Thursday, August 23, 2007

Discovering Evangelicals in the World of Art

I'm not artistic, nor am I particularly interested in art. I'm a minimalist and a technologist. But I found this Associated Press article on evangelical engagement in the world of art, particularly interesting.

By the way, this isn't about just adding biblical quotes to scenic photos. These are serious artists expressing their God given artistic talent, in subtle but real ways to bring glory to God. Among the ranks of these gifted artists is Makato Fujimura. Here's an excerpt from the article by Eric Gorski that features Fujimura's Christian worldview.

There are no crosses in Makoto Fujimura's paintings. No images of Jesus gazing into the distance, or serene scenes of churches in a snow-cloaked wood.

Fujimura's abstract works speak to his evangelical Christian faith. But to find it takes some digging.

After the 2001 terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center, three blocks from Fujimura's home, his work explored the power of fire to both destroy and purify, themes drawn from the Christian Gospels and Dante's "The Divine Comedy."

"I am a Christian," says Fujimura, 46, who founded the nonprofit International Arts Movement to help bridge the gap between the religious and art communities. "I am also an artist and creative, and what I do is driven by my faith experience.

"But I am also a human being living in the 21st century, struggling with a lot of brokenness - my own, as well as the world's. I don't want to use the term 'Christian' to shield me away from the suffering or evil that I see, or to escape in some nice ghetto where everyone thinks the same."

By making a name for himself in the secular art world, Fujimura has become a role model for creatively wired evangelicals. They believe that their churches have forsaken the visual arts for too long - and that a renaissance has begun.

I'm encouraged to learn about Makato Fujimura because he serves as an example of someone who is faithfully honing his craft, coupling it with a rich, biblical faith and broadcasting the good news of God's grace to the world. In an essay entitled The Extravagance of God, Fujimura unpacks the story of Jesus anointed by Mary in John 12. It's filled with gospel centered thinking which tells me that Fujimura is more than an artist, he's a passionate follower of Christ -

A pint of pure nard was worth about one person's wage for a year... No wonder that Judas objected to such "waste". If you saw someone pouring such expensive perfume on another person, I think the natural reaction would be to question "why?"... Artistic endeavors somewhat parallel this extravagant devotion. ... In my own work, I use such expensive materials, I often have to weigh what my family will eat that week with what I can order for materials. Why do I use such expensive mineral pigments and gold?

Is the expense justified in art? In order to answer this question, we must answer not with "why", but "to whom". And it seems to me that we have only two answers to this question of "to whom"; it's either to ourselves, or to God. We are either glorifying ourselves or God. And the extravagance can only be justified if the worth of the object of adoration is greater than the cost of extravagance. The glory of the substance poured out can only reflect the glory of the one to whom it is being poured upon. And if the object of glory is not worthy, then the act would be foolish and wasteful.

Most of the time, unfortunately, even our best acts of "devotion" turn out to be an instrument for worldly success and gain. Judas was an extraordinary man with extraordinary gifts; he, along with the other disciples, healed the sick, delivered people from demons, and preached the good news of the Messiah (Matthew 10:4). He gave up everything to follow the Master. And yet, ultimately, he thought Christ had come to reign on the earth, to give him earthly powers and privileges. His heart ultimately deceived him as his master stepped closer and closer to the cross; the cross that would strip Jesus, and his disciples, of all earthly privileges and power. The only earthly possession Christ wore on the cross was the very aroma of the perfume Mary had poured upon him. And Judas betrayed the master for 30 pieces of silver; notably less than the worth of Mary's perfume.

Often, what we think of as our adoration and offering to God turns out to be false adoration and offering. The Bible is full of characters like Cain and Saul who thought they were making good offerings to God, when in fact they were not. Their offerings, and ultimately they themselves, were rejected by God. How do we know that our offerings are acceptable?

One true test is that true adoration and worship is always God-initiated (in response to what God has already done) and not self-initiated. Something comes to you, surprising and life changing--transcending everything you thought was possible. It may come in the form of an event or a person. But the content of such a message opens your mind to the possibilities of God's existence and his ever-reality. You are afraid and reluctant because such matters are too wonderful and seemingly unbelievable. And yet, the adventure beckons you to leap beyond yourself to a new domain, casting aside your comfort zone, your previous definition of God. Such was Mary's reaction.

If your act of adoration is earning "points" with God, your actions will not ultimately please God but only yourself, becoming a dull religious code of ethics. No matter how hard you work, how much you sacrifice, you will not experience the joy overflowing. On the other hand, the arts are a glorious gift from God; and in the process of creation lies the joy of God's creative heartbeat. Thus you will find in the creative process freedom and release; you will find joy and a measure of greatness, whether you believe in God or not. But if the offering is made to the Altar of Art and altar of self-glorification, you will find, as I have, the glory of your own works to create a schism in your heart. Your works, your ideals will only point to the double-mindedness of your own motives and existence. There will be a gap between who you are and what you create.

Mary had seen Jesus raise her brother from the grave. She also heard the master talk about the punishment on the cross that he was to bear in Jerusalem in a few days. I suspect she connected the two events together in her mind. There was a direct correlation between her brother's life and her master's impending death. If she did not understand this analytically, as her sister Martha would have understood (John 11:27), she understood it intuitively. Her Master had to suffer, because he was so willing to weep and intervene, not only for her brother but also for her. He stepped into their domain, but as thankful as she was, she also knew that her world was filled with falsehood and sin. Thus, as soon as he chose to intervene, the glorious Prince of Peace had to become disfigured because of the reality of sin and death; the Beauty had to become the Beast. Every time Jesus healed and forgave, he stepped closer and closer to the cross, the judgement of God. The cross should have been for you and me, the Beasts trapped in the curse of our own doing; but Christ, the ultimate Beauty, intervened and took the punishment for us. Pouring a $30,000 perfume upon his feet is the least a Beast can do for the Beauty who loves us so uncondionally


Ted M. Gossard said...

ESI, I love this. Great thoughts and art. Am in a hurry, but wanted to drop this....

Real Live Preacher said...

Wow, beautiful work. Truly beautiful. And his thoughts on Mary's great offering to Jesus are profound as well. Thanks for introducing him to us.

Bez said...

Hi there, I am on staff with International Arts Movement - the non-profit Mako started - and just wanted to say thanks for sharing about us with your readers. I noticed you have DG on your links - I'll be at the DG conference in Minneapolis next month. Glad to have discovered your blog!

Every Square Inch said...


Thanks for stopping by, even when you're on the run.


It is beautiful work indeed - perhaps more impressive is the depth of the gospel centered perspectives he brings to his work

Every Square Inch said...


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm very glad to have discovered your work.

I'll be at DG's Nat Con as well and very much looking forward to it. If you would like to connect there, let me know and I'll email you