Book Review: Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture by Makoto Fujimura

RefractionsIf you don’t know Makoto Fujimura, you should. Until recently, I didn’t even know of his existence; however, that all changed when a fellow scholar, art enthusiast, and friend, Jeremy McGinniss, invited me to join him and his students to a joint art lecture/presentation of “Qu4rtets” by painters Makoto Fujimura and Bruce Herman. It was a small, intimate setting, rather informal, and quite open to dialogue—not just Q&A. I felt an immediate connection to Fujimura as he spoke of culture and the Kingdom of God at one point and another as he described spending a long time with a painting until you begin to “see” and “under-stand” it—things that may escape casual viewing. Afterward, Fujimura and I had a couple conversations on things like visio divina, spiritual formation, and the connection between jazz and theology. It was then that I picked up Refractions in hopes that I may find it useful for students in The Jacob Institute of Christian Spiritual Formation’s Spiritual Formation Academy, founded by my good friend Jamie Overholser and for which I have been assisting in recent months and am looking to soon create a new course or two. That night I “Googled” Fujimura and discovered much more of his art and organizations of which he is a part or founded to further his passions. I recommend you do the same. Many thanks to Mako for his time, passion for art & culture, and foremost passion for “Jesus Christ, the Author of Creativity” as we journey toward shalom.


Now, on to the actual (short) review:

Fujimura paints with crushed minerals, which refract light differently than typically used inks, oils, and acrylics and age in such a way that change the way paintings look over time. Refractions is a collection of twenty-three essays spanning the course of several years, reflecting through his writing the same kind of refracting found in his painting. However, much more than painting or writing, Fujimura explains that “Refractions is . . . a whole underlying philosophical framework for creativity and life that I’ve been developing. I now realize I have been unconsciously expanding this theoretical and theological grid as I wrote these essays, not only to describe the creative process, but also to develop a communication style suited for my temperament and to advocate for community vision for the church to honor artists, and even to argue for democratic ideals” (167). Fujimura’s passions and concerns for how faith, art, and culture work together and speak into one another are evident in every essay, but even if it stopped at the first two I’d want this book on my shelf and recommend it to others. This is not a book about Fujimura’s paintings; it’s a book about experience and encouragement written with eloquence and conviction, using his own paintings for context only when necessary.

Living only three blocks from “Ground Zero” of the September 11, 2001 (9/11) terrorist attacks in New York City, several of Fujimura’s essays stem from the artistic and cultural aftermath thereof, but that of which he writes transcends those experiences and offers itself to further context and application, making such essays accessible to those who may not share the same contextual experiences. Of course, this goes for his time in Japan, China, and everything else of which he writes, taking the reader on a journey, and after having reached the shore gently pushing him or her off to continue the journey, all in the larger context of living out our faith in Jesus Christ. For those who share our faith and have any interest in art and culture, read this book. It will encourage and inspire.


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