Sunstone Journal – Friday

8.12.06 | | 34 comments

To begin the day, (my day, at least, I got there late again) author Brian Evenson spoke of the tension between trying to be dedicated to both your art and the church, which I think is potentially a very interesting topic, but I must say I was underwhelmed by his story. It’s one thing, I think, if you really feel divinely inspired to create your work and that it is of great spiritual worth, but then are faced up against church leaders who believe it’s inappropriate for some reason. I didn’t get the feeling that such was the case with Evenson. Rather, he was already inactive when he up and decided to leave the church because he felt that, despite his inactivity, his membership in the church was still leading him to a bit of self-censorship.

He said it was a difficult decision, which I don’t doubt, but it didn’t seem like much in the way of a real art/church conflict. He just plain felt his work was more important than anything else – including his marriage. He said that after making a decision between his art and his religion, he also had to make a decision between his art and his marriage. He chose the former and is now divorced. Evenson also spoke of being worried that someday he will have to make a choice between his art and his two children. For their sake, so am I.

I next attended The Sugar Beet session, which was fairly sparsely populated, as they had to compete with Richard Dutcher talking about Big Love and Armand Mauss talking about…whatever it was they were talking about. But I bet the people in all the other sessions combined didn’t laugh as much as we did. These Sugar Beet guys are really genuinely funny people.

Christopher Bigelow began with the origins of The Sugar Beet and his surprise that it was more widely accepted than they thought it would be – even though they did get emails calling for their excommunication. He mentioned some of the boundaries that the Sugar Beet writers set for themselves, such as not talking about temple specifics and generally not using the names of current G.A.s in stories. Todd Petersen noted that a lot of the stories were based on real experiences, and that those stories often generated more angry letters than the stories which were completely fabricated.

Eric Samuelsen had some really good things to say about the value of humor, particularly in Mormon culture. He mentioned that after he started writing for the Sugar Beet, he started seeing things in a different light. Where previously he might have been angered or frustrated by a crazy Sunday School teacher, now he would ask questions trying to get more out of them – it was funny. He spoke of sitting next to a nutty fan at a BYU football game and became more interested in this guy than in the game. Thus was born Samuelsen’s regular sports column by “Iron” Rod Zeier.

Bigelow has compiled a “best of” collection of Sugar Beet articles that will be published in a book titled The Mormon Tabernacle Enquirer, due out in November.

John Dehlin offered a nice presentation on the internet and Mormonism and made a couple of points I thought were particularly valuable. He spent some time showing people some of the information available to the owner of the blog site you visit just by visiting, such as location, referrer and even the search words you typed if that was the case (then showing a list of humorous searches that had brought people to mormonstories.org). The point he was leading to was that it’s pretty difficult to maintain total privacy on the internet, so just give it up. He pointed out that when people blog and comment by their own names, they are somewhat more civil because they become responsible for what’s under their name.

He also shared his bloggernacle experience of deconversion from total openness. He was originally put off by the moderation of some ‘nacle blogs and so tried to establish an atmosphere of openness on his own blog. Except that total openness led to chaos. Thus, he concluded that moderated forums are necessary in order to establish an environment where real dialogue can take place.

Dehlin also mentioned a need for a blog aggregator that includes ratings and filters to aid navigation. I think we may be a bit young for that yet, but before too long, I agree that such a think will become very valuable. Dehlin – and then responder Kevin Foxe – mentioned the need for members to participate on the internet by creating their own blogs, podcasts, and videos, especially in light of the growing presence of anti material on the net. Incidentally, lots of ‘nacclers came to this one. I met Dallas Robbins, John Fowles, Kevin Barney, and we think we spotted Christopher Bradford.

The last session of the day I attended was probably the most interesting, but also the most difficult to write about, as it was largely a Q & A that briefly covered a lot of different topics. The primary theme, though, seemed to be the tension between art and the church as experienced by Richard Dutcher, Brian Evenson, and Neil LaBute.

Evenson shared the story of his leaving the church he had told earlier and then LaBute shared the story of his disfellowship after his play Bash, but I still would have been interested in hearing more about it. He said that in the “court of love” he was at, the council explained that Bash would likely be a first contact that many people would have with Mormons – and that it wouldn’t be a good one. LaBute said he understand the rationale and even agreed not to write anything more with Mormon characters. I don’t really understand why he was still disfellowshipped if he had complied with their request, but there must have been more to it. In any case, he said that some time afterwards, he just removed himself from the church completely.

Dutcher insisted that he will in fact make The Prophet someday, but that he first needs to make a crappy movie that will make some money to get the funds.

34 comments: “Sunstone Journal – Friday

  1. Dave

    Thanks for the comments, Eric. I’m not familiar with the details of the LaBute story, but it’s obvious that as more and more Mormons become active in media and the arts, local leaders are going to have to stop practicing art criticism via LDS disciplinary procedures. No bishop would hold a court for a BYU coach who screws up a game or a whole season or an LDS business person whose business practices, while legal, are inclined to offend people. What makes them think they can hold courts for art they disagree with, whatever its artistic merit or lack thereof? This is a problem. This is not an art problem, this is a problem with our system of non-professional clergy and lax oversight by whoever supervises their actions (if anyone).

  2. Mahonri Stewart

    Dave,
    Although I understand your sentiments, I think I see the issue differently. The Brian Evenson story is what is more disturbing to me. So often we hoist our art and literature up as a kind of golden calf, and anyone who crosses it– well, watch out! It\’s the thing that can\’t be attacked, especially by those in ecclesiastical authority. The fact that Evenson allowed his work to disconnect him from the Church and his own family– well, let\’s just say I hope my own priorities never get that screwed up. Only a revelation directly from God would justify such a path, methinks.
    LaBute (although I don\’t agree with his taking so lightly his membership in the Church to just throw it away), I think did a much braver and more honest thing in resigning his membership, in that he was determined not to be a hypocrite. He saw that his life and worldview was not in keeping with the Church, thus instead of attacking and slandering the religion he had joined, instead he realized that membership in the Church is a totally voluntary action and thus he could no longer serve two masters.
    What is really disconcerting to me about this issue, however, is that it seems to me that whenever we seem to can claim an artist who is really making waves in their respective fields, they almost inevitably are excommunicated or resign their membership or go inactive or apostate. Why? Are the arts and academic fields really so incompatible with being an active Latter-day Saint? I don\’t necessarily think so. Orson Scott Card has proven that. He can write challenging, powerful stuff and still has the Church\’s support (even when he writes things like Saints and Folks on the Fringe which includes LDS characters and themes, even in radical ways). Instead of excommunicating him, they invite him to write the Hill Cumorah Pageant or Barefoot to Zion for the Church. What is different between someone like LaBute or Evanson? Card has proven his loyalty, thus the Church doesn\’t have to take a defensive position, because the Church does not feel attacked.

  3. Johnna Cornett

    The best parts of this session where when the three writers questioned each other. LaBute told Dutcher at one point that in order to fulfill his vision as a director he would someday be faced with choosing between his church membership and his work. It was a chilling moment, but I still don’t think that’s really so.

    Another thing, in the way LaBute is true to the interests and values he had before he joined the church, while he was a member, and continuing on today, I still consider him to have the soul of a Mormon. and the lines LaBute tossed off about being a procrastinator and a writer were priceless.

  4. stephen j

    Dutcher also related the comment of one of his professors that the first “great” Mormon artist would be excommunicated. What was especially chilling was that Dutcher, towards the end of the session, then asked Labute and Evenson about their experiences with church discipline and resigning their memberships. Maybe I was reading into it, but it felt as though Dutcher saw himself as potentially being faced with similar choices.

    “What is really disconcerting to me about this issue, however, is that it seems to me that whenever we seem to can claim an artist who is really making waves in their respective fields, they almost inevitably are excommunicated or resign their membership or go inactive or apostate. Why?”

    Maybe it has something to do with an artist seeing their art as a search for and uncovering of truth in the human experience. They want to get at the root of things, to expose contradictions, to probe questions, most especially to put light into the darker corners and see what’s going on there. Certainly they succeed at doing this effectively and sincerely to varying degrees. You hear a lot of verbiage about being true to the artistic vision or the truth as discovered in the artistic quest, and when that vision runs up against a church-imposed or culturally-imposed aesthetic, or when that quest leads to conclusions or even just explorations that challenge some of the faith community’s tenets, there are usually choices to be made. An artist’s sense of artistic integrity isn’t about the art, really, but about honesty and truth and the freedom to search for the two. If you tell someone, “search for truth and be open and honest about it and please share with us your journey and what you find… but don’t go there and don’t show us that”- something about putting a priori limitations on such a thing seems more like a neutering than anything else and by it you may lose some of the most valuable discoveries or insights. On the other hand though, how much is really worth sacrificing for such a quest? Church membership? Family? Maybe like Mauss the artist could say in effect, I have prepared myself and my family for the possibility of exommunication if there is a misunderstanding about my work and a misunderstanding about my commitment to the gospel, etc.

    That session was challenging.

  5. Mahonri Stewart

    Johnna,
    What was Dutcher’s response to LaBute? I still have high hopes for him, especially since he has mentioned in some settings how he, unlike some LDS artists, feels spiritually called to his work (unlike LaBute, who said in a recent radio interview something to the effect that he has never felt God guiding him in his work– I’ll try to dig up the actual quote, so that I’m not misquoting him). He came into LDS Cinema– and kept going in cinema in general– because he read Pres. Kimball’s talk on the arts and had a spiritual experience. That sort of spirituality is vital to the LDS artist, and I’m afraid that people like LaBute will try to convince Dutcher that he ought to let experiences like that fade and instead cling to what is stylish and will raise him up in worldly circles. I believe that Dutcher is smarter than that and will see through LaBute’s comment.
    –Mahonri

  6. Mahonri Stewart

    Stephen,
    Totally see what you mean. However, when I see LaBute just throwing off his membership like that, it makes me wonder– did he really believe it? Does he believe it now? Or was it some kind of cultural safety net he adopted when he was going to BYU– did he just WANT to believe it? And at that point, how valuable was it to him?
    Does the Lord do this on purpose? Does he put His artists into compromising situations, where their work butts heads with authority, so He can see how much they really do value their baptism, their temple covenants, their sealing, their priesthood? You see, to me these kind of things aren’t abstract– I really do believe that the priesthood binds and seals and loosens, like Christ told Peter. And that the Lord honors that. So to me, I don’t see the plays I write as more valuable to me than the covenant and ordinances I’ve entered into. Dutcher has focused so much on ordinances in his work, he has focused so much on the priesthood– that leads me to believe that he takes such things seriously, that the Church with all of its ordinances and priesthood extensions is important, that it has weight and authority and, when it is not exercized with unrighteous dominion, is honored in God’s sight.
    What does consecration mean to us? When we make temple covenants, are we just giving them lip service, or do we actually consider them binding upon our souls, upon our actions, upon our worldviews?
    The world is not always ready for truth. The Lord teaches us line upon line, and the general Church membership isn’t perfect in all of its ideas and prejudices. If the policies (not doctrine) of the Church is wrong with something, and we feel that we have been somehow “enlightened” with a certain principle, then is it worth sacrificing what is most dear to us, our families, our Church membership, to throw out a few kernels? To some, it may be, they may feel that compelled by the principle. To me, however, that just seems like impatience.
    I think of all the black members of the Church before the priesthood revelation– despite opposition and prejudice and being an extremely small minority, they stuck with the Church. They didn’t rant or rave or rebel– they waited. And the Lord repayed them for their patience.
    I see the Church like a ship in a storm. Sure, it has its leaks, its tears in the sails, its imperfect captains. But that ship is what is keeping us from drowning in violent waves. Jumping ship just because you don’t always agree with the captain, seems to me to be a very foolish thing.
    Is the art we make our Isaac? We will be at some point called to sacrifice it, as a test? A test that seems unreasonable, illogical, contrary to prior commandments, and just plain wrong? But, if we do pass that test, will the Lord restore to us our beloved Isaac, proving that we love God and membership in His fold, more than we love even our most truth-wrought pieces of art?

  7. Stephen M (Ethesis)

    Totally see what you mean. However, when I see LaBute just throwing off his membership like that, it makes me wonder– did he really believe it? Does he believe it now?

    A good question.

    What if my art was brewing beer?

  8. S. P. Bailey

    “the council explained [to LaBute] that Bash would likely be a first contact that many people would have with Mormons – and that it wouldn’t be a good one.”

    Is there a difference between (1) disloyalty to the church that tends to undermine it, a sort of religious treason, and (2) failure to perform as an effective cog in the church public relations machine?

    Local leaders seem be trying to enforce a duty of loyalty to the church. Sounds good in the abstract, but Dave’s concern comes into play: Do the leaders understand the work? Do they have the tools to dinstinguish between thoughtful exporation and anti-Mormon propaganda? Do they distinguish between an evil character who happens to be Mormon (it happens) and assertions in art that Mormonism itself is evil? I certainly think this is an area where extreme caution should be displayed by authorities. The church is strong. It can thrive in the presence of the kind of “tough question” art discussed here.

  9. S. P. Bailey

    “[T]he first ‘great’ Mormon artist would be excommunicated.”

    Who was the professor? Did he/she provide any explanation? Just curious if we can put some meat on the bones of such a striking claim.

    It seems quite possible that this statement buys into “stuggling romantic genious” ideas of Art. Such Artists (notice the capital A) tend to overstate in dramatic fashion the significance of the callings they assign to themselves.

    All artists concern themselves with more than one kind of truth. Two major categories: truth as verisimilitude and truth as moral judgment. Great artists may be the masters of the former, but their treatment of the latter is generally recycled from other sources: religion, philosophy, science, politics, etc.[*] Not that the recycled nature of moral judgment in art renders it weak. On the contrary, the embodied nature of art makes it a powerful purveyor of whatever “source” it serves: a story that recycles a moral idea is likely to be a much better advocate than the theological or philsophical treatise that may have originated the idea.

    My point: it may happen that the first so-called “great” Mormon artist is excommunicated. From this the deduction “if great mormon artist, then excommunication” does not follow. That, in my opinion, is an unfortunate bind to buy into. Great artists need not arrogate themselves into romantic geniouses that compulsively attack sources of moral authority that demand a measure of humility.

    [*]Indeed, it is interesting to enquire into the source of the moral judgments expressed in works that come into conflict with the church. In my opinion, the moral judgments in such works are frequently mere distillations of present orthodoxies (often, but not always, orthodoxies of the liberal elite.) Adopting and advocating the worldview of those who currently hold the keys to fame as an American artist does not look like moral courage to me. On the contrary. On the contrary.

  10. Darlene

    I appreciate the discussion here. I wish I could have heard the panel. I was very distressed when I first heard that Dutcher would be appearing on the panel at all, because I have had great hopes for him as the artist we can trust to tell the truth from the inside, and to do whatever he can to never sacrifice his commitment to the church for what he (or anyone else) sees as the requirements of his art. Just appearing on the panel with those two looked bad to me–it was an acknowledgement that he has something in common with them. I don’t want him to have something in common with them.

    I would like more details about what he said. Did he differentiate himself from them? Did he say, “I see things differently”? He is my great hope for a Mormon artist, and for Mormon art in general. (I talk more about this at my blog.)

  11. Mahonri Stewart

    S.P. and Darlene, I very much appreciate your comments and am in full agreement with them. Shawn, your comments about the artists rebelling one orthodoxy only to adopt another (as you said,its often the liberal elite) seems on the button to me. It’s as if they see the “great” artists of today, and covet their position and see that their religion is getting in the way. For a while they try to balance the two, but, alas, each side requires a kind of loyalty and they ultimately have to decide where that loyalty lies. But does that HAVE to be the case? I don’t think so. C.S. Lewis and Tolkien are two writers who were both tremendously loyal to their faith, while still being tremendously successful in their art. Ditto for Orson Scott Card.
    As to the excommunication issue, can we truly claim our first great “Mormon” artist, if he’s not Mormon anymore? Frankly, I agree with Darlene, in that I want somebody “on the inside.” The Neil LaButes, the Samuel Taylors, the whole darn “lost generation”– why must talent and loyalty to the Church be separated?
    When I see Mormon artists who rebel against the Brethren or what not, it disturbs me. I mean, what’s the point in being Mormon then, if you don’t believe in prophets? Continuing revelation, priesthood authority– they are core doctrines of the Church. Cut yourself off from those, then what’s the point in being a Mormon at all? I do not mean to say that the prophets aren’t perfect, but if we don’t keep the Church into one cohesive body, then we are a house divided. And we all know what happens to divided houses.

  12. Eric Russell Post author

    I think the biggest problem here is what we don’t know. Church leaders don’t discuss what happens in disciplinary courts and so we have nothing to go on but the stories of the individuals themselves. Was LaBute really disfellowshipped just for writing a play that made Mormons look bad? Somehow, I doubt that. But of course I don’t know.

    For what it’s worth, I really don’t think that Dutcher is in the same danger as the other two. Primarily because he just has a different attitude. While the other two seemed largely indifferent towards their church membership (and even antagonistic towards the church in some ways) Dutcher goes out of his way to say he has nothing negative to say about the church. And I wonder if just that difference in demeanor holds a big difference in whether you come under church discipline or not.

  13. Mahonri Stewart

    Eric, I REALLY hope you’re right about Dutcher, for I really respect him, I love his films, and when I’ve seen him speak, he can have this really strong spirituality which I really appreciate. He’s the kind of film maker not only that the world needs, but especially the kind the Church needs. If Richard ever reads this blog, I hope he knows how much he is loved and that we are all cheering him on.

  14. William Morris

    I was already to charge in with talk about post-romanticism and the cult of the author, but I see S.P Bailey beat me to it. Nice analysis, Shawn.

    And good discussion. I think we need to talk more about this issue. For example, related to Comment #10….

    Why is it that business, marketing and self-help discourse is more acceptable than artistic discourse in church circles?

  15. Nate Oman

    S.P. Bailey: Thanks for pointing out the rather parochial Romantic sensibilities that are behind so much of our modern conception of the Artist. If the persona of struggling genius who lives by defying orthodox conventions is the epitome of what it means to be an artist, there are any number of masterpieces that we will have to excommunicate from the Church of True Art, beginning with things like Chartres Cathedral and the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

  16. stephen j

    S.P. Bailey (#11)
    I think the professor attributed to the “great Mormon artist prophecy” was Golightly and I don’t recall that any additional context or explanation was provided for the statement.

    “[*]Indeed, it is interesting to enquire into the source of the moral judgments expressed in works that come into conflict with the church. In my opinion, the moral judgments in such works are frequently mere distillations of present orthodoxies (often, but not always, orthodoxies of the liberal elite.) Adopting and advocating the worldview of those who currently hold the keys to fame as an American artist does not look like moral courage to me. On the contrary. On the contrary.”

    I see your point in this statement, as well as in Nate Oman’s, and would agree that much is missed when you only accept in the Church of True Art those whose first rule of artistic integrity is to challenge cultural orthodoxy (read ‘conservative’ orthodoxy). It starts to smell like just changing orthodoxies rather than a transcendant truth quest. At the same time, though, it doesn’t feel right to wave away those who do challenge the reigning orthodoxy, not as a matter of principle, but as a matter or exploration, of following where the trail leads. Surely we can make room for Beethoven, Crumb, or the controversial union of Aerosmith and Run DMC.

  17. stephen j

    As an aside, would this conversation be analagous to the “alternate voices” discussions floating around? In the end, is there a place in the Church for “alternate voices”, be they artistic or intellectual? If so, to what degree are they wanted by the church? To what degree are they beneficial?

  18. stephen j

    And to what degree should they feel entitled to be accepted?

  19. Kristian

    I just stumbles on this discussion. I have been a visual artist my entire life. I caome form a long line of artists in my family. I am also the only one in my family who is a member of the Church.

    My 2¢:
    1. Why is it that “great art” these days is only that which explores the darker things? That’s always bothered me (even before I joined the Church). What is it about our current society that says that Art can’t be great without being controversial or exploring ugly things?
    2. If one’s art seems to lead away (the artist or the audience) from the doctrines of Christ, whence comes that inspriation? If I feel moved to create something that doesn’t increase my testimony of the Savior, but infact pulls my belief away from Him, isn’t that the Adversary playing with me?

  20. Mahonri Stewart

    Stephen, what do you mean by “alternate voices?”
    If you mean by that phrase, voices that run contrary to basic Mormon beliefs, I don’t think they’ll ever get much support from the Mormon audience. They may be able to present at Sunstone, but they’ll never capture the heart of the Mormon people at large. Nor do I believe that they ought to feel that they ought to.
    If by “alternate voices,” you mean voices that will show new points of view within a Mormon context, while still maintaining a basic faith in the tenets of the Church, then they may be able to get somehow.
    As to your question about what degree an artist should feel “entitled” to be accepted– well, I don’t think any artists deserves any such entitlement. Sometimes artists cultivate the attitude that they “deserve” the praise of the world, akin to “build it and they will come.” As much as I love Field of Dreams, it’s not going to be quite like that. Once an artist finds a way to serve a community, once he discovers something that the public can cling to, an idea that assists them, or a beauty that inspires them, then he will have earned his keep. “The Greatest Among You is Your Servant” is not a mantra that many artists cling to, which is a tragedy. We all clamor for our due, for our rights, for our respect and love from society– yet I think we have it backwards. Instead we need to find a need in society and then fill it. We need to be useful. We need to cry out more about responsibilities, than entitlements.

  21. Mahonri Stewart

    Kristian,
    I agree about your comments about the “dark art” of society. Neil LaBute and Brian Evanson have thrived on portraying shadows– the massachistic, massoginistic, sadisitic and cruel. There is a place for that, all sides of life can be represented, even in the dark hues, but they are so focused upon it, so obsessed. It’s become more of a parlor trick than anything, an easy way out to shock the audience. I personally would love to see more naunced, more balanced and more insightful work than that.

  22. Mahonri Stewart

    And such work has come from Dutcher so far. Here’s hoping that he keeps it up.

  23. Mahonri Stewart

    Thank you for pointing out these articles to me, Shawn. I was aware of the situation (and even Elder Oaks’s talk), but hadn’t picked up on the prasology. Thus I wanted the definition of what Stephen meant by “alternate voices,” for it could be construed to mean many things, unless one knew the context.
    These articles are a rich source for discussion, but at the moment I need to rush and will reply more fully later.

  24. Silver

    #12 Darlene

    “I was very distressed when I first heard that Dutcher would be appearing on the panel at all . . . Just appearing on the panel with those two looked bad to me–it was an acknowledgement that he has something in common with them. I don’t want him to have something in common with them.”

    This is a disturbing comment. “Those two” are artists–one is even a filmmaker–just like Dutcher. Therefore, they already have something in common. If the “Good Mormon” artists should shun the “Bad Mormon” artists, not even participate in a discussion for fear of tainted associations, what does that say for the rest of us? Should I move to a different row in Relief Society when a disfellowshipped sister sits next to me? Should we forget our plans to invite our neighbors to dinner because the husband is excommunicated and the daughter pierced her nose?

  25. Mahonri Stewart

    Silver,
    Who we fellowhip and who we stand in common causes with are two different things. Say, for example, you went to a political convention– it would be advocating a certain party by being there. If we didn’t want to advocate that party, we most likely wouldn’t go. The panel on which Dutcher spoke with these two gentlemen was called “The Dark Side of Happy Valley”– that’s the common thread they were pointing up at the Symposium. I don’t mind that Darlene finds this disturbing. And she’s fair for wondering whether this is a trend or not in Richard Dutcher.
    I don’t mind that he decided to speak with them, but it does make me curious whether he is sending a message by doing so, especially with the kind of questions he was evidently asking them.
    But, for the record, I would any of those three over for dinner. It would be a very interesting meal. :]

  26. D. Fletcher

    I’ll quote myself here (from Times and Seasons) since I’m determined to be centerstage everywhere!

    I recently set The Articles of Faith to music. It’s meant to be for children, as a replacement or optional setting to the ones which are in the Primary songbook. Some people have bought my music, out of some kindness to me. Whether or not the music is “great,” it doesn’t really matter — it is of little use to anyone. It can’t be used in Primary, because it isn’t part of the correlated group of songs, and it takes too long for children to learn these songs, anyway. My music can’t be done as a vocal solo (it’s got counterpoint) so it won’t be needed in recitals, or Sacrament Meeting. The Church doesn’t need great art — it doesn’t need plays, movies, novels, poetry, visual art of any kind (though Minerva Teigart (SIC) worked at a time when the Church needed murals) or even interpretive art skills like singing, conducting, dancing, acting. Even pianists/organists are becoming less needed, by virtue of automatic accompaniments played on electronic instruments.

    The Church doesn’t need artistic works, because it doesn’t use them. Additionally, the Church doesn’t want people to express themselves artistically, which draws attention to the artist and away from the community. Hence, all art created with LDS themes might be considered “subversive,” and indeed, much of it is exactly that, in that it is critical of the Church and the small culture which it has engendered.

    P.S. The only art the Church has actually needed over the course of its history is architecture. Somebody must design these buildings. And many of our buildings, certainly the older temples, are quite striking and unusual. The Cardston Temple is the greatest work of art ever developed intentionally and specifically for the LDS church.

    Jack, to what end? Do members really think we’ll have paintings on our walls or musical “masses” in our SMs? All LDS-themed art is presented outside Church, and I don’t really see this changing any time soon. This is the chief reason I think that artists “fall away,” because they need at least “potential” for presentation, and they’re not getting it in the Church.

    And when one presents one’s art outside of Church proper, it’s regarded as subversive. I know, it’s a conundrum, one I’ve been dealing with for 48 years.

    :)

    P.S. Twenty-five years ago, the Church sponsored a contest for a musical. All you had to do was send a treatment for a show to the judges (one of whom was James Arrington, I believe) and they would hand over $50,000 grant money to write the show. They suggested a Mormon Fiddler on the Roof, as a good example of a show upholding religious values.

    Of course, Fiddler itself comes from a great artistic source, stories by Sholom Aleichem. But in Fiddler, the 3rd of the daughters finds a husband outside the faith, a conflict which would never pass muster in the LDS arena. The potential show would have to be safe from worldly conflicts (i.e., not dramatic).

    No winner was found, no prize given or show produced. And where would it be produced, anyway? The Church itself is… antithetical to art, like some religious entities of the past.

    Just my humble opinion, but Neal LaBute is a terrific writer, and if we can claim him, perhaps the best playwright we’ve produced (at BYU, anyway).

  27. Mahonri Stewart

    D. Fletcher,
    LaBute’s certainly the most famous playwright we have right now. As to best? Hmmm, I’d choose either Eric Samuelsen or Tim Slover, personally. I would like to see some more variety and range from LaBute before I’d set him up like that.

  28. stephen j

    Here’s an interesting essay that has some relevance to the discussion at hand (caution: two instances of cursing):

    http://paulgraham.com/say.html

    (Thanks S.P. Bailey, for pointing out those links re alternate voices)

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