Archives For Makoto Fujimura

This entry is part 18 of 22 in the seriesBook of the Month

One year ago, internationally acclaimed artist Makoto Fujimura published a small booklet entitled On Becoming Generative: An Introduction to Culture Care. This booklet, and Fujimura’s concept of “Culture Care,” have resonated with many. This month Makoto Fujimura released the full length expansion of his Culture Care concept, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life.

Culture Care Makoto FujimuraFujimura has written eloquently and inspiringly on faith and art before. With Culture Care, he gives us many important concepts to ponder and pursue. Fujimura talks about the culture wars that are all too familiar for most of us. Unlike those who would glamorize our modern culture, Fujimura acknowledges that there is much in culture today that should sadden us, much that is toxic, much that harms the soil in which we are trying to grow. But unlike those who want to throw up their hands in disgust and sit in condemnation of culture until Jesus returns, Fujimura insists that we have a responsibility to the culture all around us.

“Culture is not a territory to be won or lost but a resource we are called to steward with care. Culture is a garden to be cultivated.”

Culture Care means viewing all of life as a gift, viewing culture itself as a gift. Our own abilities, and the abilities and cultural goods of the people around us, whether Christian or not, are gifts from God. Rather than disdaining culture or the works of those outside the church, we need to be life-giving participants in culture. Fujimura explains:

“Artistic expressions are signposts declaring what it is to be fully human.”

When we free ourselves of our utilitarian mindset that insists on valuing only that which is useful, when we begin living “generatively,” creatively bringing something new and life-giving into existence, then we create new possibilities in the lives of the people around us.

For Fujimura, this is a matter of stewardship. If we all fall prey to the utilitarian mindset that fails to value beauty, creativity, and generativity, then the cultural soil will be further poisoned by the time our children inherit the cultural world we have failed to steward. But if we labor to tend the soil of culture, our children may live in a cultural world that is bursting with life, in which gospel seeds can grow, in which beauty takes root and shapes the imagination and daily life of society.

Too often, the cultural efforts of Christians are derivative (simply imitating the “secular” culture with a Jesus-twist) or speak almost exclusively to other Christians. But Fujimura’s concept of Culture Care calls us beyond this introspective existence.

“Western Christianity in the twentieth century fell into an ‘adjective’ existence with Christian music, Christian art, Christian plumbers. Even today, artists are often valued in the church only if they create art for the church, or at least, ‘Christian art.’ Culture Care will mean moving away from such labels…I am not a Christian artist. I am a Christian, yes, and an artist. I dare not treat the powerful presence of Christ in my life as an adjective. I want Christ to be my whole being.”

In this mentality, Fujimura sees artists functioning as “border-stalkers” (think of Strider/Aragorn in Lord of the Rings) who are able to cross boundaries with ease and mediate between diverse groups. Fujimura’s vision here of what an artist’s role might become in relation to the church and the surrounding culture is especially insightful, and he gives very practical and helpful advice for those seeking to fulfill that role.

Fujimura leaves us with a number of “what ifs” to spur or thinking about what might be possible if we took Culture Care seriously. Here are a few of my favorites.

What if each of us endeavored to bring beauty into someone’s life today in some small way?

What if artists became known for their generosity rather than only their self-expression?

What if we committed to speaking fresh creativity and vision into culture rather than denouncing and boycotting other cultural products?

What if we saw art as gift, not just as commodity?

What if we empower the “border stalkers” in our communities, support and send them out?

What if we created songs [and other forms of art] to draw people into movements for justice and flourishing?

All in all, I believe that Culture Care is an important book, one of the few that is taking the discussion of Christian involvement in the arts and culture to a new level. If you are an artist at any level, this is an important book to read. If you are convinced of the importance of art and culture in the life of the church and/or world, this is an important book to read. And if you’re just becoming interested in the concept of art and culture as it relates to your faith, this would be a great place to start.

As I write this, I am only aware of one place to purchase the Culture Care book, and that’s through the International Arts Movement’s website (click here).

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the seriesWhy You Should Care About The Arts

Over the past four posts, I have offered four reasons why Christians should care about the arts. With the exception of my first point, these reasons have focused on the utility of the arts. In other words, I have been arguing that we should care about the arts because of what they can do for us (they teach us about humanity) and how we can use them (they give us the opportunity to test God’s truth and to connect with non-Christians).

But art is not about utility. Art is valuable because of what it is, not just because of what it does. Art is valuable because it is a good gift of God, and we should enjoy it as such.

Francis Schaeffer recognized this in the creativity of art:

“A work of art is a work of creativity, and creativity has value because God is the Creator.” (Art and the Bible in The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, vol 2, 394)

Warner Sallman JesusCan pure creativity really be a good thing in itself? Shouldn’t creativity serve a more useful purpose—like a drama that portrays the gospel or a painting of Jesus? Creativity is great when it is used this way, but we do not have any grounds to say that beauty, creativity, or the arts in general are only valuable if they are useful.

We can take our cue on this point from God. He created a world that was both useful and beautiful: “Out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). A utilitarian God would certainly make trees that were good for food, but pleasant to the sight? Isn’t that a bit extravagant? Or consider the light that God created. God declared the light good, even before there was an eye to see it or a plant to photsynthesize with it. It was just good.

Or take the tabernacle. Without a doubt the tabernacle served many important functions. But God takes up a lot of space in the Pentateuch with describing how the tabernacle should be adorned. Schaeffer brings the implications home:

“Art is not something we merely analyze or value for its intellectual content. It is something to be enjoyed. The Bible says that the art work in the tabernacle and the temple was for beauty.” (394) (For example, see Ex. 28:2.)

Grace Foretold (Fujimura)Not only did God create a beautiful world—a world so beautiful that poets, artists, and ordinary people over the millennia have not been able to help but exult in its beauty—He also created us with the capacity to enjoy it. God didn’t just create sunsets, He gave us eyes that could see them. He didn’t just create sound waves and the physical properties required to create them, He also gave us ears to hear them. He didn’t just give us beauty, He gave us the aesthetic sensibilities to appreciate beauty for what it is. Art can be useful, but it is still valuable even when it doesn’t do anything.

Leland Ryken says it well:

“When we enjoy the colors and design of a painting, the fictional inventiveness of a novel, the harmonious arrangement of a sonata, we are enjoying a quality of which God is the ultimate source and performing an act similar to God’s enjoyment of the beauty of his own creation. We can participate in the arts to the glory of God by enthusiastically enjoying the arts, recognizing God as the ultimate source of the creativity and beauty that we enjoy. If artistic creativity is, as the Bible claims, a gift of God, we can scarcely demonstrate our gratitude for the gift any more adequately than by using and enjoying it.” (The Liberated Imagination, 88)

There are many reasons that Christians should care about art, but ultimately we don’t need more reasons than this: art is a gift from God, and we should enjoy it for His sake.

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the seriesWhy You Should Care About The Arts

Christians tend to be suspicious of the arts. It hasn’t always been that way, but the Protestant tradition in particular has always had an awkward relationship to artistic expression (as opposed to propositional statements). Some key figures in the Reformation responded to the idolatry they saw in the artistry of the Catholic Church. They weren’t rejecting art as art, just art at that particular moment as an expression of idolatry. Even so, art has remained suspect. We distrust it because it is not propositional.

But art matters. And I’m going to do a series of posts to convince you.

In this post, I want to make a simple point: art is unavoidable. It is all around us. You may not like art, but it is an inescapable part of your life. I’m not necessarily talking about fine art: pretty much everything around you has been designed by someone. For example, take the computer you’re using to read this post. Someone decided on the shape and colors of the physical construction. Someone else designed the menus and interface. They may not have thought of themselves primarily as artists, but they were making artistic decisions as they created your computer. Or consider the clothes you’re wearing. The designer made artistic decisions in cutting and stitching the fabric, and you made an artistic decision in choosing which shirt to wear with which pants and which shoes. The same types of decisions went into every other man-made object around you.

All I’m trying to say here is that we can’t escape aesthetics. Here’s how Makoto Fujimura puts it:

“I encourage people not to segment art into an ‘extra’ sphere of life or to see art as mere decorations. Why? Because art is everywhere and has already taken root in our lives. Therefore, the question is not so much ‘why art?’ but ‘which art?’ In other words, our worlds are filled with art that we have already chosen for our walls, our iPods, and our bookshelves. We become patrons of the arts by going to see movies, plays and concerts or by watching television. We are presented with a choice, and this choice is a responsibility of cultural stewardship.” (Refractions, 111)

Or listen to Leland Ryken:

“People were created by God as aesthetic creatures possessed of a capacity for beauty, craving the expression of their experiences and insights…Everyone in our culture indulges his or her artistic sense, even if it consists simply of painting the walls of a room or listening to popular music or singing hymns. The question is not whether we need the arts but rather what the quality of our artistic experiences will be.” (The Liberated Imagination, 60)

You can’t escape art, so why not give it some thought? Beauty is an intentional part of the world God created, so why would we be suspicious of it? It’s true that art has been used to convey some distorted and evil realities, but does that mean that we should only trust propositions? Have not propositions been put to use for distorted and evil purposes as well?

If this is God’s world, and if He is indeed King over every aspect of our existence, then we should take every aspect of life seriously. That includes art. And as I’ll argue in future posts, art has incredible value—partially because it can be useful, and partially because it can be useless.

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