The Ten Commandments for Artists

By Makoto Fujimura

The Ten Commandments for Artists, computer simulation image

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 time.

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 color.

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 Arnold
"Cursed is every one who placeth his hope in man." St. Augustine: On the Christian Conflict(1).

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 this commandment.

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 and content.

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 past.

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 content.

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 commandment.

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 works.

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 parents.

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 neighbor.

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 strict sense.

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, p. 162
(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. 47
(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, 1008
(11)The New Merriam-Webster Dictionary, "Entertainment"

Copyright Makoto Fujimura. Used by permission.

More essays by Makoto Fujimura...