Truth obscured: YDS students reflect on Makoto Fujimura’s work
"How do you speak about beauty, truth, and goodness?" asked the artist Makoto Fujimura in his sermon to the Yale Divinity School community last month. "How do you do that in a culture in which all these things seem to be waning or rejected?" These questions, pertinent to Fujimura’s work as an artist and a Christian, found a meaningful home in the Sterling Divinity Quadrangle where Fujimura’s exhibition The Four Holy Gospels and the Golden Sea is on display in the Institute for Sacred Music Gallery of Sacred Art until March 8.
The exhibit is comprised of Fujimura’s new series of large canvases including "Walking on Water" and "Golden Sea," as well as The Four Holy Gospels, a body of paintings commissioned by Crossway Publishing to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of the King James Bible. This visual interaction with scripture, including a series of illuminated letters for each chapter in the four gospels, allowed students to think about the connection between the visual arts and their theological education. "Anything that breathes new life into the scriptures," remarked Lauren Smith '14 M.A.R., "which I think this work is doing, can speak to people, reach people in a different way."
"I think that the arts are an underutilized part of the church," said Jordan Trumble '15 M.Div. at the exhibition’s artist reception on January 17, "Being at Yale, especially with the Institute of Sacred Music here, I’ve had the chance to be exposed to more art in the context of worship and theology in thinking about my faith and the church. What I’m learning is that art offers a fresh expression of faith that has helped to nuance my understanding of faith and theology, and helped me learn how other people understand God.
Other students saw a relationship between theology and the creative process itself. "I think when human beings, who are creations of God, in turn create on our own, there’s something really full circle about that," said Meredith Day ’15 M.Div. "There’s something really meaningful about how as human beings we can worship through those means."
The opportunity for students to interact with Fujimura’s artwork was not limited to a gallery setting. Students were given a chance to think about the connection between the visual arts and liturgical worship when several of Fujimura’s paintings were incorporated into a worship service at Marquand Chapel. "It was very interesting when [Associate Dean for Marquand Chapel] Maggi Dawn incorporated looking at the art as a form of prayer," said Mark Koyama '15 M.Div., "I think that certainly there should be room for such kind of liturgical developments; it would be a great development for the church."
Koyama praised the way the medium was handled in that setting, adding, "We associate church, as such, with performance arts such as music, but the way we integrated the art that’s in this gallery today in our worship service was very thoughtfully done."
Other students considered the value of art as a mode of theological and contemplative questioning. "As we open ourselves up to art, art opens us up to ourselves, and questions or insights that have been obscured can come to the surface." said Joel Avery '15 M.Div. "An encounter with art can allow us to articulate what concerns us, which we may not previously have known as a concern."
The opportunity art creates to communicate that which often seems incommunicable, and to listen to that which seems opaque is a theme that reoccurred in Fujimura’s own words. In his sermon in Marquand, Fujimura drew a profound connection between the parables of Jesus and visual beauty, a relationship relating to understanding. He paraphrases C.S. Lewis and explains, "The principle of understanding something is to humbly stand under it — to let the work speak to you."
The Four Gospels and the Holy Sea is being presented by the Yale Institute for Sacred Music. For more details about viewing the exhibition, click here.