Doubting Thomas

I probably shot myself in the foot, socially speaking, when I let my inner art snob accompany me on a recent date.

We were looking at board games for sale and my date, a nice sciency fellow who knew I was into art and was probably trying to be congenial, pointed to a jigsaw puzzle for sale and said “You know, I’ve always really liked these Thomas Kinkade paintings.”

“That seals it,” I said grimly. “You and I will never be friends.”

As uncharitable as it may come across, and as much as it may have sealed my spinsterly fate for a while longer, I feel it an obligation for those of us in the know to educate our friends. Yes, Thomas Kinkade really is that bad. Continue reading “Doubting Thomas”

Overanxiously Engaged, or “What’s Mormonism Got To Do With It?”

Tyler Ford’s Anxiously Engaged: A Piccadilly Romance and an examination of the intrusion of Mormonism in Mormon Cinema.

“The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.” Carl Gustav Jung

Upon initial viewing, Tyler Ford’s Anxiously Engaged: A Piccadilly Romance (2005) is a difficult film to classify in the academic sense as it suffers from a number of idealogical flaws. The purpose of this piece, therefore, is to investigate the symptoms in an attempt to isolate and identify the central malady.

The story focuses on a young Mormon named Carson Welles (Jaelan Petrie), a ranch-raised Montanan working at an international beef company in the heart of far away London. The film begins when Carson’s engagement to Lucy Armstrong (Katie Foster-Barnes) is derailed when her grandfather (James Green) refuses to give his blessing unless Carson first finds a husband for Lucy’s older sister, Jema (Sophie Shaw). Carson’s attempts to set Jema up with a suitable suitor meet with continual disappointment until he introduces her to his supervisor, Nigel Backman (Tom Butcher). While sympathetic at first, Nigel’s motives for dating Jema seem to be rooted in his overarching scheme to embezzle the company, which happens to be owned by Lucy and Jema’s grandfather (it’s never made clear what the embezzlement scheme has to do with Jema). Eventually, Nigel frames Carson for the crime, which leads to a showdown in which Carson proves his innocence and finally marries the right girl.

The title is itself an unwitting invocation of what turns out to be perhaps the film’s primary ailment. The double entendre is, of course, descriptive of the predicament in which Carson finds himself. Engaged but unable to marry, he is certainly anxious. But the Mormon audience will unmistakably recognize the term from LDS canon.

“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness…” Doctrine and Covenants 58:27

This throws the story into something of a new light as Carson is understood to be anxiously engaged in the good — indeed righteous — cause of finding Jema a husband. Clearly, scratching at this conceit unearths the smell of Mormonism. To a culture that idealizes marriage as much as Mormonism, matchmaking may very well strike one as a good turn. If there’s joy in bringing converts into the waters of baptism, how much greater must the joy be in bringing them into the bonds of matrimony? For this reason, more than any other, Carson begins to question his testimony. “Sometimes” he confides to his secretary, Alice (Gwyneth Powell),” I feel like everything I’ve been taught is a lie.” Yet at this point in the film, Carson’s only real conflict is brought on by his inability to introduce Jema to a decent marriage prospect, let alone marry her off. It’s curious that something as alien to Mormon doctrine (and practice) as matchmaking, in effect, should cause such a grievous crisis of faith. This is but one instance in which a Mormon cultural ideal (if it can indeed be called that) takes precedence over Mormon doctrine within the film’s subtext. Continue reading “Overanxiously Engaged, or “What’s Mormonism Got To Do With It?””

All Is Well In Zion: Three Mormon Writers On Social and Corporate Darwinism, Part One

My wife and I were sitting in a Gospel Doctrine class of a former ward. They were good people in that ward, I had grown up knowing them. They were also a rather well to do ward, a majority of the members– certainly not all of them, but the majority of them– in some form of economic prosperity. As far as I’m aware, the Bishop’s storehouse certainly wasn’t being strained from that quarter. The lesson was on the law of consecration– so, as is almost always the case when such lessons come up, the focus of the conversation is really about money.

The teacher was really skilled and was handling the topic sensitively. Of course I had to spoil the good mood by paraphrasing this oft-used Brigham Young quote:

“The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this
country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell.
This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth” (Quoted by Gordon B. Hinckley in his address, “These Noble Pioneers.” See also Salt Lake City, George Q. Cannon & Sons, 1900; New York: AMS Press, 1971, pp. 11923, cited by Preston Nibley in Brigham Young: The Man and His Work, Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1936, pp. 12628).

I was very much caught off guard by how vehement the reactions became at that point– and some of the comments that came from the discussion I thought were completely bizarre, two of which still enflame my mind (I paraphrase a bit, according to the limits of my memory):

“Tithing is the higher law. We’ll never go back to the law of consecration.”

“We are the greatest generation the Church has ever seen– we are the most righteous. We have been blessed with riches because of that.”

My wife and I had been praying and fasting whether to move to a student married ward– we felt that we had received our answer. The next week went to the student ward in our area.

But that experience still haunts me to a good degree. Although my family grew up pretty well to do, my father emphasized that money, in the end, was a trivial thing. “Money is not what makes us happy,” was a mantra I remember him repeating to us. Continue reading “All Is Well In Zion: Three Mormon Writers On Social and Corporate Darwinism, Part One”

An Interview with Larry Ogan

Visual artist Larry Ogan was born in Clearfield, Utah in 1948 at the Hill Air Force Base Hospital. His ancestors on one side were Mormon pioneers that came to Utah from Nauvoo; ancestors on the other side immigrated to Utah from Australia. More of his family is from Missouri. Says Larry, “My Baptist … ancestors chased my Mormon … ancestors out of Caldwell County, Missouri.” Larry married Ellen Chadwick, from Ogden, and they now live in Santa Fe, New Mexico with their fifteen-year-old grandson, Jeremiah, four cats and a big red dog named Malcolm. He is Elder’s Quorum President of his Santa Fe Ward. He is also the executive director of the Santa Fe Council for the Arts, Inc. Currently, he is organizing and producing PhotoArts Santa Fe, a ten-day biennial festival for the photographic arts. His artwork has appeared in numerous exhibits from 1975 to the present. You can visit Larry’s website here.

Larry, please describe yourself and your work.

I’m a chubby, 59-year-old artist with a ponytail and white beard. When people meet me they think I’m either an artist or a biker. Continue reading “An Interview with Larry Ogan”

2007 AML Conference Session: “Purified by the Best Critics”

In the July 1977 issue of Ensign, President Kimball said:

We are proud of the artistic heritage that the Church has brought to us from its earliest beginnings, but the full story of Mormonism has never yet been written nor painted nor sculpted nor spoken.  It remains for inspired hearts and talented fingers yet to reveal themselves.  They must be faithful, inspired, active Church members to give life and feeling and true perspective to a subject so worthy.  Such masterpieces should run for months in every movie center, cover every part of the globe in the tongues of the people, written by the best artists, purified by the best critics (“The Gospel Vision of the Arts,” pg. 5).

This AML session, “Purified by the Best Critics: Fostering Artistically Informed Criticisms and Critically Informed Art,” took its title from the above quote.  A panel consisting of Bruce Jorgensen (BYU English department), Dennis Packard (BYU philosphy), Mike Smith (Orem Public Library), Travis Anderson (BYU philosophy), and Eric Samuelson (BYU theater arts) discussed questions the session’s title raised.  Every member of the panel offered insightful remarks (hopefully other AMVers will cover those), but in this post I’ll concentrate on the points of view Dennis Packard and Bruce Jorgensen offered because the interesting counterpoint notes that rose between these two presentations snagged my attention. Continue reading “2007 AML Conference Session: “Purified by the Best Critics””

Sunset in Arcadia

In this post, I’d like to briefly outline what I see as the major problems with a currently popular style in LDS visual arts, a style that I’ve nicknamed “sunset in Arcadia.” This post will concentrate on the aesthetic aspect – what works and doesn’t work in creating relevant Latter-day Saint art. In a future post, I will discuss marketing and economic trends that prove similarly troublesome.

The average art viewer isn’t schooled in various styles and may have trouble differentiating what he does and doesn’t like in various pieces of art, but most people enjoy seeing something that looks “real.” The mere feat of making a two-dimensional surface look like a three-dimensional object or, even better, a recognizable person, is something laudable to most art consumers. Many laymen will tell you that their preferred style is “realism.” But it is this confusion of terminology that proves so troublesome in defining an artistic style, especially when most LDS art produced currently is produced for a middle-class market; there is a built-in filter of populism whenever an artist considers making a career of a talent.

Continue reading “Sunset in Arcadia”

Mormon-related episode of “This American Life”

Tim Goodman, the San Francisco Chronicle’s excellent TV critic, mentions a Mormon related segment in his review of Showtime’s new TV version of “This American Life.” He writes:

“For example, one episode is about a hip young Mormon painter in Utah who photographs men in beards to use as biblical figures, including Jesus. His favorite model is a young man whose girlfriend has essentially left the Mormon church, partly because her father is pushing the religion so hard. It’s difficult to have her boyfriend appear in the art pieces, but in a strange way it has brought her father and her boyfriend closer together.

Other news stories have mentioned that finding bearded models is a challenge for the artist because so many Utah men are clean-shaven.

It sounds fantastic — and I’m not even one of those TAL radio show zealots. Sadly, the Morris household remains cable/dish free (actually, not sadly — I refuse to be extorted for hundreds of channels I have no desire to watch or support).

But for those who have bowed to the evil oligarchy, the episode is called God’s Close Up and will debut April 5, according to the This American Life Web site.

It may also be available for download, on demand, etc. For more, see Showtime’s This American Life site.

Maureen Ryan’s Chicago Tribune review is also worth reading.

Dissension in the Ranks

or, Opening a Critical Discourse in Mormon Visual Arts

As a fan of LDS author Orson Scott Card, I have long frequented his website and discussion forum, a place which has shaped my ideas of civil discourse. It was at Hatrack River that I learned the meaning of words like ad hominem and strawman and acquired an uncanny radar for the oft-confused correlation and causation. For a long time, my exposure to online discourse was rather exclusive to Hatrack, and it wasn’t until my final years of college that I began to venture into new venues, among which I discovered Card’s other forum, Nauvoo: a Community for Latter-day Saints.

The folks at Nauvoo are friendly, open to newcomers, and fond of online emotion. It was easy for me to open up and join whole-heartedly in their discussions.I was a bit taken aback, however, to the response one day when I replied to a discussion on recent LDS cinema. I had posted my review of the new rendition of Pride and Prejudice, which I had enjoyed upon initial viewing, but upon reflection was troubled with its insular depiction of a very narrow subsection of beautiful, wealthy Provo people as indicative of the Mormon population. The reply to my critique was a sardonic one-lined, “well gee – why don’t you tell us how you really feel?” Continue reading “Dissension in the Ranks”