"Creative Engagement"

By Jen Lassen

Arts & Life Editor

Richard Wilbur wrote a famous poem entitled “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World.” And for artist Makoto Fujimura ’83, it’s a love of creativity that has called him to art.

Fujimura, a world-renowned artist, visited his alma mater on Tuesday, April 3 to speak with President Bravman, a professor of engineering and scientist himself, for the Creativity: Beyond the Box Forum. The two discussed the topic “Creative Engagement: The Questions Science and Art Ask of Each Other.”

Fujimura’s work has been featured in places all across the globe, including New York City, Tokyo and Hong Kong. He was also the illustrator for the King James Bible in 2009, and was the first artist ever to illustrate all four gospels.

Before the discussion took place, Christina Cody ’12 presented Wilbur’s poem. Behind her performance, the song “Delicacy,” composed by Fujimura’s son, C.J. Fujimura ’13, was playing.

C.J. Fujimura composed this song from a feeling inspired by his father’s infamous painting “Golden Sea.” This incredible piece of artwork, composed of gold leaf and crystal pigment paint elements, was displayed on stage throughout the presentation.

Bravman opened the discussion by asking Fujimura if artists perceive science as a way of art.

“I grew up in a household where that question was in everything we did. Creativity is shared in these disciplines; science is an objective analysis. It does have to begin with an intuitive knowledge. Creative language is shared between the two,” Fujimura said.

Fujimura then questioned Bravman about science and how Bravman made his connection between science and art. Bravman said that as a scientist, he was attracted to two main things: how Fujimura makes his own paints from crystals and his use of gold leaf as a creative substance.

Bravman told the anecdote of his visit to Fujimura’s studio in New York City, and how this visit opened his eyes to how science and art relate.

“I instantly made a connection between science and art. I was stunned by the material content of your work,” Bravman said.

Progressing to the topic of mystery, Fujimura asked Bravman about mystery as part of the creative process.

“To me, mystery [in science] is why complex materials do what they do; I don’t understand that, but I want to,” Bravman said.

Fujimura then responded with his take on mystery.

“The role of creativity in art has been challenged and questioned in some sense. This creativity flows in the same way in the sciences,” Fujimura said.

Fujimura drew on the analogy of an idea being “pregnant with possibility.” He discussed how an idea can grow and grow, then eventually open up, rather than close, to expose a new idea that “leads to a generational dialogue.”

Conversely, Bravman and Fujimura then discussed the limits of creativity and failure. 

“[With science] the issue is, even if you have notions, your freedom has been diminished due to a lack of funding. Few scientists have the ability to pursue anything they want to,” Bravman said.

Fujimura noted how these external limits to science parallel the internal limits artists place on themselves.

“Don’t be afraid of limitations; that’s how you can really find your voice. Limitations allow me to reach these levels,” Fujimura said.

Both Fujimura and Bravman admitted to failures in their endeavors, yet Fujimura pointed out how failure can be positive.

“I look for failures. It turns the question upside down and allows you to see something differently,” Fujimura said.

Fujimura’s limitations and failures very much influenced his creation of “Golden Sea.” He talked about how he did not want the application of the painting to affect the outcome of its creation, and his painting took two and a half years to successfully finish

“I wanted to slow down, to let the painting speak back to me,” Fujimura said.

The completion of “Golden Sea” can also be seen as one of Fujimura’s greatest labors of love.

“The love of what we do can call us into and engage reality. This was about my love for these materials. I exercised a discipline of love,” Fujimura said.

After a short question and answer period, Fujimura surprised Bravman and the entire audience by gifting the University a beautiful, one-of-a-kind painting, composed of Fujimura’s signature gold leaf and crystal elements. The entire audience erupted in a round of applause and a standing ovation.

“I am in a complete state of speechlessness; this is extraordinary,” Bravman said.

“It was incredibly enlightening and inspiring. I really enjoyed watching Bravman and Fujimura draw the ‘golden lining’ between art and science,” Asha Harvey ’15 said.

Ending his discussion with advice to future artists, Fujimura closed with an inspiring idea.

“Remember your first love; that is so easily forgotten when we become successful. Ask questions about your first love and ability to dream dreams,” Fujimura said.

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