THE MIND OF THE MAKER by Dorothy Sayers

Recommended by Andy Crouch, the author of Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling and a senior editor at Christianity Today International.

Dorothy Sayers was one formidable lady. The author, most famously, of the Lord Peter Wimsey detective series, she was a polymath and (to coin a new sense of the word) a polygraph, too—author of plays, essays, poetry, and a stellar translation of Dante. But the work that has left the most lasting impression on me is The Mind of the Maker, a witty, inventive, and audacious book about the mystery of the creative process and the even deeper mystery of the Holy Trinity. As she points out, both mysteries are very different in kind from the cases that Lord Peter solves with aplomb: they are not puzzles to be solved but living, breathing realities to be explored.

Indeed, at the heart of Sayers’s argument is the idea that the two mysteries are deeply connected: when the work of the poet, playwright, or artist is at its best, it has a trinitarian shape. Sayers suggests that every creative process needs three elements, which—and this is the audacious part—refer to the Trinity as well. The Idea is the “timeless” essence of the “whole work complete at once.” The Energy (a rare lapse in clear wording, but
Sayers has the Greek energeia in mind) is the actual embodiment (or incarnation) of the work in space and time. And the Power is the work’s ability to create “a response in the lively soul.”

Sayers is at her best when she examines what happens when an artistic work lacks a clear governing Idea, a viable embodiment in the real world, or the power to connect with its audience—or, God forbid, lacks two elements or all three. By showing us that the best art has this three-fold structure, she also makes a compelling case that the three-in-oneness of God is just as necessary as it is mysterious—and that only art made in this image can truly be called excellent. Once you have read The Mind of the Maker, you will never look at your own art, nor say the Creed that Sayers so loved, the same way again.

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