I recently read Andrew Peterson’s Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because I recently reviewed his fantasy series, The Wingfeather Saga. Adorning the Dark is a book for artists of all kinds (which, he argues, means everyone), and people hungering for community and purpose. Peterson blends memoir with sage advice for artists, particularly songwriters and fiction writers.
As I read it, I kept having these strange moments where I would think, “Has Andrew been reading my essay over my shoulder?” I read this book while working on my own essay, The Redeemed Imagination. It shared so many similar thoughts that I ended up adding some of Peterson’s quotes into my essay, such as when he talks about the redemption of his own imagination. We both even used quotes from Lewis to describe the way imagination helps us grow close to God.
We both have similar influences—Tolkien and Lewis, for example. We have both read “On Fairy-Stories” by Tolkien and “Writing for Children” by Lewis. Many fantasy writers are influenced by the Greats. Even artists like The Grey Havens and The Oh Hellos and Sarah Sparks have songs inspired by the work of the Inklings. It amazes me how continually influential Tolkien and Lewis have been.
Peterson tells a story about the Inklings that was fascinating, but I won’t share it here so I don’t give away any spoilers. I’ll just say that the point he was making was about the power of community.
As he painted a picture of what community can look like, and how artists can support each other, I became envious of his experiences. But one of my favorite parts was when he acknowledged this envy by sharing that the point wasn’t that we join his community but to find community where we are.
I love this.
My parents used to have a horse that could graze an entire field of grass, and he would still stick his head through the fence to try the grass on the other side. The saying is true. We always think someone else has it better.
I think we do this to bury the real reason we haven’t found success or happiness yet. “Well,” we think, “if I had what he had, then I would be successful.”
This is the lie of scarcity. It may also be a lie about what “success” should look like, but that’s another blog post (I actually have a post scheduled for March 30th on this topic, so I’ll refrain from discussing it here).
One of the things that inspires me the most from reading and listening to Andrew Peterson’s work is how he has continually made the art that he wanted to create. He is a songwriter and a fantasy writer. He is an essayists who also draws trees. His art has made me laugh and cry and ponder. He hasn’t been put in a box, but somehow his art is still distinctly his.
It inspires me to do the same, but in my own way.
There is a dangerous side of this where an artist doesn’t care about their audience. If an artist has a message, finding the best way to communicate it is important unless they are just making art for themselves.
For me, this means not holding back on my art for the sake of looking like everyone else, or looking more “publishable.” The lie of scarcity is that there is only one audience. Despite not finding his audience on the radio, Peterson has found listeners who want his particular kind of music.
Reading about his journey to make the best art he could make has inspired me to make the best art that I can make. In a world focused on quantity and speed, I want to slow down and make something truly good.
I hope Peterson’s work will inspire you as well. If you haven’t already, you can also find my review of his fantasy series, The Wingfeather Saga, as well as a review for writers who want to learn from his craft.