To paraphrase from Fujimura’s book Culture Care–Beauty is that which is a delight to the senses, a pleasure to the mind, and refreshment to the spirit. It invites our scrutiny and contemplation and then rewards it. Beauty is connected to satisfaction and we should not be content with only cheap alternatives (the cute or the pretty) that ultimately leave us unsatisfied.
Although beauty is satisfying, it can also, in one of the may paradoxes of life, leave us with a deep ache for more. If we do not have a worldview that allows for beauty that ache can be confusing or troubling. If we do have a worldview that understands what beauty points towards that ache can be a pleasant longing for the ultimate reality only hinted at in this life.
Culture Care by Makoto Fujimura
I recently received a copy of Makoto Fujimura’s new book Culture Care. It has been enormously encouraging as an alternative portrait of the artist’s role in our hyper-industrialized and pragmatic culture. He describes art as a gift rather than a commodity to be hawked and hoarded. One of his ideas has had a particular resonance with my own experience. He describes artists as border-stalkers, those who live in the margins of society and who possess a gift for imagination and empathy. This gift allows them to move between “tribes” and build bridges, reminding different groups of their shared humanity. Despite the rapid increase in communication technologies we are fragmenting into increasingly narrow groups of politics, religion, and interests. Art is a doorway into the eyes of another and offers a glimpse of a different world. Unless we are exposed to something other than our Facebook news feed and dramatic headlines we will continue to grow inward, surrounding ourselves with others that have our same fears, weaknesses, and blind spots. Art is what opens up the world and artists are the traveling pilgrims bringing glimpses of the “world that ought to be” from tribe to tribe.
o celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, Crossway Publishing commissioned Makoto Fujimura to create the Four Holy Gospels, a contemporary illuminated manuscript. The meeting of so many different cultures, the ancient tradition of the illuminated manuscript, the traditional Japanese painting medium known as Nihonga, the modern language of abstract expressionism, and most importantly, the word of God, beautifully reflects the truth of the Gospel as a message to all peoples, places, and times.
Fujimura’s presentation of the frontispieces for the Four Holy Gospels
Fujimura uses Nihonga, ground mineral pigments, hide-glue, and water, a medium dating back to Japan’s Middle Ages.
Charis Kairos (Tears of Christ)
Fujimura’s illuminations range from non-representational to suggestive abstractions (like the tree above). The subtlety of these more contemplative images, as compared to the lavish detail of traditional illumination, reflects his Japanese training and creates a meditative atmosphere for the reader. The pictures do not tell the story, the words can do that much better. Instead, they serve to slow readers down by giving their eye something to drift through as they contemplate the word of God. It is often intangible and impossible to explain, but something about the abstract, and often minimal, additions to the text just feels right, as if Fujimura is sensitive to the kind significant form that resonates with the meaning of the words.
Consider the Lilies (Matthew)
Water Flames (Mark)
Prodigal God (Luke)
In the beginning was the Word (John)
“We, today, have a language to celebrate waywardness, but we do not have a cultural language to bring people back home.”
– Makoto Fujimura–