Bridging the Gap: An Interview with Artist Makoto Fujimura

December 2–6, 2013   |   Vol. 117, Programs 66–70

This week on Home School Heartbeat, guest Makoto Fujimura explains the importance of artists and shares how you can bridge the gap between art and your church, community, and classroom.

“Artists have a responsibility to care for culture and to use things that are true and authentic that can help people to see through the darkness.”—Makoto Fujimura

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Do you have a budding artist at home, but are unsure how to encourage them? World-renowned artist Makoto Fujimura learned the beautiful Japanese-style painting called  nihonga , and he now practices that form with a contemporary approach. Join host Mike Farris as he talks with the artist today, on Home School Heartbeat.

Mike Farris: Our guest today is Makoto Fujimura, who's an internationally renowned contemporary artist, author, and founder of the  International Arts Movement . Makoto, welcome to the program.

Makoto Fujimura: Thank you; it’s great to be here.

Mike: Would you please share with us how you decided to become an artist?

Makoto: I was an artist before I knew I was an artist, but it wasn’t until college that I was really feeling called to the arts. After college, my wife and I got married, and we ended up going back to my roots. As far as my culture, I was born in Boston but brought up biculturally between Japan and the U.S. And we were back in Japan to study this very prestigious lineage program in the art form of nihonga, which is Japanese-style painting. And it was at that time that I had the time and my own search had gotten to the point where I really needed to find a paradigm that allowed me to explore beauty. And so I found myself creating beauty, and I had trouble justifying it in my own heart. And that’s when I began my search for a paradigm that integrated beauty into who I was and even dealt with my brokenness. And so it was around that time that I became a Christian.

Mike: Mako, thank you for that beautiful testimony. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: History tells us that the role of the church in promoting art, both visual and musical, has been much greater in the past. How do you think the church and art intersect today?

Makoto Fujimura: Today it’s very much disjointed. The church has become very much program-based and utilitarian-based. So artists who tend to dwell on the non-utilitarian realm of souls, we often don’t fit, so we, maybe even leaders or pastors involved in congregation. But culturally we feel exiled from the context we worship in, and that’s an unfortunate thing because God is an artist and we have this rich history of patronage from the church which gave birth to many great, not only great artworks, but I would say great civilizations that give thriving to the whole person and the whole community regardless of your faith background. So I think today there’s a huge fragmentation.

Mike: Makoto, this is a fantastic insider analysis. I’m really grateful that our listeners get to hear it from you. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Makoto, you started something that you called the  International Arts Movement . Can you share with us what this is and how it addresses the need for interaction between the church and good art?

Makoto Fujimura: Yes, International Arts Movement began as my career group, and I realized that I was isolated from both the church and the art world. In the church, I am an artist, and many artists. So I found myself doubly exiled, as it were, and began this organization. There were other organizations like Christians in Visual Arts and other organizations at the time that really helped to bridge this gap. So what I began to do was to look for people who were very successful at the highest levels of different types of arts. So that means music, that means dance, that means writing, and eventually we invited entrepreneurs whose business practices were creative. And so we began to have those conversations about culture, and how to bridge that gap between the church and the art world.

Mike: Makoto, thank you so much for being our guest. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Makoto, in a recent commencement speech you stated that “death spreads over all our lives,” but that “beauty is a harbinger of hope.” As we look at the results of sin in the world around us, how can artists remind us to hope in Christ for the future?

Makoto Fujimura: Yeah, artists have a great role in helping the culture lament and look toward the future. What we tend to do in this American culture in particular is that we basically move on without really deeply dealing with issues that we struggle with. So we end up with kind of superficial culture in which many people out there are wounded and hurt from our past experiences, and so art becomes a way to mediate that experience. So artists have a responsibility to care for culture and to use things that are true and authentic that can help people to see through the darkness. And often times, we find that when we do that, because of how God made the world, we end up in a place of hope rather than despair; in a place where you can start to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

Mike: Thank you so much for sharing those profound ideas. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: For the budding artist, fear of failure may prevent them from developing their talent. What advice do you have for a young artist and their parents as they consider whether to pursue a career in art?

Makoto Fujimura: First of all, a lot of us begin as artists. If you ask a kindergarten class, “How many of you are artists?” most hands will go up, and what happens is that those who are called to be an artist, they get into this specialized track and they lose sight of the whole. And so what I encourage young, budding artists to do is to experience life, to read a lot. Travel and find their voice; we have a profoundly important role to play for our own communities. So don’t lose touch of your own community; spend a lot of time studying its history; and it basically comes down to your love, love for people, your neighbors, love for God Who made us creative, Who is an artist Himself. And I always explore young ones to explore, and take a lot of different classes, not just in art, because art itself is changing and it is multi-faceted. And with the technology that we have, it’s going to require a lot of synthesis.

Mike: Makoto, thank you so much for giving us inspiring work, and I fully agree with you: God is the greatest artist of all. I’m Mike Farris.

Photo taken by Bjorn Amundsen.

Makoto Fujimura is an artist, writer, and speaker who is recognized worldwide as a cultural shaper. A presidential appointee to the National Council on the Arts from 2003–09, Fujimura served as an international advocate for the arts, speaking with decision makers and advising governmental policies on the arts.

Fujimura’s work is exhibited at galleries around the world, including Dillon Gallery in New York, Sato Museum in Tokyo, The Contemporary Museum of Tokyo, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts Museum, Bentley Gallery in Arizona, Gallery Exit and Oxford House at Taikoo Place in Hong Kong, and Vienna’s Belvedere Museum.

A popular speaker, he has lectured at numerous conferences, universities and museums, including the Aspen Institute, Yale, Princeton and other major universities.

Fujimura’s book, Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art and Culture, is a collection of essays bringing together people of all backgrounds in a conversation and meditation on culture, art, and humanity. In celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible, Crossway Publishing commissioned and published The Four Holy Gospels, featuring Fujimura’s illuminations of the sacred texts.

Fujimura is a recipient of two, doctor of arts honorary degrees; from Belhaven University in 2011, and Biola University in 2012.

You can visit Makoto Fujimura’s website at makotofujimura.com. For more information on the International Arts Movement, visit internationalartsmovement.org.

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