Review: Culture Care

Makoto Fujimura, Peter Edman (Editor), Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for our Common Life, International Arts Movement and the Fujimura Institute, 2015, 124. pps., $25.00 / £17.28.

In his book Culture Care, Makoto Fujimura (artist, arts-advocate, and co-founder of International Arts Movement) advances his claim that our culture is broken and in need of intentional, particular care to be restored. Drawing on the tenets and grammar of the Creation Care movement and the practices of Soul Care , Fujimura offers both a conceptual framework and practical applications meant to inspire people to become servants of culture, bringing their generative gifts to bear on a culture that desperately needs them.

Fujimura envisions ‘Culture Care’ as any activity that provides ‘care for our culture’s “soul” . . . so that reminders of beauty—both ephemeral and enduring—are present in even the harshest environments.’ The defining characteristic of this kind of care is generativity—one might also say fruitfulness or the potential to catalyse further beauty, goodness, and flourishing. He proceeds to explore and define the concept of generativity through three G’s: genesis moments, generosity, and generational thinking. The three G’s characterize generativity because they point to a reality where freshness and growth are potential in every moment, where life and creativity are gratuitous gifts that we must steward and share, and where we can create work that endures for future generations through conversations with the past.

CultureCare_Book_Cover-3-e1415647236500Artists have this generative capacity due to their unique position in the cultural margins that allows them to function as mearcstapas, an Old-English word used in Beowulf that is translated ‘border-stalkers’. The artist often lives on the fringes of culture, which gives her the power to serve as a missionary of beauty, awakening the heart’s longing for abundant life—for flourishing within the shelter of God’s love. In many ways, Fujimura’s work is an attempt to reclaim beauty in our culture because beauty and its pursuit are food for the soul. Our souls need food in order to flourish in the face of a dehumanizing, utilitarian pragmatism that tells us art and beauty are not practical and ought to give way to the ‘more useful’ scientific disciplines.

Using a broad net to draw on diverse examples from literature, poetry, music, and painting Fujimura directs readers to the presence of beauty across diverse artistic mediums and shows that it is the beauty that matters, not the medium; however, each medium gives expression to unique visions of beauty that can restore health to culture. This diversity of medium is a key component to the thriving culture Fujimura likens to an estuary where salt and fresh water meet to form a complex, diverse, and challenging environment where everything works together for mutual flourishing. For the whole to flourish, artists must play their part in the ecosystem. As Fujimura writes,

A healthy and thriving culture is impossible without the participation of artists and other leaders who are educated intellectually, trained experientially, formed spiritually, and growing morally. Beauty is both a goal and a catalyst for each of these elements.

But ultimately, Fujimura’s vision is not just for artists, but for churches and communities to ‘reflect a long-term nurture of culture that is beautiful, truthful, and full of goodness.’ He wants us to recognize the Spirit, whose presence generates beauty, at work within the walls of our churches and without. So Fujimura’s call is for artists of all stripes, Christian or non-Christian, to strive for beauty because in doing so they can breathe life into culture and open a way for human flourishing. And we, whether artists ourselves or just those who value culture, cannot stay forever within the walls of our churches. We must venture out as those who know and love the source of all beauty. We must play our part in the thriving diversity of the estuary. In other words,

It is time for followers of Christ to let Christ be the noun in our lives, to let our whole being ooze out like a painter’s colors with the splendor and the mystery of Christ, the inexhaustible beauty that draws people in. It is time to follow the Spirit into the margins and outside the doors of the church.

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