Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The argument for culture care--

© 2014 Makoto Fujimura
Mineral Pigments, Sumi ink, silver, and gold on Kumohada paper
60.25 x 45.25 x 1.25 in
Private Collection
Prints are available - click here.
Frontispiece to Culture Care.

Though I've been and am still awash in away track meets, graduation ceremonies, awards nights, prom, and other festivities that pop up toward the end of a school year, I'll leave a little sheaf of quotes from my current reading. I'll be reading some more from the book while I am hanging out at the Toyota shop later in the day--it'll be a good clash of sensibilities, or maybe a
reminder of the need for repair!

The book is Makoto Fujimura's Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life, which I am spending some time with in preparation for reading at and participating in the June Culture Care Summit, sponsored by International Arts Movement and Fujimura Institute, at Cairn University in Philadephia. Here are some quotes from the part of the book that is foundational and sets up the terms of his argument for change.
In the aftermath of two World Wars, artists began to articulate the culture's dramatic loss of humanity... artists recognized the gap left by the weakening witness of the church in culture and increasingly came to see themselves as secular prophets and priests with a call to "speak the truth" against the "establishment." They intentionally isolated themselves from society and produced work aimed at shocking people into recognizing and decrying the horrors of the age. As critic Robert Hughes has noted, "the shock of the new" became a way of life in the twentieth century modernist experiment.
Artists have been pressed--sometimes willingly and sometimes not--to speak not for their own work, vision, and principles but for (usually leftist) ideologies. The implicit and explicit cultural pressures for ideological uniformity are so high that one could say that in the culture wars artists are free to express anything other than beauty.
With the exception of ideological uses, today's art has been commoditized to such an extent that we often see commerce as the prevailing goal of art, and value the arts only as transactional tools to achieve fame and thus wealth.
Why is Culture Care needed? From the perspective of the arts, it is because today, an artist cannot simply paint; a novelist cannot simply write; a pianist cannot simply play. Utilitarian pragmatism and commercialism so thoroughly pervade culture that without some shift in worldview and expectation, what we do as artists--the activities of the arts--will be neither sustainable nor generative. We will not be able to resist their use as weapons in the culture wars. 
We need to recognize our time as a genesis moment.
Order here.

I recommend it--the book is suffused with Makoto Fujimura's bright vision of a world that is generative for artists and others, a world that flourishes and produces arts that our descendants will find worthy and beautiful. As a Christian, Mako tends toward the ideas of fruitfulness and wholeness that pervade the book. It is a book for anyone who cares about the vicissitudes of culture, and where our culture is headed after Modernism and its aftershocks.


  1. Replies
    1. I am enjoying it--I knew a lot of his ideas already, and it is interesting to have them laid out in a detailed way.

  2. Oh how I wish governments were not involved at all in the promotion and support of artistic endeavors and cultural enrichment. But I guess I ought to be careful about what I wish for these days.

    1. It's certainly a tricky area to navigate, support for the arts, whether for individuals or for projects and institutions...

  3. "[W]e often see commerce as the prevailing goal of art, and value the arts only as transactional tools to achieve fame and thus wealth . . . Utilitarian pragmatism and commercialism so thoroughly pervade culture..."

    Thanks for this. I've been chatting with friends about both the art/crafty doodads I make and my search for a new full-time job, and many people think they have the perfect solution: Open an Etsy shop and sell this stuff! Almost no one assumes that I might just be making things for personal (or even, dare I say, spiritual) noncommercial reasons. I'm increasingly sensing that we believe you've "made it" when you've managed to turn your hobby into your job. Fujimura gives me a foothold as I try to understand why.

    1. Jeff, you would really like this book--and also some of Mako's essays on his website and blog...

      Mako is successful in a worldly sense and in a sense of following his own vision without deviation and pandering, but he speaks to anyone who follows art as a calling. I love that. And he sees very clearly that the state of culture is not nurturing for many in the arts, and that the obsession with worldly success is destructive.

  4. It's an interesting concept, but I'm undecided. Must read the book! Smiling. Great post and thought provoking.--it's true to a measure.

    1. Hi, Melinda--barely back from Vermont, and glad you liked the excerpts! Cheers.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.