Posting a friends Post

Hey All,

I noticed it has been months since my last post, therefore I extend my apologies. I have several ideas in the works and will be posting them in the near future. In the meantime, I thought I would share a post from a colleague and friend. Mako Fujimura is someone whom I have tremendous love and respect for and count him a very important friend in my life. His recent essay for the BioLogos Forum is one of he best pieces I have read from him yet…and he has written  a bunch of great stuff.

Make note of where he argues art falls in the warp and woof of human life and thought—and in this case in science. This is why I persuade people to include the act of creativity—art—in their everyday lives. This is why art is of inestimable importance to the world, the Church, and God’s desire for this world right now in this moment in history. Art is not more important than anything else, but it just might be more important right now in history.

Click here for Mako’s essay.

Our Facebook Page

If you were not aware of this before we’d like to let you know that we have a Facebook page.

Click here for our Facebook page.

I post quite often onto that site because it is a primary way I keep in touch with friends. Much of the stuff I post there is art related or where the art and the sacred cross or simply fun stuff from a moment in our daily lives. We’d love to have you subscribe to that site. We are so grateful for your interest in what God is doing through the Beautiful.

Peace,

Kirk & Sarah

Bird and Key

General update from Bird&Key

Hey All,
I had hoped to do a more extensive piece on some things I have been thinking on lately, but having a paper due on Wednesday coupled with holiday activities curbed that notion for now.

I will tell you WHAT I have been thinking about lately, and I hope to write some things on both these subjects in the future. I have been reading a book on “evangelism” during my devotional times of late and it has caused me to think more on that subject…a subject that is quite “taboo” in our culture. So I have been formulating a “defense” of sorts, on evangelism. I don’t want to give a defense strictly from the Bible because even a cursory reading of the Bible does a good job of defending itself in that. I want to focus in on the humanity of persuasion….or evangelism…or proselytizing. We hate those words, but I would argue that they are closely united to what it means to be human – perhaps that is why they are hated so much. Frankly we “evangelize” every where, all the time…we just don’t admit it.

The other area I have been thinking about is related to the series of talks I have been listening to done by Malcolm Guite on the Inklings…

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The Place of Beauty: A historical and theological observation – Part 6

Gravity & Grace by Makoto Fujimura

For the last few weeks I have explored the idea of Beauty as related to the Church and the art world. We looked at a definition as well as the source of Beauty, and I argued for a dialogue to be opened between the Church and the art world that would be mutually beneficial. But is there an actual visible expression of this kind of dialogue? Is there a place where theology and art meet? These “diametrically opposed” ideas, one conservative, the other liberal, can they live in harmony? Is there a practical example of an art that is both obedient and transgressive at the same time?

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The Place of Beauty: A historical and theological observation – part 3

Head of Christ by George Rouault (1939)

What is significant about the art world’s rediscovery of and the church’s growing interest in Beauty? First, I think it is indicative of human nature. As human beings we long to experience good – particularly beautiful—things in life. The initial paragraph of Father Thomas Dubay’s book, The Evidential Power of Beautysays this:

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The Place of Beauty: A historical and theological observation – part 2


“Regarding Beauty” conference cover

As a result of this self diagnosed lack of beauty, the art world began to hold conferences and seminars that addressed the topic (SEE Fuglie). Others, including Danto, wrote of the subject of beauty. However, there seemed to be a lack of integrity to their content. It wasn’t that what they were saying wasn’t true, but—after almost a century of usurping traditional views of beauty—the art world lacked the vocabulary to articulate that which was lost. Fuglie summarizes this well:

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The place of Beauty: A historical and theological observation – part 1

Nude Descending a Staircase No.2, by Marcel Duchamp, 1912


For the last two decades there has been growing interest in the arts within the protestant church. The voices of artists who are Christians from a Protestant tradition have been present in the 20th century through such persons as Hans Rookmaaker, Francis Schaeffer, Nicholas Woltersdorf, and the like.[1] But it has only been in the
last 20 years that those voices have become more apparent. In fact the increased interest in the arts by the Church has gotten to the point where the questions are progressing from “What is art?” and “Is it important?” to “Who are artists?”[2]

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I’ll use Rocks

The other day a friend told me that the governor of Kansas was shutting down all arts programing for the entire state. You would have thought – from the tone of the statement – that the arts were dying or dead in the Jayhawk state. This kind of thing is not the only time I’ve heard of this happening – for the last four years since our “Great Recession” started in 2007 arts funding seems to have been a victim of scarce finances. I remember having discussions with some of my art friends at the start of the recession lamenting the fact that art programs would be the first to go. It appears we were right.

In 2005 I accompanied my friend, painter Makoto Fujimura to Washington DC to an event specifically designed to connect high income business people with artists in order to stimulate a culture of patronage. Simply put we were inviting the money holders to invest in beauty by supporting artists. During the day-long event, Mako was part of a panel discussion. At one point, a question was posed, “What would an artist do with $10,000 and what would they do with $1,000,000?” I will never forget his answer – to this day it still haunts me and I quote it often where appropriate. After a nervous laugh he said, “In many ways, for an artist $10,000 is too much, and $1,000,000 is not enough.” Frankly, I don’t remember anything else he said at the point and I certainly couldn’t come close to recalling what the other panel participants stated – nothing else needed to be said.

We have to remember at times that there is a difference between art and beauty, between the created thing and creativity itself. These pairs are tied very closely together, but they are not identical. We must remember that art and the created thing are not as important as beauty and creativity.

Our current economic climate is a case in point. All the governments of the world, every corporation and school district could decide tomorrow to defund their arts programs; every penny could be removed from artistic programs everywhere but beauty would not be touched – creativity would remain unmoved.

Why?

Beauty and creativity transcend the paltry functions of cultural structures. They are not dependent on the temporal or the fleeting. If they were, then all of us who are artists or involved in the arts ought to find a favorite seat in our nearest pubs and pickle our livers until we die.

Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica wrote that beauty must include three qualities: “…integrity or completeness – since things that lack something are thereby ugly; right proportion or harmony; and brightness – we call things bright in colour beautiful.[1] Many have used Thomas’ three characteristics not only as a way to think about beauty but also as a defense of the importance of beauty for a human being and society in general. Afterall, one doesn’t want to be an incomplete human being. A person wouldn’t want to be out of proportion in their personal life and in the warp and woof of existing cultural institutions. As for brightness – Robert Barron – in his book The Strangest Way – writes of how we need to escape our “taupe existence” – human beings need to avoid a dull life. But some have forgotten the context of Thomas’ characteristics of beauty.

Comeliness or beauty bears a resemblance to the properties of the Son. Beauty must include three qualities; integrity or completeness – since things that lack something are thereby ugly; right proportion or harmony; and brightness – we call things bright in colour beautiful. Integrity is like the Son’s property, because he is a Son who in himself has the Father’s nature truly and fully…Right proportion is consonant with what is proper to the Son inasmuch as he is the express Image of the Father; thus we notice that any image is called beautiful if it represents a thing, even an ugly thing, faithfully…Brightness coincides with what is proper to the Son as he is the Word, the light and splendour of the mind (my emphasis).[2]

Is it surprising that Thomas’ context was the carpenter from Nazareth, the Son of God, Jesus?

This analysis of beauty is why Mako can answer the money question the way he did. Monetary amounts matter little when beauty and creativity endure transcendently – and for him they are embodied in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Elaine Scarry once wrote, “What is beautiful is in league with what is true because truth abides in the immortal sphere.”[3] Therefore, according to Scarry’s logic, beauty is also immortal – it will last forever. In the Christian tradition, Jesus is now immortal after his resurrection from the dead – that is both true and beautiful.

You may not agree with me – that beauty and creativity are embodied and sourced in Jesus of Nazareth – you would not be alone in that belief, and I respect that. However, the issue still remains for you regarding the transcendence of beauty and creativity. Where does it reside for you? How you answer will affect how you respond to the increase or decrease of monetary resources in arts programs in national and local levels. If beauty and creativity are not transcendent, then the money would be the only thing that matters and losing $10,000 would be just as unsettling as gaining $1,000,000.

CS Lewis addressed a similar issue in his sermon on “Learning in Wartime”. At the time the issue was martial, not monetary. Should one even bother with learning and education when a war rages and people are dying? The defunding of arts programs falls far short of the death of a human being but the tension is the same. What is the point of pursuing beauty when no one seems to care – and their lack of regard is exhibited by the removal of money? Lewis opened his talk and summarized brilliantly:

A University is a society for the pursuit of learning. As students, you will be expected to make yourselves, or to start making yourselves, in to what the Middle Ages called clerks: into philosophers, scientists, scholars, critics, or historians. And at first sight this seems to be an odd thing to do during a great war. What is the use of beginning a task which we have so little chance of finishing? Or, even if we ourselves should happen not to be interrupted by death or military service, why should we — indeed how can we — continue to take an interest in these placid occupations when the lives of our friends and the liberties of Europe are in the balance? Is it not like fiddling while Rome burns?[4]

We are in a similar situation, and we should learn from Lewis’ reasoning. Why should we still pursue good and beautiful things in times of difficulty? Lewis answers:

If you attempted, in either case, to suspend your whole intellectual and aesthetic activity, you would only succeed in substituting a worse cultural life for a better. You are not, in fact, going to read nothing…if you don’t read good books you will read bad ones. If you don’t go on thinking rationally, you will think irrationally. If you reject aesthetic satisfactions you will fall into sensual satisfactions.

Difficulty does not give society permission to pursue bad art or no art at all; in fact hard times demand more beauty – whether in life or art.

With the loss of financial support from public institutions we ought to approach these times as an opportunity to strive for beauty and it’s objects – poems, screenplays, sculptures, paintings, etc – to thrive in the hands of both gifted and (as most of us are) common creators. Whether we participate in this or not makes no difference. If we ceased creating due to hopelessness it would matter little. In this visible world our lives would diminish in beauty a bit but the unalterable transcendence of Beauty would remain and eventually rear its head like a phoenix from the ashes.

Von Balthasar described Beauty as being closely united to her two sisters Truth and Goodness. He warned that Beauty would not be long separated from her siblings. In fact, she in her exile would take both Truth and Goodness with her in an act of what he called “mysterious vengeance”. A world that scorns Beauty eventually does the same to the True and the Good. Von Balthasar later states that those who lose Beauty are not only unable to pray, but also unable to love.

If Beauty is dependent on an institution’s resources then it is easily lost. But if it is dependent on some transcendent principle, or as I argue here – God, then no amount of an institutions resources matter. They certainly can help – as we have seen over the last several decades – but they ultimately aren’t needed by an eternal Beauty because by definition an eternal Beauty is infinitely resourced.

So I say to you artists, and supporters of the arts to pursue Beauty. When they take away your money – paint! When they tell you it’s useless – sculpt! Use whatever is at hand to create beauty because it IS worth the effort.

As I wrote this essay I am reminded of that passage in the Christian Bible where Jesus in his last days was entering Jerusalem and greeted by throngs of admirers chanting his name and yelling “Glory to God in the Highest!!!” – everyone seemed to favor him. Yet there was a group of leaders there who reprimanded him for the ostentatious display of praise directed at him. It was too much, they said. They wanted the admiration taken away and they told him so.

His reply? “I’ll use rocks.”

Peace,
Kirk & Sarah


[1] Aquinas, Thomas. transl, O’Brien, T.C, Summa Theologiae, New York, NY, 1976, p133

[2] Aquinas, Thomas. transl, O’Brien, T.C, Summa Theologiae, New York, NY, 1976, p133

[3] In her book On Beauty and Being Just

[4] CS Lewis’ “Learning in Wartime” can be found in any copy The Weight of Glory.

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