Makoto Fujimura is a phenomenal painter and believer. He’s a Japanese writer, public speaker, painter, and devoted follower of Christ. He’s a warrior with paint whose main goal is to inspire Jesus-followers into a more authentic artistic life. He is a world-renowned master creative and a shaper of culture. He stands out as one of the most accomplished artistic followers of Christ in the modern world and, possibly, in history. In a day and age where Christians are struggling to get our voices heard in the creative world, Mako is an incredible beacon of light that we can follow.
I first discovered Mako back in 2007 when I was part of an arts ministry in Austin, Texas. We took a week and went to New York City to attend an IAM (International Arts Movement) conference. Mako took the stage the first day to welcome everyone, and I was captivated. He was intelligent. He was cultured. He was so devoted to Jesus, and his heart poured art like wells give water. He was influential and gave all glory to the Lord. He was leading other believing artists to pave the way for culture, to see what the Lord could make through His people. He challenged us to stop being led by the secular and choose, instead, to let God create through us and begin to lead the culture, not the other way around! My heart was nearly bursting within me, and I wanted to stand and shout “YES! I’m with you, Mako! Let’s change the world with art!”
And since then, he’s been someone I’ve paid attention to. I’ve been to several IAM conferences and truly value how he leads Christians to lead the world through creativity. I admire him so deeply.
Mako’s conversion story is seriously one of my favorites that I’ve heard! He was studying art in Japan and creating art in the Nihonga style, a very ancient Japanese painting method which uses materials found in the earth like ink, mineral pigments, and silk. This method has you paint with very delicate brushes. It’s incredibly beautiful and mesmerizing. As he was creating these masterful art pieces, he began to realize that he had no place in his heart that could hold such extravagant beauty. It was this longing to understand what beauty was that led him to Jesus. Wow! What a testament to creation leading people to the wonder of God. To seek Him out and to find Him!
Take a minute to listen to Mako talk more about finding Jesus in this short video:
The art and message of Mako are highly regarded in the secular arena as well as in believing communities. He bridges this gap with incredible grace and humility. He has written over eleven books, including Silence and Beauty, Refractions: A Journey of Art, Faith, and Culture, and Fallen Towers and the Art of Tea. His paintings have been shown in galleries in the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, and Katzen Arts Center in Washington, DC to just name a few.
He has a knack for helping the world understand art and beauty in relation to and sourced from our Heavenly Father while at the same time helping Christians understand how to navigate the world of art. We as believers are not called to segregate ourselves and have little Christian art shows. We are called to be the light and salt of the world. And what good is our salty art if the world never sees it?
In 1991, he created IAM (International Arts Movement) under the umbrella “Inspiring work that cares for culture.” BOOM! IAM is a “hub for connecting creative minds from all over the globe [and] is able to inspire, train and influence participants to contribute to a healthy culture.” IAM hosts conferences where artists from around the world gather to learn from one another about how to influence culture and maintain a Christ-centered focus while being relevant to current culture—which is so needed today. And these conferences are definitely worth attending. I really need to get back to NYC for one myself. If you are an artist and don’t know who Mako or IAM is, then you need to change that! Seriously.
In 2011, Makoto Fujimura created the Fujimura Institute where he “train[s] and mentor[s] apprentices in his studio process and the ancient art of Nihonga. These apprentices will help preserve traditional Japanese painting techniques as well as learn and promote the practice of imagining projects beyond a single specialty.” He designed it to be an environment of cooperation and not competition. Isn’t that just music to your ears? As artists, we are often comparing ourselves to one other. We live in competition like it’s our breakfast. But the competition does such a disservice to our art and to ourselves. It makes it so much about being better than others. We forget that other people’s art can be amazing and so can ours. Art does not have to be either/or, it can be both/and! I love that Mako is helping people see that.
The driving force behind the school is to solve an ever-growing problem in society. The Fujimura Institute’s website says: “The world rewards increasingly granular specialization, but the world’s philosophical and practical problems demand the knowledge and cooperation of experts from diverse backgrounds. Makoto Fujimura has seen this fragmentation and has endeavored, personally and through IAM, to motivate other creatives to work together to resist the alienating effects of a divisive society.”
In 2009, Crossway Publishing commissioned Fujimura to illuminate The Four Holy Gospels in their 400th Anniversary edition. This made him the first solo artist to illuminate scripture in nearly 500 years! What an astounding honor! This set in stone Fujimura’s legacy and showcased him to the world like never before. This illuminated gospel contains five large frontispieces, each for one of the gospels and one titled Charis-Kairos (The Tears of Christ), along with 89 chapter-heading letters. There are also over 140 pages with hand illuminations. In the next video, he will walk you through the process of creating this breathtaking art for the Gospels. Seeing Scripture come to life like this through art is a rarity and a great wonder to behold. I may start saving up for my own copy. No kidding.
Makoto Fujimura is a revolutionary leader that is paving the way for Christian creatives to be highly skilled in their medium. Excellence in art should be a goal for any Christ-centered creative. Mako is showing how it is possible to be relevant and recognized by the art world without losing your personal integrity or sacrificing your faith. He is an incredible teacher and powerhouse of gentle effectiveness this world desperately needs. His challenge to us all is to be better at fostering smart, relevant culture within our own lives and to use art to restore that culture. He is a man of lasting vision and true craftsmanship. The world needs you, Mako, and so do I.
Featured Image by Adrien Ledoux