Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ramblin’s about The Arts

One of Elder Richard G. Scott’s paintings

One of my biggest struggles growing up was reconciling my curiosity in almost all things of the arts (music, literature, movies) with being a faithful LDS member. I wanted to follow all of the Church Teachings that were given to me, but I I've always had a brain like a sponge when it comes to art and literature.

You see, as an active LDS member, we're strongly encouraged not to watch, read or listen to any media or art that doesn't invite the Holy Ghost to dwell. There's scriptural context in the Bible, but the interpretations of applying this doctrine varies somewhat from one LDS person to another. Often, I was getting conflicting advice from LDS leaders.

For example, I know my seminary teachers had the best interests at heart, but we were told by one teacher that the song "Hey Jude" was explicitly about heroin so we weren't supposed to listen to the Beatles. (keep in mind, this was just one individual, and not LDS teachings-at all). There's the Rated R Movie discussion that you hear often (to watch or not to watch, that is the eternal debate).

Then there was the AP English scandal that rocked Uintah High LDS Seminary in 1992-1993. One of the hardest classes at Uintah High School was AP English. The teacher wasn't LDS (about a 1/3 of the teachers at Uintah were active LDS, keeping inline with the demographics of Uintah County at that time) and the year before she had two LDS boys* in her class that came from active LDS families. They were best friends and informed their parents (both pretty influential members of the community) that they had no testimony of the LDS church because of the teachings in AP English. Well, the parents informed the seminary teachers, and the seminary teachers promptly advised the Sophomores especially not to take AP English. One particular teacher wrote a song about the incident and spent a whole class period every year I was in high school expounding on the dangers of worldly doctrine. Not to mention, we were also under pressure from our other active LDS friends not to take the class either. I know it really made that particular teacher feel horrible, as she stopped teaching after my Junior year. Although that class was one of the hardest classes, I ever took, it Many LDS kids who would've taken the class decided not to take it and there was also peer pressure not to take the class.

My parents however, supported me in taking the class. I've always been a garbage disposal when it comes to literature, and both my parents encouraged this. My mother gave me her copy (a 1940s hardbound copy) of Gone with the Wind as a 13 or 14 year old to read while my dad handed me a copy of Of Mice and Men when I was 12 and said, "I hated this in school, you have to read it. Both books were not just novels, but expanded my world view as an adolescent growing up in rural Utah.

I ended up taking the class and although it was one of the toughest classes I've taken (tougher than many of my college classes-including some in grad school), that class gave me the metaphorical toolbox I needed to understand, appreciate and even create literature. There weren't a lot of active LDS kids in the class (which was actually a good thing-it never hurts to be the minority), and although our faith and beliefs were challenged from the literature and concepts we learned during the class-I learned from that point on, that challenging my beliefs made them grow.

Over the years, I've learned my personal balance, and I've found that finding outlets to be creative is just one of those things I have to do in order to be happy-so I was touched by the article and short interview in the LDS Church News about Elder Scott's art that is currently displayed at the Deseret News flagship in Salt Lake. Although the article was specifically about art, any of the fine arts could applied to these quotes.

Elder Scott said that he discovered that becoming involved in creating art "opened my eyes to the beauty around me. There is so much in the world to see if you look with an inquisitive mind." Link

*An Aside-I knew both boys fairly well actually-and one especially became a good friend of mine later on in the year.


Jules said...

As an AP Composition teacher, I really identify with this post. I don't have any LDS kids this year (there's only a handful at my high school), but I have some very polarizing political viewpoints in my classroom.

This has led to some heated discussion among the students, but the discussion really does remain civil. That's all I ask for--that my students seek understanding, even though they might disagree. What better real-world skill to have?

Debra said...

I had a seminary teacher who basically tried to make us feel super guilty if we ever looked down at our spedometer and saw we were going over the speed limit because we were not obeying the laws of the land. He also discouraged us from listening to Elton John music because he's gay and by extension supporting movies like The Lion King because Elton John sings songs in the movies.

I'm glad I can listen to and respect the rights of people who see things much differently than me (LDS or not) to hold those opinions that I personally think are way off base without feeling my beliefs are threatened (it hasn't always been this way). What bothers me is when people share those interpretations/opinions as doctrine. I worry they may influence others in a negative way sometimes or give the "saner" of us a bad name.