Yesterday, Steve Evans informed me I have the honor of following Richard Bushman as a guest-poster at BCC. OH! Cool! The Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman? Sure, I’d love it if you posted me right behind him- me, sitting here with kids five, three and not-yet-one, in my fuzzy pink bathrobe with baby-spit spots, ignoring my kids’ pleas for more apple juice as I try and string together coherent thoughts? Greeeeaat. Yes, do let’s follow Mr. Bushman.
My name is Tracy M, and I am a convert. An adult convert, going on four years now. Married with three
Monkeys children. In a former life, I was an artist who got paid for making art, now I just make art to stay sane in a household where I am allegedly in charge, but really the Monkeys rule the roost. I write for myself and for Mormon Mommy Wars, as well as run a design company from my home. In my spare time I ignore e-mails from Steve Evans asking me to write for him, too.
So let’s talk about art. A few weeks ago, J. Daniel Crawford wrote an intriguing post on how terrible and shallow the pool is for LDS art. I have to agree with him- and his thesis. My own thesis is a little different, but I am looking at it from the vantage point of the artist: Happiness does not beget fine Art.
Art, brilliant, moving, earth-shaking, societal changing Art comes from the planes of agony, broken dreams, pain, suffering and torment. The gospel brings joy- it, to a large part, normalizes our lives and connects us to a larger network of souls who, in some recognizable form, believe as we do. This is not the stuff of great Art.
The very best art I personally have ever created came from the darkest times of my life- it is how you survive when you don’t have the light of God. That doesn’t mean the Lord doesn’t like art- but the pictures I painted to survive, while they may (or may not) be brilliant, I guarantee they are not something Sister Johnson would want to hang over her davenport.
The great artists in history created because they had to in order to survive- and I speak of spiritually, not just of getting their next meal. They were driven to create; Art is a madness of sorts. Look at Mozart and Beethoven, look at Shakespeare. Look at any of the great painters- especially the great painters. Their best, brightest works come from the darkest days of their lives. There are always exceptions, but by and large, angst begets Art.
But here is the thing about Art born of spiritual darkness- it really can be a flashlight to find your way out. My paintings, nowhere near masterful, but full of rage and beauty and questions, while likely offensive to many church members, are what led me out of the darkness and into a real relationship with God.
I don’t paint like that anymore. I don’t need to- and this is the very reason so much LDS art is “bad” or “kitschy”. There is also the threat of social stigma when you belong to a large group who subscribe to similar beliefs- but that’s another thought entirely.
People want happy pictures for their walls. People want sunshine and flowing robes. Most people don’t want to see the inner workings of another soul’s struggle to find the light- it’s not pretty.
My old paintings are a roadmap of sorts- a tangible record of my own searching for God- and as thus, are my treasure. While no one in the LDS world would want my paintings next to their FHE chart, they are nonetheless, still a testament of the Lord. In the darkest hours, crying with rage onto a canvas, I found God already there, waiting for me.
But no one wants to hang that over their sofa