Fortress Press

Beauty Is a Basic Service: Theology and Hospitality in the Work of Theaster Gates

Beauty Is a Basic Service

Theology and Hospitality in the Work of Theaster Gates

Maria Fee (Author)


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Grounded on a passionate belief in the integrative and unifying function of art that further incarnates God's hospitality, the book argues that the projects of Chicago artist Theaster Gates are theological sites, places to encounter God and his truth concerning place, people, and things. By exploring Gates' practices, attention is drawn to corollary actions of God's care, reconciliation, and vivification of creation and culture. Hence, Gates' hospitality points to God's hospitality.

These qualities then become the framework of a theology of hospitality, which provides a robust paradigm for Christian discipleship and mission. The study gathers the work of theologians, artists, as well as other scholars from a variety of discourses and various traditions to advocate holistic stewardship of God's creation. These diverse voices comprise a rich conversation of theology and aesthetics to exhibit the way art can critique and resist various modes of Western detachment.

Indeed, hospitality is paramount to this end, especially amid rising hostilities concerning land management. Gates' art programs defy the denigration of place, people, and things by engendering practices that validate creation and culture. By assessing Gates' work, a type of faith is exhibited that stretches beyond theological assertions to also comprise reviving embodied transactions.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506469843
  • eBook ISBN 9781506469850
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 123
  • Publication Date April 11, 2023


Only an artist, pastor, theologian, and mentor like Maria Fee could present the work of Black performance artist Theaster Gates with such grace and wisdom. Her claim is bold: Gates's art of place-making--of curating places and material things in ways that reflect God's own hospitality--may serve as a model for reimagining Christian belief and practice in a secular age. The result is one of the best examples of practical theology I've read in a long time.

William Dyrness, senior professor of theology and culture, Fuller Theological Seminary; author of The Facts on the Ground: A Wisdom Theology of Culture

Maria Fee's Beauty Is a Basic Service confirms Theaster Gates as one of the most significant artists of his generation, and this book, diligently and sensitively written, is a landmark achievement for our "art+faith" conversation. Fee is a first-rate artist who has served in the long and daunting journey of serving the church and, in her long-suffering, has nurtured her "theology of hospitality" generatively, invoking the new creation.

Makoto Fujimura, artist and author of Art and Faith: A Theology of Making

In Beauty Is a Basic Service, Dr. Maria Fee models the theology of hospitality that she also locates in the work of Theaster Gates. Weaving together multiple theological traditions, art criticism, and art history with evocative, careful description, Fee offers an accessible, substantial, joyful introduction to Gates's community-oriented practice. Fee helps us see how Gates's work can be both critical of broken systems and generous in its love, calling on all readers--whether scholars, makers, or curious viewers--to do the same.

Dr. Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt, associate professor of art and art history, Covenant College, and author of Redeeming Vision: A Christian Guide to Looking at and Learning from Art

It is believed that the greatest gift one can offer is one's life. I see Maria Fee's book, Beauty Is a Basic Service, as one of those rare gifts that cannot be contained on a shelf or placed on a table in the living room. Beauty Is a Basic Service is a feast of good news. Fee compels us to look at our Christian walk more soberly by interrogating our "theology of hospitality" through the life work of social practice artist Theaster Gates. Her book takes us on a spiritual journey, and along the way she challenges Protestant belief structures and Christian dogma, and deconstructs these towers of faith systems that blind our vision of the full body of the kingdom. In the end she brings us to a place where we can see the "other" without fear drenched in stereotypic constructions, but through a lens of love, compassion, and understanding. This book beckons us to honestly see ourselves in a mirror, acknowledging the beauty within, and to offer thanks to the Peerless One who created us.

Steve A. Prince, director of engagement and distinguished artist in residence at the Muscarelle Museum of Art at William & Mary University

Through this insightful introduction to the work of artist Theaster Gates, Maria Fee reveals the ways art can make a place for God to dwell in moments of human making and community life. Fee invites readers into a theological reflection on hospitality in an age when we need it most, and does so through the embodied spirituality that only the arts can cultivate. Readers will come away challenged in how they understand their own practices in place and encouraged in the hospitable work of the Holy Spirit in the material world.

Jennifer Allen Craft, associate professor of theology and humanities, Point University, and author of Placemaking and the Arts: Cultivating the Christian Life

Maria Fee's focus on the life and work of Theaster Gates has expanded my imagination and understanding of how to approach social transformation in action. For faith-rooted leaders, her theological connections to creating, creation, and the created, set within the hospitality practices of Gates, offer community activists ways to engage in art and the public in an embodied way that lends itself to the spiritual encounters of both the Divine and neighbors. I am thankful to Fee for lifting up the work of Gates as a theological practice that pushes and challenges the way in which we see and dwell in our neighborhoods.

Joyce del Rosario, director of multiethnic programs, Seattle Pacific University

The work of Theaster Gates defies straightforward categorization, and his determination to have an impact beyond the borders of the contemporary artworld have made him an irrepressible voice for clarity, wisdom, and healing more broadly. Maria Fee's illuminating text provides the fullest, most holistic account yet of the richly theological connections issuing from Gates's profound efforts to renew land, labor, and community. She sets out a feast of insight and reflection that demonstrates how theologians might do justice to the far-reaching scope of Gates's distinctive vision and at the same time amplify the good of his work themselves.

Taylor Worley, visiting associate professor of art history, Wheaton College