Before I get into reporting on my impressions of and perspective on this weekend, let me give some context. The International Arts Movement is a broad, grass-roots movement dedicated to being a third space hospitable to all people regardless of their faith, where everyone who shares a commitment to human flourishing can meet. At the heart of IAM's vision are people of various faiths, or no religious faith, making vital contributions to the movement. Even though many of the current regional leaders are Christians, and many are working in specifically Christian contexts, that is not the primary focus of the movement. In fact, there are people who do not consider themselves to be Christians, but who are very much part of IAM.
Because this blog focuses on faith-and-the-arts (specifically the Christian faith and the arts), I have rather emphasized my Christian response more than someone else might. There are even moments in here that might suggest an "us vs. them" mentality--which is not IAM's perspective at all. Indeed, it is hardly my perspective at all. My desire is to minister TO and FROM the Christian community--both into the church and out into the communities in which I find myself, whether artistic, academic, social, or whatever--rather than to emphasize stark differences between a putative "us" and "them."
I just spent a heavenly weekend in New York City. That's one of my favorite places to visit -- although I know I've said that about Jerusalem, Oxford, New Orleans, London, and maybe even Boston. I imagine I'd say the same if I had dear friends showing me around all the artsy sights, churches, or universities of, say, Chicago, Moscow, Berlin, or Timbucktoo.
I was in NYC to meet with 51 other "arts promoters," all leaders of regional groups affiliated with the International Arts Movement, to represent my regional group, Ekphrasis. The weekend consisted of inspiring talks by Makoto Fujimura, motivational presentations by each regional leader about his or her own art and/or what that particular regional group is doing, Edenic conversations with like-minded Christians about all things artsy and faith-related, and simply delicious (mostly homemade) food.
This all took place in IAM's Space 38/39 (38 W 39th street), where Mako had hung some of his works:
I am astounded by his generosity. Let me tell you a bit about these works. They are priceless. They are irreplaceable. They are glorious. In their presence, I thought they were more than glorious: I thought they were Glory itself made solid, made physical, and shimmering in my sight, near enough to touch, transforming the space and the people around them. They are painted on silk, made in the traditional way by a silkmaker who is no longer alive and who took his particular traditional methods of making the silk (include raising the silkworms himself) with him when he died. So it is now impossible to get silk just like that any more. And then Mako painted on them with his distinctive style: a unique blend of the ancient Japanese Nihonga tradition and modern abstract painting. And you know what he used? He used gold. Yes, the metal, gold. He grinds precious metals and minerals, and paints with them. His paintings shimmer as the Old Testament Temple must have done.
I have blogged about some of his other projects here and here, and discussed one of his books here. I thought I had reviewed his "Four Holy Gospels" exhibit, too (which I had the great privilege of seeing last August), but I guess not. Too bad.
Anyway, Mako's luminous work astounds me. It transports me. And I do think that it was one of the biggest factors in making this weekend a heaven-on-earth experience that I will never forget.
The other factor was just the people. I was talking with a colleague when I got home, and I was raving about the amazing people I had just met. I said, " Ha!
But seriously. I felt almost a little motherly towards these new friends. All but maybe 8 of the 52 are under the age of 40, and they felt like college kids who have actually already accomplished something with their lives. You know how college kids can be full of fire, revved up, ready to go, burning with dreams, bursting with energy to change the world: this group was like that. So I felt a bit worried, nervous about how life is going to be hard on them, kill their dreams, douse the flame of passionate ambition, crush them with disappointment and failure.
But you know, we are not in our teens and early 20's. We have already lived, a lot. We're not naive. We're not untouched. Most of us, I'm sure, have already been crushed and doused and dampened -- and we're still at it. We're still on fire. We're still going to change the world. They can reject our manuscripts, let our books go out of print, boo our concerts, negatively review our plays, misunderstand our exhibits, close our studios, lay us off, fire us, evict us, break our hearts, leave us, divorce us, bereave us -- and we'll still keep making art. We'll still keep starting initiatives. We'll still change the world.