Saturday, April 4, 2009

Mormon Artist?

I am a student at Brigham Young University. This year will be my last. I am working on my bachelor’s degree in art education. The decision to be an art teacher and an artist is still being worked out in my head. It seems to be a hard balance to manage. Back to the reason I was writing this whole thing. This blog has been pretty void of meaning; hopefully this entry will change that. I am taking an art criticism class at BYU from a visiting professor from New York, Brent Wilson, a well-known name in art education worldwide. We have been discussing contemporary artists as well as some of the big ideas behind their work. One dark and stormy afternoon Dr Wilson brought up the issue of Mormon Art. To some, (or to me) the phrase “Mormon art” induces images of idealized paintings of family life and Thomas Kinkadish landscapes, most of which make me feel like the events depicted are so far fetched that they are impossible. I work in an art gallery that sells Carl Bloch paintings, a large majority focus on Jesus Christ’s life. On some occasions people come in and ask if we have anything more contemporary, something a little brighter. The paintings they are looking for are much different than the depictions of Christ that Carl Bloch portrays. One of my favorite Carl Bloch paintings is of Gethsemane (altarpiece). (Sorry about the tangent, Carl Bloch was not Mormon, but what I like about his paintings is what may be lacking in some of the contemporary paintings of Christ that I would stereotype as Mormon art) The biblical account of Christ’s suffering in the Gethsemane states that an angel appeared from heaven, strengthening him. This account has helped me appreciate what Christ came and completed a long, long time ago for all of mankind. The Bloch depiction of this account shows the Savior being supported by an angel who looks as if they can feel the pain that he is suffering. The account in this painting strives to come close to the truth. What point am I trying to make? The truth. A lot of art that has been classified as Mormon art, seems to be so idealized that it is not true. These events really did happen. I am sorry if I am offending any of the artists that might produce art that is in the “Mormon art” category. My intent is to figure out what obligations I have as an artist and a Mormon. What is a Mormon Artist anyway? If you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and an artist, does that make you a Mormon artist? Usually artists are categorized by their style, time period, or subject matter, not by their religion. Does being LDS and an artist come with an obligation to produce a certain type of art? Does “Mormon art” view the world through rose colored glasses? All of these questions and much more were discussed in my art criticism class last week. I am beginning to come to a conclusion. I am a member of the LDS Church; it is one of the things I am the most sure off in life. I am not a professional artists, the artwork I make is usually commissioned by my mom and given to her or stashed away in my room. The way I see it, being a member of the LDS Church does not restrict my artwork in anyway at all (It may be restricted if they were putting it in the Ensign or some other church publication) My conclusion is that I don’t want to make artwork that leads a person to believe that what is bad is good or that what is good is bad. Honestly sometimes when I am making art, I have no intent at all, I am just enjoying the feel of clay in my hands or looking at the colors of paint run onto my canvas. Other times there are issues I would like to make people aware of. One of my favorite reasons for making art is when it makes someone else happy. My mom would be the example there. She may not understand a lot of the things that I do but she and my dad support me in what I am doing. When I painted Puff the Magic Dragon in the Playroom in our basement over the summer I was not thinking how rewarding it would be to see my 4 year-old nephew go downstairs to count the dolphins on the wall, or to see the dragon. I love it. My conclusion: art can be a gift in so many different ways, one of the ways may be that it is bringing up an issue that needs to be discussed to move towards something better, the truth it may be telling may not be a pretty one, but art is powerful. Now I am sounding like Mau, art can be a weapon, but it does not have to be. How can a statement about Mormon art end with no conclusion and chairman Mau? It was not very well thought out I guess, but now it is free to do what it needs to do.

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