Online Conversation | Culture Care: Mending to Make New
with Makoto Fujimura
On Friday, August 7th 2020 we welcomed renowned artist and author Makoto Fujimura. Mako shares about the Japanese artistic tradition of Kintsugi which prioritizes beholding broken pieces of pottery before repairing them to create something new. He helped us consider how this season of breaking, and the repair that will be required in its aftermath, is part of a beautiful journey rather than something to be discarded or disguised, and how we can work to mend the fractures of our time to prepare the soil of culture for the next generation.
The painting is Bohemian Landscape with Mount Milešovka by Caspar David Friedrich, 1808.
The song is Lullabying by John Barry, performed by the English Chamber Orchestra.
Special thanks to this event’s sponsors:
Mike and Julie Brenan
Transcript of “Culture Care: Mending to Make New”
with Makoto Fujimura
Cherie Harder: I’m particularly excited to welcome our guest today, a renowned artist and a provocative thinker whose work offers a new way of thinking about beauty, healing, and flourishing. In contrast to the culture war paradigm that frames so much of our public engagement—the air of menace that clouds our politics and the intent to dominate and humiliate that drives so much of our social media interactions—our guest today offers a radically different perspective. The culture is not a battle to be won, nor a territory to be seized, but rather a garden to be cultivated, and that properly caring for culture requires not a war plan, but the nourishment of creativity, community, and connection and the generation of new forms of beauty. It’s a fascinating and enticing vision, and it’s hard to imagine a more creative or thoughtful advocate for it than our guest today, Makoto Fujimura. Makoto is an internationally renowned visual artist, author, and arts advocate whose lavishly textured and pigmented works are exhibited in museums and galleries all around the world. He’s the founder of the international arts movement now called I Am Culture Care and has served for many years as a presidential appointee to the National Council of the National Endowment for the Arts. He’s also an author whose various works include Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture, Culture Care, Silence and Beauty, which won the Aldersgate Prize, and his forthcoming work due out in January, Art + Faith: A Theology of Making. Last but certainly not least, I’m very proud to say he is also a senior fellow of the Trinity Forum. Mako, welcome.
Makoto Fujimura: Great to be here, Cherie.
Cherie Harder: It’s great to have you here. And Mako, I understand that hearty congratulations are in order. You recently got engaged.
Makoto Fujimura: Yes. And as we celebrate your new marriage which I’m happy to congratulate you as well.
Cherie Harder: Well, thank you. Love is breaking out everywhere.
Makoto Fujimura: I know. In just this COVID time, you know, you almost have to recalibrate everything. The relationship is so important today, more than ever.
Cherie Harder: Absolutely. Well, hearty congrats and best wishes. We look forward to hearing more about it. So, I wanted to ask you, you’re considered a master of the art of Nihonga, in which pulverized minerals and pigments are used to make a work of art that’s notably layered and textured. But, in several of your recent works, you’ve also discussed the ancient Japanese tradition of Kintsugi as both sort of an illustration and a metaphor for not just repairing what’s broken, but really coming up with a new creation that’s even more beautiful, valuable, and complex. As we get started, can you just explain the process of both Nihonga and Kintsugi and its meaning to you?
Makoto Fujimura: Sure. I’m here in my Princeton studio where I’m doing most of my work now. I used to go back and forth between Pasadena and here. Right now that’s difficult. So my fellows are using—Fujimura Fellows—are using the studio in Pasadena, and they’re doing really good work. So, I’m excited about it. Part of my practice has been to use the ancient way of mixing pigments—mineral pigments like azurite and malachite—directly by hand and creating your own paint, basically 17th-century-style of painting that the Japanese refined. And as you can see in the back, some of the works using gold and silver, platinum, oyster shell, and so forth. It’s a refractive surface that gets layered and layered sometimes over 80 to 100 times before I start. So it’s a slow process. I call it slow art. And, part of that slowing down is connected to culture care and the aesthetics that, in a way, resists the fast-paced time that we live in.
Makoto Fujimura: Kintsugi comes out of this tradition in a way. Kintsugi came from China into Korea into Japan. But in Japan, in part of the history of tea ceremony, it began to take its own art aesthetic. [Holds up broken cup mended with gold.] And Sen no Rikyū, the tea master of 16th-century Japan, came up with these refined ways of cultivating unique, distinctive, Japanese aesthetic. Many of you have heard of the term wabi-sabi [beauty in imperfection], but those terms comes from his aesthetic. And so when his disciples, after Rikyū, actually resisted dictatorial powers, so Japan—the consolidated Japan of late-16th century. Rikyū, the tea master, kind of created this whole hidden way of preserving beauty and preserving humanity, basically in a time of war and time of dictatorial oppressors. And that was the Japanese art of tea, which influenced so many other Japanese forms. And so Rikyū is literally the father of Japanese aesthetics.
Makoto Fujimura: His disciples, when they took this form of repairing broken ceramics with lacquer—used to be stapled back together—they developed this technique of Kintsugi. ‘Kin’ is gold; ‘sugi’ is mending. And, significantly Kintsugi can also mean passing it down to several generations. They were literally talking about three or four generations of tea masters that developed this form of mending into its own style of aesthetics. To the extent that now the Kintsugi bowl is far more valuable than the original because the time that it took for families of Kintsugi masters to first hold on to the fragments—they don’t mend it right away, apparently; they keep it for several generations. And the story of this cup would have been told—this is a 400-year-old cup [holds up cup]—that was mended by Masao Nakamura, who I worked with in Tokyo. He has taken the fragments and created this tree of gold. [Gestures to branching seams of gold in the cup.] You can see kind of this river inside and intentionally sometimes accentuating the fracture and the fissures. So, instead of patching it together, fixing it into perfected form. Western understanding of perfection is to get it back as if nothing happened. But the Japanese aesthetic flowing down from Rikyū use the fractures and the fissures that that have remained. I have a chapter in my new book, Theology of Making called “Kintsugi Theology” because this is the theology, I believe, of the new creation. Christ’s wounds are still with him in post-resurrection glory. And therefore we can assume that all that we go through, even the fractures that we go through, remain in some way to glorify. And in fact, they may create some parts of the new creation. We don’t understand this fully, but it is a mystery that is worth thinking about, especially if you are involved in creating like I do as an artist.
Cherie Harder: So you mentioned slow art, and I’ve heard you say before that when a Kintsugi master begins work, he actually takes time to behold and sort of consider the broken pieces before beginning the process of making. Why is a period of beholding or reflection important before the remaking begins?
Makoto Fujimura: We started Kintsugi Academy under the Fujimura Institute and Culture Care Creative, a company that we launched last June. And Kintsugi Academy is a partnership with Kunio Nakamura in Tokyo, and making Kintsugi technique available for anybody to practice. It used to be Kintsugi was a secret tradition in Japan. Lacquer is notoriously difficult to use because it’s made from poison sumac. So a lot of people are allergic to it and it takes over a year to dry. It has to dry in the moisture of Japan as well. So it’s a very difficult technique to master. But Nakamura made this. He wanted to make this available to even children to practice. After 3/11, the tsunami disaster in 2011, he kept on going up to northern Japan where the devastation was happening. And these children orphaned in elementary schools camping out. And he wanted to go and bring this practice of Kintsugi because he felt that it would lead to healing.
So going back to the fragments: he considers it the highest craft to not fix the fragments. In fact, when he starts the workshop, he tells us—we had several workshops here in the US—and he says, “Well, you came to fix your bowl, the broken thing that you brought in. We’re not here to do that.” And people are like, what? You know? But he said, “We’re going to instead mend. We’re going to instead look at the fragments as beautiful on their own.” It’s a profound moment when we realize that in a drive to get back to normal today, to try to fix things in our Western mindset, trying to make it right, that there is a tradition that actually values and holds on to the fragments and even the trauma of what that symbolizes. A trauma counselor was involved in our first workshop in Pasadena. And she said to me—and we have a wonderful interview of her talking about this—but she said, you know, I spend six months trying to help clients who’ve been traumatized to understand that they cannot fix their trauma. Once you understand that, then the therapy can begin because you can mend to make new. She was doing Kontsugi; she said this is the perfect way for anybody to understand their past. And if you’re dealing with fractures of your own life, as you’re doing Kontsugi, it can remind you of your own fractures. And if you learn to behold that without trying to fix it, that is an entry into a new creation. New healing. So Kontsugi has profound impact, I think, especially for today. And Masao and I were speaking about post-pandemic realities, where everybody is going to be rushed getting back to normal. But, you know, perhaps Kontsugi is a better metaphor to consider.
Cherie Harder: You know, I’d love to explore that a little bit more in that I know that in many ways your own work has in some ways been an effort at imaginative repair and imaginative healing. You’ve written about your experience before, being trapped underground during 9/11 while the Twin Towers essentially crumbled and collapsed above you. And you wrote once, and I thought this was really fascinating—I’m just going to read your own words to you: “As an artist, I know that our imagination gives us many generative ways to deal with the past. It matters what we do with these remembered images. The imagination can cause hatred to expand or create empathy. It can forgive or be hardened to remain bitter. It can rewire how we view ourselves and our world.” How did you use your own sense of imagination to create beauty and cultivate empathy and essentially make art out of brokenness?
Makoto Fujimura: It’s a journey that I’m continuing to be on, but I realized that that is like two paths that we can go on. And we can be an anxiety-filled, fear-filled reality facing Ground Zero, worried. I mean, I literally had this choice every day as I came home. Do I respond with fear and, you know, like trying to preserve my territory the best I can to preserve my family? Or is this an opportunity to understand myself and my own brokenness better and to identify that this is—we call it a Ground Zero, but there are many ground zeros in the world. We are fortunate that New York can get back, you know, to rebuild. Many places can’t. So how does that help me to understand them, people who are suffering under those conditions? How do I look back in history, look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki through Ground Zero and understand my own heritage and understand art that can come out of those traumas. Obviously Kintsugi has a lot to do with that.
Makoto Fujimura: But more than that, even back then when I was working with pulverized pigments, where you really smash minerals, beautiful rocks, in order to create paint that I can layer and create refracted surfaces. These minerals have to be pulverized in order to be used to be made beautiful. And I felt like that was the process that I was going through. I’m being pulverized and yet God has plans to make something beautiful out of it. That is Grace. I don’t think it’s anything that I came up with. It’s just meditation on Ground Zero every day and realizing that the ashes that are beneath me, the lives lost, they are literally part of my life now. I have to make something out of them or be consumed by fear. And, you know, I can escape from it, and that’s surely one of the ways that people try to deal with their traumas. But as trauma counselors know, that is not going to work. We have to face that Ground Zero of our lives and be able to create through them.
Makoto Fujimura: And that is a lesson—when I began to write my books and when—actually, you know, the reason why I think I know you well is because I was appointed to be on the National Council on the Arts with Dana Gioia as the chair. But part of that came about because I started to do projects on Ground Zero specifically to help other artists to create, to think generatively about what they do. And I needed a community to exercise my faith with. And many of these were not people who go to churches, but they were fellow artists that I spent a lot of time with. So that journey has brought me to this current practice of coming into the studio with intentionality to deal with the fractures directly, as a Kintsugi master does. Behold the fragments, understand my own lack, let’s say, and then be able to even see the light through the cracks so that I can begin to create into them.
Cherie Harder: You know, Mako, I’ll never forget the first time I saw one of your paintings. It was in Dana’s office. I had gone to visit Dana Gioia when he was the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and he had one of your paintings over his desk.
Makoto Fujimura: He changed the walls so he could put it up, it was so sweet of him.
Cherie Harder: It was so unique and visually arresting. And I said, “Tell me about that.” There’s definitely something quite unique that goes on in your paintings. You know, when you interact with folks such as myself who can only draw a straight line with difficulty, who don’t have that gift for the visual arts in the same way, how do you encourage people to sort of think imaginatively about mending, making new, or new creation? Pouring gold into the fissures, in a way.
Makoto Fujimura: Yeah. So first of all, imagination is a word that’s been—especially in Christian circles— is suspect. We say “you’re imagining things,” and yet Dr. Ellen Davis, at Duke, a biblical scholar, says the best way to translate when the Bible says “heart”—you know, our hearts—is to use the English word “imagination.” So our heart needs to be sanctified, biblically speaking, but that means we are sanctifying imagination. When you think about that, you realize how the church has not done a good job of cultivating imagination. We have fought culture wars and created fear out of, you know, important things, but they are ever so shrinking territories of culture that we are fighting over. And let’s say that’s important to do, but we have not done almost anything to cultivate imagination toward the New. So for me, this word is not just important because I’m an artist, but it’s important because of the process of creating the future. Dr. King’s speech will not be a speech without the imaginative vision that he cast. “I have a dream.” That is the work of imagination to create the future.
Makoto Fujimura: So this is this is extremely important politically; it’s extremely important—you know, vision is a critical part of leadership. And so in a lot of ways, anybody who is an entrepreneur or CEO of a company understands that you cannot keep going status quo. You have to anticipate the new. But what is the type of education that cultivates that sense of risk-taking, failing many times as artists do, and then continuing to generate something out of those? That skill set is something that we need to understand in business, in leadership, in all affairs. Artists have a lot to say about this. Now, artists have been kind of pushed aside. That’s kind of a nice thing to do when we have money, you know, but we don’t realize how fundamental it is to be a human being, to be a thriving community. We have to have imaginators who can create something for everyone to partake. And so, therefore, I think everybody has a responsibility, stewardship, to imagination. Even if you are not an artist, it is part of our education, it is part of—certainly to me—part of our faith. We cannot have faith without imagination. Now, that in itself is a statement that people will push back on because they think faith is a rational decision. But when you really think about it, when you really process even that person’s faith, you can’t separate that rational reason from the imaginative envisioning of what that means. So those are things that I write about in my new book.
Cherie Harder: That’s great. So you mentioned earlier culture warring. And I think it’s fair to say that many would consider culture warring to be the dominant form of our public engagement and perhaps particularly evangelical public engagement. And, you know, there is a fear that you mentioned that without a willingness to fight, important ground will be lost, whether it’s in terms of policies that are hostile to religious liberty or family policy or other social and moral issues. And I think proponents of a culture war would argue, understandably, that what happens in the public square has real world impact, that people are hurt by bad policies and by cultural ground lost. Are you at all concerned that turning from fighting culture wars to tending gardens will in any way constitute a surrender to those with an agenda at odds with the convictions of our faith?
Makoto Fujimura: Yeah, so I live in Princeton, and I have a garden outside the studio. Princeton was a battleground, right, and this is where the war was fought. So there is time for war. I’m not a pacifist in that sense. But what we’ve done, though, is different from what George Washington was doing. What we’ve done is to assume a scarcity environment and assume that the only way that we can protect our land, or territory of culture, is to fight, is to basically demonize the other side. So let’s say you’re tending a patch of land to cultivate tomatoes, as we do in New Jersey soil. And your neighbor completely disagrees with you. He or she has different viewpoints and yet you’re cultivating the same plant. Now, by demonizing the other side, fighting culture wars, is to poison the other soil so that their tomatoes can’t grow. We think that’s dangerous, that is suspect, so we have been poisoning the land. The problem is, if you are successful at that, your tomatoes don’t grow either because that toxin will invade the entire soil of culture.
Makoto Fujimura: So this metaphor is not a metaphor. It’s actually true. Culture is not a battleground only—at times we do have to defend. But the reality of it is that if we use atomic weapons, it’s going to destroy the very ground that we’re standing on. And we won’t be able to grow anything that we need for ourselves and our children. Now, if you listen to children, they understand this. They say—even children growing up in these conservative homes, let’s say—they understand that our battle with culture wars, when we win, we lose. Ok? So if you successfully demonize the other side and then you come to a point where you say, yeah, we won. Well, really? The next day, we’re going to be fighting for shrinking territories. We find out that our own soil has been poisoned. It’s harder to grow things, to nurture things, take care of things, and we end up losing the very ground that we were trying to defend. And so in culture wars, when we win, we lose. No one wins.
Makoto Fujimura: So when we step back and say, OK, what’s the goal? The goal is fruitfulness, right? It doesn’t really matter if a liberal atheist on the other side—if that person is growing great tomatoes, you want to you want to buy that from that person. So if the goal is fruitfulness and I submit that the church needs to look at this because, you know, the church has been for so long—and you and I are part of this—but parachurch [organizations] and churches have all these discipleship programs, right, saying that the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness and self-control. We spend so much time cultivating that in ourselves. Every year we go through kind of a program to see how we doing, but we never ask, how is our culture doing? As the communal amalgam of ourselves put together? Because that is the real test, right? It’s like, if you go to a farmer’s market, you want to get the tomatoes where there’s the longest lines, right? Is that happening when it comes to, let’s say, evangelical Christians? Is there the longest lines lining up to purchase or to take in the goods that we have created out of our own culture? That’s the real test.
Makoto Fujimura: So if you ask anybody on the streets, how is our culture doing? Is it filled with love? Is it filled with peace, is it filled with joy? Most people say no. And if you ask anybody on the streets, how are our churches doing? Chances are that they will say—and they may not be right, there are some churches that are exceptions to this—but most of the time they will say no. Instead of love, you are hateful. Instead of joy, you’re full of anxiety. Instead of peace, you’re trying to fight this culture wars and demonizing the other side. So actually the fruit is the opposite. And even if I asked Christians, especially our children, they can tell us that the fruit is not there. So there’s something wrong. And if you begin with that notion that we have largely failed to produce the fruit of the spirit in culture, to affect the culture for the Holy Spirit’s work in culture for the better, for the sake of next generation, then that’s probably a good place to begin, because then we can agree that, OK, so a culture war doesn’t work. So what does work? And that’s a different conversation. But that’s probably the good beginning point to our conversation.
Cherie Harder: Well, there’s so much more to ask you, but we’re already at the top of the hour, so we’re going to have to have you come back and address that part of the conversation there, Mako. So we’re going to turn to our questions from our audience now. And as Alissa explained, you can not only pose a question, but you can “like” others’ questions, which helps give us a sense of some of the most popular questions. So our first question, Mako, comes from Mike Brennan’s daughter, Molly, who asks, what is your take on society and culture in the context of Kintsugi when things get so broken that they need to be overhauled completely? Do you repair and show evidence of brokenness or do you just throw it out and start over?
Makoto Fujimura: Yeah. So Kintsugi aesthetic is no, you don’t throw things out just because they’re broken. The Kintsugi master will behold the fragments and sometimes don’t even mend it. And beholding the fragment gives the person a sense of connectedness with the people who made the bowl. And it could be 10,000-year-old fragments.
Makoto Fujimura: And when we think about that, when we practice every day— Actually, a Kintsugi master will go out and look for fragments, as well. It’s not just the things that break around us. He or she is looking every day for fragments and they get excited when they find something. And I feel like we have lost that sense of adventure in empathy, let’s say. We began to be very defensive and we pull back from culture saying, you know, “Well, they own the culture and we have to preserve our territory.” Well, first of all, nobody owns culture. Culture is created every day. So in your very place of work and home, you’re creating culture. You’re either creating culture or you’re consuming culture, so it’s better to create culture. Part of the family, part of the community, is that are we able to create our own, generate our own culture, rather than just consuming culture? So the fragments are actually the indication of what happened in the past and how we can begin to build off of it. So actually if you throw it out, you’re never going to get that chance. But if you study it, they would actually teach you what it means to be alive today. And these people who lived hundreds of years ago can teach us, perhaps, that there is something about this fragment that can speak into our time. And so that’s why Kintsugi theology, or Kintsugi way of living, it helps to cultivate empathy, not just for this world, you know, our generation, but from the past, and hopefully that can be projected into the future.
Cherie Harder: So our next question comes from Jenny Savage, and she quotes one of your commencement addresses where you said, “A Kintsugi master would behold the fragments of a broken bowl for a long time before mending it.” When we consider the brokenness before us, either by our own hand or that of others, what would we need to grasp before the generative imagination can see the repairs needed and beauty possible?
Makoto Fujimura: Thank you. That was from my Judson commencement address last year called “Kintsugi Generation.” And my hope is that the younger generation will be a Kintsugi generation. The younger generation grew up with bullet holes in their schools and ground zeros everywhere. And now with a pandemic, you can’t even graduate from your own school in person. And yet I think this generation will therefore have the ability to see. A friend of mine said, “2020 is 20/20.” He was saying that because we were forced to slow down and— I launched a podcast with my fellows and and one of the fellows said that God has given us a Sabbath in this pandemic. And it may be a long one. But what does that mean? What does a Sabbath do? A Sabbath is for us to literally stop doing what we’re doing and to reconsider our place before God and before the world, before nature, before each other. And if we can do that, then the opportunity that we have right now, with the frustrations and with the anxieties that we’re all experiencing, is actually unlike any other time. In certainly my generation.
I had a foretaste of this post-9/11, Ground Zero realities, where your adrenaline runs out and you’re trying to do the best you can. But so much of you is broken already and is under pressure and you’re just going through so many complex things all at once. And you’re trying to take care of children. And yet I look back to those moments and I say anything that I was able to do in faith, to create beauty, to be merciful, is the foundation in which I built my life. Those are the fruits of what I have experienced in my life. Everything else, the 9:00 to 5:00, you know, trying to pay rent and all that, was important, obviously—I’m not discounting that. But what remains is that moment that your daughter tells you—nine-year-old daughter—facing Ground Zero, tells you something that, it just felt like angels were speaking to me. Those are the things you remember.
Makoto Fujimura: So during this time of, let’s say, pulling back and repositioning ourselves, I think this is a huge opportunity for us to listen, to behold our fragments, and and to consider whatever that may be, however fractured that may be, that it is beautiful, and God sees that as beautiful. And if we have the heart that resonates with that beauty, then the new normal, whatever we face in the future, will be more empathetic. It will be more integrated. It will be far more effective in terms of creating the values that we hold dear. And so we can begin to reset everything from education, politics, everything. And so I’m actually really looking forward to that. As frustrating, as grief-filled, as our time is, this is something that I think I experienced in 9/11, and this is on a universal level now.
Cherie Harder: So the next question comes from Fritz Hienzen who asks, “Mr. Fujimura, over a decade ago, you wrote a very notable essay, “The Epistle of Vincent Van Gogh,” about the decline of reading and its significance for civic engagement, for the visual arts, using our senses, etc. Have you seen any developments that point in a positive direction, a negative direction, or are Americans still just drifting?
Makoto Fujimura: Well, that was [NEA] chairman Dana Gioia’s greatest accomplishment is the Big Read. We launched the biggest governmental program in public reading and that continues today. It survived all these years. Why? Because we need it. And especially now. Right? It’s so needed. You know, reading produces perseverance in attentiveness. And so it is literally the antidote to the fractured media that we experience in every day media. And it actually rehumanizes us. We actually found out that people who read 30 percent more likely to go hiking and go to a baseball game. We can’t do that right now, but we can go hiking. So I think that shows that reading is not just an internal attentiveness, but that leads to greater empathy, greater ways that we can interact with communities around us, people around us, to pay attention to them. And so this is fundamental actually to civilization, a group of people who are attentive and can pay attention to their hearts, their minds, their souls.
Makoto Fujimura: And so I don’t I don’t know how well we are doing. Perhaps the data would show that this time of slow-down people read more. I kind of doubt it. We’re doing more, but we’re probably not reading more. So maybe maybe we should start another Big Read, where instead of Zooming we can read or something like that.
Cherie Harder: It’s very fascinating how electronic entertainment is actually correlated with withdrawal, but reading is correlated with greater civic engagement and volunteerism.
Makoto Fujimura: Right. And depression. Right. Screen-time literally can lead to withdrawal and depression. So actually reading is an antidote to that.
Cherie Harder: So Annamarie Sinitian—Annamarie, if I have mangled your name, apologies for that—asks, “I love what you said about the stewardship of the imagination. How do we become good stewards instead of good consumers of culture, art, our imagination?”
Makoto Fujimura: A great question. I ask that question every day. And I think part of it is very simple: to observe, to look around, to be attentive. And as I said, reading does help to do that, making art. If you’re a dancer, you know your body, you have to know your body, and you can share that knowledge with others and to experience something physically that is incarnated into this beauty that you are creating. All of the art forms. But I would also say a good scientist is aware of whatever he or she is studying. And anybody good at anything is going to have something, some access to knowledge, that we don’t have. And if we mainly consume, what we’re doing is being utilitarian and we say, “I want this, so I’m going to get this, and this is how much I pay for.” What we don’t do is actually go into the factories, right? We don’t go into meat factories and watch how these animals are being prepared, right? We want to avoid that because we’re just consumers. We just want chicken, you know, but maybe we should tour and find out—good or bad. I’m not saying that meat production is all evil. But how are these precious commodities stewarded in culture?
Maybe we should go into a modern guitar factory in Pennsylvania, which I love, because I just love watching people make things. Why is Food Network so popular? Because we love watching a master chef create something, and we tend to learn something from that, even if it’s a video. And so, you know, those things are very simple things. But we are makers and we have always been makers. So let’s be makers again and allow ourselves the opportunity. And making is hard, you know; consuming is easier. So that’s part of the reason why we gravitate toward just saying we’re going to buy it on Amazon. But, you know, if we have one craft that we begin today that we know nothing about, in ten years, if you keep at it, you will be able to master that. And that’s going to give you more nourishment for your soul than just consuming whatever it is that you’re making. So those are things that I try to preach to my heart and tell others.
Cherie Harder: That’s great. So Ellen from Decatur, Georgia, says, “Thank you, Mako. Please speak to ideas around cultural appropriation, as those of us from outside the Japanese culture embrace Kintsugi and other contemplative practices from Japan. My sense is the line between appreciation and appropriation is connected to relationship and monetization. This seems especially relevant in these overdue days of heightened awareness around class, culture, race, and systemic injustices.”
Makoto Fujimura: Yeah, well, that’s a great question. And it’s interesting to study Japanese culture, which is full of cultural appropriation. There’s nothing original in Japan. It all came from China, Korea, and then the West. And they’ll refine it. They’ll take a car, a Ford, and they’ll make Toyotas out of it. So what is that aesthetic? I say that because it’s not just appropriating, but it’s refinement. Right? And so this art of refinement that we can all exercise, that actually Americans can be very good at if we put our minds to it. California wine, you know. We have the entrepreneurial reality that we can exercise to reinvent something in a new way. So I’m not too concerned about Kintsugi being misappropriated. I mean, there are enough tattoos out there with Kintsugi on it and they’re beautiful. But I would love to see everybody think through whatever they are learning. But the art of Kintsugi is certainly one of those forms that the more you do it, the more you dive in, the more you realize how deep it is. And so by practicing anything, you learn the art of that, both the history of it, the difficulties of that, but also the opportunities to make something new.
Cherie Harder: So we’ll take one more question from our viewers. David Miller asks, “Many in corporate America accent the need to be agile and fast, simply to survive, let alone thrive. Agility and speed are considered best practices. How might the visual arts such as yours help us reconsider or reframe marketplace concepts in fresh theological ways that help be imaginative about business challenges and solutions to real world problems?”
Makoto Fujimura: Wow, what a question. Maybe we should do a seminar at Princeton on that, David. Or maybe we are planning to do that. We’ve been talking about this. You know, oftentimes we don’t see that the business sector and the art sector can interact meaningfully. And, you know, I have certainly experienced as an artist, many times, because I have crazy ideas, I say these things in institution or organization, and you kind of get hammered down because you’re saying these things that are impossible. And they say, we have no budget for that. Well, an artist is used to not having any budget. OK? We start with minus and we assume that’s the normative reality. So that’s not what I’m talking about when I suggest ideas.
Makoto Fujimura: I’m on the board of my alma mater, Bucknell University, and I found out that actually, above middle management, let’s say people who are entrepreneurs or leaders or CEOs, actually appreciate crazy ideas because they need to know what’s coming. And all the risk assessment is not going to predict what happened in 2020, right. But you can indicate something that an artist can identify in that set of information. And typically, because we’re used to, institutional gravity is such that, we are trained not to see the margins. Artists can come in and see something completely different and something that’s beautiful in the complex matrix of chaotic information. And if that’s the case, then I think I don’t think it’s business sector and art sector are separate. I think actually it needs to be merged in some way to create an overlap of some kind between—at least there’s a conversation happening. And I think the resourcefulness of an artist—who assume that there is no budget for anything that we come up with and yet create something out of nothing, as it were—can provide certain type of leadership. And artists need business sector to say that “Your idea is good, but here are some of the ways that we can systematize that for the bottom line.” But the bottom line, as David and I talk about, is multiple, right. It’s not just making money. Basically the bottom line has to be the thriving of your company, thriving of your communities, thriving of what we do in order to create something new into the world. So that that’s being an artist.
Makoto Fujimura: So the artist can learn from the business sector, as I have done with David’s help, to understand the discipline of what the business structure and leadership requires, but also risk-taking that you need to chart the future for your company. And so those things can can begin to merge. And that’s very exciting to me as I think about culture care. Culture care is not just for artists, but culture care is for business sector. Culture is for political leadership to practice understanding that there are overlaps and margins that are growing every day, that it’s going to change how we view leadership in the future. So this is an area that I’m very excited about. And I’m glad David asked that question.
Makoto Fujimura: Well, thank you, Cherie, and thanks to all of you for joining us today from all over the world. Many of you artists and I want to remind you what Babette says in “Babette’s Feast,” that a great artist is never poor. Even though we might be faced with scarcity of this day and the battles that go on decimate a culture that is decimated by culture wars. But there are fresh opportunities and generative ways that we can begin to chart the future. And for those of you who don’t consider yourself an artist, I want to just remind you that knowledge that we seek and the understanding that we seek in the world has to be incarnated into reality of the body. So what I call somatic knowledge is what I talk about in Theology of Making. We can argue all day and talk about ideas. That’s important. Debate the issues that are important. But at the end of the day, if it is not fruitful—I mean, tangible fruit that brings beauty and mercy into a scarcity-ridden world—we are not really doing anything enduring.
Makoto Fujimura: So part of, I hope, my contribution as a Senior Fellow here is to help people connect between their rational understanding, the analytical, descriptive understanding, and this understanding of the heart, understanding of the body, the hands that make the things, make the bread and make the wine. And if we can connect those and create communities around that, we are going to have a fruitful, abundant future together. So I look forward to having a conversation and continued connections with people. Thank you.
Cherie Harder: Mako, thank you so much. Thank you to all of you for joining us. Have a great weekend.