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


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#41 M. Leary

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Posted 24 December 2009 - 12:33 PM

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, 24 December 2009 - 12:35 PM.


#42 Overstreet

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Posted 24 December 2009 - 12:58 PM

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.

#43 Overstreet

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Posted 24 December 2009 - 01:31 PM

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.

#44 Holy Moly!

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Posted 24 December 2009 - 02:05 PM

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!, 24 December 2009 - 02:14 PM.


#45 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 24 December 2009 - 03:38 PM

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, 24 December 2009 - 03:39 PM.


#46 du Garbandier

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Posted 24 December 2009 - 04:16 PM

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.

#47 Holy Moly!

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Posted 24 December 2009 - 04:49 PM

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.

#48 M. Leary

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Posted 24 December 2009 - 08:20 PM

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, 25 December 2009 - 09:50 AM.


#49 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 25 December 2009 - 10:41 AM

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.

#50 M. Leary

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Posted 25 December 2009 - 06:50 PM

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.

#51 Holy Moly!

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Posted 28 December 2009 - 03:28 PM

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.

#52 du Garbandier

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 02:16 AM

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, 29 December 2009 - 02:17 AM.


#53 Holy Moly!

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 05:14 AM

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".

#54 du Garbandier

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 09:23 AM

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, 29 December 2009 - 09:42 AM.


#55 NBooth

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Posted 25 January 2010 - 11:42 AM

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, 25 January 2010 - 11:43 AM.


#56 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 25 January 2010 - 11:46 AM

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"?

#57 Jim Janknegt

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Posted 25 January 2010 - 12:23 PM

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.

#58 M. Leary

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Posted 25 January 2010 - 07:58 PM

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, 25 January 2010 - 07:59 PM.


#59 M. Leary

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Posted 26 January 2010 - 01:34 PM

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.

#60 Jim Janknegt

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Posted 26 January 2010 - 02:24 PM

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.