Between Globe and Gospel: Three Artists
Makoto Fujimura is an internationally recognized artist, writer, collaborator, arts advocate, and Christian thinker. (See makotofujimura.com.) His work has been shown around the world, including the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. He founded the International Arts Movement in 1992, and from 2003-09 was a presidential appointee to the National Council on the Arts. The Fujimura Institute was established in 2011. Last year he received the American Academy of Religion’s “Religion and the Arts” award. He recently responded to questions from Reflections. His work Golden Sea is on the cover.
On whether art is a necessity to spiritual life:
Fujimura: God is profoundly gratuitous in creation. I write in my book Culture Care: “A Christian understanding of beauty begins with the recognition that God does not need us, or the creation. Beauty is a gratuitous gift of the creator God; it finds its source and its purpose in God’s character. God, out of his gratuitous love, created a world he did not need because he is an Artist.” God does not “need” us, and yet God has created us in God’s Image, created us out of God’s abundance.
On whether beauty is a neglected religious theme:
Beauty has been neglected in the modernist era, and in culture at large, including the church. As human beings, we seek more than utility, efficiency, or survival. What kind of a world do we want to live in? What should our children aspire to? Churches should be a microcosm of the Kingdom being ushered in, and should reflect the gratuitous nature of God and our internal desire for a world that liberates us from “our bondage to decay.”
On whether beauty can “save the world,” as Dostoyevsky writes in The Idiot:
We have to take that quote in context. Prince Myshkin in the novel is saying it more as a rhetorical question than a definitive statement. Beauty is the sister of Truth and Goodness, as von Balthasar has written. In an integrated vision for the wholeness of human thriving, yes, beauty-truth-goodness are connected intimately.
Mary Button is minister of visual art at First Congregational Church in Memphis, TN. (See marybutton.com.) There she designs and oversees an array of annual art projects that embody the congregation’s mission. She has created Stations of the Cross that speak to issues of mental illness, mass incarceration, and LGBTQ equality. The daughter daughter of a Lutheran minister, she has a B.F.A. degree in photography and imaging from New York University and an M.T.S. from Emory’s Candler School of Theology. See her work on pp. 7 and 54 of this issue.
On the importance of art at church:
Button: It’s part of our ministry of hospitality. It makes us more welcoming. And it’s a pedagogical tool. Some people are auditory learners, some are tactile learners, others are visual. We want to meet needs in ways that go beyond preaching and singing.
On involving church members in art-making:
It’s a very bonding experience. There’s intergenerational interaction. People of different abilities can take part.
On the place of art in theology:
Everything that hangs in the sanctuary is an expression of our love for people who come to worship with us. In the Stations of the Cross series, I believe that Jesus stands in solidarity with the outcasts and the despised. That’s what I try to communicate.
Jae-Im Kim is associated with the first generation of Korean abstract expressionists. (See OMSC.org.) She is known internationally for a genial spirituality that draws on Asian dance, music, and calligraphy. In 2009, she was in the artist residency program at the Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven, CT., and her work was featured at the Yale ISM. From Korea, she recently answered email questions from Reflections in translation. See her work on pp. 12 and 50.
On the importance of the Bible to her work:
Kim: Meeting my husband, who is a faithful Christian, was the point that I began to have my faith experiences. When I was teaching at Towson University as an exchange professor in 1989, I decided to transcribe the Bible. I continued after returning to Korea, and it took three years to finish. Since then, I have poured biblical content into my paintings. I started to express God’s love in my paintings.
On the impact of visual art on belief:
Compared to merely listening to Bible verses, when one sees them in a painting the same verses linger a little longer. Focusing upon God I’m trying to paint with my whole body and soul. Seeing the Bible verses expressed in paintings helps me understand the biblical message and deepen their impression so the verses stay longer in me.
Of her time at Yale and OSMC:
Of course I was greatly influenced by that experience, because for ten months I was immersed in the depths of God’s love.