The Ten Commandments for Artists
By Makoto Fujimura
The Ten Commandments for Artists, computer simulation
I wrote this paper for Dr. William Edgar's Westminster Theological Seminary class
called "Faith and the Arts."
I created the images on "The Ten Commandments" on Photoshop software. They are
my meditation into the significance of the Ten Commandments in my life and in my
art. I intend to eventually install the works in a future exhibition.
Each colored rectangular panel is in the exact dimension of the Mercy Seat of The
Ark of the Covenant as described in Exodus. "Have them make a chest of acacia
wood--two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half
high."(Exodus 25:10) In today's measurements, it is about 3 3/4 feet long and 2
1/4 feet wide and high. I used this dimension not to replicate the Ark of the
Covenant, but as a departure point for a visual dialogue.
I have repeatedly made works of these dimensions in the past. In my installation
for my mini-retrospective show at Sato Museum in Tokyo this January (see Sato Museum Image),
there are three ark-paintings placed
on the floor on the back right. This output should help the viewer to get a feel
for the scale of the works.
When I first made the wooden panels, I realized that the proportion produced a
very dynamic visual movement on its own: the dimensions of the piece alone proved
to be inspirational. Its size also communicates a physical presence: it does not
dominate nor recede, it is neither "big" nor "small," it is both imposing and
intimate. In mere dimensions and proportions, the mercy seats anticipates the
person of Christ: Christ was both imposing (God) and intimate (Man) at the same
In fact the material used to create the ark itself was symbolic; Kevin J. Conner
writes "The ark was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold within and without.
Wood speaks of His incorruptible humanity, and gold His Divinity. Two materials,
yet one ark; two natures yet one person, the God-Man."(2) The materials
symbolically point to Christ. I use gold (divinity) on paper (humanity) to
allude to Christ in all of my works.
I used this particular visual reference to the ark of the covenant because the
tablets of the law were placed within it. I am using the structure of the Mercy
Seat as the basic building block.
Although there are ten panels, I do not intend to attach any panels to a
particular commandment (some work better than others in this sense), but I made
all of the installation works relate to each other in symmetry and in
The four small square panels are from my previous series of works called "Passion
Panels." They are my visual meditations on the cross of Christ. I am
intentional in using four of them to connote the four gospels, the four winds,
the four corners of the earth.
"Be neither saint nor sophist led, but be a man." Matthew
"Cursed is every one who placeth his hope in man." St. Augustine: On the
The Ten Commandments for artists:
Summarizing The Ten Commandments:
Jesus summarized the Law of God as "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest
commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All
the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40).
All the Law of God points to our vertical relationship with God and our
horizontal relationship with our neighbors. Christ tells us that His agape Love
defines our existence and relationships; He himself lived out the Law, perfectly
fulfilling them in his life, death and resurrection.
Therefore, all Laws of God point to Christ, but with a grace orientation. The
ten Commandments begin with "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of
Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Exodus 20:2). The Lawgiver identifies Himself
as the one who brought the Israelites out from the "land of slavery," His
grace-act precedes the law, and the law is an element of a covenant, an agreement
based on a relationship established by grace.
For artists, this grace perspective frees the artist to see the gift of
expression and sensibility as coming from the Creator rather than by chance or
from the self. St. Augustine defined this dichotomy as two cities resulting from
two types of loves:
"What we see, then, is that two societies have issued from two kinds of love.
Worldly society has flowered from a selfish love which dared to despise even God,
whereas the communion of saints is rooted in a love of God that is ready to
trample on self. In a word, this latter relies on the Lord, whereas the other
boasts that it can get along by itself. The city of man seeks the praise of men,
whereas the height of glory for the other is to hear God in the witness of
conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own boasting; the other says to
God: 'Thou art my glory, thou liftest up my head.'" (3)
We need to seek to establish the City of God rather than the city of man. For
Christians, God has already freed us from the land of slavery, a place where our
gifts were used to glorify our slave-owner, namely Satan and the fallen World.
God desires for our gifts to glorify, instead, the Master of grace.
I remember, a few years before my conversion, telling a friend of mine that
"artists are trying to define God; art is their expression of God." I was right
in a limited sense; in the perspective of post-modernism, we attempt to define
our own identities and therefore God. But I had a wrong theology then: you
cannot define an infinite, absolute God. In fact, this is the point of the first
three commandments--that our attempt to define God, rather than being defined by
God are futile and dangerous.
Commandment #1--You shall have no other gods before me.
The gospel proclaims the exclusivity of God. In order for something or someone
to be absolute that means, by definition, that something or someone has no
competition. As soon as we start to define God on our own terms we are violating
Art needs to be an expression of how God defines us rather than an expression
through which we define God. We must seek and express our identity in Christ,
rather than expressing our identity in ourselves, or what the world tells us (or
even what we tell ourselves). Accountability with our brothers and sisters
through the local church is vital in understanding what our identity and calling
is. Ultimately, our gifts belong to God and Him alone.
"All my works," Picasso said "are self-portraits." Picasso was right. He painted
himself all the time; but his god was himself. All art portrays the god whom the
artist serves. In this sense, all art is "representational": it represents,
again, the God or god whom the artist serves.
Art reaches to both heaven and earth, fusing them together. If we attempt to do
this in our wisdom, the result will be a greater schism between heaven and earth.
Christ is the ultimate example of this fusing: the incarnation of Christ, the
divine becoming a man, therefore, is the greatest example in which all artists
can find inspiration. Christ's unique significance for the artist goes even
deeper than mere inspiration. I believe that He is the only true source of
inspiration available to us to learn from. Christ's incarnation resolves the
most difficult dichotomy that exists for an artist; that is the dichotomy of form
The Japanese poet Kinotsurayuki in 10th century wrote on this dichotomy in his
poem, "Ka-jitus-so-ken" which can be literally translated
"flower-form-mirroring-jointing." He meant by this that we must strive to fuse
form and content together so well that the form (words) becomes the content
(flower). Ben Shahn brought this concept home to the 20th century when he stated,
"I think that it can be said with certainty that the form which does emerge
cannot be greater than the content which went into it. For form is only the
manifestation, the shape of content."(4) Francis Schaeffer echoed this
aesthetic perspective when he said, "For those art works which are truly great,
there is a correlation between the style and the content." (5) Christ's
uniqueness lies in not just the content (divinity) but also in the form
(humanity). He was the form of all forms, the content of all contents. This
uniqueness gives an artist fundamental motivation and reason to pursue the
daunting task of bringing form and content together. The first commandment tells
the artist there is only one source, one content from which all other contents
derive. And the "manifestation, the shape of content" is Christ himself. All
art owes the unique figure of Christ a tribute; without him, we simply do not
have any model to fully meet the challenge posed by aestheticians of the ages
Conversely, this unique perspective creates an opportunity for us to depict and
exegete evil in the light of grace and the light of Christ. Evil needs to be
portrayed in a way that is true about evil. It takes artistic vision and
grace-oriented imagination to depict hell. Eric Fischl, in the recent Art in
America interview stated: "Artists connected to the church were asked to imagine
four things: what heaven was like, what hell was like and what the Garden was
like before and after the Fall. Those are four profound archetypes and they're
part of many cultures. What has happened over the centuries is that artists in
the West have become specialized. You still can find heaven painters, hell
painters, and Garden painters, but you rarely find them in the same person."(6)
Who can better depict a hell, heaven, and Garden vision than Christians who are
cognizant of Christ's grace? It is time that Christians took seriously this
calling that the world beckons for, to provide new "archetypes" that communicate
clearly and convincingly the reality of hell, heaven and the Garden.
Paul writes, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name
of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17). Exclusive commitment to God means
"practicing the presence of God" in our studios and in businesses. After my
conversion, I struggled to integrate my faith and my artistic life. I had a
major breakthough when, one day, I simply walked into a Japanese museum full of
classical Japanese masterpieces, and I asked, in frustration, "Lord, what do you
see in these paintings?" My breakthrough was not in the answers I got, but in
asking the right questions to the right person. His exclusivity and absolute
sovereignty allow us the priviledge of asking such a question in museums,
galleries and as we work. He is already there, pointing the way; in fact, he
owns all things.
Commandment #2 --You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of
anything in heaven above or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them
or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the
children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those
who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and
keep my commandments.
We must not make our art an idol, but our art must express our true identity in
Christ. There are two common idols in the art world. First is the "art for art
sake's" idol of Art. And second is the prostitution of art, which worships the
love of money. The first places art on the Altar of Art and states with Matthew
Arnold, "Be neither saint nor sophist led, but be a man."(7) Since there are
no absolutes in this view to be accountable to, we are only accountable to
ourselves. Demystification of Art to art is a crucial step in stripping
ourselves from this idol. The second goes to the other extreme of seeing art
only as a commercial vehicle, worth only its price. This idol will strip art of
its true intrinsic value--value that comes from the fact that art is a gift from
God and therefore needs to be honored.
This commandment is not prohibition of making images. Jack Crabtree states in
his useful commentary on the second commandment, "The purpose of the (second)
commandment... is not to dictate how we must represent God--forbidding us to use
symbols to represent Him--rather, it is to dictate whom we are to worship and
serve."(8) A Christian, in this context, does have tremendous freedom in style
and format through which to glorify God. Again, the question is who our audience
is, who is it we are trying to please. Art that is "representational" or art
that is "abstract" can both be done in the presence of our Savior.
In use of images for worship, we need to be careful. I believe because images
are powerful and we can very easily "bow down to them or worship them," we need
to be very careful how the representational images of Christ should be used, if
at all, in evangelism or in worship. Faith is "being certain of what we do not
see." (Hebrews 11:1). My personal belief and struggle with this issue partly
explains why I do not have figures (particularly of Christ) in my images. I
believe there is nothing wrong with a representational figure of Christ painted.
I believe that depending on the context in which the work is displayed, the work
can greatly glorify God. But I want my works to be an alternative to museums and
galleries offering their Rothko's and Picasso's with their Altar of Art.
Therefore, I want them to create a worship space inviting the viewers to God's
throne, where an encounter with the living, but invisible, God is made
accessible. On a finite level, the image of God and our encounter with God are
different for each one of us; I do not want to limit, or pre-condition, someone
from experiencing God and "seeing" Him on his or her level.
Having said that, any works done unto God can at any point turn into a
"Hezekiah's snake." Mose's snake, a work originally made for worship and
evangelism was turned into an instrument of idolatry in Hezekiah's time. There
is very little an artist can do about this apart from having a very sober view of
the importance of one's works: my works are not my works and if God chooses to
destroy them at some point, I am fine with that. I pray that God will use my
works to prepare the way for many to hear the gospel. The fruit of souls
regenerated will remain forever; my works, certainly, will not.
The problem with Christian sub-culture lies precisely in this commandment. The
kitsch and commercialism that surrounds our present day can be idolatrous. Gene
Veith states, "The self-congratulatory moralism and sentimental self-indulgence
of many Christian books and wall hangings encourage complacency rather than true
holiness. In evaluating religious art, we must keep in mind the solemn warnings
of the Ten Commandments, not only the admonition against graven images, but also
the admonition against taking the Lord's name in vain." (9)
On the other hand, an overreaction to the other extreme by avoiding anything
"Christian" is not helpful either. I was once "rebuked" by a Christian art
student for using scripture verses in my works. My answer to that was that just
as someone has the freedom not to use Bible verses in works of art, I have the
freedom to use them. I am comforted by the fact that many people who
purchase my works are not Christians. They do not see the scripture until they
are convinced that the whole piece works visually (and until they like it enough
to own it). Some, after learning that they are from the Bible, chose not to
purchase them. But some weep over the language that speaks to their hearts
(again non Christians). As long as the verses of Scripture reinforce the visual
language, they will continue to find their way into my works. After all, they
are what I am meditating on while I paint: I believe that whatever is in the
heart of an artist, will find themselves surface into the works eventually.
Commandment #3-- You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for
the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
"Misuse" of the name of the LORD is both a sin of omission and a sin of
commission (it's both what we do and what we neglect to do). That is, "using"
God's name falsely is sin, and not using God's name at all, and thereby not
identifying with Him in all that we do, is sin as well. In this sense, instead
of using the second commandment as an argument not to paint representationally,
we must represent God and communicate who He is to the world via the arts. All
of our lives and gifts belong to Him and Him alone. This does not mean we have
to say verbally "Praise God" at art openings and paint only pictures of Christ.
It does mean being willing to let people know that we know God personally and
that Christ is the greatest Friend we have ever met; and that our works are
offerings to Him.
Calvin Seerveld points out, "You cannot bludgeon
people with Christian art into accepting Jesus Christ. But neither should you
settle for just being as dispassionately good as the secular professional artist,
adding; 'I do it for Jesus, you know.' It is the crux of your task as a communal
body of fellow Christian artists to fire your art until it emits sparks that
warm, or burn, those it reaches."(10) Because we know Him, our works are forever
etched by his grace and we and our works are "different" from those around us.
This difference, however, is not necessarily in the form of art but in the
Having said that, I believe visual art communicates the message of the gospel
poorly. Art can "prepare the way of the Lord" very well, but the gospel cannot
be "preached" through art without becoming a form of propaganda. Art's purpose
should be as Ravi Zaccharias stated, "To create a longing in people's hearts, a
longing that only Christ can fulfill." The gospel needs to be preached via a
preacher's mouth by words. The gospel is a historical, redemptive message that
needs to be shared clearly and without ambiguities. Art can be "evangelistic"
only to the extent that art is coupled with preaching of the Word.
On the other hand, if we publicly acknowledge our works as "done unto the Lord,"
and thereby claim to be ambassadors of Christ, then our motives must be blameless
before God. If we are in any way "using" God to gain legitimacy and power, or
seeing God as a lucky charm to succeed, then we are guilty of breaking the third
I often have a problem with artists who say, "I don't want to comment on my works
because my works stand on their own." My problem is not with the fact that their
works should stand on their own (they should), but the attitude by which this is
delivered. In light of this commandment, communication demands increased
responsibility on the artist. We are responsible to our audience and even for
how they react. Artists cannot be any less responsible for their creation than
scientists who feel responsible for their creation of an A-bomb. We cannot, and
should not, alter or manipulate our audience's reaction to our works by "adding"
explanation. At the same time, we need to do everything we can to help
communicate the content and world-view that frames our works.
The community of believers needs to be more intentional in educating each
other in art. The gap that exists between the arts community and the church must
be bridged by God's community being more aware of the language of art, and being
part of the solution rather than being part of the problem. When we are not
being Christ's temple, His Body, we lack the power to be representing His Name to
the nations. Art often provides the language from which to speak to the nations.
Even for this simple reason, artists in a Christian community must reach out to
fellow believers to help them understand both the form and the content of their
works. Even if the artist may not be able to articulate with words issues
arising from the works, someone else in the community needs to be willing to
formulate ideas and educate others.
We are either for Him or against Him. This commandment is a sharp sword that
forces us to examine our lives and our motives in all endeavors. "He who is not
with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters" (Matthew
12:30). We cannot stay neutral to the reality of God. Trying to stay neutral
will always end in the Lord's rebuke: "So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot
nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth." (Revelation 3:16)
Commandment #4--Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days
you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the
LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or
daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien
within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the
sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the
LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
One test of whether art is an idol in your life or not is if you have the Sabbath
in your life or not. Do we worship in a community of believers on a regular
basis? Do we truly rest and listen to God's voice? If we cannot take Sundays
off, what are we doing to make sure that we have a Sabbath day? We do still need
to take the "seventh day" seriously and have regularity in the day of Sabbath.
In both family affairs and in business, we must make sure that we give our
dependents (including our pets, according to this command) a day to focus on
worshipping their Creator.
Art can be a form of giving people this pause in their lives, a "mini-Sabbath."
Art can be a true source of entertainment. Entertainment by definition is "to
treat or receive as a guest,"(11) and the scriptures commend us to "not forget
to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels
without knowing it"(Hebrews 13:2). Obviously this is different from the
trivialized version of entertainment that we are so accustomed to condemning
today. True artful entertainment prepares the way for the gospel.
When God rested on the seventh day, the rest, in the original Hebrew, meant not
"rest from" but "rest in." That is, God stopped to create, and simply stepped
back from His own creation and enjoyed it. I held an artist talk at one of my
exhibits and spoke of God's influence in both the conception and creation of my
works. Afterward, the owner of the gallery came up to me a told me "I never
stopped to reflect about show until this event. Tonight I was able to sit back
and enjoy this show, see my gallery as a gift from God and be thankful." In the
commecialization of art, we often forget to enjoy art for its intrinsic value.
Both the promoter and the artist, the maker and the viewer needs to see art as a
way to reflect and slow down.
Another way to honor the Sabbath is by contributing your gifts and energy to
worship services. We need to remember that the church is God's true masterpiece.
(Eph. 2:8-10) He is certainly more committed to working the imperfections out of
His Masterpiece than we can be toward our own works. We might even learn
something in the process from the Master and apply what we learned to our own
Commandment #5--Honor your father and your mother, so that
you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
The development of an artistic gift is often a generational process in which no
genius is born in a vacuum. Often exceptional gifts such as those of Bach and
Picasso are products of their forefathers (and foremothers) preparing the way for
them to exhibit this gift. I know for a fact that I would not have made it this
far in my career and development as an artist had it not been for parents who
encouraged me and nurtured my creativity. They were my first collectors, and
benefactors. Honoring them means that as they so sacrificially gave so I would
have the best in life, I need to honor them in my works. Specifically, this can
mean anything from making sure they are invited to all of my openings and events,
to possibly thanking them through and in my works. I often wonder if the cult of
individualism in which we find ourselves in America is very detrimental precisely
because we cannot honor the long generational influence in art and creativity.
My works belong to God, ultimately, but they are also products of my
Another side of "honoring your father and mother" is to honor the discipleship
process that God has given us. We need to be willing to be mentored by
spiritually more committed artists, to be accountable to them. We need to submit
to our leaders and mentors and ask for their help in our spiritual growth. Along
with this, I often felt that we need mentorship outside the church by a mature,
more experienced artist (not necessarily Christian). I get together with a very
established artist who is a Buddhist Jew. I have learned great facts about the
business of art in New York, and creativity in general. In return I share with
him about my faith (sometimes stepping on his toes) and he has remained a very
valuable advisor and a friend to me.
Commandment #6--You shall not murder.
Not withstanding Caravaggio, artists "murder" each other all the time. We, in
the desperate battle of creating our own identity, a unique niche, push aside
someone working in a similar vein. In competition, we "murder" someone's
reputation or name. I have noticed over the years that people are most critical
and threatened by those who have similar sensibilities. I know of artists who
hate each other because they worked in a similar vein. What a loss. They could
be benefiting from each other rather than seeing each other as threats.
On the other hand, artists "murder" us by stripping us of humanity. Both
propaganda art and "art for art's sake" art is an example of this; and yet, in
both cases, I often find that artists contradict themselves and create works of
great value in both of these genres. DeKooning's "Woman" series and Picasso's
portraits of many mistresses bring to the foreground a type of "murder" that puts
art ahead of relationships. Many of the Russian communist propaganda works do
work as art, but not because of the content. In the case of DeKooning and
Picasso, the works are valuable precisely because they depict murder. Rather
than condemning their art for its depravity, we need to realize that such
paintings depict our inner hearts. Artists candidly depicted the
condition of modernity that kills relationships and family ties.
Commandment #7--You shall not commit adultery.
We need to be as committed to personal holiness and beauty in our lives and
relationships as much as we are committed to expression of holiness and beauty in
our art. Being an artist is not an excuse for leading a life of debauchery. If
we even come close to the holiness of Christ in purity of conduct in how we honor
God in our sexuality, our business, and our service, we are sure to stand out in
the art world. That alone would do so much to upset the cart of expectation by
the world, an expectation for artists to be ruthless egomaniacs.
When an artist signs an exclusive contract with a gallery, he or she must honor
the contract and not sell works out of the studio without the consent of the
gallery. Considering your options at the end of the contract is one thing, but
ignoring your contract and moving on is a form of adultery.
Commandment #8--You shall not steal.
Are we willing to collaborate with others, sharing techniques, sharing ideas? My
art belongs to God; not to me. I believe that the advancement of art and
creativity has been greatly hindered because of the educational bias "not to
copy" someone else. At the root of this is the faulty ethic created in the
vacuum of not having God's law at the center of our lives. We learn by copying,
but we need to give credit and honor to the one whom we copied it from.
We also need to pay taxes, respecting our authorities and not stealing from the
government. Paul writes "Give everyone what you owe him: if you owe taxes, pay
taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then
honor."(Romans 13:6) In this business, "dealing under the table" and taking cash
for your works remains a temptation. We need accountablity with each other and
to our authorities so that we do not steal.
Commandment #9--You shall not give false testimony against your
Picasso once said, "Art is a lie: but a lie that tells the truth." My son, C.J.,
who was three at the time, woke up one morning and told me that an angel had come
to sit on his bed while he was asleep. Art is no more of a lie than C.J.'s
dream. Both Picasso's paintings and C.J.'s dream reveal an essence of their
world within. Picasso's "lie", in this context, is not the same as giving "false
testimony". I do not believe that paintings can break this commandment in the
For example, paintings cannot be used in a court of law to falsely accuse a
neighbor. This is one of the beauties of a painting--the ambiguity it presents
to the viewer. Evangelists, historically, never used theater or art to
communicate the gospel. The gospel needs to be proclaimed in black and white
terms with no ambiguities present. The calling of an evangelist is to present as
clearly as possible the Good News. For the same reason that a painting cannot
lie, it cannot be be the best vehicle to carry the gospel . But it can testify,
in the way that art can prepare the way for the gospel. Just like John the
Baptist, all art, not just "Christian art," can present an existential focus for
our need for Christ.
We are in a desperate need for honesty and integrity in the business of art. In
the aftermath of the 80's hype, many of the New York galleries are in deep debt.
They will sign new artists knowing that they cannot pay them if their work is
sold. Artists cannot sue them because then their reputation will be dashed by a
"reputable" gallery, and for some, even being the victim of such an outrageous
crime, they would rather show than not show.
Collector in the 80's, trusting the words of greedy gallery owners, bought
thousand of art objects which now sits in storage because they were only
purchased as investments. Art pieces should never be thought of as just an
investment. They are too valuable for that. Their worth is not in the price,
but in their purpose in God's scheme to glorify himself. This was the greatest
lie in the hype of the 80's (and today), that art is more valuable than
relationships and artists themselves.
Commandment #10--You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall
not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or
donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
One of the powers of art is the fact that art allows the artist to "break" every
single commandment without really breaking them. One can, for example, "steal"
someone's beautiful face by painting them. One can "murder" by playing the role
of a murderer in a play. But this power and beauty of art to internalize
experience is precisely the danger of art. Because we are called to follow not
the outward formality of obeying the law, but to obedience from our hearts, we
can be playing with fire by even thinking and meditating on "breaking" the
commandments. Coveting, of all the commandments, is the most difficult one to
keep (one that Paul had so much trouble with, Romans 7:7). Covetousness springs
forth from the inside more than from the outside. Even pretending, through art,
to covet is very close to coveting itself.
The only way that to avoid coveting is to covet for the right things, namely
God's kingdom. We need to long for God's kingdom and his righteousness in our
works, and in our lives. This perspective frees us from putting too lofty an
importance both our gifts as artists to our works. Because my works belong to
God, I would be coveting if I were too possessive of my own works.
On the other hand, by being jealous of gifts God has given to others, we covet.
An artist grows by finding out what you cannot do, more than recognizing what you
can do. Artists grow by accepting their own limitations. Of course, accepting
does not mean losing the commitment to stretch and push your works, even in the
area of weakness. If God calls us to labor in the area of weakness, it may be so
that he would produce substantial fruit in our lives. We need always be willing
to let God "take away" our dreams and aspirations. We must hold our gifts very
loosely. But we need to seek earnestly the fruit of the Spirit, instead.
We need to make sure that we are being called by God to be an artist, actor, etc.
Because the pitfalls are many, if we are not specifically called, and given
special grace to "not be tempted beyond what we can bear,"(1 Corinthians 10:13)
we would certainly be victims of our own trappings. One test of whether we are
called is to ask ourselves whether our fruit of the Spirit is being nurtured by
being an artist or not. If we are stealing more, murdering others and coveting
other's gifts in jealousy, walking away from the community of believers or
families because of art, then art has become an idol, rather than God's calling.
If on the other hand, the struggles of being an artist are producing more "love,
joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and
self-control"(Galatians 5:22), then we can be sure that it is God's will for us
to continue to pursue art.
I remember about three years ago I had a gallery interested in my works. I
brought my works and I was praying that God close the door if this was not the
gallery I should work with. When I got there, the gallery was closed, the door
was literally shut--it was, I remember, mid-afternoon on Friday and I know that
the gallery should have been open. I was disappointed. I heard a few months
later that the gallery had closed. I know now that God's grace did protect me
by closing that door. And by closing that door, God did nurture in me an element
of his patience. Coveting something, in our aspirations for success in art,
limits us to tunnel vision. In fact, wanting worldly success is itself the
greatest sin of coveting. Being "God's gift" to the world is never more
important than being Christ to the world, and thereby producing his Fruit of the
Spirit in our lives. Desiring to be the best artists we can be, to communicate
the core of our beings in the most precise fashion is enough of a goal. Making a
livelihood in art and thereby working hard to provide for our families is
certainly a Biblical goal. But wanting the approval of others over the approval
of God, desiring to establish one's own kingdom over spreading God's Kingdom, is
falling far short of the glory God has in mind for all of us.
(1)George Seldes, The Great Quotaions, Pocket Reference, NY, 1967. The quotes
were under "Man" and appropriately right next to each other.
(2)Kevin J. Conner, The Temple of Solomon, Bible Temple Publishing, Oregon, 1988,
(3)St. Augustine, The City of God, Image Book, New York, 1958, p.321
(4)Francis A. Schaeffer, Art & the Bible, InterVarsity Press, Illinois, 1973, p.
(5)Ben Shahn, The Shape of Content, The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures 1956-1957,
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., p. 72
(6)Art in America, November, 1996, p. 78
(7)George Seldes, The Great Quotaions, Pocket Reference, NY, 1967.p. 628
(8)Jack Crabtree, Understanding the Second Commandment, McKenzie Study Center
paper, June 1995
(9) Gene Edward Veith, Jr., State of the Arts, from Bezalel to Mapplethorpe,
Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, p. 50
(10)Calvin Seerveld, Articulate, The Journal of the Arts Centre Group, Volume 1,
(11)The New Merriam-Webster Dictionary, "Entertainment"
Copyright Makoto Fujimura.
Used by permission.
More essays by Makoto Fujimura...