Makoto Fujimura: Beauty and Justice as Companions

The Christian magazine Relevant has posted a short interview with visual artist Makoto Fujimura, founder of the International Arts Movement. About the genesis of this movement, which seeks to create a dialogue between the worlds of faith and avant-garde art, Fujimura says, “I found myself isolated from the creative communities as a Christian and from the Church as an artist. But I became convinced that the ‘gap’ I fell into was actually a culturally significant arena (some call it the ‘critical zone’), a kind of an estuary, a rich mixture of faith-infected cultural waters with many strange, beautiful creatures swimming about.”

I especially liked this exchange toward the end of the interview, where Fujimura responds to the oft-stated objection that art’s traditional concern with beauty is a frivolity that we can’t afford in a world full of injustice:

Relevant: Reading your essay “Why Art?”, I was reminded of Zbigniew Herbert’s poem “Five Men,” about five men executed by firing squad. Herbert says at the end of the poem, basically, “I am aware of the men’s execution, so how can I justify writing poems about flowers?” His answer is that the night before the execution, the men under death’s sentence talked about prophetic dreams, automobile parts, girls, vodka—in other words, the everyday things of life. Herbert concludes his poem: “thus one can use in poetry/names of Greek shepherds/one can attempt to catch the colour of the morning sky/write of love/and also/once again/in dead earnest/offer to the betrayed world/a rose.” What is your response to those who have trouble justifying artistic pursuits in a world with so much inequality and injustice?

Fujimura: Art does not necessarily provide answers to inequality and injustice, but provides a vision of the world beyond them. Giving a rose in rebellion against de-humanization is a simple act, but repeated by the thousands, like in the case of Princess Diana’s death, it can be a powerful demonstration of humanity. I do not believe there is a strict dichotomy between artistic pursuits, or of beauty, with justice issues. Both beauty and justice require a foundation of the ethics of love, and are the twin pillars of the City of God. When Mary anointed Jesus with the expensive jar of nard, she was intuitively recognizing, with her act of beauty, the injustice Jesus is about to suffer. The extravagant gesture, and the disciples’ response “what a waste,” was met with Jesus’ commendation that “wherever the gospel is told, what she has done will be told.” Both beauty and justice must be practiced together to truthfully engage in human conflicts, because it is not just about the “rights” of a person only, but about the possibility of human flourishing in general.

I blogged about another interview with Fujimura at Image Journal last year, here. Visit the artist’s own blog here.