An artists writes to the western church
A few weeks back I blogged about Makoto Fujimura, the renowned NYC artist creating a new Illuminated Book of the four gospels. He’s written a wonderful piece in the style of the letters at the beginning of Revelation entitled A letter to North American Churches. He writes on the marginalisation of artists in the church:
An artist’s relationship with you has not been easy; we are often in the margins of your communities, being the misfits that we are. Artists often sit in the back, if they come to church at all, wear black and look menacing to you. But many of us, actually, sit in the front, we volunteer, and are first to be with the poor. You just don’t notice us. Some of us are even up in front preaching, and you call us pastors, but we consider ourselves really artists of the Word. Some of us are crusading against the wrongs of the world, and we can get attentions of the “Kings” of this world because our songs are so popular.
He posits this as a result of the 18th Century enlightenment and the attempt to protect faith from reason, asserting that Secularism was the offspring of the Church.
As a result of this dichotomy, you began to exile artists whose existence, up to that point, helped to fuse the invisible reality with concrete reality. An artist knows that what you can see and observe is only the beginning of our journey to discover the world. But you wanted proof, instead of mystery; justification instead of beauty. Therefore you pushed artists to the margins of worship, while the secular world you helped to create championed us, and gave us, ironically, a priestly role.
Artists have insight into the invisible qualities of the Reality; but you have forced them to serve only the visible, utilitarian and the pragmatic.
He points out the primary and central role that artists had – Bazelel and Oholiab as the first known people to filled with the Holy Spirit, the artists who built the Tabernacle.
A painter does not merely reproduce what is thought to be seen by the eye; an artist task is to train the eye first to truly see, and then learn to disregard what we have been taught, to throw away imposed categories — those easy preconceived notions that lure us to think that we are seeing when we are not, but merely looking. An artist’s task is to see through the eye into the eternal, into the invisible.
He points to God, the ultimate creative artist:
God has always, from the beginning, been an artist. He has spoken through the prophets and poets. The Bible begins with Creation, and ends with a New Creation. Everywhere in between God has chosen broken vessels, his creative creatures to create in love.
He ends with two calls first to the Christian artist:
Artists: Create for our Father, improvise with the Spirit. Create through the Medium who binds all things together, and then you will begin to hear sounds of “the world that ought to be.” Surely, there will be birth pangs right up to that time. There will be more “Ground Zeros” created by destructive minds, twisting creative impulses into diabolical powers. Undo what they have done. Stand upon those ashes all around us, and open your hearts: look up, to Create in Love.
You must become as one; the Body of Christ. Love one another. Love is creative: Love is generative. Be diligent in the work of bringing unity in diversity of the Body. Art provides a wonderful example of diverse voices, instruments and colors to be brought together for the magnificence of the whole. You are God’s Masterpieces, a tapestry of diversity, created in Christ Jesus to birth more Masterpieces.
And then for the ‘far off’:
Finally, let me address the artists of the far country (Luke 15:13); you are starving though you have much. The corrupt world has given you celebrity, and the ephemeral treasures of the earth. Return to your first love. Come home. Creativity is a gift; art is a gift. Do not make it to be other than that, or you will be crushed by your own gifts: and do not try to numb the pain you feel down inside of you with anything other than drinking in the Holy Spirit. There are also some of you, in the far country, who have also ascetically removed pleasures for the sake of “pure expression.” Do not think that just because you have forfeited the whole world, that you have gained your souls. Return to your first love, be filled with the Passion. As a child, you explored the colorful margins, finding exhilaration in sound, movement and rhymes of words. Come home, and join me in preparing for the Feast to come.
The church is the ultimate wedding planner – and we wouldn’t dream of having a wedding feast with out music, dancing and art.