The Metaphysics of Mormon Art

Grant me a simple premise: How one thinks about the nature of reality has an impact on how one thinks about art. Consider, for example, the contrast between medieval art and modern art. For the medievals, the world of sense perception in and of itself lacked substantial reality. It was subject to constant change and decay, and thus could not be thought of as ultimately existing in any real or eternal sense. What was real and eternal for the medieval mind were the forms and essences that did not change. The reality of the world of sense perception was thus symbolic, in the sense that it reflected or perhaps better stated instantiated the eternal order of things. What was real was not the world but rather the divine order that the world represented. The notion that sensuous experience was ultimately symbolic of intellectual experience was then reflected in art. The greatest example of this is the gothic cathedral, which — like the world itself — is a symbolic representation of the divine order, a sensuous experience of symbolic reality.

Fast forward a couple of centuries to the rise of modern art, and what do we see? (Note: I am not using the term “modern art” to refer to abstract or non-representational art, but rather art produced under the influence of modern philosophy.) One of the most important changes is the creation of the artist. For the medievals the notion that art should serve as a monument to the genius of its creator would have been utterly non-sensical. The notion of human creation would have been seen as hopelessly confused at best and blasphemous at worst. However, with Descartes and his contemporaries, western thought took a subjective turn. Rather than explicating the nature of the divine order that constituted true reality, thinkers turned in to the self, seeking to justify personal knowledge (think of Descartes famous cogito ergo sum) and understand and justify personal and political freedom. With the emergence of the individual as the locus of understanding and meaning it is natural that art should take an individualistic turn. Hence, we see the rise of the myth of the genius creator which in on form or another is the dominant way of thinking about art from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century. Finally, with the faltering of faith in modernisms construction of the individual and his ability to know, think, and choose, we see the complication and decline of the artist into post-modern irony.

If I am right about these crudely drawn connections between metaphysics and art, it seems to me that we ought to ask how — if at all — Mormonism can inform our thinking about art. Like the medievals we believe in a divine order and a creator god. Yet our god has a different metaphysical relationship to the world. Rather than standing as its ontological ground, he — like us — is an actor in a pre-existing ontological frame. Hence the divine order of the world reflects God’s creative organization of “matter unorganized,” matter which in some sense resists his organizing power. With the moderns, we have a powerful individualistic streak in our metaphysics. We believe in intelligences co-eternal with God. Indeed, one might think of the philosophical anthropology of Mormonism as a kind of modernism on steroids. What are we to make artistically and aesthetically of this collidiscope of metaphysical concepts. It seems to me that we problematize both the all-encompassing symbolic ordering of the medieval aesthetic, as well as the heroic individualism of the moderns. I am not suggesting that the One True Church must also have a One True Aesthetics. I suspect that there are lots of different ways of artistically reacting to our metaphysics. It does seem to me, however, that we ought to be awake to the possibility that we can do more than simply assimilating the aesthetics of others without thinking about their philosophical assumptions or how our own philosophy might change and challenge the ideas that we appropriate.

35 comments for “The Metaphysics of Mormon Art

  1. August 30, 2005 at 11:54 am

    BYU’s Dennis Packard has developed the best conceptualization of a Mormon aesthetic I’ve yet heard. His ideas are based on Sartre and Levinas as much as anything specifically Mormon, but I believe they are still Mormon in nature. Inasmuch as agency and responsibility are fundamental Mormon principles, he says that art ought to reflect both.

    Art ought to be constantly inviting us to see other possibilities and asking us to look at in a new way; an aspect he believes, reflects freedom. Art that establishes itself in a single-faceted manner is uninvolving, uninviting, and determined. In other words, art ought to reflect a libertarian freedom that reminds us that anything is possible.

    More importantly, he says, art ought to call us to responsibility. Through soft-heartedness and tenderness, it ought to soften our hearts and remind us of our responsibility towards Others. Art ought to reflect a dynamic with its viewer/reader that reflects that of people – one of generosity, openness and understanding.

    I do a disservice to his ideas in my simplistic overview. I’m sure Jim Faulconer is better acquainted with it than I. But I really like what I’ve heard. I think the idea begins to falter in its extremities – Packard insists that even the lighting in a film ought to be established in specific way – but I like very much the idea, and would like to see it more often in full application.

  2. Nate Oman
    August 30, 2005 at 12:16 pm

    Eric: Do you know where Packard has written up his theories? FWIW, I think that it is a mistake to try to work out all of the intricasies of style and technique in art on the basis of some over arching set of philosophical beliefs. I recall reading in some collection of essays from the 1970s published at BYU about how Mormon art should really hinge on the number three because we believe in three members of the godhead.

    On the other hand, I think that philosophy can help us think about what art is for or what it does or what role it plays in our spiritual lives.

  3. August 30, 2005 at 12:56 pm

    Eric, I think one can find that in Renaissance art, especially in its hermetic and neoPlatonic symbols. A lot of that has misleadingly been popularized by works such as the DaVinche Code. But it is true that a lot of the symbolism was there to lead us to something beyond. That was lost as art moved more towards a realism.

  4. August 30, 2005 at 1:15 pm

    Dennis Packard: Telling Stories of the Heart in the 21st Century.

    This is the text of a BYU devotional so it doesn’t go into the foundations and arguments of his philosophy as much — but it does give a taste of what Eric describes.

  5. August 30, 2005 at 1:25 pm

    Thanks for the link William, I hadn’t seen that.

    I don’t know if anything has been published. I have a copy of an unpublished book he wrote where he applies the ideas towards writing a film novel – a novella that’s directly translatable to film. It looks like he’s now actually making a film.

  6. Jeremy
    August 30, 2005 at 2:57 pm

    Yet our god has a different metaphysical relationship to the world. Rather than standing as its ontological ground, he – like us – is an actor in a pre-existing ontological frame.

    If you’ll forgive the self-promotion–what you’re talking about here, Nate, is actually at the core of the stuff I’ve published on Mormons in music, specifically the curiously large group of (mostly jack-)mormon composers who write music based on acoustically rational just intonation rather than the acoustically irrational equal temperament system used in most of the music one enounters. Making the connection involves some clunky musical and acoustical shoptalk not appropriate for this venue, but in short, I suggest that these composers still subscribe to cosmology that sees matter and spirit as contiguous, and thus see music’s potential for transcendence as being acoustically quantifiable to a degree. In other words, for these composeres, just as spirit is a more refined kind of matter, the most spiritually potent kind of music is a refined kind of acoustics. Or, just as Mormons think of spirit as the stuff “between the atoms,” these guys are fascinated by the stuff “between the notes” on a conventionally-tuned piano.

    There may be some parallels in the plastic arts here. I’m thinking specifically of Lane Twitchell’s conflation of narrative and medium–essentially make art “out of” the canvas, which is traditionally thought of as the vacuous prespace onto which an artist creates ex nihilo.

  7. Jack
    August 30, 2005 at 3:15 pm

    Though, I agree with much of what Packard has to say about the arts and can vouch for his goodness as a person, I’m a little put off by his implication that “meaningful” art *should* or *ought* or what-have-you. Because, sure as shine, once we begin to put our finger on what an
    “appropriate” aesthetic should like something’ll come along that’ll turn our thinking upside down. This is one of the problems I’ve had with Arthur Henry King (as much as I love his essays). I think his definition of “meaningful” art was too narrow. I ache at how much he missed out on because of what he couldn’t appreciate. (though I hope to one day appreciate–as deeply as he did–those things that were beautiful to him)

  8. Jack
    August 30, 2005 at 3:28 pm

    Jeremy,

    That’s fun stuff. As it relates to this thread–the thought that comes to mind is that there are strengths and weaknesses to both tunings depending on the goal/disposition of the artist. That said, I don’t think one can really determine the relative virtue of each. Therefore, our aesthetic notion will (imo) have to be broad enough to make room for both.

  9. Jeremy
    August 30, 2005 at 3:29 pm

    Mike Hicks, in his prefatory essay to Mormonia, argues quite convincingly that the most “authentic” Mormon aesthetic is no aesthetic at all (or, I should say, no particular aesthetic at all). He caps off his argument by recalling the “Mormon Creed” that was once inscribed in stained glass in the Logan Temple:

    Mormon Creed
    Mind
    Your Own Business.
    Saints
    Will
    Observe This
    All Others Ought To

  10. Nate Oman
    August 30, 2005 at 3:32 pm

    Jack: It seems to me that one of the reasons that we want to have aesthetic theories is so that they can be problematized by later developments. They can provide some structure to our discussions, which hopefully result in insights that we wouldn’t have been able to have without the structure. To eschew theory because one’s theory may turn out to be wrong (indeed probably will turn out to be wrong) is to misunderstand what theory is for.

  11. Jack
    August 30, 2005 at 4:09 pm

    I agree, Nate, to a certain extent. I’m not speaking of *theory* per se, but of a rigidness in judgement that comes of an over-confidence in one’s own theology. Now certainly one may theorize away as to how art is influenced, grown, controlled, inspired, or what have you, by one’s theology. That’s fine. But where I think we get into trouble is when “theory” is overly constricted by theology and, therefore, apt to dismiss that which is virtuous as otherwise.

    Maybe in the long run what I’m talking about really does amount to “theory”. However, I think if we’re not careful what we end up doing is siding *against* our instincts toward aesthetics for what we think should be theologically appropriate. Kinda-sorta like what Huck Finn struggled against in terms of morality.

  12. Jack
    August 30, 2005 at 4:15 pm

    Jeremy,

    I’m about 80% on board with Michael Hicks regarding his feelings about “Mormon aesthetics”. The other 20% is reserved for the developement of something unique from the rest of the world because of the uniqueness of our religious touchstones such as the BoM, PoGP, etc. I think these things cannot help but be reflect in the works of devout LDS artists.

  13. Shane L. Madsen III
    August 30, 2005 at 5:28 pm

    As an artist and fifth generation LDS, I am very offended by so called “Mormon art”, a static form of repressive gingoism intended to suppress and subjegate women.

  14. Shane L. Madsen III
    August 30, 2005 at 5:29 pm

    What is “Mormon Art” anyways

  15. August 30, 2005 at 5:36 pm

    How much do you know about this form, Shane?

  16. Nate Oman
    August 30, 2005 at 5:39 pm

    Shane you are going to have to enlighten us, although seeing as you are both familiar enough with Mormon art to be outraged by its ideological content and unsure as to how to identify it, I fear that you are a bit of a cypher to me.

    For myself, I can’t say as I think of the work of people such as Minerva Tiechart, Ella Peacock, or Fanny Nampaio as best characterized as “a static form of repressive gingonism [note: Is this a mispelling of jingoism or of gringoism?] intended to suppress and subjegate women.” But that may just be me…

  17. Shane L. Madsen III
    August 30, 2005 at 5:46 pm

    I am familiar with LDS artists: Avard Fairbanks, Michael Allred, Elinor Peace Bailey, James Christensen, Brian Crane, Donna Dewberry,Brian Fairrington,Helaman Ferguson,Mark Gudmundsen,Hayden Lambson,Greg Olsen to name a few.

  18. August 30, 2005 at 5:56 pm

    In response to comment #2 (by Nate) I also would say that I think there are dangers (of excluding good artwork) in trying to fit all LDS or Mormon artwork under a single philosophical arch. But it seems to me that certain Church institutions could be inspirational and educational in providing some information on this matter.

    For example, I’d be interested to know more about what instructions artists are given when they are commissioned to design artwork for a temple. Though Nate wasn’t using the term “modern art” to refer to “abstract or non-representational art” I still felt there are many aspects of this other modern art definition that make their way into some of the more recently-built temples that I have visited. One specific example: the uniquely designed and layered stained glass windows in the Timpanogas Temple. I’d like to know what guiding principles (if any) the artist was given in creating these pieces. I tried googling this topic a bit and didn’t come up with much to work with. Anyone know the name of the artist?

  19. Jack
    August 30, 2005 at 6:01 pm

    Just take what I said about theology and apply it to an overzealous adherence to any idealogy (such as feminism–to name one) and there you go–powerless to construct a theory that has any real usefulness.

  20. Nate Oman
    August 30, 2005 at 7:59 pm

    Shane: But you have failed to show the jingoism in, say, Christensen’s art. Or perhaps it it is gringoism. Gringoism — at least in the case of Greg Olsen — I will happily grant you…

  21. M.J. Pritchett
    August 31, 2005 at 1:55 pm

    Nate:

    You might be interested in a recent book by James Elkins titled, Master Narratives and Their Discontents. It is Volume 1 in a series called Theories of Modernism and Postmodernism in the Visual Arts, (Routledge 2005). It is a short introduction to what Elkins identifies as the four main approaches to or naratives of twentieth-century art by art historians, theorists, critics and other writers: 1. modernisms, 2. postmodernisms, 3. politics, including “moral art criticism”, and 4. the importance of skill.

    He acknowledges that there may be more than four fundemental approaches, but takes the position that dispite the wide variety of writing about contemporary art, there are only a handful of fundemental theories.

    One point he makes is that an alternative fundemental theory would have to identify a different set of high and low points in the story of 20th century art (i.e., a different canon of great art and a different examples of bad art).

    Elkins’s book, On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art (Routledge 2004) is also interesting, but I think Master Narratives is more relevant to the subject of this post.

    An additional enticement is that both books have brief discussions of western style painting and art education in modern Korea.

  22. Gavin McGraw
    September 1, 2005 at 9:47 am

    Artistic style informed by theology? I think it happens all the time, but because Mormon theology allows for differing beliefs on non-core issues, pending further revelation, I think Mormon artists will always demonstrate their beliefs in different ways. One very significant way relates not to atistic style at all, but more to the economics of art. What are the reasons artists do what they do in the first place? To what extent do they do it as a full-time career? How do their beliefs show in their business practices (a good question for anyone). And to what extent do they choose to use their art to show their personal example and, in effect, do missionary work? This is the kind of thing I haven’t seen here yet.

    Now to sink my teeth in…
    Jeremy #6: This is a good example of how our theology can inform style. Mormons believe there is a very direct connection between this life and the next; between spirit and matter, and between Gods and mortals. So accoustic purity would seem to be the way to go if you’re interested in spiritual enlightenment through musical vibration.

    On the other hand, Mormonism is also a tremendously practical religion. The connection we feel toward this life and the next (or previous), gives great validity for what we are doing here on earth, whatever it may be, and moves us to make it be something good. Compare this with the “everything earthly is worthless and even evil” concept of some faiths.

    As a practical matter of composition, one of the major aspects of music that makes it moving to listen to is that of tension and release. If you want more release, you have to have more tension, there being “opposition in all things”.

    This means that there is a slight conflict between the purity and harmoniousness in Just intonation which is simply not available in Equal Temperament, and the availablity (and viability) of greater tension through the use of distant or changing tonal centers, made possible by more equal tunings. Western music realized 200 years ago that there is simply more to choose from if you have more keys (tonal centers) available that all sound okay. From Bach, to Beethoven, to Chopin, to Mahler, and through the 20th century, composer have been seeking for more release through more tension, because the one or two keys you could use in Just intonation just wasn’t cutting it.

    So, while I agree that there are still avenues to explore though Just intonation (or other somewhat theoretical tuning systems), which applies to some facets of Mormon theology (attainment of perfection), there is more to be gained by favoring tunings in which more notes and tonal centers are usable. This applies to other facets of Mormonism such as the concepts of opposition in all things, “all truth (keys?) may be circumscribed into one great whole”.

    I haven’t heard the composers you refer to, but I would think that either they rely on the wild disharmony of certain notes or keys (caused by their tuning of choice) for their tension-and-release, or the music is all about purity and the -release part, which doesn’t sound interesting to me.

    Another aspect of Mormon theology which I think applies to music (in particular and perhaps art in general) is our relationship with time. We do not know what it will be (or was) like in the eternities, but we do know that time works differently.

    Music by its very nature is dependent on time. Sound is vibration, which is the movement of air in waves many times per second. Music has to change over time, otherwise it would only be one note or chord forever. Bo-ring! It must have rhythm, which is merely the relationship of musical events to time. Does this mean that music cannot exist in eternity? From reading the scriptures, I would not think so. I can only assume that while time is not quite the same (at the very least there will be much more of it), there will still be the concepts of ‘before’ and ‘after’, which is essentially time.

    How does that inform my music? Well, I don’t exactly know, but I can tell you I am all about tension and release (harmonically and melodically speaking), and rhythm. That’s why I like jazz so much (or should I say,”dig” it so much). Add to that the idea of spontaneous creation within a given framework, and you can go into all sorts of theological metaphors.

  23. Jeremy
    September 1, 2005 at 2:49 pm

    Gavin,

    First, let me make it clear that while I’m very interested in just intonation and in alternate tunings in general, and particularly in the curious number of experimental composers from Mormon backgrounds seem interested in it, I’m by no means an equal-temperament hater–my iPod admittedly has more alt-tuning stuff on it than most, but those pieces still probably constitute less than 3% of my digital music collection. My research doesn’t seek to advocate for just intonation on some musico-cosmic moral grounds (except to say that more composers should probably think about tuning as variable rather than fixed); rather, it explores the cultural contexts that contribute to the work of some composers who choose alternative tunings. I’m interested in the form which the dialogue about just intonation takes–especially when that dialogue takes a moral or cosmological form; some very strident advocates of just intonation talk about it in terms of “truth”–or rather a restoration of lost truth, which is why I think some composers of Mormon background have been attracted to this dialogue.

    In fact, these composers’ interest in the acoustics of just intonation, and, surely, their ingrained Mormon obsession with ideas of eternity, leads them to question precisely those presuppositions about “temporality” that you mention. The most prominent of these composers, La Monte Young (friend of Yoko Ono, grandfather figure of the minimalist school and its various offshoots, mentor to the Velvet Underground), has actually composed a number of works that involve precisely the sort of extreme stasis you imagine: sustained chords that go on unchanged seemingly forever. Rather, the pieces do change, but only as one moves through the spaces they fill and notices how their complex harmonic relationships create acoustical structures that are spatially differentiated according to one’s position (rather than temporally differentiated according to how far along one is in the piece).

    I won’t get into the tension-release stuff here, except to say that alternate tunings hardly eliminate tension–in fact, they can enhance it, by rendering more “distant” keys more acoustically distinct and thus making the return to the tonic more acoustically dramatic. In fact, some scholars speculate that the emotional intensity that the act of harmonic modulation had on previous audiences waned with equal temperament. Why wouldn’t this “wild disharmony,” as you call it, be any less apt for creating tension and release than a move to a key that sounds different from the previous one only in its relative change in discrete highness or lowness? And this tension is acoustic and psychophysiological, rather than emblematic (at least to us; audiences in the past probably had a much better sensitivity to harmonic motion than most of us do, because the absence of recordings meant they had a longer and more attentive sense of temporal structure).

    Again, I don’t hate standard temperament (how would I make it through the 3-hour block if I did?), nor do I think just intonation is “morally” superior (although I’m insterested and in some cases good friends with composers who do think this), but I do think musicians should be more willing to explore tuning as a variable.

    ***Apologies to all those here for whom Gavin’s comment and my response are a wash of words!***

    We can take our monochords and Pythagorean commas and play elsewhere, if you’d like.

  24. Gavin McGraw
    September 1, 2005 at 4:56 pm

    Yes indeed, let’s do. A consort of monochords and theorbos.

    “…more composers should probably think about tuning as variable rather than fixed)”
    This is well worth it. I keep trying to educate people on other music-related forums about tuning theory, making exactly that point. Even in Equal Temperament, all tunings are not the same, due to octave stretching (can you tell I’m a piano tuner by day? :). So by all means, do emphasize the flexibility of tuning.

    Composers referring to ‘“truth”–or rather a restoration of lost truth” sounds a lot like what my high school history teacher would call “euphoric recall” (the ‘good-ole-days’ syndrome). This is an area where Mormon parallels break down. In theology there is truth. In Art, there is what I like and don’t like, what is interesting, influential, historically important, marketable…there is no one true and living Art on the face of the earth, no matter what DeseretBook or the Handbook of Instructions says.

    That would be an area where I disagree with the composers’ views, not your research about them.

    “…the pieces do change, but only as one moves through the spaces they fill…”
    Sounds interesting, like a museum exhibit. My opinion is that all music has a function, be it dancing, meditating, making out, etc. The function here seems to be to speculate about what music might be like in the eternities: musical truths, personal progression. However, I wouldn’t be able to put his piece on my iPod (if I had one), so the number of functions it can fill are somewhat limited.

    “…alternate tunings hardly eliminate tension–in fact, they can enhance it…”
    True that. I think it depends partly on what you want to listen for, or what the composer thinks is important to listen for. If the emphasis is only (or even mostly) on the tuning as truth, that’s kind like me making fun of Conference Speakers’ funny Utah accents, and not listening to their message (which I do more than I’d like to admit). If the tuning is used as a means to an end, for example increasing the amount of ‘color’ in certain intervals for musical effect, then fine.

    Just as long as music is still Art and not a dissertation. (the conflict between Art the modern economy is an even further threadjack, and since I’m not the economist…)

    Let me be clear (me too!) that I’m not as dismissive of these concepts as I might seem. I just figured since this is a thread I could actually contribute to in a meaningful way, I’d be argumentative about it.

    Out of curiosity, is it only “Just” intonation that these composers are using, or are they also favoring other historical temperaments like Kirnberger or Vallotti.
    If you’re interested, here’s a very cool site about restoring truth, that is ‘rediscovering’ Bach’s intended tuning for the Well-Tempered Clavier and other later works:
    http://www.larips.com/
    I’ve tuned several pianos using this one, and it sounds great! unlike a lot of the pre-1800 temperaments I’ve heard.

    shop-talk, shop-talk, shop-talk, ad nauseum…

  25. Jeremy
    September 1, 2005 at 5:26 pm

    Gavin,

    The guys I write about are into all sorts of tunings — mostly ratio-based, often using very high primes.

    Email me off-list. I’ll send you some stuff you might dig. orsonstelescope at yahoo dot com.

  26. Chad Too
    September 1, 2005 at 5:30 pm

    Jeremy,

    Good to see you. Is the telescope coming back to life anytime soon?

  27. Jack
    September 1, 2005 at 7:00 pm

    “In theology there is truth. In Art, there is what I like and don’t like, what is interesting, influential, historically important, marketable…there is no one true and living Art on the face of the earth, no matter what DeseretBook or the Handbook of Instructions says.”

    May the seven thunders sound their Amens!

  28. Gavin McGraw
    September 1, 2005 at 7:11 pm

    Jack, I’m not sure I got that, but thanks. I think

  29. Jack
    September 1, 2005 at 8:00 pm

    I heard a piece performed at a senior recital at Cal State Long Beach back in the eighties that utilized a fun tuning. It was based on an eight note scale within one octave–all distances between scale degrees sharing the same ratio. Wild! The piece was derived from a graph taken from a satellite reading of solar winds. The verticle measurement (or intensity of the winds) was converted to pitch while the horizontal remained a measurement of time–tho, as I look back the rate must have been compressed. One delicate flute-like electronic sound was used as an instrument as it was played by a computer. We were able to track the piece visually on the graph as we listened. It was interesting.

    How does something like this make sense in terms of Mormon theology? The only thing that makes sense to me is to judge the merits of such a piece by how it edifies it’s listeners. I, personally, found it edifying because it helped me make a connection with the earth’s interaction with the sun in a new way–with a new perspective. Now, let’s say that we take this same piece and have it performed in sacrament meeting. I doubt that it would be very edifying in such a context–to some maybe, but generally it would be a distraction. This indicates (to me) that establishing a basic standard for an appropriate aesthetic in LDS art is virtually impossible. Our theology (imo) is kind of a moving target because it concerns itself with what is good *now*. And what is good now may not be good later. Yes, I believe that we can build a rigid theological construct based on only the most fundamental principles–but beyond that it gets extremely tenuous. And art will only follow the same course if it is employed in the service of theology–which I think is it’s highest and best use.

  30. Jack
    September 1, 2005 at 8:01 pm

    Gavin,

    It means that I couldn’t agree with you more.

  31. Gavin McGraw
    September 1, 2005 at 9:30 pm

    I think the distinction to make here is that between music by LDS artists and LDS liturgical music, i.e. appropriate for sacrament meeting. The latter is pretty limited, even by the most broad-minded Bishoprics. I wouldn’t really even put that on the radar, because our meetings have to confrom to such a narrow standard of “appropriateness”, which some leaders would make even narrower.

    I think you meant mostly the former. Since art has to expand beyond rigid theological constructs, and our regular meetings basically can’t, there’s going to be conflict there.

    So LDS “church-music” will pretty much always consist of the hymns, and the occasional “special musical number” (Janice Kapp Perry songs, ten-year-old playing ‘Abide With Me’ on the flute, etc.).

    LDS “art-music” can be anything. Sky’s the limit.

    Then there’s another of my rants, which is that for a church that prides itself on near-perfect organization and Revelation and all that, the music that comes from the top down, really is “adapted to the weak and weakest of all saints”, in terms of performance ability, sophistication, and attention-span. (I’m referring here to hymn arrangements, ward-choir stuff, etc., not MOTAB) I guess that’s what you get with a lay-ministry and non-musicians in decision-making positions.

    Vent, vent, vent…

  32. Jack
    September 1, 2005 at 10:29 pm

    Gavin,

    You’re right about those two basic distintions. But even so, those distinctions are really a product of cultural expectations–not to say that’s a bad thing. Any given culture will equate a certain kind of music with worship. And as such, I think it behooves artists (composers) to be sensitive to those expectations so that, at the very least, the music/art is not a distraction from the worship and, at best, it is a powerful *means* of worship.

    that said, there is a fairly large gray area to be considered that lies between the kind of music we hear in sacrament meeting those kinds were hear in (say) more recreational-like activities. But all of it may be sanctified buy it’s usefulness to the Kingdom.

  33. Jack
    September 1, 2005 at 10:32 pm

    That’s, *by* it’s usefulness–not *buy*…

    Boy, was that a Freudianism or what?

  34. September 3, 2005 at 10:16 pm

    Shane:

    Perhaps I don’t understand your comment. You said:
    “As an artist and fifth generation LDS, I am very offended by so called “Mormon art”, a static form of repressive gingoism intended to suppress and subjegate women.”

    And then listed the artists below. Are you intending to say that these artists are offensive to you? Or that they are examples of LDS artists who don’t do so-called “Mormon art”?

    If the latter, I agree. If the former, I can’t see it (except perhaps in the case of Greg Olsen, who is technically proficient, but whose art doesn’t inspire me).

    Could you explain a little better what you mean?

    FWIW, here’s a bit more information about the artists Shane mentioned, several of whom I didn’t realize were Mormon:

    Avard Fairbanks – Sculptor, known for his Angel Moroni on several Temples
    Michael Allred, comic book artist, known lately for The Golden Plates
    Elinor Peace Bailey, Quilter
    James Christensen, painter (known for fantasy-related work)
    Brian Crane, Cartoonist — creator of ‘Pickles”
    Donna Dewberry, painter – craft decorator
    Brian Fairrington, political cartoonist
    Helaman Ferguson, mathematician, abstract artists
    Mark Gudmundsen, National Parks artist
    Hayden Lambson, wildlife artist
    Greg Olsen, painter

    Further information about all of these artists is available on Google.

  35. Dan
    October 1, 2005 at 12:30 am

    Ok. I just stumbled on this discussion and it seems to be an ongoing, recent thing. My quick view as a sculptor, a mormon, and very much into using the latter to feed the former, I can’t think of anything I do being mormon art any more than, say, Matthew Barney creating “mormon art” because he uses mormon-ish icons and imagery in his work. We all have a back ground and some artists, like myself, recognize that a mormon background is actually somewhat unique in the world. With that in tow, I find endless inspiration in recognizing just where mormonism has affected my life. It is all intrusive, for better or for worse, and usually quite foreign to anyone east of the rockies. Presently in South Carolina, I’m a veritable alien.

    I know that when the collection of artists were chosen to paint the murals for the Nauvoo temple, the only recommendation given by the “brethren” was that the work be created while working with the spirit. From there, the artists had to submit proposals, expect numerous judging visits and a final OK from the presidency. What most of the painters I was acquainted with ended up painting was exactly what their patrons (though they were not paid) asked for. They did not paint as they usually would. This is not to suggest that creativity was stifled, but rather that creativity was highly controlled. A good friend of mine has worked on numerous temples installing and creating stained glass windows and high end wood carvings and carpentry. It is a job for him, albeit a fairly peaceful job. For anyone who has ever worked for the church, it is well understood that the easy way is never a given option. The further the task falls from the eyes of the General Authorities, mind you, the quality accepted falls dramatically. (you should see the work being done on the chapel I attend over here!)

    Ok, I’m ramblin…All I meant to say is that “mormon art” is like any art: it has been rudely categorized as a means to organizing the issue and creating theories. If there is some special metaphysical force that pushes my work, it is ever changing, just like me. I wouldn’t be a part of this whole art thang were it a stagnant plug-it-in world.

    Dan

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