Wednesday, March 18, 2009


BrightBoy and I got into a bit of a discussion last week about symbolism verses representationalism in art. We were walking around the exhibitions in the B.F. Larsen Gallery on the third floor of my home-away-from-home and I fell in love with the BFA show by Whitney Lewis Johnson (I've tried Googling her for a website but found nothing). It was a series of oil paintings collectively entitled Pattern in All Things. I oohed and ahhed over her rich patterns and deeply seated symbolic representation of things that are significant and spiritual. I made some comment about wanting to make compelling work like this. Work that isn't engaging in a superficial way, but in a way that asks the viewer to dig a little, to have a dialogue, to interact in such a way that they walk away enlightened.

BrightBoy felt like I was attacking some of his favorites (and maybe I was little) by saying that I didn't find much fulfillment in works that have been so commercialized they're now on every bookmark in every primary child's scriptures across the globe. I agreed with him that there is a place for that sort of art; there is a place for that which is so easily accesible it is comfortable. But yet again I argue that some of the most growth comes from spending time with that which is uncomfortable. Maybe it doesn't challenge you directly, but it's uncomfortable in that the meaning doesn't jump out at you from across the room. It takes study.

Yesterday in my D&C class the resident Museum Educator came and talked to us about the show a few years ago that explored images of Christ and "beholding salvation" through them. She talked mostly about symbolism and how much of it is all around us; what a powerful teaching tool it is. She referenced scriptures that showed how inspired teaching with symbolism is. I kept wanting to smack my hand on the desk and shout "Amen!" when she started going through works of art and showing how by spending time with these works that may seem "Catholic" or "Puritan" that there is actually a lot of insight to be gleaned. They can be difficult for a Mormon viewer who is used to learning symbolically through the scriptures but has yet to fully understand how intragal learning by visual symbolism is.

She told us a short story of when she worked in the Salt Lake Temple how the president of that temple came to her, knowing of her position as an educator and her involvement in that particular exhibition, and asked her fervently to, "Teach them to learn by visual symbols." He said that so many come to the temple so prepared to think in literary allegories and follow parables in their scriptures, but they do not know how to use the symbolism that is represented in a visual way, and learn from it.

I believe that visual symbolism is an inspired way of teaching, and I think I have back-up from someone who knows well what they're doing.

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