Les Misérables

Les Misérables

The following was written in response to a comment by “nate” on a post at Millennial Star which discussed the merits of the new film Les Misérables. In summary, the commenter claimed that art is “just art,” and in the end is escapism, overrated, simple entertainment, will not change your life (no matter how great or inspiring it is), won’t have long term influence on your soul, is overblown, is an addiction, is short-lived, no matter how seemingly life-changing it is dangerous, an idol, a quick fix, a drug, not “real life” or a part of our “real world,” and a distraction. I thought such condemnation of art called for a reply.

Allow me to resuscitate art for a moment (as if it needs it).

Art is not simply entertainment. It’s not simply art. It’s not simply escapism. And it is certainly not simply a drug.

Art is found abundantly in most expressions of humanity, including the traditional forms of drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, and dance, but also in literature, industrial design, architecture, film, interior design, graphic design, puppetry, music, singing, drama/theatre, animation, poetry, woodworking, weaving, vocal performance, interactive media, calligraphy, printmaking, pottery, sound, and technology.

Without art, most of what we know in our world today would not exist.

Art captures beauty and it beautifies, it depicts emotion, it communicates stories and feelings, it makes connections between people, it heals, it invigorates, it moves, it enables, it expresses, it illustrates, it decorates, it converts, it inspires, it imagines, it influences, it explains the indescribable, it changes, it’s aesthetic, and it’s symbolic.

Anything that is virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things (A of F 13). “For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God… Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ” (Moroni 7:16, 19).

We are blessed for seeking art – “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” (D&C 25:12).

Art is used in religion, in ritual, even in the temple, to communicate the most sublime things of God. Film, acting, drama, song, painting, music, architecture, vocal performance, and even dance are all used to communicate the most sacred rites and covenants of the Atonement. In fact, it is where most art forms originally came from. Hugh Nibley noted, “All the arts and sciences began at the temple. Dance, music, architecture, sculpture, drama, and so forth—they all go back to the temple.”1

The scriptures inform us that Jesus Christ’s vocation growing up was carpentry, an art form (Mark 6:3).

The prophets have had much to say about art. Elder Boyd K. Packer noted in “The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord” that because of what artists do “we are able to feel and learn very quickly through music, through art, through poetry some spiritual things that we would otherwise learn very slowly.” And, “How much we could be aided by a graceful and modest dance, by a persuasive narrative, or poem, or drama. We could have the Spirit of the Lord more frequently and in almost unlimited intensity if we would.” Indeed, we are to aspire to art, as Elder Orson F. Whitney said, “We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own… [God's] highest spirits are held in reserve for the latter times. In God’s name and by His help we will build up a literature whose tops will touch the heaven…”

Brigham Young said, “Every accomplishment, every refined talent every useful attainment in mathematics, music, and in all sciences and art belong to the Saints.”2

Elder Ballard has said, “Spiritually successful artists have the unique opportunity to present their feelings, opinions, ideas, and perspectives of eternity in visual and sound symbols that are universally understood. Great art touches the soul in unique and uncommon ways. Divinely inspired art speaks in the language of eternity, teaching things to the heart that the eyes and ears can never understand. Aristotle said, ‘The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance’… God’s purpose for the artist is to inspire, to give us visions of ourselves that we might not otherwise see, to make us better than we would have been. The world is better for the arts and righteous artists in it.”3

What would Christ think of art? Elder Packer speculated, “I think He would rejoice at the playing of militant martial music as men marched to defend a righteous cause. I think that He would think there are times when illustrations should be vigorous, with bold and exciting colors. I think He would chuckle with approval when at times of recreation the music is comical or melodramatic or exciting. Or at times when a carnival air is in order that decorations be bright and flashy, even garish.

“I think at times of entertainment He would think it quite in order for poetry that would make one laugh or cry—perhaps both at once. I think that He would think it would be in righteous order on many occasions to perform with great dignity symphonies and operas and ballets…

“I would think that He would think there is a place for artwork of every kind—from the scribbled cartoon to the masterpiece in the hand-carved, gold-leaf frame.”4

God, our Father, is the greatest artist of all, and art is one of his greatest tools to do his work. Elder Ballard continued, “That the creative process is rooted and revered in heaven is evident in the Lord’s use of the word workmanship to define not only the artistic accomplishments of his children but the results of his own creation… In fact, many great artists have humbly acknowledged the source of their inspiration and the power behind their creation. No one can feast his or her eyes on the art of Michelangelo and not see the hand of God. Michelangelo himself knew it, as he expressed in this statement: ‘The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.’” And quoting famed composer Bernard Rands, “Really, the commitment to be a composer-or an artist or poet-is not less than a commitment to seek that which is divine.”5

I perceive we would be quite lost in this world without art, if we had a world at all.

What of Art?

  1. Letters to Smoother, etc., 104
  2. Journal of Discourses, 10:224
  3. Filling the World With Goodness and Truth
  4. The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord
  5. Filling the World With Goodness and Truth

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