Excellence and Creativity

2011 Echo Conference

In this 60 minute session from the 2011 Echo conference, Andy Crouch considers Pixar’s Ratatouille as a parable about excellence and creativity in the Church and explores what it means to love and cultivate the arts in our lives and communities. Andy Crouch is the author of Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. A senior editor at Christianity Today International, he has served as executive producer of the documentary films Where Faith and Culture Meet and Round Trip

As you watch this session, take notes and write down thoughts about how this session can impact your creativity. 

At the start of the session, Andy Crouch played the song, Picture in a Frame by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. He then asked the audience to discuss two questions surrounding the song. Of course, at the end of the session, he "gave" us the answers as he focused on the lyrics. 
  1. What is that song about?
  2. What makes that an excellent song?
Stop this session and find a song, story, film that you're working on or simply a current piece you like. Then come back and answer those two questions.

What is that song, story, film about?
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What makes it excellent?
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What did that exercise help you discover about your art? About yourself?
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Andy spent the majority of the session analyzing the structure of story by explaining what made Ratatouille a great story. It really was a great way to illustrate the ingredients of excellence. I hope you took notes! As he explained the roles of Sender, Object, Receiver plus Helpers, Subjects and Opponents, he talked about the importance of 4 parts to an excellent work of art. Here are the phrases he used:
  1. Full Catastrophe
  2. Conversion
  3. Happier Ending
  4. Eliminating the Unnecessary

We like to avoid the messy details. Bad art avoids the messy details. But the human story has catastrophe! How often do you tell truncated stories in your art or about your life that doesn't show the "full catastrophe" that happens in real life? How are you authentic in your creativity?
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Andy explained the beautiful conversion of Ego, in "Ratatouille," when he changes from being an Opponent to a Helper. And then he explained that we all need opponents, even when the critic is the voice in our head. What is your inner critic saying to you? How can you use that "opponent" to further your story and your art? How can your inner voice be a Helper?
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Is the culture that you're creating in your creativity offering people a glimpse of what they couldn't naturally expect in their life? How are you giving people the "happier ending" to their story that only God offers?
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Andy referred back to "Picture in a Frame" to illustrate how Willie Nelson eliminated an unnecessary phrase when he covered the son, which made the lyrics even more poignant. Take a look at your creative endeavor. What needs to be eliminated?
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Take your song, story, film, or any creative endeavor and make it a vision of a happier ending while acknowledging the full catastrophe in the simplest way. Let's create things that are this good!

For information or to purchase tickets to experience next year's Echo Conference live, go to echoconference.com.