I like to occasionally recommend a book on the writing life. Art + Faith by Makoto Fujimura (Yale University Press) is one you might enjoy. The author is a well-known painter and frequently speaks and writes on the intersection of art and faith.
In 2009 Crossway publishing commissioned him to illuminate the four Gospels to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the publishing of the King James Bible. It was the first time a single artist has been commissioned to illuminate the four Gospels in nearly five hundred years. (Crossway has a video on the project here.) The Gospels were on exhibition at the Museum of Biblical Art in Manhattan in 2011 and later were featured at the inaugural exhibit at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC in 2017. (A link to that artwork can be found here. Note that the dimensions of these paintings are 48″ x 60″.)
The subtitle of the book is quite telling: A Theology of Making. What we have in these 150 pages is a nonlinear exploration of the topic. His interests are wide-ranging, interacting with other thinkers like T.S. Eliot. N.T. Wright, C.S. Lewis, and even farmers who “fix the soil.”
In his chapter called “The Journey to the New Through Christ’s Tears” (a meditation on John 11–12), he writes the following on pages 107-108:
Artists, by being sensitive to the world around them, also feel deeply the wounds and agony of life along with its explosive potential. . . . Artists are the conduits of life, articulating what all of us are surely sensing but may not have the capacity to express.
But having said that, we should not regard the arts as having only utilitarian value. The arts are use-less but a great gift, and therefore indispensable.
Let me repeat his sentence, “Articulating what all of us are surely sensing but may not have that capacity to express.” That is why you have been given the gift of writing. To express those things that have been pressed upon you.
Years ago I challenged an author when their nonfiction writing felt sterile–at arms-length. I said, “There is something missing in your work. You.” He replied, “But it hurts too much to go there.” A poignant observation of the life of a writer.
How many of you weep while writing? The novelist feels their character’s pain. The memoirist recalls the struggles of the past. All while trying to express the inexpressible.
As I wrote these last three paragraphs I realized what happened. Makato Fujimura’s book made me think. To think about art and faith and why we do what we do.
Hopefully, this book can help you do the same.
Terri L Gillespie
This is exciting! Just ordered the book. Thanks for the info and recommendation.
Kristen Joy Wilks
What thought-provoking words. Yes, as Monk would say, “It is a blessing and a curse.” There can be incredible pain in writing honestly, but you have communicated once you have done so. That is a victory in and of itself. This challenged me to think back to the last time I wept while writing. It was a few weeks ago when I was working on a blog post sparked by an encounter with a homeless man. He couldn’t look up from his sign to take the help I offered. His predicament was heartbreaking and he was all of us at one time or another. Perhaps what makes us writers is noticing these moments for what they are. Glimpses into our own souls as we seek and flee from God. Glimpses of ourselves.
I don’t weep while I’m writing,
and don’t think that I should;
my words are not enlightening,
and often not too good.
Emotion’s not my stock in trade,
nor something to explore;
that is just how I am made,
and I don’t ask for more,
for God’s made many others
sensitive and brighter,
and he gave me my druthers,
to be an alley fighter
who saves up all his golden tears
for when he’s run flat out of beers.
Steve, you said, “Makato Fujimura’s book made me think.”
This seems to me to be the major goal of writing. To convey information or to entertain for an afternoon is wonderful. But to enable someone to ponder over the meaning of their life and work is a gift. It is what I aspire to.
Andrew just now asked for our prayers this morning. He had a bad fall yesterday, and it’s worse than he first thought. Many thanks to all who pray for him here! He treasures them all.
Thank you for sharing, Carol. I’m praying for Andrew.
Terri L Gillespie
Carol, haven’t seen much of Andrew on the social media. How is he?
Steve, your article made me think. I went to my basement and returned with a bundle of canvases. Abstract art might be the perfect companion for my memoir. While reliving painful events can bring a multitude of emotions to the surface, applying those emotions in a physical way might help the process.
Thank you for this beautifully written piece.
Peggy Rychwa/Sheryl Marcoux
When I studied Humanities in college, the emotive impact of the arts struck me. Especially when the arts are layered. For example, a composition of poetry plus music plus visual arts (a music video) has a compounded emotional effect. Try listening only to TV and notice the music background behind the dialog. And then open your eyes and observe the visual effects as well. The music is almost subliminal. The arts are a powerful tool in influencing culture.
Thank you for posting about Makamoto Fujimura. Lots to think about
Thanks for the reccomendation. This is definitely going on my Book Wish List!
Wow! that is almost all I can say, but alas as a writer and a painter, I must say more. The question now is, should I paint my thoughts or write them? But first, I want to thank you for this exquisite inspiration of both mediums. While I began at the early age of nine showing interest in both writing and painting, a great part of it has been devoted to the visual medium. Yet along the way, whether painting or writing, I’ve occasionally had the blessing of special inspirations that could have only come from my Lord. Each time one has come, it has manifested in a way or style so different than my own usual one. And each time, there was a drive that came from within that with an urgency and wouldn’t let go until the piece was finished. Seeing another artist express the inborn creative gene that could only come from our infinite creator, is very affirming to any and all creative types and needs to be encouraged to the fullest extent when it is done skillfully and passionately to the glory of God the Father and master artist.