Hello. Let me tell you a story.
A young concert pianist studying at Juilliard approached me one Sunday morning. She was programming her master’s degree recital and wanted to perform at least one work by a Mormon composer as a way to express her own LDS belief. “Where can I go,” she asked, “to find the Church’s archive of classical music?” The short answer is: nowhere, it doesn’t exist.
Regretfully, I would have a similar response to queries about a digital archive of Mormons’ paintings, biographies of Mormon composers, monographs on LDS architects, designers, poets, filmmakers, or choreographers, and academic scholarship using Mormon Arts to illustrate concepts about the larger entity of Mormonism—all of the traditional hallmarks of cultural scholarship. Unfortunately, those things are rare with us. And there are consequences for it.
Every year, like the swallows returning to Capistrano, young BYU grads come to New York to begin advanced degrees in the arts. I like to take them to lunch, and as something of a parlor game, I ask them what Mormon artists they admire. I regret to report that their answer, without exception, is the same: that they know none other than their immediate peers and their professors. How can that be? Furthermore, they ask whether it is possible to be a Mormon and an artist, as if there were no precedent for it.
It is unthinkable to imagine a student from Howard University unfamiliar with great African-American artists; one could not imagine a student from Bryn Mawr ignorant of great women artists—further, those artists would speak to their identity and give them voice—but LDS students (and the membership, generally) are largely unaware of our most accomplished artists from 1830 to the present. Maybe the time is here to address the problem. The first step is to engage tastemakers and scholars regarding Mormon art itself. I hope you’ll join Richard Bushman and me in the conversation.