Modern Art, Makoto Fujimura, and My Inability To Write My Own Name

“Art taps into the reality of the transcendent” – Makoto Fujimura

Legibility has escaped me since a child. Writing my name in a way in which others could actually make out the letters is a skill I never developed. This lack carried over into my inability to draw anything resembling anything. So I’m certainly no artist. As a matter of fact if I think back to Mrs. Whitmire’s art classes, I made pretty poor grades. Yep, in art. Translating what I saw in my mind’s eye onto the paper was what I wanted to do. Really, I did. I loved to draw but could not do it in a way that expressed what was there. So a young life full of dreams of drawing spilling over onto sketch books was displaced. Thankfully poetry and prose did it. But I never really tried to draw again. Still don’t.

Though not sure where I picked it up, any affection for the painting and drawing others had done, was always proportional to how representational it was. So, I was more than willing to see the genius and beauty of Carvaggio and Rembrandt. However, all modern art which was the opposite of representational was out of bounds. It was weird. I couldn’t understand it. It had the feel (or lack of feeling) of inaccessibility. So I ignored it when I was not making fun of it.

All of this was the furniture of my mind when I began seeing the work of Makoto Fujimura on the internet. Having never heard of Nihonga – the ancient method of Japanese artists using particular mediums, setting it apart from Western art – I was drawn in by it’s long history and distinctive techniques. But my curiosity did not square with my convictions, firmly held about art, which was not representational. Would it be weird to say, “I had a kind of guilt about beginning to love his art?”

All this changed on a plane. A few years ago my wife and I were flying to Wichita to interview for a job. Sitting by the window, like a kid, I was wide-eyed with wonderment. And then I saw it. I saw “modern art” created by farmers. I saw a patchwork of squares, full of browns and greens of different shades. Some of these squares contained triangles and circles which certainly made sense to those who placed them there but they seemed haphazard from above. Thousands upon thousands of these squares stretched in every direction. And it was absolutely beautiful.

This God’s eye view provided me with me a glimpse of something which has often been right in front of me but I had never seen.

As a result, a kind of conversion happened, and the burden I carried, which supplied me with guilt, had fallen away and the scales fell off so that I saw beauty I had missed. There is a mundane quality to the shapes and drips of the modern paintings which we pass over all too quickly, mainly because we never stop and step back or hover over the smallest of details in our lives.

I now pore over the work of Fujimura. I am neither qualified nor desire to give a fully informed professional opinion on his work. However, I do know this, his work never ceases to move. Perhaps, it’s because I cannot get my head around it. Or maybe because it is more like poetry, expressing the inexpressible parts of life.  Then again, maybe it is because I am seeing something new and old at the same time. Fixed and Fluid. Regardless, I am thankful for his use of materials which in their glory, move me to consider the immaterial.

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