I participated in a BYU-Idaho student documentary about Mormon art (probably because I wrote a blog post agreeing with a Slate blog post about the lack of great Mormon artists). It’s well done and it’s embedded below the fold…give it a view and a good rating.
The documentary starts with a famous quote from Orson F. Whitney, a leader in the church about a hundred years ago: “We shall yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.”
The question the Slate article addresses and that I address during my comments in the video is simply “Where are they? Why hasn’t our culture produced them yet?”
If there’s one negative about the video, it’s that everyone doesn’t agree with me all the time like they’re supposed to. There are a few local/indie musicians and artists who participated, along with academics and writers. The creatives were understandably defensive about the idea that Mormons can’t create great art (and, seemingly, to the idea that they themselves aren’t creating great art).
But there’s a distinction between creativity and greatness that the documentary doesn’t make quite clear. Mormons can be creative…ANYONE can be creative. Write a song–any song–and boom, you’ve created. Write two songs and now you have a tendency to create, therefore you are creative. Get some friends to create bass parts and drum beats for your songs, and now they’re creative too. And you can book a show with your friends at a live music club and now you’re creative performers. Which is great, I encourage everyone to do just that! It’s rewarding and fun and I guarantee that your faith won’t stand in your way.
But that’s not what I’m talking about when I talk about great art. There are millions upon millions of creative people. There are millions of artists. But then there are the thousands of people who qualify for the moniker “Great Artist.” The question at hand isn’t WHETHER Mormons can make it onto that list, it’s WHY they haven’t.
A common answer (and one that was repeated by almost everyone in the documentary) is the proportionality argument–”there just aren’t that many Mormons out there.” To which I say “bah.” There are 6 million Mormons in the U.S. There are 6.5 million Jewish people. It ain’t about the numbers.
Anyway, I don’t want to retread all the stuff from the video and my earlier post, but read/watch/comment…I love talking about this stuff and would be interested in hearing your views. In particular, one question I wish they’d addressed in the documentary: Does the Mormon ideal of “faith, hope, charity, and love” even let us look at life in a way that non-Mormons would consider authentic? This Salon article from last week seems to be saying “if yes, then barely.”
Kyle M is a frequent guest at BCC. This post is cross-posted at his personal blog.