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Art and Faith: A Theology of Making

Makoto Fujimura
Published by Yale University Press in 2021

Makoto Fujimura has spent a career calling for Christian artists to take this field seriously and to care for our collective culture. He has told graciously the stories of his own experiences making and viewing artwork. He has shown that God, the God of all things, can speak to the artist in the studio and the viewer of art. 

Fujimura’s book continues along this same vein but it does so with much stronger words than his previous endeavors. He does not merely argue for how the arts can be a mode of knowing God. He also argues that we are all called to be artists and that making is central to the sanctification process for individual souls and all of creation. 

At its best, the book describes how God can reveal Himself through the art making process, including the viewing of art. Art making is an unique human endeavor that taps into the original creativity of God and therefore provides an unique understanding of our Lord. It should therefore not be feared categorically by the Body of Christ. It should be engaged in with the rigor of doing all things in Christ. 

Chapter four on Kintsugi is particularly profound and the author is at his best when he is writing about his own personal experiences and his deep knowledge of ancient artforms. He is able to make beautiful connections that reveal how an artwork can become an incarnation of the reality of pain and transcendence through transformative healing.

I must say as a practicing artist I am attracted to the message of the book. I too feel that the art making process is special. But that does not mean it is a magical solution for the many pitfalls of the pilgrimage of faith. In my opinion, Fujimura goes too far to try to counterbalance those who fear the dangers of art making. 

My issues with the text lie in the ways that Fujimura seems to use extreme language to make his points:

“The Bible is full of Making activities. I have come to believe that unless we are making something, we cannot know the depth of God’s being and God’s grace permeating our lives and God’s Creation. Because the God of the Bible is fundamentally and exclusively THE Creator, God cannot be known by talking about God, or by debating God’s existence (even if we ‘win’ the debate). God cannot be known by sitting in a classroom, or even in a church taking in information about God.” (7)

The paragraph immediately following this quotation walks back his strong claims slightly by saying that he is, “…not against these pragmatic activities…”(7). I must ask, then, why downplay the “artform” (149) of preaching and listening to preaching in the first place? The inclusion of the phrase, “…we cannot know the full depth of God’s being…” would allow for the point to be made and it would not condemn sermons categorically. 

On page ninety two Fujimura also defends his lionization of art making by claiming that art is not an occupation but rather a type of engagement of the imagination: “By connecting ‘art’ to Making, I am intentionally broadening the word ‘art’ to every human being’s act of making.” (149)

All of this is also confusing. If, “…art is connected to the holy,” (ibid) and “art” is, “…every human being’s act of making,” (ibid) and, “…preaching is one of Christendom’s major art forms,” (ibid) then, why can’t one come to know God while sitting in a church listening to a sermon as he claims on page seven? Isn’t a listener creatively “making” sense of a sermon and its application in their own life? 

Fujimura seems to focus on art making as some sort of special action that can and should connect everyone to God, more so than any other human endeavor. This book raises the action of art making to a level akin to a holy vocation. As an artist I believe it can be a holy vocation for some but it is not necessarily that. 

Art is not just making. Your body makes something out of food every day, but that’s not art. Art is also not just making beautiful things. You can make war. You can make love. You can also make art. All of those things can be ugly or beautiful. All of those things can serve God or war against Him. 

I think Fujimura wants Christians to embrace creativity more and I wholeheartedly agree with this. However, even if our studios are special places for us, this does not mean they will necessarily be special places for others. Just because Fujimura does not connect with God via baseball does not mean others don’t. 

There is a time for everything and the body of Christ is made up of people of all parts. The body has hands and feet and spleens. I don’t know where artists fit on the body but I can say that they do fit. They have their place. It is not the most important place because no single part of the body is the most important place. For what is a body without a brain and what is a brain without a body?

Overall, if you keep in mind Fujimura’s rhetorical approach, there is much to be gleaned from reading this book, especially for those who are not artists. The arts provide valuable ways to connect with God even if it is not a universal experience. This said, I would encourage reading this book in tandem with other works, including Dorothy Sayer’s The Mind of the Maker

Greg Lookerse

Greg Lookerse is an interdisciplinary artist and designer exhibiting and serving clients internationally. His work explores traditional forms recontextualized by materials and typography. Originally from California a majority of his body of work was produced in Boston, Massachusetts, and he has recently relocated to Holland, MI where he is an Assistant Professor of Art at Hope College.