A Fusion of Art and Faith: Makoto Fujimura

Golden Fire

If I asked you to consider the facets of our society in which Christians are a significant redemptive influence, my hope is that you would be able to think of several possibilities. I doubt, however, that many of us would include the world of contemporary art at the top of the list.

Before I go any further, I should offer an important disclaimer: If one could describe proper understanding and appreciation of contemporary art in terms of “fluency,” I’ve got a long way to go to achieve even “passable communication.”

Still, I’ve recently tried to take a few small steps toward that end. And in doing so, I’ve been intrigued and encouraged by Makoto Fujimura. Born in the United States, the New York based Fujimura graduated from Bucknell University before pursuing graduate studies in Japan at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. He is a practitioner of Nihonga, a form of traditional Japanese painting. His life and word offers an excellent picture of how at least one man pursues a creative calling in the context of following Christ. A few quick but noteworthy points in support of that claim:

1. Artistic excellence.

Fujimura was awarded the top thesis prize in his MFA program at Tokyo National University in Fine Arts and Music, and he was the first non-native to be admitted into the school’s post MFA doctoral level program in Nihonga. He was also the youngest artist ever to have a work acquired by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo. His work has been displayed in numerous contexts in Japan, Hong Kong, and America, and he was appointed by President George W. Bush to the National Council of the Arts. In the words of Greg Wolfe, editor of Image Journal, “Mako is one of America’s leading visual artists.”

2. A Connected Faith.

Artists are often associated with an individualistic spirituality, but Fujimura is no “church of one.” He served as an elder at Tim Keller’s Redeemer Church before helping to plant The Village Church in Greenwich Village.

3. A Mature Perspective.

Speaking to Christianity Today in 2008, he offered, “Artists are leaders simply because we are in the ‘enterprise of persuasion.’ With that [comes] great responsibility…to use that persuasive influence to create the ‘world that ought to be.’”

Matthew–Consider the Lilies

But this doesn’t mean each of his pieces is necessarily overtly religious. Rather, Fujimura creates art that commands credibility in his field because of its excellence, and yet, because of who he is, is inevitably infused with and informed by his faith, often in suggestive and complex ways. The result leads to reactions like the one of curator Sara Tecchia: “He is a profound believer and I am totally secular. But he is like a professor to me. Fujimura’s paintings allow for skeptics such as myself to the one thing that secularism has labeled as a sign of weakness: to hope.”

“I am a Christian,” Fujimura told the Associated Press in 2007. “I am also an artist and creative, and what I do is driven by my faith experience. But I am also a human being living in the 21st century, struggling with a lot of brokenness—my own, as well as the world’s. I don’t want to use the term ‘Christian’ to shield me away form the suffering of evil that I see, or to escape in some nice ghetto where everyone thinks the same.” This leads to my final point.

4. Bridging worlds.

Fujimura is the founder and creative director of the faith-based International Arts Movement. Its mission? “IAM gathers artists and creative catalysts to wrestle with the deep questions of art, faith, and humanity in order to inspire the creative community to engage the culture that is and create the world that ‘ought to be.’”

In the CT article mentioned above, Fujimura noted, “I advocate for art in the church, and in the art world I’m advocating for the gospel.” To do this most effectively, one has to be credible in both worlds. Fujimura is.

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You can find out a little bit more about Fujimura and view more of his work here.

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