Fujimura, Makoto. 2017. Culture care: Reconnecting with beauty for our common life. Foreword by Mark Labberton. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books.
Makoto Fujimira is the director of Fuller Theology Seminary’s Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts. As an artist, he wants to help us to think like one—recognizing beauty and creativity and creating our own as well. His book is “the first in a series of culture care that will expand on…generative principles and apply them to several cases (p. 21).
As a linguist (the author’s father is also a linguist) and anthropologist I was looking for a different and perhaps more traditional definition of “culture” than Fujimura provides. I understand culture to be the sum total of our beliefs and attitudes about the world around us. Fujimira sees culture in the more arcane setting of people who do creative things, often in unusual ways, and are at the outskirts (often) of society. To Fujimura, artists are a special breed and deserve to be treated that way, although he hedges somewhat by granting artistic status to Fred Danback, who worked to clean up the Hudson River.
Fujimura strives to find metaphors that exemplify artists and, for example, talks of them as those who nurture the soil of culture, as bees that buzz about in and sometimes sting their own culture, or as oysters in in “cultural estuary”. Artists are also poets like Dickerson and painters like Van Gogh, often living peculiar lives at the perimeter of society, but always questioning and probing it.
Fujimura speaks from a somewhat privileged position: as the director of a center for arts, he has a platform from which to exalt the cry of his somewhat unappreciated class. Hence it is creators of art, in its many forms, that generate new ideas and promote what “culture” should really be about—our expressions and deepest feelings, but often hidden in the form of the art.
The feeding of our souls is a primary concern for the author and this can best be done by what he calls “generative thinking” and build a community of people that “birth resourcefulness, patience and general creativity in all their life” (p. 21). We see, then, that “culture” goes much deeper than the expression of the artist but depends upon the beneficiary as well.
Fujimura assures us that culture care is everyone’s business (p. 27) and that our society is starving and polluting the cultural soul with its fragmentation and reductionism, whereas culture care “emphasizes the common good” (p.41). He quotes T.S. Eliot who said that culture could be described “as that which makes life worth living” (42).
As a Japanese-American, who studied art in Japan, it is not surprising that Fujimura is obsessed (I would say) with beauty—a previous book was on silence and beauty, but in which death played a prominent theme as well (p.56). He wants beauty to be satisfying, simple and elegant and feels that it is innate to the human being.
Many current books talk of “leadership” and Fujimura sees those living at the outskirts of society and often rejected as able to provide “cultural leadership” from their position—which he refers to as mearestapa. Artists of this type, like Martin Luther King or Mahalia Jackson, had dreams of a better humanity and took steps in their writing and singing to provide it.
Fujimira claims that “art is ultimately not ‘useful” and is often disposed of in a utilitarian age of consumerism. And yet he, like other artists, have to make a living and rely on their genius to do so. However, he does not see himself as a Christian artist but, rather an artist who is also a Christian. The former implies evangelism, the latter the mystery of Christ in his life.
Fujimura devotes chapter 11, “Opening the Gates” to thoughts about his son C.J., and his influences, as well as the values he shows that contribute to a healthy community.
Culture Cares is a book of ideas about how artists not only contribute to society but also raise questions about it. But it also includes Fugimura’s synopsis of what can be done to better care for our culture and artists: training and teaching hose who livg on the periphery; provide communal support; explore boundaries; and maintain connections within specified communities.
Fujimura recognizes that artists need money, so he exhorts the material world to support them with bread. He and other artists often sell their works for steep sums, so some justification is necessary. His “rehumanized capitalism” (p. 118) encompasses the pyramid of creative, social and material capital. His Brehm Center trains “creative students to integrate their theological, spiritual, and cultural formations” (p.135).
The book closes with a lot of “what ifs?”, asking questions about how we might “bring beauty into someone’s life today…” (137). As an addendum, Julie Silander and Peter Edman provide a “Discussion Guide”, with questions that enable facilitators to reflect on the book’s 19 chapters.
I find the book somewhat idealistic, with Makoto Fujimura achieving almost god-like billing as a “cultural shaper”. The publisher tells us shamelessly of his achievements by means of endorsements, where he is addressed in terms of his “magnificent paintings”, “profound essays”, “valuable lessons and thoughts”, “helpful insights”, and “life-giving rehumanizing summons.” He is generous, inspiring, has compassion and courage and writes beautifully and powerfully as a “thoughtful, sensitive, and eloquent” artist.
Those comments seem overly gratuitous, but may make encourage people to buy the book.