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23 June 2015

Art, Mormons, and Whatever the Heck Comes After Post-Modernism

Dear fellow artists (particularly you churchy-types),

I write this letter for you as a devout Mormon. If you don't know what that is, think protestant Christian with more Broadway lights and glitter! (ps I'm COMPLETELY joking, for a real answer to what Mormons believe, check this out).

I've spent a lot of time over the last few years pondering over our voice in the art community and people, we are on the precipice of something truly amazing.

I believe we've walked out of the world's post-modern phase and entered something new-- something that we HAVE to take hold of. To explain what I'm talking about, I think we need a little art history lesson:


Though this overview is painfully simplistic, in essence, the Modernist movement did two things. First, when it began, people had begun to rejected traditional art, religion, architecture, and social expectations. They were looking for something zippy and new, something enlightened.

Squares with Concentric Circles, Wassily Kandinsky 1916

Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue, Piet Modrian 1942

Art became more abstract, both in form and intention. Visual artists began finally asking the question, what is "art" anyway? They explored their craft, not with the motive of being pedantic or creating a true-to-life rendering, but rather to hone in on the key things that made art, "art." These would be things like colour, line, shape, and composition.

Artists stripped their paintings of extraneous meaning and sought to make the purest art that they could. Sometimes that just meant throwing paint around and calling it a day... actually, during this movement, that's what it meant most days.

Convergence, Jackson Pollock 1952


After awhile, the world became rather cynical (and sometimes kinda mean).

We had artists like Andy Warhol challenging, not only the idea of art as mere principles of design, but also society. He used his art as a harsh social critique. From his serialised depictions of Marilyn Monroe to his soup cans, Warhol was pointing out problems and quirks he saw around him. The often dark, cynical (and often witty) art from this time is a hallmark of the postmodern movement.

Marilyn Diptych, Andy Warhol 1962

Before long the idea of deconstructing truth seemed to be the only way to find it. We continue to see this postmodern aesthetic today with artists like Banksy and even TV programming like Saturday Night Live.

If post-modernism were a person I think it would be that really smart, sarcastic jerk that always sits at the back of the class-- the one that upends a class with their little nugget of insight. Adults hate him, kids love him, but in the end he's still kind of a tool.

Follow Your Dreams, Banksy 2010


While lots of people have their own opinions, I believe we are in a movement of the personal narrative.

Most of us have grown up with the knowledge that we must to share our story to survive. It is required to get into University, for online social acceptance of peers, and for battling an increasing difficult job market.

My generation understands the importance of narrative, particularly PERSONAL narrative. Though this may seem narcissistic to the outside (and maybe it is), our brains have been tuned to sharing our story, for digging deep in our personal experience to find something meaningful to share. We love conquered tragedy, drama, and introspection... we are the age of the overshare.


So, what does that all mean for religious artists today? Well, the world is now accepting personal truth as REAL truth. As orthodox Christian, this sort of moral relativity is a mildly terrifying (seriously AH!), but I believe it is can be one of our greatest tools.

Consider Caitlyn Jenner, or Malala, or Edward Snowden. Whether you support their decisions or journey, society as a whole has embraced them-- it has accepted their truth. So, why not yours?


Too many of us aren't putting our belief into our art. I include myself in this. It's weird because our faith belongs to us and is likely one of the things we hold most dear. For the most part it is at the core of everything we do and are. Yet somehow we get freaked out by religious art.

What I'm asking for, is not for illustrations that answer questions about our faith. What I'm propose is art that ASKS questions, that explores and penetrated the viewers soul. We need more deeply provocative art that fills the world with light.

There are some artists out there that are doing that right now and it's a beautiful thing. Here are some examples:

From the landmark Islamic Art Now show from earlier this year at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

God Is Alive, He Shall Not Die (blue), Nasser Al Salem

Recent winners of the LDS International Art Competition, shown at the Mormon Church History Museum in Salt Lake City.

Sanctification, Amy Finder

It Was Founded Upon a Rock, Cheng Chin-Tai
Still Life with St. Bartholomew Masterpiece, Donald Roberts Richmond 
Baptism of Jesus Christ, Connie J. Daisy
Installation art piece that is part of an exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Lamp of the Covenant, Dave Lane

Our moment is now.

While the art establishment at large has held on to a modernist disapproval of religion and postmodern scepticism, I think it is entering a new era. As people in a time that is enlivened by personal truth, get out there and share yours! Whether that is with writing, or painting, or photography, or film... whatever it is, put your belief into it. Let's share a little light with the world.  

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