Every Artist and the Tree of Life

December 21, 2003 | 5 comments

I just got the January Ensign. It contains a collection of artworks on Lehi’s vfision of the Tree of Life (wow, check out that tatting! and the Chinese scroll!).

A little while back, Nate commented that LDS visual arts have taken a big step forward. I’ve noticed the same thing, if I may be allowed to add the perspective of ignorance (Don’t laugh. Every donkey has his bray.) I’ve also noticed that some of the best works are of the Tree of Life. In fact, they’re all about the Tree of Life. It’s taken on the role for us that the Madonna with Child had for the Renaissance. My question is, why? (Nate?) Why not the parable of the Olive, or the 1st Vision (though that’s pretty popular too) or the martyrdom of the Prophet or the 2nd Coming or even the Madonna with Child?


5 Responses to Every Artist and the Tree of Life

  1. Brent on December 22, 2003 at 10:25 am

    It may be because of the symbolism of the tree of life. It represents the center of our worship and the only means to salvation and eternal life.

  2. Clark Goble on December 22, 2003 at 1:53 pm

    What is interesting to me is how trees are so important for Mormons. Further these trees contaminate each other. Consider how the trees of Jacob 5 can be read in terms of the tree of life all tied to olives. This role of the olive tree is throughout Mormonism. We use oil in our blessings, but even the manifestation of the laying on of hands is tied to use of oil even when not present. The tree of life is often seen as an olive tree.

    I think that often the heart reflects this transgression of the boundaries of individual narratives. Further one can see that the fascination of Mormons to ancient cultures by looking for Mormon signs within those cultures brings out the tree of life. After all it is a near universal symbol appearing in various guises. Whether this Mormon fascination is a true kind of textual archaeology or mere deconstructive reading of the myths of various cultures seems irrelevant. There is this desire for seeing the universal as a kind of origin or source. Thus the tree of life, one of the fundamental symbols, becomes a sign for the evidence of the commonality of all humanity as well as the origin of humanity in the garden from whence all humanity dispersed.

    Such trangressions are hardly unique to Mormonism I should add. Thus we have traditions tying Christ’s cross to the wood of the tree of life (if only symbolically) We have the rod of aaron (that flowering stick) tied to the tree of life. The staff of life becomes a portable tree of life leading us up to a partaking of the fruit of this tree which can be a literal fruit or perhaps a liahona or other orb given symbolically. Through this symbolic mode of consideration we move into more abstract art and perhaps even performance art… (He who has ears to hear let him hear )

  3. Grasshopper on December 22, 2003 at 5:42 pm

    It is also fascinating that, historically, trees are symbolic of feminine divinity, such as the ancient Hebrew reverence of Asherah (again, see Dan Peterson’s “Nephi and His Asherah” in “Mormon, Scripture, and the Ancient World”).

  4. Clark Goble on December 22, 2003 at 11:52 pm

    Actually the most fascinating, to me, use of the tree of life is the rather radical “symbolism” within Kabbalism.

  5. Richard on December 28, 2003 at 12:39 pm

    Speaking of trees… Check out the references to palm trees flanked by cheribum, embroidered on the fabric walls and door of the Tabernacle in the Desert (see Exodus) Note palm trees flanked by cheribum carved into the walls and doors of the holy of holies in the Temple of Solomon (see I Kings). Check out the palm frond capitals orginally designed for the Nauvoo Temple (see original arch. plans in Church Archives). Notice the use of palms in murals and sculpture in the S.L. Temple. Look at the palm frond capitals on the pilasters of the Mesa Temple. Note the tree of life in stained glass windows in the Palmyra Temple and Winter Quarters Temple. Note the tree of life patterns in quilts in several temples (s


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