Saturday, October 4, 2008

My prescription for promoting high culture in the LDS Church

There was a great post the other day over at Times and Seasons by Kent Larsen entitled "Key to the Culture of Mormons" which inspired a long comment by myself, which I thought I would share and develop in this forum. The topic I responded to being the transmission of "high culture" in the LDS community and the current absence of mechanisms of exchange.

There are many layers at play here but I do agree that currently there are few mechanisms in place, or at least the current mechanisms are not being used, to transmit 'high LDS culture' across the entire worldwide church body. I think the explanation is largely historical and is a manifestation of the growing pains/identity shift of a church that was largely isolated in Utah for most of its history which has then suddenly exploded into an international, multicultural church in the last 50 years, coming to a forefront in the last 10.

First, I believe that the church can and should help promote high culture and art by incorporating it into the official worship program. I think the Church is trying to do this with such activities as the International Art Competition, which I look forward to the next exhibit, and a recent emphasis in showcasing art in the Ensign.  I think they are also trying to disseminate high culture through special events in the conference center, such as these fabulous Christmas concerts, Latino celebrations, as well as productions in the small theater at the conference center, etc. They are also trying to disseminate it through BYUTV and in general BYU is used as a mechanism to create and share such art. I think the Church leadership is aware of the need to inspire and showcase such creativity and the ideal of developing high culture as part of a religious community is perhaps strongest in Mormonism when compared to other modern religions. Also, I would add that I think the Church has good taste in art and music based on what it tends to showcase on its official stages and publications. However... I think the Church still has a long way to go in terms of reaching this ideal and in the refinement of their current mechanisms, particularly regarding worldwide marketing and distribution.

A couple ways I would like to see the LDS Church incorporate high art and culture into the official worship program:

1. Allow greater flexibility in the hymnal, encourage local musicians to compose sacred music and help them publish, in some poor countries in Africa and Latin America you might need to help these artists financially to publish and record.

2. Give local members more flexibility in the art and decor of local temples. Even if it delays the opening by a few weeks, bring artists in the temple to paint murals, use local artists to do the woodwork, I think it would go a long way in both building the richness of LDS culture as well as building the faith and commitment of local members through participation. I think Mormon culture has lost something special in the process of streamlining our temple building. I love the beauty of the early temples, Salt Lake, Manti, with their brilliant architecture and high art, they are shining gems of the testimonies and commitment of the people.

3. Make the high art sourced in the International Art Competitions more available for mass consumption. The Church even awards some of the best works with "Purchase Awards" but then they get hung in the Church Museum or somewhere on Temple Square never to be seen by the majority of Church members. Why not use these as part of the LDS Gospel Art Kit or make them easily available for purchase through the Church Distribution catalogue? 

4. Potentially showcase high art/music at Conference. How many members have never heard the beautiful “The Redeemer” or similar oratorios? I thought it was interesting when the church brought in the Brazilian singer Liriel Domiciano and allowed her to sing not only in Music and the Spoken Word but in the Sunday morning session of Conference. The linked article says that that had not happened since 1930. Conference is perhaps the most central distribution mechanism of LDS culture, and for setting precedence; I think the church could use it strategically to inspire the development of the sacred music tradition of the Church. When a Koto or Javanese Gamelan orchestra accompanies the Mormon Tabernacle Choir we'll know the Church is trying to reach out to its international membership.

I think the second side in this equation is that members of the Church interested in these topics need to unite and use business and the Internet effectively to promote the creative arts of LDS artists. I think it needs to be separate from the Church and BYU but not so far removed from the mainstream that it can be dismissed by the mainstream membership of the Church. I think it will need to be web-based to reach the international church if it is truly going to represent and try to promote a world-wide high-art culture of Mormonism.

Those are my thoughts, I'm sure they are not new ideas and I know there are more important things to manage in the worldwide church such as pure doctrine and leadership, so this would all just be a cherry on top.

1 comment:

Th. said...


Interesting post. Parts of it I agree with immediately or have even argued for in the past (eg, letting locals mural-up the temples). Good points for discussion.