Pillars of Mormon Art

12.5.08 | | 15 comments

Six Theological Pillars for the Art of God’s People

Now, if that’s not a daunting title, I don’t know what is. It was enough to pique my curiosity, though, and I left work early on Friday, November 7th to attend Vern Swanson’s thusly-named presentation at the Biennial Art, Belief, Meaning Symposium, Picturing the Divine, at the BYU Museum of Art.

Swanson is one of my favorite Mormon Art Curmudgeons, and not a very curmudgeonly one at that. He’s a wacky art guy, yes, but he’s downright jolly. The afternoon presentations were limited to a half hour, and unfortunately so was the culmination of the day – the panel discussion featuring Swanson, painter Brian Kershisnik, painter/professor Bruce Smith and BYU-H religion professor Keith Lane. A test in Chinese class had prevented me from attending Kershisnik’s keynote speech in the morning, and I was anxious to hear more while we had all these fantastic Mormon Art brains together in one room. But the limited time was well-spent, and I was left with all kinds of buzzy little concepts floating around in my brain, not to mention the cramp in my hand from trying to get as much as I could into my little spiral-bound notebook.

While the presentations were all independently interesting, I’ve decided to share my thoughts on them all in one over-arching framework. And Swanson provided such a framework very handily – his presentation focused on what he called the six pillars of Mormon art. I would like to break my comments, interspersed with what the presenters had to say and examples and commentary from the contemporary Mormon art world, into six separate discussions, to be published here – well, let’s be realistic – whenever I get the chance to write them. The first one will appear within the week.

As an introduction, however, here are the six pillars defined by Swanson:

  • The Bible’s injunction against graven images
  • Wisehearted art as “curious workmanship” and “cunning wisdom”
  • The Book of Mormon’s view of art as a sign of arrogance
  • “There is Beauty All Around” – decorative and collaborative art
  • Art as a showpiece – proof of greatness
  • Art as an agent for “softening one’s heart”

I look forward to discussing them with you.

15 comments: “Pillars of Mormon Art

  1. William Morris

    Well, I, for one, am incredibly intrigued. I think that often we focus only as art as a showpiece and/or art as a creator of meaning.

    Swanson appears to be bringing in some other ideas to his framework. I’m especially looking forward to what he has to say about decorative and collaborative art.

  2. Th.

    .

    Man. You got me all excited and now I have to wait? I’m afraid this post might have been more cruel than anything. Don’t wait too long!

  3. Anneke Majors Post author

    Hmmm… I was just breaking them up so as not to spam everyone with too much at once.

    Now it appears I’ve set myself up to disappoint everyone if it’s not as good as expected. ;)

  4. kevinf

    As an occasional visitor to this site, I will watch for these segments. Looking forward to reading them.

  5. Th.

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    Well, yes, if you’d put up all six at once I wouldn’t have read it. This is probably true.

  6. Th.

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    Well, yes, if you’d put up all six at once I wouldn’t have read it. This is probably true. But I really am intrigued by the breakdown and curious to see what you have to say.

    Incidentally, what are you gradschooling in?

  7. Anneke Majors Post author

    Good question, Yak! I’m curious too. :) Personally, I think that beautifying Zion and beautifying the home (There is beauty all around) are interdependent. I’d love to get your input when I cover that topic.

    And Th, I’m gradschooling in the Instructional Psychology & Technology Ph.D. program at BYU, specializing in second-language acquisition. At times I wish I could be involved in graduate work in art history, but I have too many passions, and I ended up pursuing this particular passion after some very coincidentally specific spiritual nudges.

  8. American Yak

    Yeah, talking about Zion in terms of the arts and creating beauty, etc., etc. (thank you Elder Uchtdorf for your recent talk about creativity), has long been a pet topic of mine.

    I like your take on it.

    I admit I always have thought of it more on a macroscopic level (I almost said scope, but thought that might be redundantly redundant). That is, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of them that publish good tidings…that saith unto Zion thy God reigneth…” Etc.

    It’s such a pet topic of mine…

  9. American Yak

    Oh, I meant to finish this by saying that I totally agree with your take, and I think both are needed, i.e., throughout the whole earth.

  10. Eva Christensdottir

    In the realm of “agent for softening one’s heart” (I comment more than 2 years after this thread seems to have broken), is, it seems to me, the art of Carl Bloch, now in the BYU Art Museum. In a sign of the times, technologically speaking, Life of Christ: The Art of Carl Bloch has just appeared in a Kindle edition.

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