The Gospel and the Arts, a Latter-day Saint Perspective

Art has an important role to play in life, and a direct impact on the human experience. We create art, we live with it and around it, we bring it into our homes and our lives.  Art can take the form of painting, scultpture, music, writing, poetry, etc, but this website is primarily focused on visual art.  Art is something that helps to define us as humans and separates us from the animals. It is related to language, intelligence, culture, politics, faith and many other subjects. Obviously art also has an important role to play in the church. Art can enhance a sense of the sacred, it can influence feelings and emotions, and bring a feeling of reverence or refinement.  Art can challenge us, shock us, motivate us, or inspire us. 

As an artist and as active believing member of the church, I sometimes ask myself questions like: 

  1. What art should I create?  
  2. How should I use the talents I have been given?
  3. With a family, a job, busy church callings.. how much time and effort should I put (or am I justified in devoting) towards creating art?  
  4. Does talent come with responsibility? Is this a calling? 
  5. Does art need to be beautiful?  Does it need to be "great art"? Does it need to be a masterpiece? 

Art is a complex and challenging subject in many ways, and the believing Latter-day Saint artist will ask different questions than other artists.  Perhaps even LDS male artists will ask different questions from LDS female artists (given different roles we play in the church or family).  

Below you will find a collection of information that we could find related to art, being an artist in the church, and using the Spirit to inform our creative processes. 

How does or should the gospel inform our art? What role can the Holy Spirit play in the creative art process? Does the gospel teach us what kind of art we should create?  Does it teach us something about what subject matter we should pursue or explore? What should be the objectives of the Latter-day Saint artist?  Some possible answers might be:

  • To teach the gospel, or preach a visual sermon
  • To show a historical or scriptural event - to tell the story of the church
  • To celebrate the gospel, to rejoice
  • To pursue beauty - to explore and present the beauty of nature & God's creations
  • To invite the Spirit of God

Should the art be realistic? What is the place for abstract art in the gospel? What is the role of symbolism for the artist?  What is the appropriate place for the human figure in gospel art?  Below you find a list of resources and scriptures that we've put together.  It's definitely a work in progress, send me links or scripture ideas as you find them!

Some classic LDS gospel art addresses:

Other resources:

  • Art in Mormonism - entry from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism - there's also a full set of links to other sources here.
  • Thoughts on Pres. Kimball's address - a very interesting blog post by LDS artist J. Kirk Richards
  • Sunset in Arcadia - an excellent post by Anneke Majors discussing problems of sentimentality, and the difference between realism vs. illusionism
  • Mormon Fine Art and Graven Images - another great post by Anneke Majors
  • Proceedings of the Mormon Arts Symposium, held in 1995 at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts - several talks and insights shared here.  Elder Ballard's talk above was delivered here.
  • Where are the Great Mormon Artists? - A documentary film, and lots of insightful comments posted to this discussion.
  • mormonartist.net - an excellent and important online magazine, interviews, articles and thoughts on art and Mormonism
  • What does an LDS renaissance look like? - excellent article by Robert Hall
  • Centering the Arts in Christ - BYU devotional address by by K. Newell Dayley, dean of the BYU College of Fine Arts and Communications, 6 March 2001
  • Art, Belief, Meaning: The Arts and the Restored Gospel - "Students and scholars at Brigham Young University discuss art in our theology in this new publication... The articles in this volume come from the proceedings of the 2003 Art, Belief, and Meaning symposium."
  • Quote from President Ezra Taft Benson:  "I have a vision of artists putting into film, drama, literature, music, and paintings great themes and great characters from the Book of Mormon."   Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon, Ensign, Nov. 1988, 4, 5–6.
  • The True, the Good and the Beautiful - Lecture by Roger Scruton at the Wheatley Institute in Utah (video).  Dr. Scruton is a British scholar and philosopher, not LDS, but this address was given to a mostly Mormon audience in Utah in April 2017. 
  • Religious Symbolism in Sacred Art - FairMormon podcast interview with Rita Wright, "Rita Wright is the curator for the Springville Museum of Art in Springfield, Utah. Formerly, she taught art at Brigham Young University and was the curator for the LDS Church History Museum. Currently she sits on the worldwide committee for art selection for the LDS Church."

Problems & Challenges with Producing Historically Accurate Church Art

Creativity

  • How will Our Children Remember Us - Elder Robert D. Hales speaks about his father, a commercial artist, and of how the creative process involves the spirit of God.
  • Channeling Your Creativity - Elder Hales speaks about living creatively - he is specifically talking about creating solutions to life's problems & thinking creatively, but still relates. 
  • Create - Mormon messages video "President Dieter F. Uchtdorf invites us to rely on the Spirit and use our divinely inherited ability to create things of substance and beauty."
  • Happiness, Your Heritage - Elder Uchtdorf speaks to the sisters about attaining happiness - one of his main points is that we need to use our talents to create things of beauty. (I assume this applies to men as well).
  • Creativity - Elder Neal A. Maxwell, 1982.  "Artistic and creative expressions that occur in conformity with reality and with the sublime and eternal truths help to deliver on that marvelous promise that “men are that they might have joy” and help us to “have [life] more abundantly” by showing us “a more excellent way”...
  • We are Creators - Mary Ellen Smoot, Apr 2000.  General conference address to the sisters. 
  • Finding Joy in Life - Richard G. Scott, April 1996.

    "Attempt to be creative for the joy it brings. After their noble husbands were called home, Sisters Camilla Kimball, Amelia McConkie, and Helen Richards learned to paint. They not only leave legacies of art, but they will never see a sunset, a face, or a tree the same again. They now perceive subtle nuances of color and form and rejoice in the abounding beauty around them.

    Select something like music, dance, sculpture, or poetry. Being creative will help you enjoy life. It engenders a spirit of gratitude. It develops latent talent, sharpens your capacity to reason, to act, and to find purpose in life. It dispels loneliness and heartache. It gives a renewal, a spark of enthusiasm, and zest for life.".

  • "Where do we find our greatest joy? I suggest that it is in creativity — the process and feeling of creating something." - Elder Oaks, at BYU commencement ceremony, August 2015

Talents

  • Seek Learning - President Gordon B. Hinckley, 2007. "The Lord wants you to train your minds and hands to become an influence for good as you go forward with your lives. And as you do so and as you perform honorably and with excellence, you will bring honor to the Church, for you will be regarded as a man or woman of integrity and ability and conscientious workmanship. In addition, your education will strengthen your service in the Church."
  • Gospel Principles chapter 34, Developing our Talents - "We have a responsibility to develop the talents we have been given. Sometimes we think we do not have many talents or that other people have been blessed with more abilities than we possess. Sometimes we do not use our talents because we are afraid that we might fail or be criticized by others. We should not hide our talents. We should use them. Then others can see our good works and glorify our Heavenly Father (see Matthew 5:16)."
  • Three Gates Only You can Open - Pres. Thomas Monson, 2001. "Remember, one of the saddest things in life, is wasted talent." - From a talk at Ricks College. 
  • We should be willing to "consecrate our time, talents, and resources to building the kingdom of God" (Acting on the Truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, President Uchtdorf).
  • "We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father...  As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences.

    The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples.  (Pres. Uchtdorf, Four Titles, Gen. Conference Apr 2013)

  • I Have a Work for Thee - 2017 Apr. Gen Conference address by Elder John Pingree.   "Our Heavenly Father has specific and significant things for you and me to accomplish (see Ephesians 2:10). These divine assignments are not reserved for a privileged few but are for all of us—regardless of gender, age, race, nationality, income level, social status, or Church calling. Every one of us has a meaningful role to play in furthering God’s work (see Moses 1:39). Some of us question whether Heavenly Father can use us to make important contributions. But remember, He has always used ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things... 

"...discover and develop spiritual gifts. Heavenly Father gave us these gifts to help us identify, perform, and enjoy the work He has for us. Some of us wonder, “Do I have any gifts?” Again, the answer is yes! “To every man [and woman] is given a gift by the Spirit of God … that all may be profited thereby” (D&C 46:11–12)... One young man produced illustrations to promote religious values. My favorite is a portrait of the Savior, a copy of which hangs in our home. This brother developed and used his artistic gifts. Working through him, Heavenly Father has inspired others to improve their discipleship."

General Inspiration:

'Each of us should remember that he or she is a son or daughter of God, endowed with faith, gifted with courage, and guided by prayer. Our eternal destiny is before us. The Apostle Paul speaks to us today as he spoke to Timothy long years ago. "Neglect not the gift that is in thee" (1 Timothy 4:14). "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust" (1 Timothy 6:20).
    "At times many of us let that enemy of achievement — even the culprit "self-defeat" — dwarf our aspirations, smother our dreams, cloud our visions, and impair our lives. The enemy's voice whispers in our ears, "You can't do it." "You're too young." "You're too old." "You're nobody." This is when we remember that we are created in the image of God. Reflection on this truth provides a profound sense of strength and power." -- President Thomas S. Monson

Scripture List

Genesis 1  On six instances through the first chapter of Genesis, God creates something then the record states that he “saw that it was good”  (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25).  The exact details of the process are not given, but what is described is the first act of creation.  We see the Creator looking with a critical eye, and making a judgment that his work is good.  We might also take from this the idea that creation itself is a noble pursuit, and one in which God is engaged.  God is the ultimate creator. 

Exodus 31:1-6 

1  And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
2  See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah:
And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,
4  To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass,
5  And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.
6 And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee;

A righteous man here is filled with the spirit of God to inspire him in creating artistic works for the tabernacle.

Psalms 50:2  Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.

Colossians 3:23   And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

Proverbs 13:18  Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured.

Philippians 4:8  The admonition of Paul.. which connects with the 13th Article of Faith

"...whatsoever things are atrue, whatsoever things are bhonest, whatsoever things are cjust, whatsoever things are dpure, whatsoever things are elovely, fwhatsoever things are of good report; if there be any gvirtue, and if there be any praise, hthink on these things"

"..if there is anything virtuous, lovely or of good report, we seek after these things."  (A. of F.)

This seems to be to be a mandate for how we as Latter-day Saints should live our lives.  This is what we should pursue.  It was written as the final item, the capstone of the articles of Faith. It should define who we are as a people.

D&C 25:12  For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads. [We assume this applies to other forms of art as well.]

2 Ne 32:9 - But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.

Scriptures related to Seeking Riches, Wealth or Fame - (Our motivation for Making Art should be pure..)

D&C 57:11-12 and 58:40-41; W. Phelps is told that it is okay if his works become popular and he promotes that but he is chided for focusing too much on gain (to "excel" here means to be greedily compete with others)

Jacob 2:17-19 ...But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.  Then if ye seek riches...

D&C 11:7 - Seek not for riches but for wisdom.. he that hath eternal life is rich.

D&C 38:39 - And if ye seek the riches which it is the will of the Father to give unto you, ye shall be the richest of all people, for ye shall have the riches of eternity; and it must needs be that the riches of the earth are mine to give; but beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old.

1 Nephi 6:4-6 - In this scripture, Nephi speaks about his purposes and motives for writing his record.  Lester Yocum points out that we can apply it to ourselves as artists as well:

For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.  [Shouldn't this also be our motivation?]

Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write [or paint, sculpt, draw, etc...], but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world. 

Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men.  [How often do we spend our creative efforts on things which are not of real worth to others?]

Organizations

  • Zion Art Society - Spearheaded by Micah Christensen (PhD in Art History),  a non-profit organization dedicated to showing works by professional and emerging LDS artists to serious enthusiasts.  Excellent podcasts and blogs. 
  • Mormon Arts Center - "Illuminating and Celebrating Mormon Arts" - Claudia & Richard Bushman & Glenn Nelson head this independent organization, based in NYC - "dedicated to the study and appreciation of Mormon Arts of all kinds from 1830 to today".  Journals, events & etc. 
  • Mormon Artists Group