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Makoto Fujimora is WORLD Magazine's Daniel of the Year!

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This is my favorite thread ever in the years of A&F. I am proud of everyone here and love you all.

The only thing more I could desire at this point is a Fujimura showcase in Chicago.

-s.

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This is my favorite thread ever in the years of A&F. I am proud of everyone here and love you all.

The only thing more I could desire at this point is a Fujimura showcase in Chicago.

-s.

Wonder if CIVA could get a traveling show of his stuff . . .

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The opening for Mako's show at the John Brown University gallery was last night. Here are my thoughts, from my blog, so far.

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from the publisher of "The Faith of Condaleeza Rice!"

I'm still convinced the emperor has no clothes, especially after seeing him speak.

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Yeah, the dude is such a blowhard. Proof positive:

James Elkins, a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago, wrote a book called “Why Art Cannot Be Taught” (University of Illinois Press), in which he comes to three conclusions:

1) The idea of teaching art is irreparably irrational. We do not teach because we do not know when or how we teach.

2) The project of teaching art is confused because we behave as if we were doing something more than teaching technique.

3) It does not make sense to propose programmatic changes in the ways art is taught.

We make assumptions about teaching art, apparently, that are not really justified by the very philosophy we have come to embrace in the art world: do we really have anything to say to each other if every effort to communicate is fragmented, as in Derrida’s labyrinth of languages? What are we pretending to teach, then? Aren’t we sowing more confusion, by pretending to teach while in such a fragmented state?

But as I walked the beach in Santa Barbara, one thing remained perfectly clear to me. As we are drawn to the sun, we will always believe in the significance of the experience of that light. Art depends on the light that reveals our gestures, surface tensions and even fragmentations. Irrational or not, just as the dolphins so predictably visit the bay, we will just as predictably come back to that light via our art. Further, it takes faith to see the significance of each surface movement, it takes faith to teach art, and it takes faith to learn.

Since Westmont is a Christian college, I also began to think about what allows a Biblical worldview to permit us to explore the mystery of each teaching moment. Since I make assumptions that James Elkins chose not make, and assumptions that our pluralistic colleges and universities would not assent to, I realized I was aided by the very “limitations” I have come to embrace. I can assume that such a thing as “teaching” is beneficial, because I have been wooed by this world-view to have faith in the God who communicates, and, as a result, to have faith in communication itself.

Our pluralistic society demands complex communication via various cultures and languages. If you have faith in a Creator that communicated via the pure “media” of stones etched with the Decalogue, you can make assumptions about communication, for instance, that 1) you can indeed speak and be understood, 2) what you hear is mediated by a benevolent mediator and not random echoes of an empty world, and 3) there are laws that govern our relationships and by accepting these boundaries, we communicate better. These presuppositions are what today’s pluralistic society desperately looks for, in order to communicate to each other, but cannot fully embrace. I have learned from scriptures to pay attention to works (in my life) of which I am not proud. They speak to teach us. I have learned that what the ancients calls “repentance” is a journey of coming home to a place where all of our wretched works rest, but also where our wretchedness is overcome by light. That reality can powerfully alter how we view our lives and our art. Even our wretchedness cannot confine us, ultimately, to reaching across boundaries of cultures. But indeed our wretched state may be what draws us together.

But really, you might be asking, isn’t it just your optimism, and not your faith? Aren’t you blind to the reality of our present condition to state such a rosy picture? Perhaps, and it will be optimism, and not faith, if we cannot take failed works and learn from them. Blind optimism cannot truly teach, because of the continuous denial of our failures. Faith is more honest. The honesty reveals our weakness, but, at the same time, points us out of darkness into the light. That’s what scriptures teach us. Scriptures teach us grace. Our world does not.

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Wow, that is beautiful.

If I could write like that painter writes, I might deserve to call myself a writer.

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His most recent essay on Rouault's influence on his life is spectacular.

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I wouldn't say he's a blowhard--he's too self-conscious for that. I'd say he's a more urbane Kinkade. I'll certainly admit the guy can write a lovely homily, and drop in references to the art world the way my pastor growing up would drop in references to Peanuts or The Simpsons. Unfortunately, his points invariably rest on strawman arguments (his abuse of Elkins here, for example) and other various logical fallacies, dressed up in veils of mixed metaphors. His skill with language, like his craftsmanship, obscures that there is something fundamentally empty about his work. It feels schmaltzy and patronizing.

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"A man who tells me my play is very bad, is less my enemy than he who lets it die in silence. A man, whose business it is to be talked of, is much helped by being attacked."

--Dr. Johnson

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That quote applies to criticism of demonstrated merit, consideration, and willingness to share in the difficult labor of materially correcting what the critic deems misguided or incomplete. That quote also assumes that there are specific points made by the criticism that should not "die in silence."

One could easily respond: "The pleasure of criticizing robs us of the pleasure of being moved by some very fine things." (Bruyere)

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I dunno, I think I'm with Holy Moly! on this one. (And you won't hear THAT often! ;)) The essay/excerpt above reads like Fujimora has taken one of Alvin Plantinga's basic philosophical points and replaced its sound and clearly articulated reasoning with, as HM puts it, mixed metaphors and Kinkade-y sentiments. I hate to say it, but it reminds me a bit of the "quasi-Vogon poetry" (Rod Dreher's words, IIRC) of Bono's New York Times columns. Not that I want to rekindle THAT old debate.

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The essay/excerpt above reads like Fujimora has taken one of Alvin Plantinga's basic philosophical points and replaced its sound and clearly articulated reasoning with, as HM puts it, mixed metaphors and Kinkade-y sentiments.

Well, that is a random snippet of a larger piece in which he muses on the whys and hows of teaching art in a Christian undergratuate school. Some of the metaphors are drawn from the physical and ideological location of Westmont. Even as a professor in a mid-western Jesuit context, I can dig it.

The great thing about Mako is that he writes a lot about art, peace, material, and justice, so if you don't like the guy, there is a lot of very specific stuff to interact with. To call the guy "Kinkade-y" is just out of touch with where a lot of contemporary Christian art is at the moment, and one would have to do some serious legwork to demonstrate otherwise. FWIW that penultimate quoted paragraph is straight out of Moltmann or Yoder. Are they Kindade-y?

(Oh, and just to niggle, PTC, have you read Plantinga's tidy little essay "Reformed Objection to Natural Theology"? I think Plantinga would have cringed at a lot of the phraseology here. I do a little bit, but am glad to see some of these emphases articulated regardless.)

Edited by MLeary

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Alas, I have not read any Plantinga since my second university phase (i.e. 1992-1997). I did get to interview him at the time for the student paper, though.

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That quote applies to criticism of demonstrated merit, consideration, and willingness to share in the difficult labor of materially correcting what the critic deems misguided or incomplete. That quote also assumes that there are specific points made by the criticism that should not "die in silence."

I think Johnson is talking about critical attacks in general. As Alain de Botton, Alice Hoffman and other writers have forgotten lately, even the most unjust, uncharitable, unhelpful criticisms are beneficial to authors and artists in that "it is surely better" for them to "be abused than forgotten" (Johnson). If I take Holy Moly's tack, and simply dismiss someone a lot of people respect, on the basis of my having comprehended his essence as a visual and literary craftsman ("something fundamentally empty about his work", "the emperor has no clothes"), I should try and recognize that I am probably taking shots just to take shots, and that in the end my potshots can only serve as notices for his work.

From a strictly prudential perspective, surely the better path would be to let that person's reputation run its natural course and die unremarked. However, in any community, and especially online, when a given person for whose work I have no taste is singled out by many as an object of praise, the inevitable temptation is to take swipes. And one of the most common methods for so doing is to speak as if I've felt, understood, and perceived more deeply than the rest. "...men please themselves with imagining that they have made a deeper search, or wider survey, than others, and detected faults and follies which escape vulgar observation." (Johnson) The idea is that my perfunctory emissions (and they are usually emissions, not arguments) are more forcefully dismissive by dint of their perfunctory nature; thus, I rise above the mass of vulgar approbation.

It is one thing to say I don't like some particular piece of art or writing. But it's another matter entirely to imply that I have surveyed the bulk of someone's body of work and found it wanting, and then to leave it there. Any just and charitable critic will know that such intimations carry an enormous burden of response.

I make these observations not to disparage Holy Moly but because I myself have been guilty of this very kind of presumption, sometimes in expression but much more often in thought. It's hard to avoid.

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Any just and charitable critic will know that such intimations carry an enormous burden of response.

Right on. Not enough is written about critical charity, which involves the grace-conditioned willingness to engage entire biographies in thoughtful conversation. I think Eliot called the opposite critical gusto.

Edited by MLeary

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du Garbandier, it was a very good day when you came to A&F.

Your last post is very useful in the grand scheme of this ongoing, board-wide discussion.

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And by the way, I made an unspoken, but similarly presumptuous dismissal of the entire body of Michael Bay's work last night when his Victoria's Secret television commercial came on. So I am here to publicly confess to my rash and unfair judgment.

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I'm sorry to be dismissive, and sorry i can't work up the energy to parse out piece by piece all the things that don't make sense in that excerpt--but to go to the library and get the Elkins book and find the right quotes to dispute Fujimora's misrespresentations of Elkins' positions, to identify all the muddled, sentimental ways he uses "light" to mean different things in the span of a few paragraphs, to parse out the silly straw-men he sets up to counter postmodern ideas about the challenges of communication in order to preserve his clearly-delineated binary between people-who-share-my-worldview and those-other-guys--to do all that would take time I'd rather spend engaging work that brings more to the table.

Oddly, a big part of what I find so frustrating about Fujimora is how dismissive he is of huge swaths of the culture. Funny that he brings a similar dismissiveness out of me.

To be fair, though: I gave him a shot. Early on I acknowledged my puzzlement at people's enthusiasm, and asked for some help understanding it; I came to appreciate his craftsmanship if not his overall project, and his skill as a writer if not his ideas themselves. But after hearing him speak in Grand Rapids earlier this year, I had a great conversation with some really bright Calvin kids who were all a little infuriated by his FFM talk, particularly his use of empty platitudes like: "Scriptures teach us grace. Our world does not." The kids argued, and I agreed, that evidence of grace and redemption is all around us.

(Peter: I did actually think of Bono's NYT columns while reading Fujimora!)

Edited by Holy Moly!

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Holy Moly! wrote:

: But after hearing him speak in Grand Rapids earlier this year, I had a great conversation with some really bright Calvin kids who were all a little infuriated by his FFM talk, particularly his use of empty platitudes like: "Scriptures teach us grace. Our world does not." The kids argued, and I agreed, that evidence of grace and redemption is all around us.

Interesting. Kind of reminds me of how I also got a vague Francis Schaeffer vibe off of the excerpt above.

It doesn't help that it's been a while since I heard the word "grace" used in a way that was actually, well, graceful or grace-filled -- in a way that actually connotated grace rather than denotating it as part of a formula or invoking it as a word that needs to be saluted whenever it gets mentioned (and thus, of course, we end up saluting the one who used the word, as well). There seems to be a bit of both (formula-denotating and salute-invoking) going on, here.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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time I'd rather spend engaging work that brings more to the table.

It's one thing to steward one's time. Most people have to decide at one point or another to stop engaging with what is likely to be fruitless. Everyone runs up against the walls of human nature in that respect. These are hard decisions and should be respected. And the process by which we come to make these decisions is immensely interesting (to me, anyway).

However, it is something else entirely to talk about how little time one has to waste on what is unworthy, when you could of course simply pursue the worthy. If that becomes a habit you will appear as only wanting to raise yourself above others and make a weighty judgment without paying the cost of really engaging with others and helping us understand your perspective. At that point any good criticisms you may well have are lost, an opportunity for conversation is squandered, once again the seeds of personal strife and resentment are sewn on the internet, and somewhere an angel wing sheds a feather.

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That's fair enough, but i'm not pleading lack-of-time as a means of avoidance or because i like taking shots at artists I don't like--if asked to defend or explain my assessments beyond an admittedly flippant summary of my objections, I'm generally willing to do so. My lingering interest in unpacking the meaning of Fujimora's popularity is more sociological/theological than artistic, which is why I felt it prudent to register a voice of dissent at all; I generally agree that if faced with art that one doesn't like, the appropriate response is usually to shrug and walk away.

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Interesting. Kind of reminds me of how I also got a vague Francis Schaeffer vibe off of the excerpt above.

It doesn't help that it's been a while since I heard the word "grace" used in a way that was actually, well, graceful or grace-filled -- in a way that actually connotated grace rather than denotating it as part of a formula or invoking it as a word that needs to be saluted whenever it gets mentioned (and thus, of course, we end up saluting the one who used the word, as well). There seems to be a bit of both (formula-denotating and salute-invoking) going on, here.

The Evangelical bouquet. Notes of Berkhof. A hint of Henry. Was that a little Schaeffer on the finish? No... Clark?

I have issues with Schaeffer because he made pretty untutored generalizations about postmodernism despite the fact that he was a professional theologian. Granted, there wasn't much meta-literature on some of the primary pomo texts that were still coming out in Schaeffer's era, but I read Fujimura as a layperson theologian who happens to be a very successful professional artist. So he gets a pass on things that would bug me in other authors. He writes well on exactly what Schaeffer wrote well about, the half of the gospel that isn't content, but form - all the structural stuff involved with the notion that God likes to communicate.

As far as grace goes, I increasingly see "grace" being used as an aesthetic term. It describes the way that films, books, or works of art have a form that effectively transmits an experience we equate with grace. Or else these embedded forms school us in a brand of grace that can been seen in its abstraction as a structural device. I guess there is some saluting involved with this as well.

Edited by MLeary

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MLeary wrote:

: As far as grace goes, I increasingly see "grace" being used as an aesthetic term. It describes the way that films, books, or works of art have a form that effectively transmits an experience we equate with grace.

Perhaps. All I know is that lately I seem to keep seeing it come up in contexts where people are all about how "WE have grace and THEY don't," if not "*I* have grace and YOU don't," and there doesn't seem to be anything grace-filled about such stances. Of course, in making this point, I am no doubt perpetuating the problem.

I remember being asked to speak at Regent College over a decade ago on the subject of grace in films. And for some reason the clip I used that stands out in my memory is a scene from Stand By Me where Wil Wheaton has woken up early one morning (the morning after a particularly tearful conversation between himself and River Phoenix), and Wheaton looks up and sees a deer, and after a few seconds of looking at each other the deer takes off ... and then Richard Dreyfuss (i.e. the adult Wheaton, narrating the story in voice-over) tells us that he has never told anyone about that encounter with the deer, until now. It's not a scene I think about often, but it has come to mind more than once the last few days as I ponder Fujimora's apparent argument that there is no grace outside the scriptures.

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Fujimora's apparent argument that there is no grace outside the scriptures.

At the end he does say that the scriptures teach us grace, the world does not. That is a pretty standard Reformed formula that extended all the way into neo-orthodoxy. It is to say that things may happen in time and space that have a great deal to do with grace, they do have Christological significance, but they can only be named as such through the lens of scripture and tradition. Scripture gives us the descriptive power to look at the world and say that certain events (such as the Stand By Me scene) demonstrate or mediate grace. Otherwise we don't have robust enough linguistic tools to even recognize God's presence in different events or contexts. In Reformed thought, all this grace could very well be out there, but without the benefit of scripture, we wouldn't have the faculties to actually see it. This is essentially part of Paul's argument about the necessity of the law in Romans and Galatians: scripture tutors us, enables us to comprehend and articulate things that we would not have been able to otherwise. The implications of this for an artist thinking about how to teach art in a Christian context are evident.

I am trying to think of a theological tradition that claims there is no grace outside of the scriptures, and can't actually think of one. I guess there is some high concept argumentation along these lines in some Radical Orthodox thinking, but nothing that asks us to abandon natural theology kit and kaboodle.

Just tossing that out there as what I assumed was his theological rationale on that point.

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