Artistic Play: Seeking the God of the Unexpected Open Access

Goto, Courtney Teru (2010)

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Artistic Play: Seeking the God of the Unexpected
By Courtney T. Goto

Setting forth a practical theology of play through art, this dissertation investigates
the question "How does artistic play allow people to seek the God of the Unexpected?"
Artistic play is a term I use to place in conversation two partners (art and play) whose
intersection has not been explored well, especially within practical theology and adult
religious education. I define artistic play as the practice of exploration through art forms
in which one opens oneself to unexpected transcendence, delight, or discovery.

In this intersection of art and play, I examine issues of body, imagination,
teaching, and learning for adults in two case studies involving three types of artistic play
(liturgical art, aesthetic pruning in a Japanese garden, and improvisational performance
art). The cases shed light on artistic play as a lived practice that allows members of the
community to indirectly seek and gain spiritual knowledge in ways that tend to be
overlooked, namely through stories, imagination, creativity, and the senses. In the first
case study, I discuss a Japanese American congregation in Sacramento, California
(Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church) that is discovering connections between
faith and culture through play, Japanese artifacts, and aesthetics. Through artistic play,
the congregation is reflecting on what it means to be Japanese American Christian. In the
second case, I explore how participants of InterPlay, a movement based in Oakland,
California, are creating selves by engaging in improvisational theater, movement, and
vocal music. Performance theory and object relations theory, especially the work of
D.W. Winnicott, serve as analytic lenses.

While theological aesthetics has traditionally addressed art, perception, and
revelation in the abstract, it has rarely explored how art contributes to practical
theological construction in situ. This dissertation offers insight about local practical
theological aesthetics and their implications for religious education.

Table of Contents


One Introduction1

What is Artistic Play? 4

Research Question and Assumptions 10

Case Studies 17

Case 1: Artistic Play in a Japanese American 18

Church and Family

Case 2: InterPlay 20

Why These Case Studies 22

Some Guiding Questions 24

Two Method and Literature Review 26

Principles Informing the Research Design 27

1. Empiricism 27

2. Subjectivity 31

3. Hermeneutics 36

Research Design 38

Fieldwork 38

Analytic Frameworks 40

Object Relations Theory 41

Performance Theory 47

Literature Review 52

Art 53

Play 61

Three Japanese American Liturgical Art 70

SJUMC (Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church) Context 72

The Pottery of Tears 78

What Is It? 79

What's the Story: Remembering the Dismembered 83

Pottery of Tears as a Transitional Object 88

Form and Content 93

Imaginative Pilgrimage 98

Making Sense of the Pottery of Tears 103

Floating Saints 105

Pretending on Girls' Day 107

Pretending to Be at Church 111

Seeing a Japanese Jesus 117

Limitations on Playing with Christ Images 122

The Recovery and Construction of Communal Memory 127

Summoning Home the Ghosts 130

Making Sense of Floating Saints 134

Conclusion 136

Four The Issei Garden 138

SEEING as Artistic Play 142

SEEING as a Formative Practice 146

Haunted Garden 155

Performing a Japanese American Male Self 164

Evolution of Artistic Play in the Garden 172

Garden as Symbol 177

Conclusion 179

Five InterPlay 184

InterPlay Context 185

Framing and Intention 191

Creating a Self 197

Surprise, Surrender and Serendipitous Creativity 212

Teaching and the Unexpected 226

Structure 227

Language 235

Mentoring 240

Conclusion 247

Six Constructing a Practical Theology of Play through Art 252

Mystical Adventure 253

Practicing Stories: Toward a Storied Epistemology 263

Imagination, Creativity, and Limiting Patterns 272

The Dynamics of Imagination and Creativity 272

Disturbing Patterns through Imagination and Creativity 280

The Senses and Spiritual Knowing in Artistic Play 289

Local Practical Theological Aesthetics 299

Conclusion 307

Seven Epilogue 312

Appendix 320

Works Cited 339

About this Dissertation

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