Charles Murray has a new book, Human Accomplishment. You can find reviews in the New Criterion, in the New York Times, by the National Review’s John Derbyshire, on the Volokh Conspiracy, and by a thoughtful Australian.
If Murray’s arguments hold up, he has exonerated all us Mormons from the charges of failing to produce enough great Art.
Here’s what Murray has done, roughly. He’s amassed a variety of encyclopedias and other works. He then documents the number of words written about various significant figures. The composer with the most words is the Greatest Composer, the second most is the Second Greatest, and so forth. Same goes for writers, philosophers, artists, and so on. I’m not sure if this approach is valid, but he’s put a lot of wrinkles on it. Until I read the book (the spirit is more than willing, the wallet is weak) I’m going to reserve judgment.
We Saints feel that some of the Greatest, or at least the Second Greatest, ought to be ours. Where are our Shakespeares, our Miltons? President Kimball has asked. On the assumption that the Holy Spirit inspires and elevates, there ought to be some. There aren’t.
We’ve got various answers: maybe Mormons just don’t know enough about evil; maybe Mormons are too busy; maybe Mormons are too cohesive, and Art requires independence; and so forth. See discussion here, and here. Just as the question implies something unique to Mormonism that should generate better art and literature, the answers imply something unique to Mormonism that prevents it.
Charles Murray may exonerate us, at least from the charge that Mormon beliefs or culture uniquely unfit us for genius and creativity. He calculates that Great Composers, Artists, etc. per capita have dropped off since 1800, and much more dramatically more recently. Now this may be an artefact of his methods–maybe encyclopedias and so forth are biased towards the past. Maybe modern greats can’t emerge until sufficient time has passed to digest their achievement.
But if it is true, then the dearth of Mormon Greats may be part and parcel of the dearth of Greats of any kind. The same explanations–more time fillers, the popularizing of taste/death of aristocracy, etc.?–may apply to both groups. In this view, God raineth on the good and the evil alike, and their drought is also ours.
P.S. On the other hand, Murray also argues that traditional religious belief should be a spur to creative greatness, so maybe we are still specially indicted.
P.P.S. Other reviews are collected here.