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Chashab

Who's who among visual artists of faith

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Many of them are long-time CIVA people...

Those are likely the ones I'm recognizing: Knippers, Fishburn, Bowden . . .

Might I add my friend Joel Armstrong. Although he may not really be up and coming, I believe he's worthy (in part because of his humility) of this list.

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colin mc.cahon

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You know, I'm trying to get more informed about Makoto Fujimura since he'll be at FFM this year. Can someone explain what is appealing about his work? It just seems like basic abstract expressionism with a few nods to japanese motifs. I'm struggling to get anything from it at all! It's the kind of stuff the CIA would have loved funding during the cold war--it just seems weirdly noncommunicative.

I was reading his blog and he basically admits as much:

....during my exhibit, my works stood behind both a wedding and a memorial service.

I now have a sense that my art should serve as a backdrop to the joys and sorrows of family and community. Art should mediate as a servant of humanity, to act as a theatrical backdrop to our human dramas. A friend of mine noted, musing, "it would be hard to imagine a wedding taking place in any other gallery in Chelsea." Imagine getting wed in front of a Damien Hirst (as much as I admire his art), or a memorial service in front of Jeff Koons?

Really? Is this what artists should aspire to? That degree of benign neutrality and vague emotionyness? Wallpaper for your life journey? By this logic, shouldn't we be hailing Enya as the ultimate form of musical expression?

I know that this guy is considered one of the rising stars of "Christians in the arts". He seems thoughtful and articulate about his work. I'm just not getting what makes him special. Do I need to see the work in person?

I mean, I guess he was on the National Council of the Arts, but so is Lee Greenwood.

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I think Fujimura hit his stride around 9/11 when he began writing about art as a means of enacting "shalom" amidst the debris of lower Manhattan (a place he has been connected to for years). It set his art from that period in a specific context, and I found it becoming much easier to respond to his work as something more expressionist than decorative. A lot of his pieces are birthed in these prophetic Christian ideas about redeeming physical space and rehearsing peace. All this can be gleaned from poking around his site, as he writes a lot of helpful bits and bobs about his own work.

What is really appealing about his work is that it is abstract expressionism that operates at a pretty stratospheric level. If you aren't into material, you won't be into his work. But he has done some profound thinking on how central craft and material can be to what Christian art can look and feel like. Abstraction is a viable theological enterprise, and his work demonsrates that over and over again. But he is also a craftsman, schooled in a particular style and procedure that isn't easy. As a bookbinder, I am always attracted to people that have trained for years to become proficient in the use of particular materials (like Fujimura, Bontecou, Paolozzi, etc...). I enjoy the way such artists revel in the facticity of creation, and perform as echoes of Genesis 1.

And yes, as it is so material, his work needs to be seen in person. It has scale and dimension. Some of his pieces change over time. It is thanks to Warhol that people think they can see a painting in a book and can claim to have "seen" it.

"I now have a sense that my art should serve as a backdrop to the joys and sorrows of family and community. Art should mediate as a servant of humanity, to act as a theatrical backdrop to our human dramas. A friend of mine noted, musing, "it would be hard to imagine a wedding taking place in any other gallery in Chelsea." Imagine getting wed in front of a Damien Hirst (as much as I admire his art), or a memorial service in front of Jeff Koons?"

I may be missing something, but this seems to me to be exactly what Walker Percy had in mind when he talked about "a**-kicking for Jesus sake." When have you ever seen another Christian artist refer to his stuff as theo-drama? Or to artists in kenotic terms?

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That's helpful, thanks.

I can accept that there's an exceptional level of craft involved (again, like Enya, who layers as many as 500 layers of vocals on a single track, and spends years and years laboring over each album-- full disclosure: I do own every album by Enya, so comparing Makoto Fujimura to Enya isn't meant to be dismissive, exactly.) I can accept the deep focus on the material can only be understood in person. What I still have trouble with is that ultimately, it's very safe.

I can maybe accept that I just have a very different emotional relationship to 9/11 than the artist--maybe owing to our differing views about the event's socio-historic significance--so his paintings may never work for me. I mean, you can look at various responses to tragedy, and think about Adorno's thoughts on how poetry post-holocaust would be barbaric. But look where Adorno landed, as a proponent of Beckett's End-game. Beckett was able to talk about this massive pure negativity through the depiction of absence, but in a way that wasn't so damn toothless.

I really like having those Enya records around when I want to take a hot bath and relax, or when I'm in a bad mood and need to chill out. And I do remember, Enya's "Only Time" was important to people after 9/11, and her work surged in popularity because of the "shalom" it engendered. But I don't think Enya is one of the great artists of our time.

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I mean, you can look at various responses to tragedy, and think about Adorno's thoughts on how poetry post-holocaust would be barbaric. But look where Adorno landed, as a proponent of Beckett's End-game.

I have had a tussle with Adorno's most quoted quote over the last few months and can no longer agree with his thoughts re: post-Holocaust representation. Much of this is in part to seeing artists like Makoto stumble across more effective ways of dealing aesthetically with trauma and historical memory (Bontecou is another Adorno negator). What I like best about his work is that he is an artist's artist and a craftsman's craftsman at the same time. I think what he did in setting up that makeshift studio space down there in lower Manhattan is to demonstrate a powerful and innovative form of Christian witness. Even if one doesn't connect with his artwork (which is the nature of abstract expressionism I guess, you dig it or you don't), he is an intriguing figure in American art.

Apart from all this, he does raise that whole decorative vs. expressionist art debate... we could probably point to a few of his pieces that land on either side of this one. I am into color fielding, and any kind of process art, so I tend to like his stuff regardless.

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I guess I'm as interested in/puzzled by how he's received by Christian audiences as much as the work itself. (i'm always going back and forth between textual and industrial analysis)

In the first post in this thread, he was referred as someone who might "cross over", a term taken from the music industry. But the fine art world never had a parallel industry. There was never "Contemporary Christian Art" in the same way there was Contemporary Christian Music.

As with poor Sufjan, appeal to secular audiences seems to be part of the reason for the enthusiasm. But in fact, from what I can find online, most of the esteem for his work is coming from the Christian world, not the contemporary art world. He seems to be a successful working artist, but not a critical darling.

There are also jokes I'm finding about how he's the "only contemporary artist evangelicals have heard of". Which is maybe unfair, especially around here. But it is true that a good deal of the praise I'm finding for him is coming from people who don't seem to be following the contemporary art world--folks who, if you asked them to name their 3 favorite contemporary video artists would probably not be able to answer.

Edited by Holy Moly!

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He has gotten good press in places like Art in America, NY Arts, I have seen him in the Times now and again. But yeah, the whole World Magazine deal seems to have made him the token "artist" for culturally sensitive Christians. At least his work isn't given to prints such that he would attain an Ikea like decorative status.

The term "crossover" bugs me too. Most of the professional artists I know who are Christians are simply that, working artists who take gallery space when they can.

Have you read this neato essay?

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That essay does very little for me, honestly. Dismissing postmodern art as "insipid relativism" reveals him as someone who isn't really engaged with postmodern art. Particularly since so much of the language today's postmodern art really came from the feminist art movement of the 70s--all it really does is reveal a naive claim to universality.

And indeed, I find this sort of sunday-school moralizing: "Our own acts of terrorism toward God drove Jesus to the cross" a little bit tacky. Particularly in light of the apparent lack of reflection on geopolitical causes and impacts. He's a fine writer, but strip away the sentimentality and his essential response to 9/11 in this essay is "we need Jesus" which is true enough, but doesn't really qualify as substantive insight.

Much much more helpful in understanding contemporary art and its relationship to 9/11 is this essay by Eric Frederickson of Western Bridge, my favorite place to see art in Seattle.

Edited by Holy Moly!

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but doesn't really qualify as substantive insight.

His substantive insights involve exile and rubble. I can't think of anything more theologically and socially substantial than these themes other than the resurrection. Otherwise, thinking of sin as a form of terrorism goes all the way back to Augustine via Edwards and the Puritans, so the burden of your criticism should be directed at them. And he doesn't dismiss modern art at all, he does dismiss particular instances of forms of art that can only be possible in an age characterized by the unchecked excesses of modernism in its financial and architectural forms:

Postmodern art, too, was sustained by capitalism's nurture of modern technology and economy. Postmodernism depended on modern ideals that until September 11 were rarely challenged: build a higher, more impressive building; build a city that will surpass others in economic status and technological vision. The arts require the same presumptuousness, the same innocent belief in our power. Jeff Koons sculptures, Andy Warhol silkscreens-postmodern art prospers by mocking, like a child, the very hands that feeds it, the hands of modern idols.

Any negative criticism of Hockney or Nauman or Close or Sandback here? Just as there are many postmodernisms, so are there many postmodern artists. This critique is vintage Benjamin, identical to most Koolhaas proclamations, the middle chapters of Vattimo's Transparent Society. His description of Warhol is pretty close to Zizek's "filling in the gaps." I don't see anything insipid or sentimental about this at all. In distinction, that link in your post is just recycled Sontag. That stuff is so commonplace these days I have graded essays by juniors making the same points. I don't think Fujimura is the bees knees or anything, but he beats the snot out of Fluxist babbling and Chicago Institute posing. Who is even better on rubble than Fujimura? Bontecou, Richter, Cornell, Garaicoa, etc... But Mako is certainly worth tracking.

Edited by MLeary

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