There are few books by Christians that articulate the importance of the arts, especially for Christians. In Refractions, globally renowned artist Makoto Fujimura presents an articulate, compelling, and beautiful case for the arts in our world and in Christian communities.
Some readers, especially non-artists, may balk at his grand philosophical visions for the arts, and his seeming overstatements about the actual process of painting (does he really think about everything he claims to think about when he picks up a brush or mixes his colors). However, these speed bumps for some give way to a rich series of stories and reflections that are not only profound and relevant, but worth pondering and rethinking.
I suggest that this book, like good art, demands a slow, careful reading, rereading, and reevaluating. We may not be able to relate to Fujimura’s painting process on the first read, but as we enmesh ourselves in his ideas and vision for art, we begin to see the significance of every act for an artist, the power of creating, and the need for this kind of careful reflection and refraction in our everyday lives.
A More In-Depth Look…
Taking readers through his own artistic journey and its joining of art with faith, Fujimura punctuates his experiences with poignant observations.
“An artist’s journey to believe in heaven can lead that artist to produce works mirroring that hope and can give others…the permission to speak of that redemptive possibility. Art has the capacity to challenge preset presumptions about what we believe, to operate in the gap between the church and the world, and to address deeply spiritual issues. The power of art is to convey powerful personal experiences in distilled language and to memorialize them in a cogent manner. Such communication will resonate in the context of larger culture. The church needs to be involved in the arts and even advocate for those outside of faith, precisely because God has poured his grace in all of creation, and every artist, consciously or not, taps into the ‘groaning” of the Spirit” (39).
In our highly literal culture, where fanciful depictions of landscapes and cozy cottages hold sway in the popular art scene, Fujimura points us to the far more difficult task of tapping into the eternity, the longing for God’s world that resides within us. This part of us is animated when we latch on to his kind of art work. Redemption not only comes through words and logical arguments.
Besides offering an argument for art, Fujimura takes us into his own analysis of culture behind his works of art. A resident of New York City near the World Trade Center, 9/11 resulted in the following reflection:
“The earthly city is limited because her foundation is selfish ambition, the desire to control. We are all terrorists in that sense, attempting to twist God-given gifts to serve our greed and leaving Eden poisoned” (47).
The section that quote comes from is well worth reading, especially the following paragraph that calls us toward repentance, even when we’ have been wronged and have suffered greatly. Such passages, tackling important matters with bravery and honesty, are plentiful throughout the book, and make Fujimura a trustworthy guide through today’s art and culture. The book is filled with gems about the importance of art:
“Art is an inherently hopeful act that echoes the creativity of the Creator. Every time an architect imagines a new building, an artist envisions the first stroke of a brush on a white canvas, a poet seeks a resonant sound in words, or a choreographer weaves a pause in layers of movements, that act is done in hope; the creator reaches out in hope to call the world into that creation” (69).
He later adds:
“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” (111).
In going for the jugular on the importance of art, Fujimura writes:
“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” (112).
I can’t top that, so I’ll just close by saying that Fujimura’s book is well worth purchasing, reading, and then rereading over time. It is filled with beautiful images and brief but instructive essays.