Mormonism, censorship, and the limiting of cultural achievement

The LDS church has had an official historian from the start, and later a whole history department, but who has heard of its official artist or art department?

In matters of the arts and literature, even philosophy, history, and I dare say the social sciences, the LDS church and its culture seem eerily similar in their control and censorship to Stalinist dictates about what could count as “official Socialist” art or literature. Even more eerie is that both cultures favor(ed) overt realism in the representational arts, suspicious of the subjective freedom or potential for subversion in abstraction and expressivism. Even Shostakovich was expected to keep his music compositions in line with more predictable, less abstract or discordant, paths in order to appease his Soviet masters.

The Ostlings, though they can be quite sycophantic about Mormonism, loving as they do any semi-Christian organization so long as it is culturally so in tune with Evangelicalism and conservative–do have something instructive to say about the limits of Mormon cultural achievement:

“Weaker areas of [cultural] achievement are equally predictable. A characteristically literal turn of mind combined with dogmatic Mormon ideals and a certain cultural isolation results in highly sentimentalized representational visual arts. LDS sculpture, paintings, even typography and graphic arts, appear rather like orphans from the late nineteenth century. Something similar undercuts Mormon efforts in the high arts in general; art is confused with propaganda, never with a quest; preconceived answers precede questions. In Mormon culture art is inspiration or entertainment, not exploration[–just as for Mormons, members of the church are not on “spiritual quests.”] As a result, Mormons…are largely absent from the highest levels of achievement in the fine arts, literature, and the humanities in general. History is something of a special case.” (Mormon America, pp. 145-146.)

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