Makoto Fujimura show: Art and faith

Seven or eight years ago, as I finished up my BFA, I tried to explain some ideas I had concerning art and faith to another artist. I didn’t know her well, but she attended the same church as I, was finishing up her MFA and on this particular day was subbing for one of my absent studio profs. I thought, of all the other Christ followers I knew in my classes, she would understand where I was coming from.

However, her response was, at best, condescending. “So you want to change the world?” she asked. Of course, I thought. Who doesn’t? I don’t know if this is how she meant to come across, and frankly still very much admire her work as an artist. Regardless, she didn’t seem to understand where I was coming from.

Since then, thankfully, I’ve met and befriended a number of other artists and designers of faith sympathetic to these sentiments. Geinene Carson, Joel Armstrong and Todd Goehner for example, as well as my new acquaintance with Tim Jones.

Makoto Fujimura is another such person. In fact, I envy his position in many ways — which I’ve said about Geinene Carson in the past as well.

Fujimura, affectionately referred to as Mako by the people around him, is the most significant artist of the Christian faith. I don’t say this to put him on a pedestal; regular readers know my aversion to holding artists up as geniuses. I say this based on observations over the past two years.

His work is accepted by much of the New York art world. To my [limited] knowledge, no other artist of faith has made such inroads into the culture in the last 50 years — or more.

But more interesting than his paintings were his words.

* Mako is writing a paper proposing a 1% program. I’m speculating (I forgot to ask him last night at the opening) it’s in relationship to The Christian Vision Project. The program will suggest that American churches allocate 1% of their budget to the arts. He compared this to the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts (he’s on the NEA’s National Council for the Arts), pointing to the impact churches could have on the culture by supporting quality artists of faith. More when I can get my hands on the finished article.

* 70% of people who purchase his paintings aren’t Christians. He candidly expressed his wish for this to be a more even 50/50 split. Is it really so much more spiritual to give our money to building projects, these warehouse/office structure combos with crosses or steeples thrown on top? Is it even so much more spiritual to give to missions — and I ask this as a sorely under-supported missions mobilizer myself. I’m not suggesting one or the other. I’m just asking where the balance is.

When Fujimura recieved his first request for a commissioned work from a Christian, he pointed this out to the person. The person commissioning the painting was in disbelief. Mako went on last night saying how important this was for himself, as a confirmation of his calling from a fellow believer.

* He also elaborated on the importance of nihonga in his work, in response to a question I posed to him about it’s tradition and influence on his present works. He pointed out two things: 1) How 16th century nihonga works were actually highly abstracted 2) The importance of the process in light of the more sterile approach painters are faced with today, using prepackaged tubes from Hobby Lobby instead of the more move involved and tactile process of grinding your own pigments. I was impressed with the importance of this technique’s history in Fujimura’s painting.

My wife quickly overhead a number of viewers lamenting the abstract nature of his paintings. “It’s so abstract,” I heard one student say to another, in a quizzical tone of voice. Some of Mako’s works are less about the process and materials and do contain images; two such works are on display at the JBU gallery, one featuring a rose and another columbines.

Of course, as much as I might wish to have the same influence or opportunity as Mako (or Geinene at Arts Link), I am content to live the life I’m in now. I know that, even if I’m not doing exactly what I might want to be doing, the sacrifices are being made as directed by God and for with the best interest of the Kingdom in mind.

Though I still hope (and plan) to make more time for myself in my studio!

More links:

* International Arts Movement (IAM)

* Tribeca Temporary

* Makoto Fujimura’s blog

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About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

2 Responses to Makoto Fujimura show: Art and faith

  1. RWC says:

    Re: “Of course, as much as I might wish to have the same influence or opportunity as Mako (or Geinene at Arts Link), I am content to live the life I’m in now. I know that, even if I’m not doing exactly what I might want to be doing, the sacrifices are being made as directed by God and for with the best interest of the Kingdom in mind.

    Though I still hope (and plan) to make more time for myself in my studio!”

    Thanks for your entry about Mako. He is a huge inspiration to all though let’s look to him as a fellow artist of faith on the journey, a little further ahead. We all have our creative paths to make. For most of my life I was the walking, talking evangelical. Went to a Christian college and seminary, married a pastor, became a missions mobilizer and then finished my MFA. I certainly don’t want to doubt your choices to “make sacrifices” for the kingdom of God, but you have to choose. Real art-making takes focus, discipline and hours of investment…in the studio. And that is as spiritual an activity as more visible expressions of “ministry.” Start carving out hours for yourself and protect your artistic development time, or else you will stay with art as a hobby.

  2. TAE says:

    Thanks for the encouragement! I agree completely that the making of art is no less spiritual or important an activity in the Kingdom than any other service. I’m becoming more and more aware of the focus and discipline necessary to live as an artist — something I never really thought I’d do even when earning my BFA. At the present time, as my post suggested, my wife and I are convinced of the mobilizing effort we’re a part of . . .

    . . . I often wonder if my place isn’t as much that of a motivator as an artist too. The problem with this is lies in that I myself crave more instruction/encouragement from other fine artists and not just an interested part — as grateful as I am, and I am, for any interested party.

    Thus, I’m trying hard to create an appropriate discipline in my own work.

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