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

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

That's helpful to me as a possible way of reading Fujimora. I still think he's dead wrong, but maybe less offensively so--if he's saying grace is not taught by the world, but _exists_ in the world nonetheless. If his point were merely that the Christian worldview--particularly his evangelical worldview--is based around an assumption of a fundamental order and a logical formula that stands against the fragmented/competing claims of meaning that characterize the contemporary era, that would be easy enough to accept. I still don't get the logical leap that belief in a particular doctrine of revelation is a necessary assumption for an effective teaching practice, but I suppose that just comes down to a difference of opinion on the meaning, cause, and solution to the postmodern crisis-of-meaning.

Of course all those great Calvin kids who discussed Fujimora's lecture with me were all were coming from the Reformed tradition too, and still thought he was being dismissive of the redemptive values found in all human culture, including pomo culture; they didn't like him talking about non-christian artists only so he had something to position himself against. Stuff like this: "The idea that artists have responsibility is completely beyond anything postmodernists and the contemporary art world would think about." Next he's going to be telling us to get off his lawn.

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One of the most refreshing and persistent qualities of Fujimura's thought is his compassionate imagination, which lends his outlook a wonderfully generous, humane quality. In W. H. Auden's phrase, he tends to "look at this world with a happy eye but from a sober perspective" (no arty pun on "perspective" intended).

Here is someone who finds great value in artists like Picasso and de Kooning, and does not, like oh so many Christians, evaluate their work by pinning it in a handy specimen box of ideologies and evaluating it in those terms, but instead advocates a reflective approach counseling against knee-jerk condemnation:

In the case of DeKooning and Picasso, the works are valuable precisely because they depict murder. Rather than condemning their art for its depravity, we need to realize that such paintings depict our inner hearts. Artists candidly depicted the condition of modernity that kills relationships and family ties.

Here is someone, a Christian, who cherishes and embraces abstract expressionism instead of filing it away under Spiritually Irrelevant, Possibly Sinister:

In the works of many abstract expressionists I see not only abstract paintings but a yearning and groping for the heavenly language. They were convinced that earth and history did not contain the language to capture the fear and power of the age.

Here is someone who, clearly, has great respect for the technical skill of contemporary artists commonly ignored or derided by Christians:

I’ve heard many people say of contemporary art: “my kids can do that.” I encourage them, then to try it themselves, don’t let kids have all the fun! Try to make drip paintings like Jackson Pollock. Or paint an object with encaustic, layering color upon color, like Johns. Try silk screening images like Warhol. You soon find out that in the ordinary gestures and materials, there are deceptively complicated and sublime twists. Our drips become unnatural and confined, where as Pollock’s drips dance, and form delectable edges that seem to undulate in front of our eyes. Our edges of encaustic strokes become unshapely, because If you try working with wax (as I have tried to in college,) you find out soon enough that it is unforgiving, making it very difficult to create a clean, sharp definition. The melting wax constantly oozes, and moves about, and the colors muddle. If you are finally able to paint a stripe with bright colors, the stripes would not resonate, in ways that Johns’ Flags do.

Here is someone who, instead of devaluing the world, indeed acknowledges that the world is infused with gratuitous beauty which atheists and theists alike can equally love and appreciate:

I am well acquainted with the beauty of a trout. [...] I asked myself why was a trout made so beautiful if all it is asked to do is survive in the river? If the function of survival were its only bottom line, then why this wasteful extravagance in the details of intricate design? A gentle reminder of ephemeral nature of our lives does point to the beauty of the moment. And this does not require faith in the Creator. An atheist and a theist can share a common fly stream. Standing side by side, we can both be “educated” by the details of extravagance.

Here is someone who embraces the centrality of art in the world:

A civilization that does not value its artistic expressions is a civilization that does not value itself. These tangible artistic expressions help us to understand ourselves. The arts teach us to respect both the diversity of our communities and the strength of our traditions. I encourage people not to segment art into an “extra” sphere of life or to see art as mere decorations. Why? Because art is everywhere and has already taken root in our lives.

Here is someone who clearly believes cultivating the imagination redounds to the whole neighborhood's benefit and not just to Christians:

If we do not teach our children, and ourselves, that what we imagine and how we design the world can make a difference, the culture of cynicism will do that for us. If we do not infuse creativity, if we do not take the initiative to help our children imagine better neighborhoods and cities, despair will ruin their imaginative capacities and turn them into destructive forces. These are the lessons of Columbine and 9/11.

Here is someone saying that nonbelievers and believers alike share, by grace, a desire not just to survive but to live creatively:

All of us are created to be creative in some way. We may not call ourselves artists or we may not be a professional artist; but creativity is an essence of being human. When you think about it, things that last in our memories are times when we were part of creating something. And, whether it be procreating, in terms of our families, or generating a business or creating an opportunity of mercy, or creating opportunities for people to hear the gospel—all of these are creative acts. And God calls us to that.

That is especially true of nonbelievers, because Christians know by common grace that God poured his gifts into all of the earth. There's a difference between common grace and special grace of salvation knowledge; but common grace is just given generally to all of nature and all of humanity. So, there's an overriding principle of generative creativity that we all long to be part of.

I think artists are catalysts. If you look at a Van Gogh painting, you see a vision that is sharp and refined and out-of-this-world, in a sense. You'll never see a cypress tree or a starry sky in the same way again. So, it's that kind of vision sharing. It's a gift that's being shared with all of humanity. And you can use that as a catalyst to be creative yourself.

Here is someone committed to building communicative bridges:

As I live and breathe the culture of New York, as I am called to live to "seek the shalom and prosperity of the city," I must work incarnationally, and get my hands dirty. I want my hands and intuitions to seek the shalom of the splintered and degraded aesthetic language of the day, to play a role, hopefully, to redeem the language of art, so that we can all, Christians and non-Christians alike, use the language to communicate.

In short, here is someone I would be pleased to know, a friend to charity, excellence, and, yes, grace.

Edited by du Garbandier

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Similarly, I recognize christian culture has a lot of catching up to do, but I don't think someone deserves special accolades for recognizing that Pablo Picasso and Jasper Johns and Jackson Pollock are geniuses, when the rest of the world already knows that. Frankly, it's a prerequisite for basic cultural literacy; a youth pastor doesn't deserve a medal for being able to competently speak about the merits of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, or Curtis Mayfield. And I don't think it's too uncharitable to suggest there's something a little condescending about the metaphor "getting your hands dirty".

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These are incredibly uncharitable (and unhelpful) criticisms. Latching on to single phrases as evidence of a supposedly polarizing tendency, when the life work of this man clearly shows he is committed to communal and civic health and dialogue? And without seeming to realize that charges of "condescension" are as polarizing a rhetoric as any?

Besides, anyone who has been to Wal-Mart lately would be hard pressed to dispute the existence of "the splintered and degraded aesthetic language of the day."

Is this cheap pettifoggery what passes for dialogue?

Edited by du Garbandier

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I saw this interview at PatrolMag and immediately thought of this thread.

In some sense, though, I believe, because of common grace, that all art is uniquely Christian, in that we cannot have art apart from the conviction of material reality and the reality of communication. Art is at least spiritually neutral to have the potential of being used, or misused (I also argue in my recent book Refractions that the main function of the arts is not to be “used” at all, but that’s for another conversation). But material reality has significance, and potency, because of the Gospel of incarnation, the fact that God became a man. God pours his Spirit in all people: from our cave days to our fog of post-modern time, art is full of signifiers that point to the reality of God.

It's pretty interesting stuff, all told, though I'm not certain how it will interact with the issues already defined here.

Edited by NBooth

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Fujimora said:

: In some sense, though, I believe, because of common grace, that all art is uniquely Christian, in that we cannot have art apart from the conviction of material reality and the reality of communication.

Hmmm. I dunno. Where do digital media and digital arts figure into this notion of "material reality"?

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If all art is "Christian" then no art is really "Christian". I am perplexed at his inability to make distinctions. While all art is affirmative because it is creative and any creative act is saying "yes" to life and to the universe that does not make it Christian.

I much prefer this idea (h/t to SDG where I first read it): From: ART TO HELP HUMANKIND CROSS THE "THRESHOLD OF HOPE" by Carlo Chenis

"Art is sacred if it is above all beautiful, that is, intrinsically splendid, because it is fully intelligible, so that it makes first the artist and then the person who enjoys it want to cross over into infinity. This art is religious if it produces a longing for the divine, namely, if it leads one to transcend one's own self in order to meet God and with him one's neighbour. This art is Christian if, through the adventures of the spirit, it recounts what happened between God and man in the history of salvation, if it rises to God like a sweet and profound prayer, if it makes "God's glory" visible, though in a hidden manner, in the celebration of the divine mysteries."

I know this goes against the grain of much contemporary thinking about Christian art. It seems most Christians involved in art want to be able to do pretty much anything they want and then call it Christian because a Christian made it. Or more likely not call it Christian at all. Labeling it Christian must have more to do with the content than with the source or creator.

At the heart of this seems to be a tendency to deny the the existence of the sacred, categorically. I think there is a distinction between secular and sacred. That is not to say that all Christians have to be involved in creating sacred art but there definitely is such a thing and I for one, as a Christian and an artist, (and I think a lot more artists) would prefer to make sacred art if there was a need for it. I do it anyway but don't make any money at it.

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If all art is "Christian" then no art is really "Christian". I am perplexed at his inability to make distinctions. While all art is affirmative because it is creative and any creative act is saying "yes" to life and to the universe that does not make it Christian.

Though in some quarters of Reformed theological thought, this really would make all art Christian. He is, at least, consistent with a rich theological tradition: it is a fairly nominal reformed statement of common grace. I see a lot of the same generalizations in his interviews that I see in Schaeffer's writing, but at least for Fujimura it has lead to a wonderful body of work and publicity for an ethos in Christian art that approximates social justice emphases in current theological scholarship.

At the heart of this seems to be a tendency to deny the the existence of the sacred, categorically. I think there is a distinction between secular and sacred. That is not to say that all Christians have to be involved in creating sacred art but there definitely is such a thing and I for one, as a Christian and an artist, (and I think a lot more artists) would prefer to make sacred art if there was a need for it. I do it anyway but don't make any money at it.

This is a very interesting (and I think productive) way to pose the question. To come at it from the other direction, I teach religious studies coursework in an environment that forces me to ask students: what qualifies something as a sacred experience? The sacred/profane distinction is a standard academically (via Eliade and Durkheim), but is very difficult to parse practically. We invariably spend an hour or two trying to determine whether or not a memorable jazz concert is sacred or not.

Edited by MLeary

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Somehow, I have the sense that Judaism (in general) doesn't have this kind of dichotomy between secular and sacred, but I would have to do a lot more digging to be able to substantiate that... at any rate, I do think it's important to note that American and Western European definitions of these terms aren't the only ones out there.

Side note: Profane, the common antonym to sacred actually comes from the Latin pro-fanum - or "outside the temple." I think this refers to the Greco-Roman cultus rather than the Jewish one - but the sense of the word certainly applies to pre-diaspora Judiasm in which the temple marked a radical spatial divide between secular and sacred. Rabbinic Judaism is different, but they still maintain all the laws that distinguish sacred/secular. But yes, "sacred" and "profane" are moving targets.

And then in some religions there is the process by which profane things are ratified as sacred or rendered sacred, which kind of has to do with the subject at hand. The whole idea of the incarnation is an example of this process of the movement of material from profane to sacred, and part of Mako's point is that because the incarnation is a historical reality, all artistic and creative uses of material are echoes of the incarnation. Thus all uses of material echo this pattern of movement from profane to sacred.

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Reading the book "Silence" clarified this issue for me. The climax of the novel occurs when the imprisoned priest is ordered to stomp on an icon of Christ or witness the death of the other Christians being held captive. For him to stomp on an image of Christ is the same as stomping on Jesus himself and therefore a renunciation of his faith.

It is obvious to me that in this instance the icon is sacred, because it represents Jesus. If they had asked him to stomp on a picture of a tree or an abstract painting in order to save his life there would have been no issue. If my life depended on it I would happily dance on a Jackson Pollack painting, or a Fujimora painting for that matter, but I could not deface an icon of Jesus.

In the same way, art and music relating to and aiding worship are sacred, the church building, the chalice, the altar, the bread and wine, which become the body and blood of Jesus are all sacred and cannot be used for profane or secular purposes. I think the separation is clear. Music and art work that is made for Christian worship is considered sacred. It is the end use that makes it sacred not the intent or the disposition of the maker. I'm sure many sacred things both musically and artistically were made by non-Christians.

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e2c wrote:

: If the image literally *were* Christ, we'd be running into some very big problems here, theologically speaking.

Perhaps. But you do at least recognize that if, say, someone were to step on a picture of YOU -- and especially one that had been painted by a loved one and dedicated to you etc. -- you might not be inclined to say, "Oh, well, it's just chemicals on canvas." (And while I don't think anyone believes that icons ARE Christ in the same way that, say, the bread and wine of Communion are the Body and Blood of Our Lord, you do run into interesting situations when it comes to icons that weep, or icons that heal people, etc., etc. Are they JUST paintings? Hmmm...)

: The controversy brought about a decisive change in the iconography of the Orthodox church. There's an abstract, heiratic quality to icons post-controversy, in sharp contrast to the kinds of things you can see in many of the icons that survived at St. Catherine's. That was supposed to satisfy the concerns about idolatry and delineate (no pun intended) the proper use of images in worship, both public and private.

Yes, this is also why we Eastern types don't have sculptures. Too "realistic", too close to "idolatry", etc.

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Another way to think about an image representing someone is to say it re-presents, or makes present the person. So in a real way, an image makes the person present. I believe I read in Likeness and Presence by Hans Belting that one of the sources of Christian icons was the imperial portrait. If the emporer's presence was required somewhere but he was unable to be there in person he was represented by his portrait. The portrait carried with it everything associated with the emperor and his authority. I am sure that if someone desecrated the portrait of the emporer it would be as if that act was perpetrated on the emporer himself.

This same attitude and belief informed and still does inform the the belief that Jesus himself, in some way is made present in the icon, and that if you honor the icon, you honor him and if you desecrate the icon, you dishonor him.

I have read quite a bit about iconoclasm and I don't remember reading anything about how naturalistically an image was portrayed being an issue. I always thought the issue was the fact that it was an image at all, not how the image was painted. I would like to read about that. Do you have a source?

I actually think the internet is a very good metaphor for icons. If you think of the server as being God or a saint and your computer being the icon. Just like all sorts of information can come to numerous people simultaneously through the internet from the server God's graces can come through the icon to the person venerating it. You are aware that your computer is not the source of the information but you interact with it as if it is. Same with an icon; you do not actually venerate the wood and pigment but what the wood and pigment represent, or make present.

In any event, an image created to aid in worship is considered a sacred image while those images not created to aid in worship are not considered sacred.

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Great points, Jim - again, though, it comes down (in one sense) to the image being a representation of someone (or something), not the person or thing itself.

Don't get me wrong - I understand what's being said about the emotional impact of images, of defiling them, etc. But that is more about our loyalties and what we hold dear than it is about God himself. (I'm not saying that to be critical; just thinking about the fact that things, whether it's icons or Bibles or whatever, tend to have great emotional power for us.)

As for the question of realism in early icons, I'm following the line - of somewhat speculative reasoning - that I learned back when. A number of other icons from the St. Catherine's collection are pretty naturalistic (portrait-like), though I'm not sure if any of them come close to the icon of Peter mentioned above. There are precedents for this in the Fayum portraits... Again, since so many images were destroyed, we're left with very little to go on re. the actual pieces that the Iconoclasts were against. (And surely there had to be concrete, visible reasons for their objections...)

In the book I mentioned above, Belting has a whole chapter on how funerary portraits where the precursors of icons of the saints. He compares one of the Fayum portraits with an 11th c. icon of st Phillip: Likeness and Presence: Funerary portraits

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In any event, an image created to aid in worship is considered a sacred image while those images not created to aid in worship are not considered sacred.

Which is a legitimately sacramental approach to art that has a rich cultural tradition. But I guess part of the problem with defining sacred and Christian art is that different theological systems have different understandings of where art fits into the ritual practice of the church. I am more interested in seeing a Christian artist working coherently and intentionally within their theological rationale, wherever they fall on the scale between the sacramental and prophetic. What bugs me the most are artists with blase or careless attitudes towards the religious implications of their work.

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I really, really want a copy of this:

Makoto Fujimura: Four Holy Gospels

Edited by Ryan H.

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