Tag Archives: Visual Arts

That Time Brian Kershisnik Answered My Question

8.4.10 | | 11 comments

Now that I finally have a moment to sit down and write that one story I’ve been intending to post since last summer, my notes are in a notebook in a storage unit in Orem and I am hiding my cough from the heat with a box of Kleenex and some rooibos tea in an apartment in urban Taiwan. But it’s worth relaying the story nonetheless, so you’ll have to just trust me on the specifics.

Last summer I was very posh and attended frequent lectures at The Bridge Academy in Provo. If you’re not wealthy enough to take classes at the Bridge, I at least recommend attending their guest speaker and workshop events. It’s honestly kind of the best thing Mormon art has going for it.

Christopher Young was fantastic, James Christensen was inspiring, Walter Rane was lecturing the weekend I was leaving the country (fie!), but my favorite moment so far was getting to attend a presentation by Brian Kershisnik. And the moment I had been waiting for came at the end when he opened it up for questions and answers.

See, I’ve had this connection with Brian Kershisnik’s paintings for years. There’s something about his world inhabited by industrious, angelic Mormon women that just fascinates me. It connects to this Mormon quality that I saw in families in the ward I grew up in in Colorado, but has been harder and harder to find in recent years. I know a lot of Mormons, a lot of faithful people, but there is a certain quality in Mormon women that seems harder and harder to come by. I don’t know what exactly the quality is, but it’s shared by Mormon women who grow their own zucchini and/or wear their hair in one really long braid and/or dress their children in holiday-themed fabric from the discount rack at JoAnn’s and/or have those needlepoint covers for Kleenex boxes in their living rooms. Do you know what I mean? The quality isn’t defined by any of these practices of course, but it seems to be present in women who do those sorts of things. Women who have some sort of earthy connection to the divine, and you would almost think it’s just small-town fundamentalism but it’s not because these women also watch the Discovery Channel. Maybe it’s just some sort of surreal Southern Utah mineral that he eats and extrudes in his paintings somehow, and maybe the women in his life that he paints are just nutritionally primed to emit whatever serene righteousness rays it is that I’m picking up from his paintings. But there’s something behind it, and Brian Kershisnik knows what it is because he paints it, on purpose, over and over again.

Well, now was finally my chance. Here I was, with the man himself, and it was time for me to ask the question that had been burning within me: “Why do all the women in your paintings wear dresses?”

He looked startled. His eyes darted back up to the screen he had been displaying images on. “Do they?” he asked.

“Yes! They all do! I always imagined there was some sort of cultural message buried there. I’ve been wanting to know for years why your women look so Super Mormon; suspended between centuries.”

He flipped through a few slides, verifying that all of his women were wearing dresses. “Hmm,” he said thoughtfully, “it looks like they do.” He paused, and I sat breathlessly waiting for him to continue with his grand revelation. “I think it’s because I like to paint patterns and a dress is a big open space to paint a pattern.”

He smiled beneficently at me and then took the next question.

My personal favorite AMV posts (at the moment)

6.4.09 | | no comments

In the spirit of egalitarianism and celebration and self-promotion and just plain awesomeness, I bring you my personal favorite posts from each AMV contributor as of right now but subject to change based on the whims and vagaries native to the benevolent dictator that I am and in alphabetical order by first name because I can’t be bothered to remember who joined when or maybe it’s so I can have the final word although really when do I not have the final word, and also there’s no reason to read too much in to my selections because see the use of the words whims and vagaries earlier in this sentence so if I were to do the same thing next week it could look totally different, and you never know — maybe I will:

  1. Admin: Bradly Baird on the artifacts of LDS memory
  2. Anneke Majors: Minerva Red
  3. Eric Russell:  In Defense of the Critics
  4. Eric Thompson: Half Faked
  5. Harlow Clark: Gadianton The Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon, Introduction to Textual Variants Part IV
  6. Jonathan Langford: The Writing Rookie #3: Off Balance
  7. Katherine Morris: “Bread of Affliction” and Cultural Self-Consciousness
  8. Kent Larsen: Why we need Mormon Culture
  9. Laura Craner: Beware Brother Brigham (a review of the book by D. Michael Martindale)
  10. Mahonri Stewart: Of Prophets and Artists: A Household of Faith Or A House Divided?
  11. Patricia Karamesines: The Rhetoric of Stealing God
  12. S.P. Bailey: The Things We Bring Home
  13. Theric Jepson: The Hero’s Journey of the Mormon Arts
  14. Tyler Chadwick: The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality, Part IV
  15. William Morris: Damn you Norman Manea!

Feel free to get all nostalgic and hagiographic in the comments. To peruse our archives by date or category, click on the drop down menus over there on the left. Or to see what each contributor has written, click on Contributors and the “posts” link next to his or her name.

Museums, Fantasy, and the Redemption of Naked Ladies: a review of the SMA’s Spring Salon

6.1.09 | | 52 comments

Many of the famous artists that made their way into history books first broke into the the public consciousness when they were featured the Paris Salon, an annual exhibition of the French government’s Académie des Beaux-Arts. The Salon functioned as the official sanction of the art world and could make or break a painter’s career.

Edouard Dantan's "Un Coin du Salon en 1880"

Edouard Dantan's Un Coin du Salon en 1880

The strength of the Salon’s influence is perhaps most evident in the drama that ultimately tore down its authority – the  Salon de Refusés of 1863 in which many “refused” artists, among them the radical impressionists like Manet and Whistler, exhibited work that the Academy had sneered at. The Salon eventually splintered and waned in importance, but the concept of the juried show lives on. Each year, the Springville Museum of Art holds a Spring Salon, which is not exclusively Mormon art, but is definitely Utah art, and it is my personal belief that the Spring Salon is where Mormonism’s burgeoning Manets and Davids may well first show up.

I’m going to end the analogy there, though, because I don’t want to speculate about what on earth a Utah Salon de Refusés would look like.

The 85th annual Utah Spring Salon is on display in Springville until July 5th and I hereby exhort you with all the feeling of a tender stranger from the internet to get yourself there and take it in. It’s a wonderful exhibition every year, but this year it’s particularly grand.

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Mormon Fine Art and Graven Images

12.8.08 | | 46 comments
(this is the first in a series of six posts on the Pillars of Mormon Art)

…thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
(Exodus 20:4)

This little verse has caused more turmoil in art and in history throughout the monotheistic world than perhaps any other. It characterizes Islamic art, which for centuries has avoided the depiction of any living creature, for the fear that the artist who tried to create was usurping the role of the One true Creator. It characterizes the turmoil in Byzantium, it crops up again in the Protestant reformation, which sees Netherlanders whitewashing their cathedrals to separate themselves from their Catholic Belgian cousins. Its subsequent transformation into anti-religious fervor is the battle cry of the French revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks, and the Communists in China. In more recent years, it rears an impious head as the Taliban government of Afghanistan destroys monumental Buddhist sculpture.

And faithful Latter-day Saints find themselves alternately sympathizing with both viewpoints.

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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.

Science, Art, and Spirit at the Bluff Arts Festival, Part One

12.1.08 | | 14 comments

On Saturday, November 29, I participated in activities at the Bluff Arts Festival in Bluff, Utah.  This little town of just a few hundred people really knows how to throw a party.  I took my eighteen-year-old son, an aspiring writer, to this celebration of the arts, sciences, and the human spirit, and having him with me deepened my pleasure in the event immensely.  He’s already a part of the unusual Bluff community via his participation in a Shorinji Kempo class held there weekly, but this was his first experience with a writing workshop and open mic reading. more

Harvest paintings in Sept. Ensign

9.3.08 | | 8 comments

I wasn’t planning on doing another post on Ensign art, but the September issue has another four page spread — this one featuring harvest-themed work. What I find interesting is that the feature, which is titled “A Time of Harvest” doesn’t focus on what one thinks it would (or at least what I thought it would). It’s not about D&C 4:4, not about the harvest as missionary work metaphor, but rather it’s actually about the harvest season — complete with quotes from Presidents Monson, Hinckley and Kimball on the joys of growing your own food.

Most of the works featured (7 paintings, 1 sculpture and 1 quilt) are from the Museum of Church History. Three focus on the fruits of the harvest in the home; the rest on the actual action of harvesting.

There is one painting that grabbed me, in particular, and I wasn’t surprised to find that it was by J. Kirk Richards. I have been a fan of his work ever since reading an LDS Today profile of him back in 2003 (although I think that that’s actually a shortened profile and that there was a fuller, earlier one, featuring more of his work, posted on an earlier incarnation of the LDS Today Web site from maybe 2000 or 2001). more