God’s stated purpose for His children is to bring to pass their immortality and eternal life (see Moses 1:39). His children’s obedience to gospel principles makes it possible for them to work out their individual salvation through the grace and atonement of Jesus Christ, which atonement was part of our Heavenly Father’s plan from the beginning.
I would like to focus these thoughts for the artistic who are part of the kingdom of God, or perhaps it would be better to say that I would like to express these thoughts to all members who have begun to recognize the artistic and beautifying instincts that each of us has developed to one degree or another. God’s purpose for the artist in the gospel plan—if indeed it differs in the slightest degree from His purpose for plumbers, electricians, salesmen, teachers, and others—would only be concerning the language that artists or the artistically inclined use.
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.”
The word artist is not included in holy scripture, but the presence and importance of artists are unmistakable. The scriptures include myriad references to “all manner of workmanship” described as “exceedingly fine” and “curious.” 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:
“And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease” (Moses 1:4; emphasis added).
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. In the quest to achieve greatness in artistic pursuits—whether in painting, dance, music, drama, film, sculpture, or the written word—we should always seek first to achieve God’s purposes. “All great art is the expression of man’s delight in God’s work, not his own,” said John Ruskin, the great nineteenth-century English art critic.
The Source of Artistic Inspiration
The Light of Christ, wrote Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “is the means by which the Lord invites and entices all men to improve their lot and to come unto him and receive his gospel. It is the agency through which the Lord strives with men, through which he encourages them to forsake the world and come unto Christ, through which good desires and feelings are planted in the hearts of decent people. It is the medium of intelligence that guides inventors, scientists, artists, composers, poets, authors, statesmen, philosophers, generals, leaders, and influential men in general, when they set their hands to do that which is for the benefit and blessing of their fellowmen” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985, p. 259; emphasis added).
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.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Bernard Rands put it this way: “The creative act must never become a form of selfish indulgence. There is more to creating than merely establishing the work of the individual. Really, the commitment to be a composer—or an artist or poet—is no less than a commitment to seek that which is divine.”
Modern Media Opportunities
In contrast, as we look at the media today from any vantage point, I think we would have to say that Lucifer’s influence is far more prevalent than the Lord’s. We are in a war. This war is the same war that raged in the premortal world. Lucifer and his followers are committed to an evil direction.
Our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, have given a plan for all of Heavenly Father’s children, and we have the responsibility as leaders and members of the Church to take this glorious plan to all of Heavenly Father’s children throughout the world. It is my judgment that much success will come as we become more expert and more able to harness the wonderful technology that our Heavenly Father has given man to proclaim His message. Whereas Shakespeare in his time was limited generally to the Globe Theatre, we have a global theater that literally opens doors worldwide as our opportunities widen with modern satellites, computers, and fiber optics.
Yet there is a downside to the modern media because of the great volume of it pouring into our lives. Bruce Christensen, former president of the Public Broadcasting Service in the United States and now dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications at Brigham Young University, says that future historians may one day be inclined to describe our day with this variation on the famous poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”:
We are in an era when the information superhighway will have the capacity to cut a wide path into our homes. Fiber-optic computer technology can link homes to an incredible assortment of messages and influences. This highway will be a conduit of information that will have the power to change our culture and thus our very lives.
As we consider the importance of nourishing our intellects with the promising potential of superhighway resources, we must be ever cautious about our choices of programs and the impact of media upon our lives. Those who understand our Heavenly Father’s eternal plan for the joy and happiness of His children will be better prepared to not only make good choices but also provide good choices as the information superhighway rolls across the world. The computer, television, satellite, microchip, and even the telephone all can bless and enhance our lives, or can make them miserable.
The fact that it took twelve years to put one million color TVs in American homes, five years to sell one million CD players, but just under eleven months to sell one million eighteen-inch-wide direct-broadcast satellite dishes, each of which can receive 175 channels, gives some perspective to the rapid growth in opportunities created by technology.
Imagine 180 satellites, each with twenty-four transponders, circling the earth 22,300 miles above the equator. Each transponder can send multiple signals to millions of receiving dishes on the ground, giving individuals in the home a myriad of choices. With so many choices for viewers and listeners, the artistic works of the Latter-day Saint not only need to be uplifting, they must be excellent, to set them apart from the worldly and the mediocre. People deserve alternatives of quality, the kind that Latter-day Saints are capable of providing through the influence of the Holy Spirit.
A Special Challenge
A challenge was made by President Spencer W. Kimball in 1974 in his masterful discourse to the Church entitled “When the World Will Be Converted.” Some interesting points in that address include the following:
“I believe that the Lord is anxious to put into our hands inventions of which we laymen have hardly a glimpse. …
“King Benjamin, that humble but mighty servant of the Lord, called together all the people in the land of Zarahemla, and the multitude was so great that King Benjamin ‘… caused a tower to be erected, that thereby his people might hear the words which he should speak unto them’ (Mosiah 2:7).
“Our Father in Heaven has now provided us mighty towers—radio and television towers, with possibilities beyond comprehension—to help fulfill the words of the Lord that ‘the sound must go forth from this place unto all the world’” (Ensign, Oct. 1974, p. 10).
I think that to a small degree President Kimball’s vision is starting to be realized. Today, a number of Latter-day Saint artists from all fields, from writers and musicians to painters and performers, are beginning to help fill the world with goodness and truth. Latter-day Saints are a special people. Our standards are different; our principles are sure. Yet we are not alone. For contrary to popular notions about movies, an industry magazine recently reported that of the top ten all-time domestic movie hits, not one was R-rated. Many people still respond to values-oriented messages!
Acting President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve reminded us nearly twenty years ago that “the reason we have not yet produced a greater heritage in art and literature and music and drama is not … because we have not had talented people. … Some have reached great heights in their chosen fields. But few have captured the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the restoration of it in music, in art, in literature. They have not, therefore, even though they were gifted, made a lasting contribution to the onrolling of the Church and kingdom of God in the dispensation of the fulness of times. … They have missed being what they might have become. I am reminded of the statement:
“‘There are many who struggle and climb and finally reach the top of the ladder, only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall’” (“The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord,” 1976 Devotional Speeches of the Year, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, pp. 266–67).
The Eternal Perspective
God’s purpose for the artist and the artist deep within each of us in the gospel plan is ultimately the same as for all his children: to bring to pass their immortality and eternal life. Each of us must use our tools, gifts, and opportunities to triumph in the contest of mortality. Whether we declare the gospel in quiet, individual ways or proclaim that Christ is the Savior with the power of universal symbols, we must strive to understand our role in His purposes. And because all things are spiritual, only the process of prayer and inspiration can yield sufficient guidance to make a difference in whatever method or opportunity is available to us.
Hundreds of years ago, a prophet of God taught the same principle from the visionary perspective of eternal truth that he had:
“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.
“But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him. …
“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” (Moro. 7:16–17, 19).
If we are determined to live by Heavenly Father’s plan, we will use our God-given moral agency to make decisions for our lives based on revealed truth, not on the opinions of others or on the current thinking of the world. We will use the inspiring opportunities around us to increase our talents. We will use all that God has given us to help bring to pass His purposes. We will lift, inspire, and change hearts to help make people better than they might have been.
The words of Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities are as relevant now as they were in his time: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
We call upon all members, those in the arts and those seeking to appreciate the message of good art, to expand their vision of what can be done. If we are going to fill the world with goodness and truth, then we must be worthy to receive inspiration so we can bless the lives of our Heavenly Father’s children.
Never in the history of the world have truth and technology been so available and so prepared to help “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). But our power and ability to be successful will be in direct proportion to our faithful adherence to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ as we seek to convey those teachings to others in ways that are edifying and inspiring to them.