding guidelines, but, surprisingly, done so to the betterment and even salvation of populations living continents away.

During one such call, I spoke with Jennifer Dylan, Senior Manager of Creative Services at Mercy Corps, the aid organization for which we designed a new identity several years ago. “How is the brand identity going?” I asked, “Is the logo working in the field?” To which she answered, “Your logo saves lives!” That is by far the most unexpected and most profound response I have ever heard. She elaborated about how important it was for the victims to recognize the much-desired help and to differentiate it from not-so-well meaning people and the “enemy.” Just like the Red Cross is instantly recognizable, so too does Mercy Corps have to signal their brand on vehicles of any kind, on tents and primitive structures, on clothing, flags and banners, on wells and supplies, packages, and signs.

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from Laurie Anderson Q&A, by Kenneth R. Fletcher, Smithsonian Magazine, Auguest 2008 :: via Boing Boing :: first posted here 4 August 2008

In 2002 you were NASA’s first artist in residence, Why you?
Because I have a reputation for being a gear head and a wire head. It was a really great gig. I went to mission control in Pasadena, and I met the guy who figures out how to color the stars in the photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The opportunity came about completely out of the blue, as many things are in my life. Somebody called and said “Do you want to be the first artist in residence at NASA?” and I said “What does that mean in a space program?” and they said “ Well, we don’t know what that means. What does it mean to you?” I was like “Who are you people? What does it mean to me? What are you talking about?”

You’ve also worked at McDonald’s.
Yeah. I began to think, “How can I escape this trap of just experiencing what I expect?” I decided maybe I would just try to put myself in places where I don’t know what to do, what to say, or how to act. So, I did things like working at McDonald’s and on an Amish farm, which had no technology whatsoever.

What do you need to “escape” from?
At heart, I’m an anthropologist. I try to jump out of my skin. I normally see the world as an artist first, second as a New Yorker and third as a woman. That’s a perspective that I sometimes would like to escape. It’s why in my performances I use audio filters to change my voice. That’s a way to escape as well.

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from "Baked, Boiled, Roasted and Fried," by Alfred W. Crosby, in Peter Menzel and Faith D'Alusio's Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, 2005 :: first posted here 29 September 2008

Cooking is universal among our species. Cooking is even more uniquely characteristic of our species than language. Animals do at least bark, roar, chirp, do at least signal by sound; only we bake, boil, roast and fry….

Few advances comparable in importance to cooking have happened since [its development]. The most important have been more quantitative than qualitative. We began not simply to harvest but to adopt certain palatable plants and animals as aids and conspirators. By 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, we had domesticated all those that have been central to our diets ever sense—barley, wheat, rice, maize, potatoes, sheep, goats, cattle, horses, and so on…. We have domesticated nothing more significant than strawberries and reindeer since.

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"Mountain Chief of Piegan Blackfeet making phonographic record at Smithsonian," 9 February 1916, posted at Shorpy Photo Archive :: via FFFFOUND! :: first published here 30 October 2008
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The quotations, images, and embedded media in this blog are the work of the credited authors, artists, and publications, and are employed in the spirit of fair use, commentary, and criticism. We always link to the original source of material we cite. If you think we’ve missed something, let us know. The inclusion of media on this site should not imply its owners’ endorsement (or for that matter awareness) of this book, blog, or the blog’s curators and commentators. Though we hope they’d like us.

[Culture Making] was smart, challenging, and most of all very humane. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and talking about it long after I finished reading.
?Tara, educator living
in Cambridge, Mass.
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