Ensign art shows are themselves a kind of art. The whole is greater than the parts. The Ensign ran art shows in the last two Ensigns and this is my idiosyncratic critique.*
December: Madonna Mothers
Once you’ve clicked on the link above, click on the Featured Article “A Mother and An Overflowing Heart.”
In theory I have no quarrel with art showing bright, happy mothers with bright, happy babies, bathed in light. Art doesn’t have to focus on the ugly. But having almost all of the paintings that way cloys. I liked the statue, probably because its harder to be bright and happy and backlit in bronze. I also liked the painting “She Also Serves,” mostly because its reference to Milton’s “On His Blindness” with its famous last line: “they also serve who stand and wait.” I never thought of applying it to pregnant mothers before.
I was bugged that almost all the mothers were shown with babies until I read the introduction and saw that the theme was mothers and children in the type and shadow of the nativity.
January: Book of Mormon Stories
Once you’ve clicked on the link above, click the Featured Article “It Came to pass.”
Book of Mormon stories isn’t the most coherent theme for a collection and including a Joseph Smith painting made it less coherent. The works weren’t arranged in any particular order either. You move from an angel appearing to Samuel the Lamanite to Moroni’s visit in the fields to Joseph Smith to Enos praying to Nephites walking with their flocks, to Lamanite maidens at the pool of Shemlon, to several Tree of Life works to incidents of Lehi’s journey to Christ’s appearance.
The painting of the angel appearing to Samuel the Lamanite is called “He Did Bring Glad Tidings to My Soul” by Walter Rane. Its arresting. The painting succeeds with the formal, dramatic posing of Samuel and the angel and the angel’s otherwordly aspect. Its the one painting of all these that has most stuck in my mind.
The painting Go Tell Your Father, by Winborg, of Moroni appearing to Joseph near the fence, has some visual symbolism that I really like. At first glance Moroni is nothing special, and probably even a little too bright and shiny in the Mormon devotional style. Then you look at Joseph Smith, who is neither colored realistically nor shinily. He’s all in shades of dull copper. Its like seeing two different orders of being. Oddly the landscape is in yet a 3rd style.
The Minerva Teicherts appeal to me. Incidentally, there’s an article about Teichert in the latest BYU magazine that I recommend to you. She was a character.
I love the Tree of Lifes except for the painting. I don’t imagine Lehi as the Maharishi Santa Claus.
The Waters of Mormon by Jorge Cocco has a landscape like you might find in New Mexico. I can’t help liking it.
Dawn of a Promised Land by Frank Thomas shows Lehi’s company arriving in the promised land. It has a Punic look which I like but the perspectives seem off.
Behold Your Little Ones by Gary Kapp shows a Christ in brilliant white robes appearing to children who are in shadows with dingy-colored clothes. In all theireare three paintings that try to show angelic and exalted beings in contrast to mortal humans. This is the least successful of them. The difference between our state and theirs isn’t just a difference in physical light. Its a spiritual difference, so the paintings that take a more symbolic approach come off better. The Samuel the Lamanite painting, in particular, uses pose and drapery and the play of light and shadow to symbolize the difference in a way that is much more artistic, if that’s the word I want, then just giving Christ brighter clothes.
On the inside back cover there’s a painting of Lehi’s company journeying that’s also impressive (click here and then go to the next to last page). The travelers are all strung out in a line. Lehi and Nephi are in front. They are all dressed in clothes that look Middle Eastern, except for Nephi, who is dressed in in clothes that in the idiom of Mormon painting are Nephite. Its an interesting way of showing that this is no ordinary journey. Its a journey into the Nephite future.
*I don’t know much about visual art or canons of criticism.