Makoto Fujimura is quick to establish his thesis that beauty is vital to life and society, in his book, Culture Care. He clarifies that beauty can come in formal and informal expressions. Artists serve a role in society, but we all have talents that can become beautiful creations. Yet, he sees a crisis in culture, which prior generations have established, and we and future generations have an option to resolve. His life work is founded on his faith, as this guides his understanding of the origins of creation, the subsequent abandonment of beauty, the offering of redemption, and possibility of restoration of the flourishing of beauty in our lives. He does not see this as a rainbows-and-butterflies perspective in which faith becomes an adjective of every aspect of a believer’s life, but a position of action, in which making beauty is a verb that we can and should do.
While Fujimura is a visual artist, specifically a painter using the medium and forms of his Japanese heritage, in this book he is a story-teller. He opens and closes the books with a story about his marriage, in which his wife makes a simple act to bring beauty to their home one evening. He had been so busy starting his career in art, that he had forgotten to appreciate the aesthetic of every-day life. He then builds his thesis over several chapters, highlighting the concepts of genesis, generosity, and generational thinking.
Genesis reflects his beliefs about the role of God (specifically Jesus) as a creator, who gives us gifts with which we can create. Fujimura is quite serious about his understanding of value of creation in our lives. He rales against how art has become a commodity, made and manipulated for status and speculative investment value. Such artistic creations have no lasting value when they go out of fashion. They are not created because they enhance an individual’s or society’s life. Without such value, artistic commodities are easily discarded. Without value, art is more refuse for the landfill. God does not create disposable beauty, the way corporations create consumable products that are obsolete and losing value as soon as they leaves the store.
Generosity is our role in giving to other people. This is as much an attitude as an action. Fujimura spends time explaining how he had a conversation with a woman who earned her living photographing weddings, which allowed her to pursue her other artistic interests in photography, by analysing the phrase “taking pictures”. The role of the artist, even in commercial situations, is to give to their clients and patrons, not to take from them. Yes, an economic exchange is essential in our society to pay the rent and purchase supplies. But, what the photographer gives to the couple, family, and guests is memories and interpretations of a life event. Creating beauty is a gift.
With the role of art in genesis and the gifts that the artists provides to others, Fujimura explore the generational relationship that art serves. Christianity is a narrative of generations. From Adam and Eve, through Abraham and his children, through the Kings and Judges of Israel, through Jesus as the Messiah, through the church (as people, not buildings), to the return of Jesus as promised, generations set the path, whether sin or salvation, for future generations. Fujimura explains the importance of 20th century artists to express the horror and ugliness of that genocidal century. But, he exclaims that artists need to bring back the beauty of art. World wars and depression set the path of consumerism and amassing of wealth and poverty. Without conscientious efforts by artists to recovery beauty, youth will see life as only self-indulgence. Fujimura warns of the risks of selfie-art, in which the gift of creation is primarily for self-absorption.
Culture Care is a short book, about 100 pages long. Fujumura uses these pages well, and does not drag out his ideas for the sake of looking more authoritative by publishing a thicker tome. He devotes the second half of the book to outlining his proposals for how artists can use his ideas, transform the art world, and provide for future generations. He discusses the role of artists as those who are on the fringes of society, “border-walkers” who can view society without being controlled by its expectations and norms. He implores artists to prompt leaders to act spontaneously and responsibly. He uses images of nature to explain how artists use resources to cultivate the soil for future seeds of beauty.
To conclude, Fujimura gives practical examples of how artists and people can use implement their gifts to bring beauty their lives and other people. His DYI approach ranges from developing patrons to guerrilla art to establishing funding sources with the faith that the opportunity to put them to use for good will arise. To this end, Fujimora has established the International Arts Movement, (http://iamculturecare.com/) developed his ideas, presented lectures to artists, community groups, churches, and businesses, and written this book. Being leery of self-promotion texts and speaking tours, I was surprised at the simplicity and clarity of Fujimura’s ideas. Then, I saw his faith plainly imbedded in the abbreviation of his organization: IAM. Immediately Genesis 1:1 came to mind, “In the beginning God created…”, and John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word…”, and God’s reply to Moses, (Exodus 3:14), “God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ”.