Makato Fujimura shared a masterful presnetation on art and beauty. Fujimura is a New York based artist who serves as a catalyst for the International Arts Movement. My daughter Hannah and I had an opportunity a few years ago to hear an extended presentation by Makato on a visit here in Pittsburgh and it was good to hear his voice at Q.
Two general thoughts:
- Art mediates truth. The church must move beyond a utilitarian approach to art – art is more than designing cool logos or making the church more seeker friendly.
- Art is there not only to be useful, but to be a medium of truth. The purpose of art is love – in and for and through love and artists are called to transgress in love.
The Problem of Beauty – our culture typically defines beauty in a superficial and cosmetic manner. Some artists have refused to even talk about beauty because our culture has so corrupted the word. Beauty has the capacity to bridge the gap between the city of man (Augustine’s term) and the city of God. “Beauty, sooner or later, brings us into contact with our own capacity for making errors” (Elaine Scary).
The Paradox of Beauty – When we come face to face with the weightiness of beauty, our own hearts are incapable of containing “the glory of it all” (see DCB lyric). Makato shared some of his own spiritual journey here and focused his comments of his use of a certain Japanese technique of using crushed elements within his painting. Here are his own words from his book, RiverGrace:
“The problem that I could not overcome with Art as religion is that the more I focused upon myself, the les I could find myself. A schism grew inside between who I wanted to be and what I did. I wanted to love my wife, but I saw more and more, the distance between us. Arts as self- expression became a wedge in our relationship. Meanwhile, everyday I sought higher transcendence through the extravagant materials. I found success in expression through Nihonga materials. And yet the very weight of beauty I saw in the materials began to crush my own heart. I could not justify the use of extravagance if I found my heart unable to contain their glory. The more I used them, the moodier and more restless I became. Finding beauty in art and nature, I did not have a ‘shelf’ to place that beauty inside my heart.”
The paradox of beauty can be found in the old rugged cross – “what a wondrous beauty I see.”
The Presence of Beauty – “For those that grieve in Zion, God has come to bestow a crown of beauty for ashes.” (Isaiah 61) Anytime we isolate beauty from Christ, we are at risk of creating an idol.
Makato beautifully illustrated this concept by describing the Japanese character for beauty. This character is a fusion of two different characters, one placed over another. The upper character represents a sheep and the second connotes large, or great. I will let you reflect upon how this might denote true beauty and in fact love.
Makato’s presentation reminded me of a question that NT Wright raised in his book, “For All God’s Worth:”
“what is the most beautiful thing you have experienced this week and what did it evoke within you?”
I would love to hear your response to Wright’s question.