Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bad Art Alert!!!

"We must recognize that excellence and quality are a reflection of how we feel about ourselves and about life and about God. If we don’t care much about these basic things, then such not caring carries over into the work we do, and our work becomes shabby and shoddy."
-- Spencer W. Kimball (Source)

So, lately I've been exposed to a lot of bad works of art, and specifically that produced by LDS artists, including a grotesque novel and a painful theatrical fireside experience. This seeming trend of LDS artlessness concerns me for many reasons. The excellent article by President Kimball quoted above indicates that Latter-day Saints have not only the opportunity, but the responsibility and obligation to produce good art (or, art that is "virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy", etc.), as well as the possibility to do so, considering our relationship with the Spirit. It concerns me when Mormons continue to churn out mediocre or even shamefully bad art, from literature to films to music to theater. I don't think we can expect everyone to be the next Handel or produce the next "The Last Supper", but I also think we should be able to expect not to have to trudge through the tripe that is splashed over the shelves of Deseret Book and permeates the inventories of online LDS stores with bright, vibrant advertisements and glowing reviews. Once when working at the BYU Bookstore, a woman visiting for an on-campus conference bought a DVD copy of the outrageously ridiculous movie based on The Book of Mormon. I asked her if she had seen it before, and she said she hadn't, but she wanted to support it because "it's Mormon" (incidentally, how a DVD can BE Mormon is beyond me). I so wanted to warn her of how hideous it is, and I may have mentioned that I didn't care for it, but the fact remains that people are falling for things like this, based sometimes solely on the fact that it's made by LDS (while ignoring some of the smaller titles which are actually quite good). Can you see why I feel like we have a responsibility to produce good art? It is uncharitable to bank on the relative artistic ignorance of the average LDS. How many more warblings of Kirby Heybournes, Kenneth Copes and any number of LDS boy bands must we endure? How many more of the lyrics of the Michael McLeans, Janice Kapp Perrys and pretty much any EFY artists do we have to bear? How many more simpering, golden-glowy Simon Deweys or Greg Olsens do we have to be subdued by? How many more breathy Mindy Gledhills or Hillary Weekses are we going to be exposed to? How many more Jack Weylands, Stephenie Meyers and Anita Stansfields are going to overrun our bookshelves? How many more The Singles Wards and The Home Teacherses are we going to suffer through? How many more arpeggio-fraught, identically-styled pianists' cookie-cutter new age versions of hymns are we going to listen to before realizing they all sound the same? Even the quality of many of the Church-produced films and music/pageants is questionable. Granted, many of the above listed artists do produce some good things, and it makes people feel warm and fuzzy and all that, but it's so often derivative or only "okay". Shouldn't we strive toward artistic excellence? According to President Kimball, the quality of classic art didn't necessarily die with the classic artists. We can and should produce virtuous, lovely praiseworthy art that is of good report.

For the record, I do believe there are LDS artists who are, at best, saying something, or, at least, doing it artistically (such as Walter Rane, Minerva Teichert, Brett Helquist, Greg Simpson, the 5 Browns, William Joseph, Gladys Knight, Mack Wilberg, William Whitaker, Richard Dutcher, Orson Scott Card, the BYU choirs in general, etc.), but I only wish these were more the rule than the exception.

Oh, and the meadowlarks are NOT still singing, by the way.


  1. Did I read Janice Kapp Perry in there somewhere?

    I am with ya. It's so frustrating watching everyone go on and on like all these "artistic" people are so completely amazing. I can't really judge, since I'm not the most well rounded artistic person myself, but I'd like to think I have a good enough eye/ear to know what is to be appreciated.

  2. The wonderful thing about art is that the beauty thereof it is in the eye of the beholder.

    Therefore, your comments about art are irrelevant.

    Thanks for your time.

  3. Drew, Have you read Levi Peterson's "The Backslider"? or Virginia Sorensen's "A Little Lower than the Angels"? Or have you seen the New York Doll documentary? Also, Margaret Blair Young's "Heresies of Nature" and the essays of Eugene England, just to name a few. The thing is you will find none of these titles (except maybe New York Doll) at Deseret Book. Signature Books is the only publisher that I know of who is willing to consistently publish serious literature by and about Mormons. Oh, I almost forgot one of the best novels I've read written by a Mormon: The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint. Later.

  4. Anti-Drew's-Blog-President:"I call this meeting to order! Order people! Our topic for today, that MAN is bashing some general mormon art, calling it, dare I say, shallow and not the best out there! How do we retaliate?"

    A.D.B. Fan #3: "I say we bombard him with comments until we finally get frustrated and leave!!"

    A.D.B. Fan #6: "No, no! He will be expecting that! Plus this is slightly more tame than his last posts. I say we just ignore this one, and save our energy for the next one."

    A.D.B. Fan #5: "But why not take any opportunity to make a clever jab about this one man's taste in the media? I say every opportunity is a golden one!"

    A.B.D. Fan #3: "Yes! Let us use our time today to show this guy how much we just can't stand his style!"

    A.B.D. Fan #4: "You know, now that I think about it, why DO we keep coming back to his blog, trying to make clever jabs? WE do sound quite silly, just coming out of no where, commenting for no reason on every one of his blogs. What are we trying to prove here? Why are we so mad that he has a different opinion than ours? Heaven forbid we let someone have a blog and say what is going through their mi-"

    A.D.B. Fan #1,2,3,5,6: "KILL THE TRAITOR! Take him down! Put his blog on our list! We can't have Drew sympathizers in our midst! Take his money!"

    A.D.B. President: "People, please! Let us remember the pressing matter at hand here! Drew's blog is bashing mediocre art! #2, I think you should take this one. You handled that post about Drew's reaching a new record on his 5k very well, lets see that kind of form again. Oh yes, telling him that he could never compete with an olympic athlete's time surely brought him to some degree of self loathing. Ha, ha. I love this no-paying, self gratifying, mom's basement-based job. I call this meeting to a close. Until the next blog! Until then, your homework is to bring a friend next time, and be sure to brush up on your witty comebacks!"

  5. Lol, what is the deal? "The Meadow Larks are Still Singing" was the worst play ever! Ha, so his comments are completely relevant even if just for that. And yes, some of the books are quite terrible. I worked at an LDS bookstore for 3 years and there were some pretty ridiculous stuff. My favorite was a song by Joshua's Creek that had the words along the lines of "If Jesus had a car he'd drive a pick-up". Pretty sure I gagged audibly every time I heard it. There are, as Drew said, some great things also and I hope you take the time to find them. The Lord has blessed the LDS people with a lot of talent and hopefully people can take time to make sure it is a wonderful product that can represent the church well and show our gratitude for Him giving us these gifts.

    As for this Anonymous. (Mostly Anonymous #1, because #2 was a bit more tasteful and understandable by suggesting good mormon literature to read. But again to #1) Why not just say you disagree but you respect the differing opinion? How would anything get done unless there were different points of view in the world? Or, better yet, just stop visiting the blog if everything Drew says is so absurd to you. I don't feel like you are just stating your personal opinion that differs from Drew's, that would be just fine, as I sometimes do that myself. But I think you are trying to make personal jabs. Why? What sort of low self esteem and spotlight-driven character would you have to have to always get negative attention and also give it? I hope this is not the case for you. So, do everyone a favor and keep comments to proper standards. Please!

  6. Elise, you are my hero. You should direct your talent in the direction of satirical writing, seriously.

    ANYONE'S comments about art would be irrelevant in that case! It's so objective. I guess no one in the world better ever comment on or critique art in any way.


    And to anonymous #2, I have heard of some of those, but I appreciate the suggestions. I know there IS good art out there, my point was just that it's kind of frustrating when it's not the mainstream, and few and far between.

  7. There's a bigger problem here other than just bad art. True it is bad enough that these things are actually being made, and that people are buying them, but what is it doing to the support of people with good taste? Those that actually recognize quality work when they see it? They're being turned away from anything tied to LDS culture at all.

    I (and it sounds like you) have been burned so many times by poorly written and produced movies, books, music, etc. that I just don't even want to try these things any longer. I gave up purchasing the vast majority of LDS music a number of years ago, and have given up on the movies entirely. So if something wonderful were to come out, honestly, I'm not likely to even give it a shot. I've got a bad taste in my mouth from all of the mindless drivel that has been "created" (the concept of creativity being used liberally here) for the LDS crowd for so long that I've grown weary of even giving new stuff a chance. So unless I hear wonderful things from someone whose taste I trust (which isn't very many people honestly, limited to members of the Graham family and a few select others), I just don't even pay any attention to the new material being released today. And certainly I'm not the only one.

    Do the people who create this stuff actually believe it is good? And that they are doing the LDS community a service? That their creations, in some way, bring people closer to God? Sometimes I wonder how they justify charging people money for their works, and if they really feel good about themselves.

  8. If the great thing about blog comments is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then Lili, that was one of the most beautiful comments I have ever heard!

  9. Drew! Drew! I'm an artist AND mormon! Look at the good art I produced!


  10. Well, if you're an artist, AAAND you're Mormon, it must be amazing!!! *checks* I rest my case...

  11. For what it's worth, this isn't just a problem in Mormon society. Here in the Pacific Northwest, I regularly see ads on TV for the most insipid Christian rock music ever to disgrace the airwaves. We seem to live in a time when mediocrity is fêted, which is really a shame.

    And when anyone makes an effort to articulate this problem, it's usually slapped down by some clueless postmodernist dweeb who claims art is wholly subjective. This from the crowd that brought you crucifixes immersed in urine and Mary spattered with elephant dung. Yeah, keep fighting the good fight, guys. *eyeroll*

  12. I love being anonymous...I know you, but you don't know me.

    Anyway...my point is this: Go ahead and like what you like. I'll like what I like. Yes, every critique about art/literature etc. is subjective.

    To say someone's opinions about art/literature are irrelevant is true. The only relevant opinion is your own.

    Why trash others creations? So you hate some LDS art/literature. Good for you, buy why trash it?

    Retail art/literature is driven by supply/demand. Crappy stuff, even LDS crappy stuff, will go away if it's not loved/admired or otherwise purchased.

    Hey, you can't fault a crappy creationist for tryin'.

    Sorry if I've offended any tender hearts.


  13. A.D.B. President: "Welcome once again. Good work today! I know we have got him this time for sure!"

    A.D.B. Member #6: "I guess so. It seems like we could have come on a little stronger though. I feel like we should have REALLY pushed the fact that we think we are better than him."

    A.D.B. Member #3: "I hate that Drew so much! I am tempted to just stampede onto his blog with 5 different accounts and call him intolerant and close minded and self-righteous and-"

    A.D.B. President: "Whoa, there, we mustn't give it all in one post! We need to let each of those words sink in. That is a once in a while occasion. Try using more tame words. Use little jabs to make him feel stupid. Those seem to work best."

    A.D.B. Member #1: Hey, my son has a soccer game in 10 minutes. I was wondering if I could skip out a little earlier than usu-"

    A.D.B. President: "QUIET YOU!"

    A.D.B. Member #2: "Listen, I have a brilliant idea. It will just blow your mind. Enough with making up all these gmail accounts to post several times... lets just post.. anonymously!!! Then we can say everything we want and not feel guilty at all! It is Drew-Hating to the next level! Just think! It will drive him JUST MAD because he has no idea who we could be!"

    A.D.B. Members: "Hub bub, good idea, hub bub, he won't have a clue! Hub bub, hub bub."

    A.D.B. Member #2: "Wait! I haven't even said the best part! We can RUB it in his face that we are faceless people on the internet with no names! Ah ha ha!"

    A.D.B. Member #5: "Ah, I just love spending my days watching Drew's blog, waiting to pounce on his every word."

    A.D.B. Member #6: "Yes, it is quite rewarding. My wife won't get near me because I haven't showered in a week after being on A.D.B. Watch, but man oh man, when I finally get that chance to post my cliche-filled, sarcastic, and belittling comments, it makes it all worth it."

    A.D.B. Members: "Here, here!"

    A.D.B. President: "Ah, yes, this is why we do what we do, folks. Facelessly bringing people down on the internet in their own territory. We are so cool. Now lets have a huzzah."

    A.D.B. Members: "Huzzah!"

    Gramma: "You kids shut your yaps! Gramma is tryin' to watch her daytime stories!"

  14. lol Elise your comments remind me of the "Screwtape Letters". Its awesome.

  15. Heaven forbid we let Drew express his own opinion on his own blog! What a silly idea! We must yell at him at once.

    The problem is that the reason all of these artists are thriving is not because of quality products, but because they are Mormon. People feel that if it's done by a Mormon it must be good, and then change their definition of good to fit whatever has been slapped out. Just because people buy it doesn't mean it's a good idea.

  16. There seems to be one fundamental difference between low quality LDS-made material vs. low quality material from elsewhere, and Drew nailed it with one of his comments. There are people that buy this crap just because it is made by/for LDS people, not because there is necessarily anything redeeming about it. This is totally unacceptable. If that is the only requirement to market to an LDS audience, maybe everybody ought to spew forth gobs of worthless works. If it's by/for an LDS audience, somebody's going to buy it, right?

    The point is products sold as artwork seem to be given a free ticket to success just because they are marketed as LDS-produced or LDS-friendly. So anybody with any sort of ambition, regardless of talent or ability, is given an excuse to produce and sell whatever they want.

    Why are we accepting of this stuff just because it is created for the LDS market, even if it is garbage? Why is there a different standard? Shouldn't we hold everything to the same standard?

    I fear that being accepting of this stuff has three net effects: (1) products that shouldn't even be given our time of day are being purchased, (2) those producing this stuff don't feel that they need to put forth the same effort that they would if their work wasn't targeted to the LDS market (after all, the bad stuff still sells). Why waste the time to produce something good, if something bad sells just as well? (3) People who have legitimate talent are driven away because they don't want to be associated with others in the same market.

    It's sadly a commentary more on consumers than the creators. If we as consumers were discriminating in the things we buy, surely the bad stuff would go away. Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case.

  17. i always like reading "anonymous" comments on your blog because they are so angry... well the first one at least.. it's like...if you hate me so much... stop visiting my blog asshole. Sorry. My mouth is less kind than yours. that's all. :)

  18. I work at an LDS book company. We publish some cheesy stuff sometimes. I would agree with most of what you said, but I'm afraid they might fire me-- especially because I'm a sales rep. But man, I wish people would stop being followers. I also wish they would stop writing really sappy songs that make me want to vomit all over everything. Those just aren't good feelings to have about church. But then, what do I know anyway?