Culture Care: Filling Up the Longing for Beauty

Our first summer living on this country hill, the budget was tight and luxuries were few.  I had planted a garden that seemed huge to me at the time, and a friend, intending to surprise me, weeded the entire plot as a generous gift from the heart.  How could she have known that those random shoots between the green beans would have become marigolds or that the tomato plants had been interspersed with a potential forest of sunflowers?  Reading Culture Care by Makoto Fujimura explained for me the long ago disappointment and the deep sense of loss that clouded my gratitude to that well-meaning friend:  those flower seeds had been planted just for joy.  To me, they had represented hope and beauty in a world that ran almost exclusively toward practicality.

Our common lives become far too common when we fail to carve out a space for beauty.  Makoto argues effectively that when we starve our souls in pursuit of our “living,” we lose sight of our own nature as creative beings, made in the image of a Creator God who calls us to lives of fruitfulness and beauty.  Working from insights gained in his calling as an artist, the author invites his readers into the generative life, which is “fruitful, originat[es] new life, [and] . . . draws on creativity to bring into being something fresh and life giving.”  Throughout the book, he lays out numerous principles that define the generative approach to life on this planet:

  1.  First, a genesis moment grabs the attention and renews a conviction, challenging us to make decisions in keeping with creativity and growth.  Just as failure and disappointment entered the narrative arc of the biblical Genesis, it may also play a key role in our own personal genesis moments.
  2. Generosity is the fuel that drives generative thinking.  A mindset of scarcity squelches creativity and leads to small, cramped living.
  3. The knowledge that all believers are stewards of culture leads us to create a welcoming climate for creativity and to care for the contributions of others so that future generations can thrive.
  4. Art is a gift – not a commodity.  In his work with the International Arts Movement, Fujimura works to contribute to this type of reimagining, inviting others into the new paradigm that culture is “not a territory to win, but a garden to tend to, an ecosystem to steward.”
  5. There is value to work that is done in secret for the pleasure and development of the artist — even if no one else ever sees or appreciates it.

Artists fulfill the crucial role of “border-stalkers,” living on the edges of various groups – sometimes in the space between – and carrying news back to the tribe.  Like bees who pollinate far and wide, those who assume cultural leadership ensure flourishing.  Christ, of course, was the ultimate Border-Stalker, creating in love, sidling up against all the borders with a light that would not be extinguished.  When we narrow our categories (and our eyes) at artists who are Christian but who refuse to reduce Christ to a mere adjective, we diminish the mystery of Christ in our attempts to keep the Spirit inside our boundaries and away from the margins where border-stalkers are most needed.

As a mum who has spent that past decade or more schlepping children to piano lessons, play practices, and band rehearsals, I nearly stood on my chair as I read Makoto’s thoughts on the deeply necessary role that art education plays in the development of people who are “fully human.”

“Dana Gioia has rightly said that we ‘do not provide arts education to create more artists, though that is a byproduct.  The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.”  We provide arts education so that we can have better teachers, doctors, engineers, mothers, and fathers.  Arts are not a luxury but a path to educate the whole individual toward thriving.  They are needed simply because a civilization cannot be a civilization without the arts.”

Culture Care employs multiple metaphors to convey the connection between generative practice in everyday life and the enhancement and preservation of culture.  Is a cultural greenhouse what we should strive for, or is that too sheltered?  Would a garden concept with wise planning and limited scope be more likely to foster work that is both sustainable and generative?   An estuary with its diverse and abundant ecosystems conjures images of some artists functioning as the “oysters,” rooted and filtering their surroundings, improving the environment for all; others are are more like salmon, following a pattern of life-giving migration and, perhaps, leaving the estuary for good at some point.

Makoto veers from principles to practicality by sharing his own story of inviting his supporters to invest in his career rather than merely purchasing his art.  He does not use his considerable skills with a brush to paint an unrealistically positive view of the calling to serve ones gift, but, instead, introduces a gritty path to success that he calls “rehumanized capitalism.”  In order to start a movement or survive as an artist, three types of capital are necessary:

  • Creative capital — The artist with talent and skill
  • Social capital — An influencer such as a church leader or community organizer
  • Material capital — An individual with means or access to supportive business contacts

Wouldn’t it be lovely if, once again, the church could become an environment in which partnerships such as this could thrive?  Tim Keller, former pastor from New York City, laments the tragedy that “the church is no longer where the masses come to know the Creator of beauty.”  We are called to a life of nurturing and rejuvenating creativity, a work of cultivation which requires new eyes enlightened by a new heart.  If it is our desire to make caring for souls a way of life, Makoto Fujimura offers an outline for life-giving practices that will enable us to honor God and embody the gospel while, at the same time, cultivating the creativity that is at the heart of what it means to be fully human.

//

This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

32 thoughts on “Culture Care: Filling Up the Longing for Beauty”

  1. Oh, your poor friend. (And you!) I’m sure she was so happy in meaning well and anticipating your pleasure and gratitude! My older brother, when little, did exactly the same thing with my dad’s effortfully-planted vegetable seedlings, after seeing my mum weeding… and he still hasn’t been allowed to forget about it.

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    1. Oh, your poor brother. I didn’t mention my friend’s mistake to her — she would have been mortified. At the time, I wondered even why it was so disappointing to me. Just a few seeds after all. Makoto’s book underscored for me the importance of beauty in our every day lives.

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  2. This – “There is value to work that is done in secret for the pleasure and development of the artist — even if no one else ever sees or appreciates it.”

    A topic near and dear to my heart. Having been an outlier all of my life, I settled early on to just do it anyway, my art du jour. Championing that I’ve never let an opportunity pass to infuse others with that philosophy. Thus my children and theirs know full well my stand on art – if you think it is, it is, whether anyone else gets it or not – do it anyway. Create something from nothing for no other reason than it ought to be thus adding up and adding to. 🙂 Now I’m going to try to figure out how to repost this on The Facebook.

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    1. Yes, I’ve seen some of your creative genius at work in words and in images, and you bless me every time — so I’m grateful that you share at least SOME of what your up to. Thanks for being there to encourage!

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  3. YES, YES, YES! I love this! So much!

    First this: “Our common lives become far too common when we fail to carve out a space for beauty.” How often do I forget beauty in my life? Even when I try to focus on gratitude I forget beauty. And now that I read these words I realized how parched I am for it. Thank you for waking me up to my dehydration!

    And the role of art, oh how true! How much schools and parents need to understand the importance of art. That it’s not a once a week extra-curricular…it is an inspiration to all that comes after.

    And where artists live….well, I’ve never once used the word artist to describe myself. But I realize that I am by reading your description. I am a creative…one who creates with words and longs to bring beauty and truth to others. Thank you for the revelation!

    I really enjoyed your perspective on this book. It leaves me longing for beauty and art in my everyday ordinary!

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    1. I feel a bit tentative about using the word “artist” too, Becky, but I know that God has put His creative stamp on all of us. We manifest it in different ways. And that longing for beauty — I’m feeling it even as I dig around in my spring flower beds!

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    1. I like it when you visit! We’re heading in your direction for Easter (but only as far as Delaware), so we’re going to get fast forward view of spring as we drive south. It will be good to have time away from all the routine to focus on family and the celebration of Easter with friends.

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  4. Dear Michele,
    Being a gardener at heart, I love the thought of viewing our culture through the lens of gardening. What a grace-filled life we could live if we kept our eyes open to see God’s careful planting of beauty all around us! Thank you for your own words of beauty in sharing this review with us. Blessings to you in this Resurrection-Beautiful week!

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    1. Glad to know that we share the gardening passion. I cleaned off my flower beds this week, and am just flummoxed by the fragile beauty of those tiny crocuses — and even the bring green of brave daffodil leaves poking up out of the ground. It all points toward God’s creative genius and the glory of new life!

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  5. I totally agree about the importance of arts education, Michele. Ballet class–hours and hours of it each week–isn’t just a fun extracurricular activity for my daughter. She is passionate about it, of course, but as her parents, we also are willing to invest considerable amounts of time and money in it because of all the good it is developing in her. As for gardening, I’m finding that going outside and photographing each type of plant as it blooms this spring isn’t just providing material for my Instagram account. 🙂 It’s feeding my soul and bringing me joy during a weightier season of life. (Oh, and I can SO imagine the feelings when you discovered your friend had accidentally pulled up all your flowers!)

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    1. Funny you should mention Instagram — I’m trying to “learn it,” and finding that the challenge of that is prompting me to take more pictures than I usually do. I’m always torn between the feeling of just wanting to soak in a view or a bit of beauty in the moment rather than trying to record things all the time. It feels as if that takes me outside the experience somehow. I’ll look you up over there!

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  6. Even the phrase “Culture Care” is artistic. Love it! 🙂 I would likely really enjoy reading this book. For too long I diminished the importance of the arts in my world, but as I’ve aged, I understand that they are more valuable than what we see at face value. “Arts are not a luxury but a path to educate the whole individual toward thriving.” Yes.

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  7. Flowers planted just for the JOY! Oh, Michele, I SO get that! I am missing spring on the Coast with all that dark dirt that gave way to endless glory at this season. Not many garden in this mountain zone. And the elk take advantage of our hankerings for beauty…
    I’m hoping you might clarify the significance of the ‘border-stalker’. I feel like I’m missing the point of this paragraph especially in relation to Christians and the arts?
    So much of what is celebrated locally as ‘art’, with ‘artists in residence’ and so-on is absurd, not lovely, not meaningful, (or only so in the most obscurely worded ways) and is lauded only in an elite circle of ‘gala’ gallery opening events…(not unlike the crowd extolling the emperor’s new clothes). I have to wonder if it isn’t that in dismissing the Ultimate Role Model of Creativity, man has come up with some pretty empty ‘creativity’, which misses the mark as real art. Or maybe it is just a reflection of empty souls who have not yet found the Beauty of their Savior.
    This book looked like quite the solid read. Thanks for digesting it here!
    My soul needs to create, so I hear some of what he’s saying…In progress at present, a zany baby quilt, and watercolor dabbling just because Easter demands it!

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    1. We’ve already put a salad bar out in a have-a-heart trap for the woodchuck who stalks the borders of our property, but he’s not the guy that Makoto had in mind. His concept comes from the Old English term used in Beowulf: “mearcstapas” which refers to individuals who lived on the edges of their groups, going in and out, “bring news back to their tribes.” Cultural leadership, a commitment to art, creativity is uncomfortable in that way, and he compares the role to Strider (are you a Tolkein fan?) who seemed shadowy and unapproachable but ended up being a guide and protector.
      I appreciate your reference to “art” as opposed to art. Makoto differentiates between artists who “generatively” as opposed to “transgressively” –meaning their in it for the shock value or the momentary thrill of fame or to monetize their product. There are some great quotes in the book about this but I can’t find them tonight.
      I’m glad you asked about these things because I try to keep my reviews under 1,000 words (knowing that most of my readers have socks to sort and hamburger to thaw for supper), but there’s no reason why we can’t be verbose in the comments!
      I’ve picked up from your family posts that there’s lots going on in the creative realm, including some fine drawing/sketching, as I recall. Blogging and teaching get most of my creative juices, and I still try to send some in the direction of my kids, even though all of them are too old now to really believe that the leprechauns visit us in the wee sma’ hours of March 17th and play pranks or to want rhymed scavenger hunts for their birthdays. We had a couple of days this week when the temps reached the 70’s so I’ve been uncovering the crocuses and snowdrops and coaxing the daffodils’ leaves out of hiding. So much beauty in every season. Wishing you a joyous celebration of the resurrection!

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  8. I loved this post as an artist. It also reminded me to ask you…would you be willing to provide a guest interview on my upcoming blog series “Meeting God in the Garden”? If so, send me an email and I will email you a list of questions on April 18. Thanks Michele!

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  9. This sounds great. Beauty and creativity are so important, and I agree arts education is crucial. It should not be seen as an optional extra. Music in particular has contributed so much to my life that I can’t imagine where I’d be without it.

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  10. Michele,
    I believe that the arts were/are some of God’s ultimately creative creations…as one who plays the piano and who was once a dancer in days gone by, I can think of no better way to full out worship God than to express my love through music and movement. Oh what a dull world it would be without the “border stalkers”!!
    Blessings to you this Easter,
    Bev xx

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m all about finding the beauty … I think God is, too, or why would He go to the trouble of painting the skies every morning and evening? 😉

    You always review such interesting books!

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  12. What a fascinating approach to the topic of the arts. Love it! Thanks for linking on Amanda’s Books and More. Wishing you a blessed Easter weekend.

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  13. Michele – I love his thinking along these lines and especially #2 Generosity is the fuel that drives generative thinking. A mindset of scarcity squelches creativity and leads to small, cramped living. This is so very true. and Oh, nam your poor firned mush have felt heartsick after she learned you had planted those “weeds” intentionally and were not really weeds at all but beautfil flowers and veggies.
    thanks for sharing your post this week at #TuneInThursday

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  14. This sounds like a perfect book for me. I’m glad I had the chance to read this and learn about it. Thanks for linking up to #fridayfrivolity! Xx

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  15. I can tell this book really resonated with you! I love the passion that comes through in your review. Thanks for sharing this post at Booknificent Thursday on Mommynificent.com this week!
    Tina

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