“Our culture is broken and needs care to be restored to wholeness.” declares internationally renowned painter Makoto Fujimura. Culture Care is this artist’s deep and dense manifesto, written to provide “a necessary conceptual framework and the beginnings of practical responses to repair that rift.”
Fujimura asks that we begin with the attitude of “a loving servant toward culture rather than treating it as territory to be won.”1 He then explains how his own journey towards cultural stewardship and nurture began when his wife, Judy, brought home a bouquet of flowers at a time in their early married life when they were struggling to pay rent and eat. Her response to his accusation of waste was “We need to feed our souls, too.”2
The connective power of beauty
Judy had chosen that bouquet to reconnect with beauty, and more deeply with what makes us fully human. Her generous act became generative, a catalyst of creative life and growth in her home and Fujimura’s studio, and the seed of soul care not only for himself, but in his heart for the nurture of society and culture.3
Fujimura invests several chapters stating American culture’s degenerative problems of utilitarian pragmatism, commercialism and authoritarianism that sap our love of life and beauty. He then proposes the antidote of “generative thinking” where “the reality of beauty can help integrate … fragmentation.”4
“Beauty points beyond itself, beyond survival to satisfaction … When we encounter beauty, we want to slow down and partake of it’s refreshment, to let it reorient us to our deepest longings and reconnect us to our deepest selves.”5
Fujimura points out that our universal connection to beauty can better connect us to one another.
The bridge-building potential within artists
Artists, who are often marginalized from systems of power, whether political or religious, can become bridges between the bubble communities of philosophical and doctrinal sameness from which they are marginalized. He explains “Artists are instinctively uncomfortable in homogenous groups, and in ‘border-stalking’ we have a role that both addresses the reality of fragmentation and also offers a fitting means by which artists can help people from all our many and divided cultural tribes to learn to appreciate the margins, lower barriers to understanding and communication, and start to defuse the culture wars.”6 As border-stalkers, artists have the potential to “be reconcilers of division and fragmentation. They can release great generatively and flourishing.”7
To strengthen our generative potential, Fujimura recommends forming artist communities where we can encourage one another towards creative thriving and cultural leadership from the margins with support and training. He references the character Aragorn or Strider in Lord of the Rings, an exile who was trained by a community of rangers who received their training and support from one another and the elves.7
Empathy, that ability to see the different perspectives of others, is also a common trait of the border-stalking artist. And with empathy comes the desire for justice. Fujimura states that generative thinking is not limited to the appreciation of beauty, but also includes a desire to create flourishing for all humans. Artists can and should lead from these generative desires. “Connecting justice with beauty is essential,” Fujimura says. Artists “are leaders by the sheer fact of their awareness and observation.”8
Artists who desire to care for culture have the observation, awareness and empathy needed to build bridges and become a positive generative force to repair the social fragmentation around us. Part 2 of my book review will address how we can strengthen one another by flourishing in cultural estuaries, in order to repair and care for our culture.
Further reading “From Culture Wars to Culture Care” blogpost by Makoto Fujimura