The Artist in the City of Zion

In Part 4 of Nephi Anderson’s classic novel Added Upon, the king of Poland visits the city of Zion during the Millennium to see and better understand the new order that has overtaken the world. Strolling with a companion and a guide, he comes across a man who seems to be one of the (as yet otherwise unseen) idle rich:

Approaching a beautiful sheet of water bordered by flowering bushes, lawns, and well-kept walks, they saw a man sitting on a bench by the lake. As his occupation seemed to be throwing bread crumbs to the swans in the water, the King and his companion concluded that here, at last, they had discovered one of the idle rich, whom they still had in their own country. Remand expressed his thought to the guide.

“He idle?” was the reply. “Oh, no; he is one of our hardest working men. That is one of our most popular writers, and in many people’s opinion, our best. We must not disturb him now, but we will sit down here and observe him. We are told that when he is planning one of his famous chapters of a story, he comes down to this lake and feeds the swans.”

Continue reading “The Artist in the City of Zion”

The Radical Middle in Mormon Art: The Radical

Previous Posts: Part I: Origins | Part II: The Middle 

So now that I’ve explored the origins of the term radical middle in relation to Mormon arts and culture, and teased out some of the issues related to the middle, it’s time to get radical. In the first post, I mentioned a radical movement in British Islam and noted the adjectives (creative, positive, revolutionary …) that were being used in describing this Radical Middle Way for Islam. What those adjectives indicate to me is that radical is meant to show that the middle is a dynamic place to be; it has energy; it’s in motion. It’s rising.

Now, radical is generally not the most welcome term among American Mormons. It smacks to much of the Left and/or of the political fringe. This is why it’s important to confine the term the radical middle to Mormon arts and culture and emphasize that there is room for artists, critics and readers with a multitude of political leanings (assuming, of course, that their politics isn’t the sole thing driving their artistic activity). Indeed, I think by pairing radical and middle and applying it to Mormon arts, England and anyone else who invokes the term is reinscribing its’ meaning, appropriating the adjective for our own use and changing it in the process. I’m a fan of such appropriation by an ethnic group/sub-culture. But what do we really mean by radical and how does it play out in Mormon arts and culture? The short answers are: nobody has really said much, and it doesn’t really. So unlike with the middle where I was able to explore it in depth in a descriptive way, I’m going to have to get speculative and prescriptive with the radical. But first…

Radical history and doctrine

Whatever our position in American society now (that is the tenuous semi-mainstreamed stability achieved through the embrace of the meritocracy and of alliance with conservative politics [allowing, of course, for the few liberals and crunchy cons and libertarians]), it must not be forgotten that we have radical roots. From the restorationist claims of Joseph Smith to the communitarian projects of Brigham Young, and, yes, the scandalousness of polygamy — whether you believe all that to be a concatenation of American (not forgetting the European streams of thought behind them) influences (with a touch of native genius) or the opening of the heavens and streaming of restored truths, the radical, as in the challenge to the status quo, roots of Mormonism run deep. And are the wellspring of latter-day Mormon art. Continue reading “The Radical Middle in Mormon Art: The Radical”