Text from "Being a Child of the Creative Age"
Keynote by Makoto Fujimura, International Arts Movement's Redemptive Culture Conference, 2007, at TriBeCa Performance Center, Ground Zero.
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb.
Songs of Innocence, The Lamb, William Blake
Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame they fearful symmetry?
Songs of Experience, The Tyger, William Blake
1. Inviting Monsters into our Hearts
A child uses all of her senses to discover the world. She picks up and finds fascination with a dandelion, feels the bumpy bark of a tree, tastes the baseball, smells the fallen leaf.
If you asked a room full of kindergarteners “Raise your hand if you are an artist!” Almost every child would raise his hand. But if you ask a room full of adults, almost every adult would not. (At a conference full of artists like this, you might say we are not just a gathering of artists, but a gathering of children!)
And if you are an artist, you know you are seen as out of the main stream, as avant -garde, but you also have been treated like a misfit or patronized like a child. You struggle to find meaning and significance in that gap between the two seemingly irreconcilable worlds. “Grow up and do something useful for society!” The world seems to place in opposition pitting the Innocence against the reality of the Experience. We are caught between being able to have that curiosity, inquisitiveness and emboldened sense of discovery of a child and the reality of the “adult world”, a reality that forces us to realize that we all indeed live in fear, in a ground zero of some kind or another. In our conversation to create a world that ought to be, we must start at that zero point of devastation.
In a recent Fresh Air broadcast of Guillermo Del Toro, Terry Gross interviews the writer/director of Pan’s Labythinth. A remarkable film. Not what you would call a family film, but as a kind of Narnia for adults, it delves deeply into the mystery of redemption within the cruel setting of the Spanish civil war. Terry Gross interviewed Del Toro about his upbringing, in which his strict Catholic grandmother tried to exorcize him twice because he was drawing monsters. He was forbidden to imagine a fantasy world. That was his “ground zero.” So he grew up having to bifurcate his moral sense of duty to his family, and his growing imagination. He was lead to believe that he could not have both imagination and religion, that the two worlds could not be reconciled: so he chose to journey on the path of imagination, leaving religion behind him.
Some of us identify with Del Toro, thoroughly. We feel that the church has tried to “exorcise” us of our imagination. Del Toro states “I invited Jesus into my heart as a young child…but then I invited monsters into my heart.”
International Arts Movement exists for this type of wrestling of faith, culture and humanity. It starts with the admission that living and creating in ground zero means you live with both Jesus and monsters.
Wrestling in this way, we give ourselves permission to ask deeper questions. What if the monsters do take over? That would be a concern of parents in this room for their children. That may be our current cultural condition of fear. But, in reality, I think the situation is reversed: monsters have already taken over in reality, and the only hope we have is to imaginatively work backwards. We are to take charge of the situation, and we mediate both the sinister and the good. Just like in Pan’s Labyrinth, we need to know we have a greater inheritance waiting for us.
Some have called the 21st Century the “Creative Age.” Phil Hanes, philanthropist and arts advocate, at a recent National Council on the Arts meeting, began a discussion on how we need to prepare ourselves as a nation to address this shift. Richard Florida, Thomas Friedman, Daniel Pink and others have noted similar shifts in culture: The Information Age is behind us, and yet we, in America, are educating our children to thrive in that past. The skills and knowledge for Information Age are now outsourced, but we are ill equipped to lead in the age of imagination, the age of synthesis. While a hard term to define, The Creative Age will certainly mean one thing: we would have to reconcile living with both Jesus and monsters in our imaginative territories. We have to reconsider the artists’ role in society, in our education of our children: and we need to redefine how we see ourselves, all of us, as creative human beings who need art in our lives so that we can preserve a child’s innocence in the midst of horror and unspeakable evil, and help them to prosper and thrive in the creative age.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he exhorts us:
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
Thus, if the whole creation longs for the revealing of God’s children, we see that creativity, too, longs for some reality. Creativity longs for our “fittingness” in God’s plan of redemption. But this “frustration” causes setbacks, and birth pangs.
In Eden, Adam the poet names animals, and then discovers his need for Eve. Before the Fall, Adam’s creativity revealed his inner lack. After the Fall, then, the whole creation longs for a redeemed humanity to appear, not to return us to the Edenic state, but to move us into a better longing, for the New Creation. Our longing is not just to be restored to the fullness of our being, our longing is for the glorious freedom of the children of God and for liberation of our creativity and Creation. Our longing is for nothing less than a coronation/wedding celebration. The glorious freedom is in anticipating what that day will reveal in us and in our creativity.
2. From Being an Orphan to a Bride:
In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte’s Gothic tale, I see a (romantic) parable for us for the Creative Age. Now, I have known about Jane Eyre for a long time now, as this book had a transformative effect on Judy, my wife, when she encountered it at the age of 13. I heard from her how God filled her heart via the voice of Helen, a little girl (probably about 13) who befriends Jane in the school for orphans. Helen sows seeds of belief into then very bitter Jane. Jane had a right to be bitter, rejected by her cruel aunt who adopted her, and bullied by the new siblings; she was not only cast as an orphan, and falsely accused in the process, and some often used Biblical reasons for doing so. But Helen spoke of forgiveness and her confidence in God, even though she was treated just as unfairly, and even as she lay dying of typhoid fever, caused by less than adequate facilities at the school.
Recently, I watched with my wife the Masterpiece Theatre production of Jane Eyre, which, by the way, sadly, but typically, took out Helen’s exhortation to Jane (although I did like the casting of Ruth Wilson as Jane, and Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester). I realized, though, how this powerful story, written before the Enlightenment schism, anticipates the modern dilemma and opens new vistas. Jane Eyre is a story of an orphan who finds herself becoming a bride of inheritance, even a double inheritance. She perseveres betrayal, neglect, and abuse and breaks through class barriers. It is a parable of liberation of humanity from “our bondage to decay” to that “glorious freedom.” She is also an artist, learning to draw at the school where she was exiled as an orphan. Written in first person narrative, the depiction of her world is done via a first-rate artist’s eye. In short, if you have not read Jane Eyre, take my advice: “Beg, borrow, or steal it without delay.” Actually, I am quoting Charlotte Bronte here, speaking well of her Yorkshire native William Wilberforce.
“Beg, borrow, or steal it without delay;” she wrote, “and read the Memoir of Wilberforce,--that short record of a brief uneventful life; I shall never forget it; it is beautiful, not on account of the language in which it is written, not on account of the incidents it details, but because of the simple narrative it gives of a young talented sincere Christian."
Charlotte Bronte, consciously or unconsciously, fuses this Wilberforcian idealism into her creativity. In her novel, she makes art with the belief of liberation for all people. This is precisely why we need to be speaking about her at this conference. She incarnates our common call to “create the world that ought to be,” and speaks through Jane Eyre’s voice.
It humbles me to think that I have been married to Judy for over 20 years now, and have never read the most influential book in her life. When I told her this, she, with her typical gentleness, countered by saying “That’s why it’s so worthwhile to stay together. It may take 20 years to start to read each other’s books…we’re just getting to the good part!”
Jane Eyre is equally as patient, a plain governess who determines her path of forgiveness, choosing to love her enigmatic, brooding employer Mr. Rochester, despite his inevitable downfall. There’s quite a drama in this rich landowner conspiring to hide his past, and the disastrous path that he paves for himself. But somehow, throughout, he acknowledges Jane, an orphaned woman without glamour, a woman of intellectual and creative thirst, as his equal.
But because of Rochester’s failures, she is exiled and again abandoned, to be one without family or friends. If you know the story, she then gains the favor of a missionary suitor, St. John Rivers, who takes her in when she is at his door, in near starvation. He then discovers her to be a determined force. St. John Rivers wants to marry her to take her to India, to be a missionary although neither loves the other. Jane would tell Rochester later, her true love, trying to allay his jealousy: “He (Rivers) is good and great…but as cold as iceberg.”
I find it curious that Charlotte Bronte sensed in the early 19th century that just like St. John Rivers, the church will manifest the effects of the enlightenment: theology veering towards depicting the gospel intellectually and only as a set of facts or information, but not communicate with the heart. The church is “good and great… but as cold as iceberg.” Bronte, throughout the novel, ties in Jane’s spiritual state with her creative, artistic state. Jane is an artist, cast away by society and circumstances from her true love. And the missionary can only present a sound, rational argument why she should join him, and this without love.
This disconnect is, also exemplified in works of van Gogh, where the church is still present in the Starry Night, holding the image together visually. But the Spirit has left the church, swirling into Nature. Her lover Rochester is the emblem of that Nature, swirling in her mind as her salvation. But Rochester, once a wanton world traveler, now is haunted by dark secrets. Though initially, Nature taps into her hunger, Nature herself fails ultimately, as Rochester fails her. But even in a severe, literal hunger that Jane experiences, Bronte also paints a landscape of hope.
I was recently going through the Biblical book of Joel, which I find to be a stark reminder of the catastrophes all around us, and those to come. I had put a post-it note on Joel 2 that I had forgotten about. I wrote: “The world is 90% catastrophe, but 100% grace (not 10%). “
Theologically, the whole world, after our expulsion from Eden, is ground zero. But art can refill the world with the aroma of grace.
There’s grace at work deeply imbedded in the novel, Jane ultimately using words reminiscent of Helen to cry out to God in her wilderness. She is exiled from both the world and her lover. Meanwhile, Mr. Rochester has literally been blinded from tragic consequences, though he finally begins to “see” his real wretched state. Jane would chose to return to him. “It is time some one undertook to re-humanize you,” and she begins to comb his tangled hair.
Re-humanize: what a wonderful word. Rochester needs to be re-humanized. Jane needs to inhabit that enigmatic, but now repentant heart. Just like Mr. Rochester, we need to be re-humanized. This culture needs to be re-humanized. Culture has been a tangled “shaggy black mane” like Rochester’s, that Jane has to comb out, blind to it’s own misery. Modernism has resulted in a tangled mess, or perhaps a neatly categorized supermarket of ideas, as in this photo (http://www.absolutearts.com/artsnews/2001/07/22/28891.html) re-presented in Andreas Gursky’s “99 Cent”.
As a result of the enlightenment’s tendency to seek specialization, and minute categorization, “ it knows more about the little things and less about the big things. It knows more about every thing and less about Everything.” (Peter Kreeft, pg 108, Seel). Without the macro perspective, the grand narrative, our tangles get smaller and tighter, and as a result our creative expression has had to focus on the details, like here in Yayoi Kusama’s painting.
Technological advancements, certainly, lead to better living conditions and longer lives, and we should be thankful for that. But it also means the expansion of not just supermarkets, but of ground zeros. We find ourselves there alienated and smaller and smaller, and our injuries greater still. Just like Rochester’s limb, at the end of Jane Eyre, culture has been disfigured by the horrid fires of Hiroshima, and the poisons of the Holocaust, the twin emblems of the 20th century. These ghosts still haunt our post-modern, and now post-human realities (here captured as Willem de Kooning’s “Woman I”).
Artists, the “the canary of the cultural mine” (Marshall McLuhan), know and sense this reality of being disfigured and cut off, orphaned by society. They feel that beauty, and pleasure, are both tainted and cannot be trusted. They embrace everything “anti” but rarely have much to say about what they are actually for. I was recently at the Veritas Forum at Columbia University where I was asked to debate feminist/activist artist Coco Fusco. At the end of the night, I felt very saddened by the fact that our dialogue seemed to be stuck on the NEA related culture wars of 15 years past. But the church, seen as the main source of cultural hegemony and oppression, has not provided her an alternative vision. The church has not romanced artists. As a result, the artists are left alone to defend themselves in culture, and do not have many Helens to speak God’s hope into their hearts.
Like Jane Eyre, we are to face a ruined heart and a ruined condition, our ground zeros. Mr. Rochester is disfigured, in misery. Astonishingly though, she tells Mr. Rochester as she combs his hair: “You are no ruin, sir – no lightning-struck tree: you are green and vigorous.” She, by saying this, forgives. She not only gives a nod to Eden here, but foreshadows the New Creation to come. She is able to do this because, somehow, she keeps her innocence and purity intact, while recognizing fully the fallen reality. It was indeed during the deceptiveness of her lover that caused the actual lightning to strike on the tree she refers to. It was God’s judgment. She sees now with a refined purity of having gone through the fire of betrayal, and having come through without dross. She stands faithful.
In his book, “Breaking Ground,” Daniel Libeskind, the architect chosen for Ground Zero master design, also stood in the pit of Ground Zero, and facing, and laying his hand on the slurry wall, and heard an Augustinian echo, “Take it and read it…take it and read it.” “Take it and read” the slurry wall of your ground zero. “Take it and read” the faces of those who lost their lives there. He called his Berlin office and told his staff to scrap everything they had done up to that point: “The slurry wall is an engineering marvel, a metaphoric and literal stay against chaos and destruction. In refusing to fall, it seemed to attest, perhaps as eloquently as the Constitution, to the unshakable foundations of democracy and the value of human life and liberty.” (pg. 43, Breaking Ground)
Artists, we are called to create in our ground zeroes, too. We need to be a voice of faith there. Yes, we have been alienated and orphaned. It is time to regard the age at hand, and take individual steps to move beyond the post-modern fog into the Creative Age. It is not time to remain bitter, but it is time to bring the words of Helen into our bitter culture. Helen embraced, even in her illness, the deeper voice of her God for her friend, Jane Eyre. You, along with other entrepreneurs of the age, are asked to hold your gaze true to your original call. Though the conditions are bleak, it is still our call to listen to the voices speaking through our slurry walls, our limitations and our boundaries. The Creative Age exists because of the opportunity presented by the crisis of our age. We face a precipice of despair and fear, a culture at a loss to offer what it means to be a human being. This culture herself is orphaned, and cannot see beyond her misery. We at IAM can see our “slurry wall” in front of us, a wall that somehow withstood the onslaught of ideological attacks that claim bondage to our souls. Within, there are millions of faces, victims of dehumanization, the holocaust, and the fragmentation of our time. It is time to read those faces, and build on faith. There’s no other choice; To love is to remain human. We need to romance the culture in this present crisis. Woo her to love, and not fear. To do that is to be a true artist of the Creative Age.
Artists have the empathetic capacity to embrace humanity even in the most destitute of times. But to do so, we have to see, like Jane, in a disfigured man a “green and vigorous” reality. She did not create reality, but she saw the greater reality. It is imagination guided by faith that taps into the New Earth and New Heaven. We need to note that she saw her own heart as disfigured, too, and she had to go through the fire of sanctification herself to know and recognize another cry, the cry of Mr. Rochester, out of that fire. Charlotte Bronte created a parable that echoes Romans 8. “Our sufferings are not worth the future glory…” We are destitute and orphaned, yet Christ sees a royal wedding and a coronation to come.
Artists need to remember that the reality of faith unlocks creative vision. Christ has been disfigured and orphaned for us. The great Artist, the Author of Life, who the prophet Isaiah speaks of as “crushed for our inequities” (Isaiah 53:5), released our souls from our own “bondage to decay.” The Spirit gives birth to creativity. God’s love flows into our hearts, via our creativity, to the world. In Christ you are part of the ekklessia, the new kind of community, that Jesus died for. You are not only invited to a wedding; You are the bride of Christ. Even if your stand alone, in you ground zero, you can stand like Jane Eyre, with a wedding dress.
3. The Bible begins with Creation, and ends in a wedding.
What does a wedding require for a Bride? We are to anticipate that day with all of our resources. We are always thinking of the Bridegroom. A wedding has all the genres of the arts represented; Dance, spoken words, art, culinary expertise, fashion and music. Children of the Creative Age are really wedding planners. We are to present the best, to spend the rest of our time preparing for that reality. This anticipation will usher a new age, and a new purpose. But it will cost, and it will require sacrifice. Do not listen to anyone who tickles you with a notion that we are a generation of Indigo children, and evolving into a new, and higher consciousness. No, instead, we are the children of God in a disfigured age. Our call is to love in that condition. Our call is to see through the disfigurement and tragedy.
Mr. Rochester cannot fully comprehend how Jane would be as “happy as I can be on earth,” to be with him. “Because you delight in sacrifice?” he asks.
“Sacrifice! What do I sacrifice? Famine for food, expectation for content. To be privileged to put my arms round what I value – to press my lips to what I love – to repose on what I trust; is that to make a sacrifice? If so, then certainly I delight in sacrifice.” She, apparently, loves him more despite his infirmities.
This is the heart of the New Creation. This parable gives us artists a new paradigm to consider. How do we love a disfigured world? How do we give sacrifice, without being conscious of it?
This sacrifice, that is no sacrifice to Jane, is precisely what we need now for true, lasting beauty, to re-humanize. Beauty is not cosmetic. Botox will not result in happiness. Jane Eyre is telling us we need to love even more our wrinkled faces. It is through this path that we will see creativity that not only restores but also redeems. We need, as the children of the Creative Age, not only to create in love, but to create what love means in this culture. By doing so our art will begin to re-humanize the world.
4. Enchantment of Jesus
So how do you indeed live with monsters and Jesus in your heart at the same time? How do we remain innocent and pure in the age of wickedness? We must live with groaning and expectation of Romans 8 at the same time. After all, our world is broken but also enchanted, in the sense of the medieval word for gospel – “Good Spell.” We have been cast a good spell by the words and breath of Jesus. The arts need to cast good spells into the world that is dying and cynical. Do not “throw out the baby with the bath water”: Jesus, the babe, is the source of life and art that no religious water can tarnish. So it is no surprise that all the tales of old that we were enchanted by as children, like Beauty and the Beast, seem to fit into our journeys. It is no surprise at all, that as we venture forward, we seem to give a backward glance, as in to this marvelous image of coronation by Fra Angelico.
In a world that ought to be, we will have monsters dancing in our cosmic wedding. Our Experience, even our greatest of fears, will be rewoven into the texture of God’s design for the Innocent. You are not an orphan, but a prince and a princess of God. We are to receive more than a double inheritance. We need to begin to live like a bride expecting a great, cosmic wedding. We need to begin to act like Jane Eyre, the first child of the Creative Age.
This keynote was delivered at a recent International Arts Movement conference. Other keynotes by Daniel Libeskind, Jeremy Begbie and others will be made available soon at http://www.iamny.org