Makoto Fujimura on Beauty
I already mentioned before that the Calling and Vocation lecture series had Makoto Fujimura, the Christian artist famous for his elaborate paintings using precious materials such as gold, as a guest speaker. It was Tuesday of the series, I think. As a whole, his talk on beauty probably touched me more deeply than the other speakers. I want to share some of his insights with you. Keep in mind that much of what I write is straight from his mouth.
Black Holes–Problems and Solutions
In our culture, we have two black holes: one of the world (the realm of beauty) and the one of the church (the realm of faith). There is a divorce between beauty and faith, and it seems that because they both exist in two separate black holes, there can be no reconciliation. It’s beauty verses faith.
However, Mako says that if you really understand the Gospel, you should be doing things in the most extreme ways in offering to God (in friendships, relationships, dancing, art, etc) because God is that way. We’ve been touched by something so much bigger than us. Someone has to begin to bridge the gap between beauty and faith because our God is the blend of the two. There is no real separation. It needs to be an ongoing conversation.
This conversation should be going on in the various cultural ecosystems that exist in America and around the world. However, the cultural ecosystem doesn’t allow for the artists (painters, writers, etc.) to be artisans because of the divorce between beauty and faith. They have to be lawyers or doctors. Why does this matter? Artists offer a language infused with faith that everyone regardless of an actual faith can talk about. They translate that language into one the culture can understand.
The problem is, as he says, that they can’t flourish and exist in the current cultural ecosystem. It doesn’t have an atmosphere or environment that can support such life. But the church should be an ecosystem where many pockets can come and work together. Yet there is fragmentation. And so the artists struggle. Shouldn’t churches be leading the way in bridging the divide? To create a pocket in a polluted environment? Church should be a cultural estuary in which many who care about culture can come to discuss and make change.
The Flower Bouquet–The Importance of Beauty
Once upon a time, Mako was a struggling artist—the literal kind. He and his wife lived in a dingy apartment in the city and could barely pay for tuna to eat for dinner. One night, Mako’s wife came home with a bouquet of flowers and placed them on the table. Mako looked up and lectured her on the imprudence of her purchase. “That money could have paid for an entire meal, but you have wasted it on some flowers for the table.”
His wife looked at him and said, “but Mako, we need to feed our souls too.” Mako was shocked. He was journeying through his darkness but realized that he had no room for the very beauty in his life that he was trying to create. He’s supposed to sacrifice to birth beauty, but his wife was the artist that day.
We need beauty, he says, because in a world where we’re bombarded with pulls to swim in a polluted river, we need a reminder that beauty is real. We can’t let postmodernism cloud reality. If you don’t have a place for beauty in your heart, there’s no place for you. And beauty is worth it because the love of Christ is the place where beauty comes from. It gives us hope.
Much of art is a response to suffering and darkness; it is hope in a Fallen and painful world. It images Christ’s hope for us and the promise of new life, peace and the beauty that come from these things because they proceed from the Love.
So never forget the importance of beauty; even something as simple as a bouquet of flowers can off-set the darkness. Food nourishes the body but beauty nourishes the soul. So, “bring home a bouquet of flowers to an artist in need.”
More than just Big Sheep–The Source of Beauty
In Japan, the ideogram for beauty is the symbol for “sheep” over top of the symbol for “great.” In China, fat sheep were beautiful; it means blessing and abundance. Hence, to have “great sheep” was beautiful. However, in Japan the concept of “great sheep” became distorted to be about sacrifice.
Beauty exists everywhere, but it flows from something far greater and deeper than the cultures that celebrate it. Christ’s love for us evidences itself in his sacrifice for us on the cross. That sacrifice is the greatest beauty.
The Japanese culture is embedded in the idea of a shepherd sacrificing himself for his sheep. Love is not embedded in the culture, but it’s already embedded in the idea of beauty. Beauty requires sacrifice, and willing sacrifice is to lay down one’s life for another. If everyone understands (or thinks they understand) beauty then they already have a connection to a savior, something they can relate to. But they haven’t attributed it to its rightful source, and that’s the a big disconnect.
There is no place that does not have beauty. You may not be able to see it, but it’s there. It’s ephemeral. It’s the existence that holds the world together. The beauty exists to offset the brokenness, but it’s up to us to reframe the things that are broken.
There are two reasons why this impacted me personally more than the others.
1.) It’s easy to get caught up in the darkness. We and I need this beauty at all times of life, but especially in the darker times. I’ve found this to be true in the times of darkness in my life as well. I’ve awoken in the morning feeling all the empty weight of the world holding my body where it lies, but, sitting up anyway, I see the blue sky and smell the breeze of a fresh morning both coming through the open window. We were made for beauty, planted in a garden that we messed up. We would be left to sit in our own filth except that we were given another chance.
2.) Doing things in the extreme requires courage. I have so little courage. In my last post that wasn’t about the lecture series, I talked about finding the little extremist in you to get the most out of your writing, but it also applies to life. We should be doing things to the extreme because a.) as Mako said, God is like that, so we as his image-bearers should be—well—imaging him. But also b.) life is short. I used to think twenty years was a long time, but in the scheme of eternity, it’s nothing. Which makes freaking out about careers and financial success so beside the point! Because our span of life on earth is a breath, we should do things to the utmost. If I spend half as much of my energy on my relationships and my writing and in my worship to God as I do on worrying about myself and looking good in other’s eyes, I’d be right up there with Mako, creating a life masterpiece gilded in gold and sapphire. God gives each of us a canvas and says “be an artist.” Will your canvas be a masterpiece? What does your canvas say about you? What does your life evidence?
I hope this lends some perspective to anyone from all ecosystems of life, not just writers, though this adds a lot to the question “why should we write.” I’m interested in what people think about Mako’s talk, any of these concepts, how they answer or add to the question “why do we write,” or about life and beauty in general. So, I invite you to leave your thoughts in the comments. I love conversation, so you should start one—or not—you know—whatever.
P.S. I call him Mako because we’re tight…also that’s what everyone else called him and it was easier to say.