Artists of the Restoration Part II: Stuck in Romanticism

Previously, I wrote about why I’m more interested in active LDS artists who are seeking to build Zion. I’d like to approach this topic from a different angle.

I sometimes rant against the main aesthetic and sociopolitical -isms of our age. I do so knowing full well that I am as caught in them as we all are and that the only way out is to build a substrate of faith and good works, protected by a continual renewing of covenants so that there’s something there when all else gets stripped away by the tragedies of mortality or the tumults of doubt or the relentless winds of daily life. But that knowledge does not stop me from squirming around in the grasp of the dominant discourses. What follows is a tentative bit of thinking resulting from such squirming in relation to some thoughts on what it might mean to be a restorationist artist.

I began with a reductive history of the LDS Church. Now I do the same to Western culture.




Previous and then parallel to the Restoration/Separation and Accommodation/Assimilation history of the Church runs a different process: the aesthetic response of artist to the ideas of the Enlightenment. Romanticism and its offspring modernism and postmodernism (more on them later) are the only dominant aesthetic discourses that Mormons have ever known. To understand them is to understand how the particulars of Mormon art play out.

Thousands of pages have been written on Romanticism so this is going to be an incredibly reductive summary, but the narrative goes something like this: Continue reading “Artists of the Restoration Part II: Stuck in Romanticism”

Craft and art; arts and craft

In a comment to my post on Richard Sennett’s new book The Craftsman, Moriah raises the issue of art vs. crafts, artists vs. craftsman. She writes that originally she had thought that “Artistes come up with original ways to solve the same ol’ problem. Craftsmen implement existing ideas.” But that now she thinks: “I don’t have an answer to this question anymore. Yes, I used to, but now I think there has to be a measure of both art and craft (skill) involved in each, most likely at different percentages along the spectrum.”

Patricia replies: “Mojo, interesting question. If we divest artistry of its romantic baggage, as William suggests, I think the answer would be ‘No.'”

Moriah also mentions:

“When I think of the word “craft,” I think of the medieval guilds: the stonemasons, the goldsmiths and the other metal workers, the gem cutters, the embroiderers, the tailors. You went to apprentice and there were levels you attained to master. Were any of these people less artists than craftsmen?”

Funny you should mention that, Moriah. Continue reading “Craft and art; arts and craft”

Too much Romantic baggage

Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman contains the following paragraph near the end:

“An eagle-eyed reader will have noticed that the word creativity appears in this book as little as possible. This is because the word carries too much Romantic baggage — the mystery of inspiration, the claims of genius. I have sought to eliminate some of the mystery by showing how intuitive leaps happen, in the reflections people make on the actions of their own hands or in the use of tools. I have sough to draw craft and art together, because all techniques contain expressive implications. This is true of making a pot; it is also and equally true of raising a child.” (290).

I have railed against this Romantic baggage in various electronic forums over the years — most notably the AML List. I have also discussed the whole notion of artistic inspiration in light of LDS belief in the Holy Ghost. What I haven’t done very well is elaborate a positive description of how I think Mormons, especially believing Mormons, should approach artistic creation. Reading The Craftsman has brought me one step closer. I still don’t have anything fully formed, but two specific ideas from Sennett are currently bouncing around my head: the importance of repetition and the valuable effects of play.