At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;/
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,/
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,/
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,/
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,/
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
Burnt Norton, T.S. Eliot, the first poem of Eliot’s Four Quartets
In his book, Visual Faith: Art,Theology, & Worship in Dialogue, William A. Dyrness reflects on how artists serve their work, “Artists are servants who must suffer at the hands of the creature. Christ put this in the starkest terms, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ (Matthew 16:24). Again this is a call to all Christians, but artists understand this call, it seems to me, in a particularly intimate way. Artists are called to suffer in and with the material they handle. Making art is a daily discipline. One must spend time in reflection and prayer, though this is not the whole of the Christian life. Similarly, one may spend time in reflection, but that is not art. Art is after all largely a craft, a sitting down to work with materials. And here the pain (and the joy) begins, for immediately the recalcitrance of the materials confronts the artist. Since I work with words, I understand best the feeling of utter dismay at the slipperiness of words, their fragility, their inability to bear all that I want to put on them. I know with T. S. Eliot that ‘Words, strain/Crack and sometimes break, . . . / Will not stay still.’ (lines from Eliot’s poem, Burnt Norton.)
After 9/11/01, Makoto Fujimura began a series of paintings based on T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. Regarding this series, a reviewer wrote: “While ‘The Wasteland’ is considered by many to be the greatest poem of the twentieth century, for Fujimura ‘Four Quartets’ achieves an even clearer focus on the fundamental questions of art and literature, among them sacrifice, mystery, intuitive response and the eloquence of materiality . . .” (quoted on the artist’s website: www.makotofujimura.com ). Fujimura’s work with Eliot’s text, with its ‘eloquent materiality’, is a wonderful example of an artist serving the work.