IAM’s next Encounter will take place February 26-28, 2009,in lower Manhattan, and the theme of the Encounter will be “Art inAction.” When asked about the genesis of the next Encounter’s theme, Makoto Fujimura points to the 1982 bookby Nicholas Wolterstorff of the same title. “Art in Action” has remained a staple on the bookshelf ofartists and creative catalysts throughout the world who seek to dig deeper into the meaning and purpose for art.
Following is Part Three of Christy Tennant’s recent interview with Makoto Fujimura about the theme of the next IAM Encounter:
CT: You mentioned that Art in Action is a philosophical approach to the arts, especially for artists who are Christians. What is one ofthe philosophical insights you gleaned from Art in Action?
MF: I am deeply concerned with the issue ofjustice, and this book partly addresses the fact that Art and Beauty flow fromconcern for justice and the brokenness and how unjust the world is. Art is a medium for mediating that conversation.
We don’t usually think of art that way. Often, art is divorced from society – Art egotistical, and Society is common. But for Nick, art is based on this idea of justice within society. For him, art is a means for rehumanizing the world.
Nick doesn’t talk about “excellence” the way we so often do. Instead, he talks about art’s “fittingness.” One of his criteria for beauty is Does this expression properly fit this broken reality? Something beautiful and lofty might not be good if it doesn’t fit. Should we have an absolute standard of excellence for beauty that does not take into account the circumstances of the broken world? How does that fit?
The Greek philosophers tried to define happiness and goodness by sets of ideals determined by your status and the accomplishments you work toward. Their conclusions were that beauty and happiness could be achieved if all of the circumstances were in place to make one happy and beautiful. But Augustine of Hippo was one of the first Christian philosophers to say no, it’s not like that, because God doesn’t work that way. God wants us to be aware of brokenness, as a precondition of “loving our neighbor.” It is only possible to have godly happiness if you are aware of sorrow and brokenness. The Christian definition of love requires an identifying with suffering, rather than divorcing yourself from suffering.
So art divorced from love is like the Greeks ignoring the plights of the broken and obtaining a form of happiness that is removed from cruelty. Plato would have an absolute standard but on a practical level didn’t want to be connected to reality, while Augustine connected reality and brokenness. Love is the object – this is what Christ has shown to be immovable.
Nick’s new book on Justice (Justice: Rights and Wrongs, published 2007) is much clearer about this article and deals with it in more depth.
For the artist, Artin Action speaks on many levels, and poses both Christians and non-Christians with conceptual issues and questions that people would not normally ask in art school. It gives post-modernist philosophers language to not just divide, but connect. If we believe in a standard of love, everything changes.