Pop: Mormon artists and membership status, part II

The days have slipped by, but I finally have found the time to take up the third question I posed on my initial post on Mormon artists and membership status. That is: Should an artist’s Mormon-ness be a factor when a Mormon decides which artistic products to consume?

I’m going to answer this question by laying out three different position, well aware that in so doing I will probably end up misrepresenting all three (including my own).

It does matter: The world is filled with art that is immoral and objectionable. Hollywood has gone off the deep end. The standards that used to keep objectionable things off of broadcast TV have eroded away. You just can’t trust most non-LDS artists to produce works that are consonant with LDS standards. Although there may be a few non-LDS sources of art that are okay, most are not, and it’s simply safer to stick with art that is produced for the LDS and/or ‘family’ market. Therefore, the best thing to do is to limit yourself to works created by trusted sources and sold by trusted retailers [chiefly, but not limited to, Deseret Book and Seagull Book & Tape].

Just as important: LDS artists create work that is inspiring. Why wouldn’t someone want to partake mainly of art that affirms gospel values?

This type of Mormon consumer does seem to exist — or at least so the LDS market suggests in terms of what works sell and how publishers and booksellers market their products.

I think it is a valid stance to take. I personally believe that Mormon consumers should be as omnivorous as possible in terms of the type of works they consume — and especially in trying out genres and modes of art that they don’t know very well. It’s easy to get stuck in only reading speculative fiction or only listening to country western music, etc. However, I also understand why some consumers set rather narrow boundaries on the type of content they consume although my personal opinion is that art with a certain amount of explicitness can be just as moral as art that is sanitized.

It doesn’t matter: Mormon consumers should judge a work by what it is — not by who created it. Art can be powerful and entertaining no matter the source — active LDS, inactive (or disaffected) LDS, or gentile.

The LDS market produces rather immature, sentimental and/or didactic works and all of those in a narrow genre range.

When it comes to artists who are Mormon, but don’t focus on the LDS market, well, who cares? If they are good and you like what they do, fine. But there’s no reason to support them just because they are members.

And an artist’s membership status definitely shouldn’t matter. After all, people can be hypocrites. Artists have lived double lives before in order to have a career in a certain market (like, for instance, Christian rock/country musicians).

I find this argument quite compelling, and I know quite a few Mormons who follow this model. And to be clear — this model is not simply one espoused by those who are academically-trained and are into ‘elite’ art. There are quite a few Mormons who ignore the Mormon market and LDS artists of any market and just go with what they like — whether that be Jane Austen novels, Wagnerian operas or the films of Steven Spielberg.

However, this is not the model that dictates my habits as a consumer of art.

It does matter: It matters to me. And not just because of some sense of ethnic pride or wanting to support other members of my tribe (although those factors probably play a role as well). It matters because I want to consume art that comes from the experience of being a Mormon — whether that art overtly deals with that experience or not. I’m a narcissist. I want to see traces of myself and my belief and culture in artistic works. Of course, I also hope that art created by Mormons will help me better understand myself and other Mormons.

I’m interested in works created for the Mormon market as well as those that aim for a national audience even though I have misgivings about both markets.

Now that doesn’t seem like that controversial of a position — but I’m going to take it a step further.

The artist’s membership status also matters to me.

Yes, I consume and take an active interest in art by artists who are no longer active in the church or whose Mormon background is mainly cultural. But I find that I’m most enthusiastic about art — and by that I mean those cultural products that have high aesthetic value (I’m not interested in didactic art ) — that is created by active, believing member (or at least those who appear to be so).

Essentially, I’m fascinated by the idea of literary discourse colliding with Mormon belief and practice and have this hope that they can do so in productive ways.

No, actually if I’m being honest with myself, my desires are a little more base than that. I have a deep passion for artistic discourse and at the same time I resent it. I also have a deep belief in the gospel. My hope then is that works that are created by a believing Mormon will subvert artistic discourse while at the same time being morally and aesthetically rich enough (i.e. successful as artistic discourse) to validate LDS beliefs and practices as a vibrant, legitimate source for art.

Now, as I’ve written before, I’m not sure about the whole idea of art and the Holy Spirit so I’m not speaking from a belief that LDS artists can create great art via inspiration — but I do think that an artist who lives in accordance with LDS standards puts him or herself in an interesting place for creating art, a place I hope to be in, a place that I hope can be productive.

All this is not to say that I would stop reading an author’s novels if I discovered she or he stopped attending church. Nor do I believe that artists who don’t live LDS standards are incapable of producing powerful, exciting, moral works of art.

It’s just that when I look deep down, as much as it bothers me at times, I can’t escape this feeling that it should matter, it does matter and it will matter. And because of that, an artist’s Mormon-ness is a factor in what art I choose to consume.

ALSO: The Baron of Deseret has responded to all three questions. As usual, his cultural commentary is quite good.

2 thoughts on “Pop: Mormon artists and membership status, part II”

  1. It’s very tempting as a Mormon faced daily by a barrage of objectional art to become monkish, cutting oneself off from the world by focusing solely on “safe” Mormon art. However, I think such a position is harmful, not only because of the possibility of becoming “stuck” (and I believe this applies to both the consumers and the Mormon artists), but because there ARE non-Mormon artists who are producing high quality, moral art who deserve our encouragement and patronage. The way to change the amount of immoral art that’s in the world is not to just ignore it, but to support the moral art that’s also out there. As I understand it, our theology isn’t to leave the world alone, but to encourage others in their moral pursuits, Mormons and non-Mormons alike. I think a lot of members lose sight of the goal of bringing people to Christ in trying to bring people to Mormonism. Things can be of Christ and not specifically Mormon (and I’m not referring to inspirational art) because the gospel encompasses all truth and all things “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.” Though it may take a bit of wading to find them, there’re a lot of non-Mormon works out there that fit into those categories.


  2. ann:

    Sounds like a great idea for a blog. Reviews and news of moral, high quality works by non-Mormon artists.

    Of course, the problem with the Mormon audience is there is a somewhat wide range in opinions on what is “virtuous,” i.e. what content/themes are objectionable and should be avoided at all costs and what are acceptable.

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