Art and Faith: A Theology of Making | Makoto Fujimura
Fujimura, Makoto. Art and Faith: A Theology of Making. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2021. 184 pp. $26.00.
“It is impossible to have faith without imagination” (89). So claims artist and author Makoto Fujimura in what he considers his life work, Art and Faith: A Theology of Making. Fujimura, a world-renowned artist, writer, and culture influencer, has received numerous awards for his previous books including the Aldersgate Prize and the 2014 “Religion and the Arts” award from the American Academy of Religion. This newest book gracefully weaves together discussions of vocation, loss and renewal, post-industrial worldviews, the New Creation, and worship and witness in a postmodern society.
Fujimura writes like he paints. His larger paintings have sixty to eighty or more layers of paint applied to them to create the deep luminosity they reveal to the patient viewer. Likewise, throughout Art and Faith, he repeatedly returns to many key themes, adding layer upon layer of insight. And yet, the book never feels redundant. Each layer, like each layer of his paintings, adds a new level of brilliance to his argument. Every page brings clarity, nuance, and depth to previously planted ideas.
While Art and Faith has several interweaving theses, Fujimura binds them together in a single sentence at the start of his book: “Imagination gives us wings to create, but it is through Christ’s tears and the invitation to the feast of God that we can be partakers of the New Creation” (3). The book explores these three insights. First, our postindustrial culture desperately needs imagination in our faith and witness. Fujimura claims: “modernist assumptions that verifiable knowledge is the ultimate path to truth have overlooked the fact that mystery and beauty are at the core of knowledge” (83) and “it is through our imagination that God reaches us” (85). Second, as symbolized by Jesus’s tears at Lazarus’s tomb, God does not merely fix our hurts; he sits with us in our pain, values our wounds, and renews us. Using the Japanese art of Kintsugi as an artistic metaphor, Fujimura says, “it is precisely through our brokenness and fissures that God’s grace can shine through, as in the gold that fills fissures in Kintsugi” (52). And third, God patiently partners with human creativity to reveal himself and to make the New Creation. This is most deeply evidenced by God’s “use of our ability to make bread and wine to reveal Jesus’s resurrected presence” to us at the Eucharist (73). Fujimura explains the biblical promise at the heart of his Theology of Making is that “not only are we restored, we are to partake in the co-creation of the New [Creation]” (46).
If, as Emily Dickinson once said of poetry, art “tells the truth but tells it slant,” then Art and Faith tells theological truth but tells it slant. It does not give a systematic theology of art or making. Instead, a work of art all its own, Art and Faith models a deeply Trinitarian, renewed look at the things of God, life in him, and New Creation. Fujimura combines diverse artistic inspirations like Kintsugi, Nihonga, T. S. Eliot, and Mark Rothko with theological influences like Ellen Davis, N. T. Wright, and Jürgen Moltmann. In doing so, he invites both contemplation and action, both meditation and making. Rather than argue doctrinal axioms, Fujimura models his theological perspective: he creates a work of literary art that exemplifies “the arts need to cast good spells [from which we get the word ‘gospel’] into a world that is dying and cynical” (137).
Additionally, Art and Faith makes a strong epistemological argument. Much theological writing in the last several centuries springs from the age of modernism and industrialization. From these perspectives, society and theology have adopted utilitarian emphases that Fujimura attempts to correct. In a postmodern world where rational apologetics falls flat, Fujimura proposes that “instead of debating, Christians ought to be involved in Making. . . . not to ‘prove’ God’s existence, but to affirm the source of creativity and imagination, [God himself]” (85–86). Fujimura asks: “What if . . . imagination is seen as necessary . . . for our faith journeys” (87). He then proposes: “the analytical and the intuitive, the rational and the emotional, the active and the contemplative: these are not dichotomies or dualities to each other, but they are complements” (110). The artist’s mind and body offer imaginative and somatic knowledge that brings fresh perspective to doctrinal truths.
Art and Faith is a rare example of an academic book with universal appeal. Theologians of all denominations would benefit from the rich creative insights it offers. Christians of all walks and theological training will find the book’s tone and concepts approachable and refreshing. Artists of all faiths and worldviews would be encouraged and challenged by the book’s wisdom. Furthermore, by addressing a “theology of making” rather than one of “creativity,” this work broadens its audience from artists and theologians to every human being. Since everyone makes something, “we are all artists” (149), and “the Artist calls us little-’a’ artists to co-create, to share in the ‘heavenly breaking in’ to the broken world” (90–91). With Art and Faith, readers cannot help but catch flashes of New Creation bursting into their hearts.