Last Sunday I attended a fireside by well-known LDS artist James Christensen, which included a lot of slides of his artwork, and a lot of stories about his career. I found two stories he told particularly interesting.
One of the stories showed a lot about the biases of LDS Church members regarding art. The other made me wonder what other kinds of artists — authors, musicians, etc. — do to “doodle” and when they do it.
One of the slides Christensen showed was an early painting he did. Uncharacteristically for him, it featured a rendition of Joseph Smith as a kind of candle, complete with a lit wick sticking out of the top of his head. Above the flame on the wick was a butterfly.
Christensen said that when he showed this piece early in his career at an LDS venue in Arizona, a local LDS leader (he thought it was a Stake President) came through the exhibition, saw the work and dismissed it, saying something to the effect that in the LDS Church we don’t believe in symbolism.
For me, this idea isn’t only clearly not true (I’ve been teaching the Temple Preparation course recently, which includes a lesson on the importance of symbolism), but it also betrays the unfortunate attitude that has developed in the Church toward styles that aren’t seen as “appropriate.”
The second story I noted in his fireside presentation portrays more about the habits of LDS artists of all types. Christensen admitted that he had a habit of doodling or drawing during Sacrament meeting. Shortly after he was called as Bishop of a singles ward, he took his wife to the chapel and sat in the various different chairs on the stand while his wife sat in different places in the pews, so that they could determine which seat on the stand made his drawing least obvious. Despite this effort, members of the ward did notice, and any blank spot on the weekly program was soon labeled “the Bishop’s doodle box.”
I don’t think this practice is all that uncommon among active LDS visual artists. I know of a couple of artists who have been in my ward that did precisely this (one was in the Bishopric, but I don’t remember ever seeing him doodle while on the stand).
But what about other artists? Do authors play with dialogue on scraps of paper during our meetings? Currently, I write letters to my missionary son at the moment. I know others write journal entries, or jot down notes from the talks (although, I’m not sure this is quite the same as doodling). I suppose musicians are pretty much excluded from any kind of doodling in Sarament meeting, because it would probably disturb or distract others.
I also wonder how much this kind of doodling distracts from the talks or other portions of the meeting. I seem to understand most of what was said as I write my letter, but I also assume that it is more distracting than the doodling a visual artist does. Somehow it seems like concentrating on two different word-based texts at once seems impossible, while concentrating on an image and a text at the same time isn’t as difficult or liable to distract one from another.
What do you do along these lines? Do you do the equivalent of “doodling” in your field?
Does it distract from the meeting?