22 Sep

Fujimura, Hibbs, & Siedell: Abstraction, immanence, & the cultural landscape

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Eve Ruotsinoja
Published: 09/22/14

Artist, philosopher, and art historian in trialogue concerning the Western visual tradition's tension between self-expression, transcendence, and this material world.

“We pollute the cultural landscape with irresponsible expressions in the name of progress and call them freedom of speech. Thus, our cultural landscape is increasingly uninhabitable. If we cannot dwell inside the imaginative landscape of what is offered, then what is the purpose of creativity?”

— Makoto Fujimura, quoted in Thomas Hibbs, Soliloquies

“[T]he enduring Romantic conception of the artist as involved principally in self-expression combines with the assumption that worthy art is always engaged in novel forms of protest against established order. This results in the perception of art as negative, parasitic, and ephemeral.”

— Thomas Hibbs, Soliloquies

“The Western pictorial tradition reveals an obsession with transcendence, a nervous discontentment with the material world, and a desire to paint through to the absolute, the sublime—to achieve union with the Divine, to soar to the sun on wings of wax, or to live on in posterity, like Achilles, through heroic defiance. . . . Fujimura finds this urge attractive and useful.
“Rothko and Newman embody discontentment, the urge to find the transcendent. The ambition of this project often puts the modern artist at odds with his audience. Rothko observed that it is a risky business to send a painting out into the world, which certainly is true for an artist whose project is to achieve transcendence, touch the ineffable; a mere mortal viewer of flesh and blood is all too often an obstacle. Newman declared that the modern artist's role is not to stop making cathedrals, but to make them out of his own inner experience, his own feeling.”

— Daniel Siedell, “Makoto Fujimura, Golden Sea, and the Poetry of Loving Your Neighbor,” in Golden Sea monograph.

“[Fujimura] cites Rothko and Gorky as influences whose use of abstraction was an honest attempt to ‘grapple’ with ‘invisible reality.’ Yet he remains concerned about the way abstraction can become a kind of gnosticism that repudiates or neglects the material conditions of art.”

— Thomas Hibbs, Soliloquies

“Fujimura is fond of the gospels’ presentation of a woman . . . who pours a jar of perfume onto Jesus's feet—an indulgent, useless act and a waste of valuable resources that could be given to the poor. It is here, in the prodigality of the offering, that he finds the vocation of the artist.
“Oswald Bayer reminds us, following Martin Luther, that faith turns us toward creation, as creation returns to us as a gift and a promise (Martin Luther’s Theology, 95-120). Moreover, creation and the creature are the very means by which God, through the Word, gives life, creates faith, as Johann George Hamann puts it, ‘to the creature through the creature.’ Theology, as Luther never tired of emphasizing, does not begin in the heights, but in the depths, in the radical immanence of creation itself.”

— Daniel Siedell, "Makoto Fujimura, Golden Sea, and the Poetry of Loving Your Neighbor"