Tag Archives: art

Book Review: Portrait Revolution: Inspiration from Around the World for Creating Art in Multiple Mediums and Styles, by Julia L. Kay

Portrait RevolutionPortrait Revolution: Inspiration from Around the World for Creating Art in Multiple Mediums and Styles by Julia L. Kay is a beautiful and inspiring journey into the what, why, and how of portrait making through the mind’s eye of artists around the world. Wonderfully organized according to media, style, and theme, most of the book presents portrait samples of the same person as rendered by different artists. Every portrait includes subject, artist, medium, and size (when applicable), but many include notes by the artist—a brief explanation of the image or insight into method. The book concludes with featured artists and a helpful collage of quotes by included artists on portrait making.

While many may stumble upon this up at a bookstore, flip through its pages to see what he or she does and does not like, and then put it down—let’s be honest, not all of the included portraits are going to be aesthetically pleasing to all—Kay has included text for a reason. Read it! While I did not enjoy a great many of the portraits, I did enjoy hearing from the artists themselves, which caused me to think more deeply about how I might interpret a portrait in different ways. I learned.

Kudos to Kay and all contributors. I’ve been inspired to do more portraits and, perhaps, even look into finding interest from other artists in my area who may want to start up our own “portrait party.”


*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: Sense and Spirituality: The Arts and Spiritual Formation, by James McCullough

Sense and SpiritualityJames McCullough recently received his PhD from St. Andrews, and Sense and Spirituality: The Arts and Spiritual Formation comes out of his dissertation (“Aesthesis and Ascesis: The Relationship between the Arts and Spiritual Formation,” 2013). The notes, “This book began its life as a doctoral dissertation, and … has undergone extensive editing and rewriting in order to make it readable and indeed palatable for a general audience” (xvii); however, McCullough states that this work “submits itself for approval and approbation…first and foremost, to the growing body of scholars and practitioners in the field of theological aesthetics” and “[s]econdly…to those in practical theology” (xv). I’m not certain that it has indeed been reworked for a “general audience”; it maintains the form, function, and readability of an academic thesis, not something one would generally pick up at a bookstore if interested in the arts and spiritual formation. However, not having read the actual dissertation, I am unable to compare and contrast notable differences and distinctions that may prove beneficial in determining which may be the most helpful for the intended theologian reader: the dissertation or Sense and Spirituality. For what it’s worth, given the brevity and lack of depth in “Part II: Practical Application,” it is my assumption that the dissertation would be the better route.

Part I: Theoretical Framework
McCullough simplifies “aesthesis and ascesis” into “sense and spirituality,” stating that his agenda is “to explore how skills in sensory perception with those related to ascetical development or spiritual formation, and how this dialectical relationship can be mediated, enhanced, or catalyzed through encounters with the arts” (9). The thesis is belabored and restated a number of times (academic filler material), but this is an important discussion to be had. How does art catalyze sense and spirituality “aimed toward progressive spiritual growth” (45)? McCullough takes roughly fifty pages to get to the point of trying to define art (craft, content, and context [Figure 03, p. 43]) and stating—in my own oversimplification—something that is quite well-known: the more one understands art, the more one may appreciate art, as well as the more one may gain from art. In this context, the gain intended is spiritual growth.

Part II: Practical Application
McCullough provides three examples in an attempt to demonstrate a practical application of his thesis: poetry (Four Quartets, T. S, Eliot), painting (The Four Holy Gospels, Makoto Fujimura), and music (Seven Last Words from the Cross, James MacMillan). Each of these is briefly discussed according to its craft, content, and context. The author writes, “I do not wish to write full-blown commentaries on these works, but something more akin to liner notes for a record album” (62), which is a shame because they do not, in my opinion, provide adequate commentary to qualify as examples of practical application of the original thesis (the chapter on Eliot provides only a hint of spirituality and does not appear to connect the reader with enough evidence to support its inclusion, though the subject matter itself certainly would if given greater attention; Fujimura’s is the most connected of the three, providing decent commentary on the purpose, method, and meaning behind the project, though the black and white images in a paperback do not help the reader; and MacMillan’s is, I believe, a poor example to use because of the tradition within which the music is composed, already easily recognized as “sacred” music intended for spiritual growth, meaning that the example appears to be stating the obvious). His conclusion, with which I concur: “Art is an irreducible amalgam of what is said and how it is said, to the point that they are inseparable” (101, emphasis original).

Part III: Conclusion
This “Part” is only five pages, restating and concluding in the tradition of this type of writing.


Truthfully, there’s some helpful material here despite its redundancy and what has already been noted concerning its practical application; however, much more work needs to be done in order to make it more accessible for a general audience. I’m now more interested in what the dissertation may have to offer.

Book Review: Q&A a Day for Creatives: 365 Questions, 4 Years, 1,460 Sketches: 4-Year Journal, by Potter Style

Q&A a Day for CreativesPotter Style, known for their interesting journals and quirky books related to games and literature, present their latest: Q&A a Day for Creatives, a four-year journal of a sketch-a-day with short bits of inspiration. Here’s how it’s laid out: Every page follows the solar calendar and contains an inspirational text and four 3.75”x3.75” (roughly) squares with “20_ _” in the bottom-left corner of each square. The idea is that one may begin anywhere in the calendar (say, the day you buy it), jot down the rest of the year in the first square (“2015”), read the text (September 15 reads, “What if you had to wear a disguise today? Picture it here.”), sketch whatever comes to mind, and repeat for four years, each year seeing those previous while sketching in the next square. (If you’re as curious as I am, you’ll quickly find that there is a page for February 29 with four squares. I say just fill them all in on that special day!) It’s certainly a neat idea to break up your day with a fresh idea and sketch to keep the brain going and seeing how one changes through the years. I like the idea, and I’m interested in seeing what comes from continued use.

With all that in mind, I’m a little disappointed in the paper used in this book intended for creative sketching. Crayons and colored pencil may do well, and graphite is fine on most paper but often smudges onto the opposite page. Any liquids (e.g., water color, pen & ink, etc.) should be avoided since the paper is too thin. Even using a normal felt or ballpoint pen is going to show through the other side if it doesn’t outright bleed through. So, keep this in mind if you’re looking for something to really have fun with. I’m probably going to stick with a simple, gel ink, ballpoint pen throughout.


*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: Culture Care, by Makoto Fujimura

Culture CareI’m proud to have been a part of the Kickstarter effort to launch Makoto Fujimura’s Culture Care. This is a much-needed work for artists of all kinds to encourage, facilitate, and bring about a beautiful, healthy, and generative culture. Though artists in the typical sense of the word will find it especially insightful and motivating, Fujimura here expands the definition of an artist to the creativity found within us all as image bearers of our creator, thereby necessarily including businessmen, janitors, and all walks of life as equal participants in the cultivation of culture’s soil.

Mako powerfully and explicitly states, “I am not a Christian artist. I am a Christian, yes, and an artist. I dare not treat the powerful presence of Christ in my life as an adjective” (65). We create because it’s who we are, and we glorify God in all we do. In a commercially driven society that creates a thing and then the soon-to-follow “Christian” version of the thing, we’re all too sucked into marketing in a sacred vs. secular divide. A painting does not need to contain a cross to be “Christian,” nor a song mention any part of the gospel to be called the same; in fact, we don’t even need this adjectival language! If it glorifies God, it is beautiful and that for which we strive in caring of and for culture through creativity and artistic expression. When left in the hands of commercialization, art becomes something else, a mere commodity that is cheapened on so many levels. When “gifted” to the world for the sake of others—for the sake of glorifying God—then artists (of all kinds) will do more than fill an order, get a check to pay a bill, or simply please a customer: they rightfully care for their culture.

Weaving scripture throughout the text, Mako does anything but ignore our rooting in Christ as the motivation for Culture Care (both as title and concept), but writes and argues in such a way that should be convincing and convicting for believers and nonbelievers alike in working toward better cultivation. Though nowhere stated as a goal and purpose of the work, I see many artists discovering a window into our creator, the author of their gifts and talents, through Culture Care. I highly recommend it for all formal artists, those desiring such, and those who simply want to better understand how they are or are not positively, creatively, and lastingly impacting their culture.

Thanks for this one, Mako. It’s pulling me back into my artistic roots, and with healthy motivation. Blessings to you and yours on the farm—keep digging and cultivating all types of soil.

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.