M. Russell Ballard
Inspired art teaches things to the heart that the eyes and ears never understand.

In the Language of Eternity

I have never painted a picture, composed a sonata, or won an award for acting. But I have been inspired by artists and their art. For example, these words from Dickens’s Christmas Carol never fail to inspire me, as they have inspired millions:

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will. …

“… would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full and heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. …”

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Thus begins a great change in Ebeneezer Scrooge. And as he changes, many of us are changed. The greatness of this literary masterpiece is strengthened by the true message it shares.

Influenced by the Spirit

You, too, can motivate just like Charles Dickens, if you will write under the influence of the Spirit. Acting President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve reminded us:

“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. … 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’” (Ensign, Aug. 1976, p. 61).

The right wall

How can you ensure that your creative ladder is leaning against the right wall? Heavenly Father’s purpose for the artist (and there is an artist of some sort in each of us) is to use his or her creativity to help to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of his children. Whether we declare the gospel in quiet, individual ways, or boldly proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Savior, we must strive to understand our role in his purpose.

The artist expresses himself or herself in universal symbols, images, sounds, and feelings. The spiritually successful artist has the unique opportunity to present feelings, opinions, ideas, and perspective of eternity in symbols that can be universally understood. Because all things are spiritual, only the process of obedience, prayer, and inspiration can yield sufficient guidance to make a difference in whatever creative method or opportunity is available to us. Inspired art speaks in the language of eternity, teaching things to the heart that the eyes and ears can never understand.

In the scriptures

The word artist is not included in holy scripture, but the scriptures include many references to “all manner of workmanship” described as “exceedingly fine” and “curious.” And the Lord uses the word workmanship to define 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).

Heavenly Father’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 because of the righteous arts and righteous artists in it.

First things first

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 the purposes of our Heavenly Father’s plan.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said the Spirit of Christ is “the agency through which the Lord encourages [men] 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 [people] 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, 1985, p. 259; emphasis added).

No one can gaze on the art of Michelangelo and not see the hand of God. Michelangelo said, “The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”

And Bernard Rands, a Pulitzer Prize–winning composer, said, “The creative act must never become a form of selfish indulgence. … the commitment to be a composer—or an artist, or a poet—is no less than a commitment to see that which is divine.”

We are at war

Why is it, then, that when we look at the media today, we find Lucifer’s influence far more dominant 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 evil. Our Father and his Beloved Son have given a plan for all of Heavenly Father’s children, and we, as members of the Church, have a responsibility to take this glorious plan to them.

In Shakespeare’s time, he was limited to the Globe Theatre. Now we have a global theater that opens doors worldwide with technology. The information superhighway will have the capacity to cut a wide path into our homes. It will be a power to change our culture and our very lives, but we must be ever cautious about our choices of programs. Those who understand 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 to provide good choices as the information superhighway rolls across the world.

Pursue excellence

With the thousands of choices available, the work of the Latter-day Saint not only needs to be uplifting, but must be excellent to set it apart from the worldly and the mediocre. People deserve quality alternatives that you, with the influence of the Holy Spirit, are capable of providing.

President Spencer W. Kimball challenged us all:

“I believe that the Lord is anxious to put into our hands inventions of which we laymen have hardly had a glimpse. …

“King Benjamin, that humble but mighty servant of the Lord, called together all the people in … 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.’ (See 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).

President Kimball’s vision is being 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. And yet we are not alone. For example, Variety magazine reported in January 1995 that of the top ten all-time domestic movie hits, not one was R-rated. Many people still respond to values-oriented messages!

Use tools righteously

The Lord’s purpose is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of his children. Each of us, then, must use our tools, gifts, and opportunities to triumph in the contest of mortality. We would do well to follow this counsel:

“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.

“… 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 agency to make decisions based on revealed truth, not on the current thinking of the world. We will use the opportunities around 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.

[photos] Photography by Craig Dimond