I find active LDS artists more interesting

I generally believe in big tent Mormon culture (how that relates to the LDS Church is complicated and outside the scope of this post, but you can find hints of it in many of my other writing over the years). To me being part of the radical middle includes being willing to engage with work by artists who are no longer Mormon, or never were Mormon but are writing about Mormons. I’m also interested in Mormon artists who don’t actively engage with their Mormonism in their work. I’m a homer like that.

But I’m most interested in active LDS artists who are focused on settings, characters and/or thematics that are overtly or strongly thematically Mormon.

Let me be clear: I do not think there should be a litmus test on membership. And I respect the decision of artists who wish to remain quiet about their status in relation to the LDS Church (and acknowledge that there could be many reasons for that quiet). But my interest level goes up when an artist signals (publicly or privately) that they are actively engaged with their local congregation, actively working under assumptions of belief, and are struggling with the demands of consecration.

Why is this?

In part, it’s selfishness on my part. I know what I struggle with and delight in, and I want to feel like there are others like me out there in the world. I’m curious about how artists navigate the strange pathways of being an active LDS artist who engages with Mormon elements. I’m not a big believer in Mormon exceptionalism or, for that matter, artists’ exceptionalism. At the same time, I feel like it’s a unique experience that shares similarities with all the ongoing issues related to artists, faith communities, etc., but has some particularities that aren’t found in quite the same alloy elsewhere. That interests me.

But there’s another part: I feel like I know the narratives, preoccupations, arcs of the artists who leave their community to embrace the dominant modes of modern artistic discourse, who “go cosmopolitan”. I also know the paths of the parochial Saint who either stays in the mode that is pleasing to the Mormon market or goes national/international by downplaying their Mormonism. Again: I have and will continue to engage with all of those types of artists. But I’m also losing patience with them. They engage but don’t satisfy. And while they don’t always quite get it right (for me — responses to art are subjective), there’s nothing more satisfying than an artist who has craft, belief, humility and brings that all to bear on work that’s directly engaged with Mormonism. There’s new ground to be explored here. New things to discover.

And finally there’s this — and the more I’m engaged in this, the more it becomes the big reason: I’m interested in building Zion. I’m interested in building Zion in cooperation with the LDS Church and all those who are willing to live in covenant. I recognize the potential (and historical and present) pitfalls and tensions and failings. I recognize where I fall short in so many ways as well as where giving up on that would make some things a lot easier and my art maybe even “better” (or more acceptable). I also recognize where my/our potential audience falls short.

And yet given all that: I don’t care. I’m past feeling self-conscious about all that. I’m looking for Zion moments, Zion movements, Zion people, Zion artists. Where are the artists who are trying to hone their devotion and their craft and their service and their vision and their Mormonism into something that they can place on the altar, into something that will build Zion? I think they’re fascinating. And I want to be among them.

13 thoughts on “I find active LDS artists more interesting”

  1. Oh, I love this! It’s far more common to read that it’s more important, more difficult, more necessary to grapple with darker, baser issues, or that Mormons can’t produce art because art requires suffering and Mormons don’t suffer because because we have cute, tidy answers to everything.

    But *I’m* more interested in the kind of artists you describe, for much the same reason. Your artists are more apt to have the same struggles, questions, issues, dark places that I have, and draw on the same resources and contribute to the same Zion building that I want to be part of — and yet because they are different people with different experiences, they will approach those issues in ways that might be new and challenging to me.

    Anyway, thanks.

  2. Th. has indicated to me that my usage of the term “homer” might be unclear to much of the readership of this blog. As I understand it, a homer is a term used to refer to a sports journalist/commentator who overhypes the sports teams they either openly or are suspicioned to root for. A homer also may be a bit of an apologist for the team’s management and players as well as be more willing to overlook some of the faults of the team. Or to put it more harshly, a homer exhibits blind devotion to their favorite teams.

    So when I use the term to talk about Mormons that don’t write Mormon fiction, I’m acknowledging that I’m more willing to give Mormon authors (esp. in SF&F&H) a look and the benefit of the doubt when it comes to my reading. If I wasn’t a homer, I don’t know that I would have read (almost) everything that Brandon Sanderson has published. Although at least half of his works do have interesting things to say in relation to Mormon thematics. It’s the other half that I’m being a homer about.

  3. In a time where the faith of so many is failing, this is an invigorating statement. Thanks!

  4. I really like this personal manifesto, Wm. I generally feel much the same, though my personal taste includes works that are profoundly LDS but not necessarily overtly LDS. You mention Sanderson; I agree.

    I just spoke via Skype to Gideon Burton’s Contemporary LDS Lit class at BYU specifically about Dispirited, which the class read this past week. Gideon dubbed it a work of Spiritual Realism, which I thought was pretty cool. (It sounds so official. :)) We discussed quite a bit what it means to be a Mormon writer and what sorts of things we feel called to wrestle with, and in which formats/genres/settings we can best (individually) wrestle with them. It was enlightening.

  5. Hi,

    I belong to a facebook group called “LDS Visual Arts” – if you haven’t joined, please do. A couple years ago I created this site: http://lds-artists.org as a way to provide LDS artists a place to showcase their work and tell a little something of their story. Still trying to figure out what more to do with it.. maybe it needs a place for blogging / articles in there as well. But anyway, check it out – any LDS artist is welcome to join the group and post your art. Thanks.

  6. You article has given me so much food for thought. Thank you. I create spiritually inspired abstracts and I am am completely committed to creating Zion. This new culture must be created spiritually and emotionally before it can be created physically. We will need members of our society who are at their best to help create this. This can only be done by fully engaging with the gospel. I do not create art for the LDS community, I decided without proof that it would not be popular. So on my website I have not made it obvious that I am a fully practicing latter day saint. Of course on my blog and facebook pages I do declare it. Thank you for this thought provoking article it has given me more to think on.

  7. I have always wondered why I have such a great passion for painting. It’s not because it comes easy to me because it doesn’t. As I’ve learned so much about art through teaching in the public school system for the past 24 years I’ve known that creating art is a means of bearing my testimony to others. It’s a part of who I am and why I’m here. It’s painting or creating with passion regardless of what others may think or approve of. Who cares I don’t. I don’t care at all what the naysayers say. I do care that those who love my temple paintings or my other work feel closer to our lord and savior through my work. I want to make a difference.

  8. Thanks, William. This speaks to me, as the others have said. I don’t often feel that I have much to contribute to the conversations on this site – words aren’t usually my strong suit – but you guys always uplift and motivate me. I love you for that, and wanted to express my gratitude.

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