Art, Faith, & Our Part in Making All Things New

Makoto Fujimura and a Theology of Making

Japanese visual artist Makoto Fujimura has been creating beautiful artwork for decades, using precious minerals and layers of pigments to craft colorful, shimmering paintings that often carry biblical messages of deeply spiritual import. In his latest book, Art & Faith: A Theology of Making, Fujimura writes candidly and compassionately on the place of the arts in the modern world and the central role art plays in the church.

Fujimura notes that western culture has adopted a technological, utilitarian way of seeing the world that suffocates our appreciation and attention for beauty. Ever since the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s, we have tended to approach the world with an eye for its consumeristic use, and not for its inherent value. He writes,

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, how we view the world, how we educate, and how we value ourselves have been all about purposeful efficiency. But such bottom-line utilitarian pragmatism has caused a split in how we view creativity and making. To what purpose, we ask, are we making? If the answer to that question is ‘we make to be useful,’ then we will value only what is most efficient, what is practical and industrial. The thesis that undergirds the entire culture care project, and the Theology of Making, is an antidote to such utilitarian pragmatism: the essence of humanity may be in what we deem to be “use-less” but essential. The deepest realm of knowledge is in Making, and, conversely, Making is the deepest integrated realm of knowing. (p. 19).

Fujimura, greatly influenced by New Testament theologian N.T. Wright, goes on to explore the biblical theology of the New Creation and how artistic “making” can participate in the coming of the New.

Fujimura believes that what we do and make here on earth will have eternal standings. Far from being burned up and swept away, God will honor the work of our hands and incorporate the things we make into the new heavens and new earth in ways we cannot even begin to understand. Instead of all our actions and endeavors being “filthy rags” before a holy God, Fujimura reminds us that God is interested in collaborating with human beings for the furtherance of goodness, truth, and beauty in the world as his priestly image bearers.

Fujimura uses the Japanese art form known as “Kintsugi” to illustrate his understanding of the New Creation. Kintsugi artists like Fujimura will take something broken, generally a plate, bowl, or cup of sorts, and try to reform it so it’s even more beautiful than what it was originally. Using broken shards of tea ware, Kintsugi “creates anew the valuable pottery, which now becomes more beautiful and more valuable than the original, unbroken vessel” (p. 43).

The beauty of our redemption in Christ, he notes, is that we do not simply return to our original, perfected state, but are somehow transformed into something even more glorious. God works through brokenness to create something entirely new that yet bears the evidence of its wounded condition. Like the resurrected Christ who appeared to his disciples, we are promised more than just “fixing.” We are promised the New Creation. Fujimura writes,

Every art recognizes that the work must be broken to be made new again. Minerals must be pulverized. Characters of a play must be tested beyond bearing…In that journey of brokenness, we experience something that transcends the brokenness. In that signature of the New given birth through darkness, we recognize a mark of greatness given to an enduring art worthy of all of our attention…

Thus, our brokenness, in light of the wounds of Christ still visible after the resurrection, can also mean that through making, by honoring the brokenness, the broken shapes can somehow be a necessary component of the New World to come. (p. 45-46)  

The book invites artists to affirm their crafts as essential ways to tell the story of God’s redemptive work, but it also invites all of us to recognize that God is ultimately the only true Artist. We participate in the creation of the New when we recognize and respond to the creative work he is already doing in our lives.

Further Reading

Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground.

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