One of the most formative moments early in my artistic journey was hearing Andrew Peterson’s song “Let There Be Light.” I was in my late teens at the time, just beginning to grapple with the musical gifts that would eventually lead me to a career in composition. But as Peterson crooned the lyrics, “When your spirit is hovering over the deep / In the image of God just look into that darkness and speak,” I remember the lightbulb illuminating in my mind: My creativity is an act of faith.
That singular notion has stayed with me throughout my life, fueling my creative work and giving me a sense of purpose. And I can think of numerous musicians, authors, poets, artists, and theologians who have similarly encouraged me along the way.
Fine artist Makoto Fujimura is undoubtedly such a figure. While his stunning work has captivated countless people around the world, the way he has lived out his vocation far exceeds the bounds of his artistry. Throughout his public life, he has promoted the interaction of art, culture, and faith through founding the International Arts Movement, establishing his own Fujimura Institute, and, more recently, serving as the director of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts at Fuller Theological Seminary. He has also come alongside many other artists, advocating for them and supporting their efforts, as he did for me in writing the foreword to my first book.
In each of these pursuits, Fujimura has sought to promote a vision of what it means to create and how acts of creativity relate to our faith. Now, in his engaging book Art and Faith, Fujimura gathers the many themes from each corner of his vibrant career into a single volume that persuasively articulates a “theology of making” (to quote the book’s subtitle) while communicating that vision in a contemplative style that itself radiates the very creativity he advocates throughout the book.
Abundance and exuberance
Art and Faith builds on Fujimura’s previous writing, especially the approach to cultural engagement he outlines in his 2017 book Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life. In this latest book he expands that vision, considering the meaning of God as creator and portraying the act of creation as an artistic overflowing of God’s abundant love. Fujimura suggests that this might reorient our vision of “making” itself, showing it to be crucial for understanding who God is and how we are to live out our Christian vocations. “God’s design in Eden, even before the Fall,” he writes, “was to sing Creation into being and invite God’s creatures to sing with God, to co-create into the Creation.”
For Fujimura, embracing this invitation to “sing” and create with God requires reassessing certain entrenched habits of thought. He observes how the development of industry over several centuries has inclined Christians to favor utility over creativity. In contrast, Fujimura points out that God’s creative act models a radically different rationale: “The Theology of Making assumes that God created out of abundance and exuberance, and the universe (and we) exist because God loves to create.”
We can recover this sense of God’s extravagance, Fujimura suggests, by thinking of our faith lives through the lens of “creating” rather than “fixing,” since our ultimate hope is one of “New Creation” rather than mere “restoration” of the world as it is. The foreword for Art and Faith comes from Anglican theologian N. T. Wright, and it is no surprise to find Wright’s theology referenced often throughout the book. Fujimura’s approach neatly dovetails with Wright’s vision of a creation destined for re-creation. Fujimura takes up that redemptive anticipation and reads it through the lens of making, showing how our acts of creativity attest to God’s heart in creation and his intent for the new creation to come.
Fujimura believes that the Crucifixion reveals this theological vision in powerful ways. As he writes, “Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, Christ’s bloodshed, becomes an entry point of faith for all of us.” Artists, he argues, are uniquely able to witness to the hope of redemption amid brokenness by letting their artistry emerge from the traumas and tragedies of living in a fallen world:
Art literally feeds us through beauty in the hardest, darkest hours. … Through this wine of New Creation we can be given the eyes to see the vistas of the New, ears to hear the footsteps of the New, even through works by non-Christians in the wider culture.
Metaphors like “new wine” are among the key ways Fujimura expresses his vision. He draws heavily on the image of soil as a regenerative space where even our brokenness can testify, over time, to new creation. And he attests to the invaluable gift of tears as expressions of sanctification and consecration.
This theme of suffering is central to the book, as it is to Fujimura’s work as a fine artist. Art and Faith gives particular focus to the Japanese art form of Kintsugi, in which broken pottery is reformed using precious metals. The result, writes Fujimura, is a work of newly created beauty, “which now becomes more beautiful and more valuable than the original, unbroken vessel.”
In many insightful moments, Fujimura relates this redemptive vision of Kintsugi to experiences of suffering in his own life. In a particularly poignant passage, he describes the trauma of confronting the 9/11 terrorist attacks up close as a New York City resident. While the experience created a profound sense of loss in his life and his creative work, he shares how the example of certain artists and writers inspired meaningful ways of grappling with his grief. For Fujimura, such artists open up “a ‘holy ground’ that allows me to journey into my faith, my doubts, and my awareness of suffering.”
In itself, Fujimura’s theology of making is a powerful reframing of Christian vocation. Yet Art and Faith offers much beyond theological explication. What made the book most appealing for me was its artful composition, which helped me reflect fruitfully on my own artistic process.
When I compose music, my primary method of expression is thematic exposition and development. Because of the way that multiple musical ideas can be expressed at the same time (what is known as counterpoint), musical beauty emerges through a sort of circularity, built around repetition, transposition, and transformation of each theme. Though music is brought to life upon an aural canvas and fine art upon a visual one, there are many similarities in their respective approaches to composition. And while writing imposes its own limitations upon the way themes are expressed and developed, it is clear that Fujimura brings an artist’s eye to the written word.
Rather than presenting his ideas in a sort of conventional three-point argument, Fujimura gradually discloses each theme, letting it unfold over the course of the book. He alternates between different modes of prose, moving from theology to insights into his own creative process to stories from his life. At first, some of these transitions can feel quite abrupt. But with further reading, the seemingly fragmented approach reveals a deeper thematic continuity, much like distinct musical motifs presented in counterpoint, which are gradually integrated into an elegant whole. To use a different metaphor, one from the book itself, Fujimura’s writing is quite like Kintsugi: It offers a mosaic of concepts bound and sealed with the golden veins of a singular theological sensibility.
This means reading the book requires a degree of patience. Fujimura’s creative style is often described colloquially as “slow art,” and his literary style is no different. The ideas in Art and Faith are not easily mined; like Fujimura ’s artwork, his writing must be received in a posture of attentiveness and receptivity. In asking readers to consider a theology of making that rejects mere utility, he implicitly invites them to relinquish their desire to simply extract something from the book and thereby consume it. Instead, his style encourages observation of the way that core themes are realized upon the canvas of his thought: themes of fire and water, creation and re-creation, soil and tears, bread and wine. I could attempt to analyze how all these concepts relate to each other in Art and Faith, but that would only do a disservice to the artful way Fujimura’s prose embodies the very vision he sets forth in the book.
Ultimately, what Fujimura offers is less a systematic truth to be comprehended intellectually and repeated verbatim than a spiritual vocation to be inhabited and lived out. For the reader willing to accept that premise and enter into this book with a willing heart and mind, there are substantial rewards in store.
Joel Clarkson is a writer and composer pursuing a PhD in theology at the University of St Andrews. He is the author of Sensing God: Experiencing the Divine in Nature, Food, Music, and Beauty.