The Problem With Art…

By Joseph Delli Gatti

I remember being a problem child in church at age five.  Luckily, I also had geniuses for teachers and clergy.  In my Sunday-school class, my teacher would have me stand at the front of the class and draw the stories and lessons as they taught.  All of the children would sit quietly and watch me draw as they listened to the teacher.  It kept me from making smart-alec remarks, helped me to improve my art skills, and allowed the teacher to teach everyone more effectively.

In LDS churches, artwork of Jesus Christ and scriptural scenes adorn the halls and foyers.  They remind members of key moments in scriptural history – moments with morals that promote faith and spiritual healing.  Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah is jammed packed with beautiful paintings and sculptures that lure in tourists and the curious.  My favorite works of art there are the iron sculptures of a woman and her children and busts of past church leaders.  They inspire good feelings and positive actions.

Often times, I find myself grateful to the creators of those works of art on display at Temple Square, and stand amazed at the inspiration these people obtained from God to meld into their art – faith-promoting spiritual life in the canvases and metal forms that reach out and touch the hearts and minds of the visitors and passers by.  I have never walked through that small area of Salt Lake without feeling positively inspired.

Not all good art is religiously inspiring.  Of course, many other virtues exist in art.  Fantasy, psychology, ethics and morals, education, and skill.  You learn not only about the hearts and minds of the artists, but also about the audience that would pay for such art.

Poetry, music, theatre, photography, and films found throughout history and current society make statements conveyed through various levels of skill, that are received and interpreted with varying degrees of skill.  Then, a person internalizes the message, and acts according to the choices presented to them – to act or not to act, in which direction, and to what degree.  Our physical capacities to act, our education and intelligence, the spirit, and our experiences are some of the elements that dictate our reactions and perceptions.

My family doesn’t watch rated R movies, most Disney movies, or TV shows that portray and glamorize (or actively promote) bad moral values or making bad choices in life.  Red Box hasn’t been advertising any amazing or must-see PG-13 or lower or kid movies lately, and I’ve been itching for DVD entertainment.  So, I went to a Web site that specializes in movie trailers of nearly every genre, nationality, and rating.

Many movies were very predictable.  For instance, romantic comedies involve significant-other relationships that pass through trials due to character flaws and bad advice from friends.  horror movies all involve the dumb person who always goes back into the house where the scary thing and mortal danger are,  a person turns a corner and unexpectedly sees something dead or about to attack them… or a false alarm, and the car never starts when someone’s trying to get away.

More than that though, movies nearly always involve people, moral dilemmas, emotional appeal, some type of fantasy appeal, sex, aliens, religion, politics, monsters, revealed secrets, and some force of good and evil.

End of the world, battle between good and evil, angels and devils, aliens being gods, computers evolving – that’s what people are focusing on – that’s what entertains and fascinates a large percentage of our population.  People are fantasizing about the end of the world as we push the envelope to greater extremes, not just in what’s portrayed in movies, but in all forms of entertainment.

Our art is becoming these extreme displays of sorrow, helplessness, faithlessness, death, and an end to our way of life and civilization.  People at least toy with the idea that it’s time for it all to end.  Is this honestly the direction people want things to go? …to a horrible and tragic end?  And why would people want that?

I think it’s due to confusion, lack of direction, a desire to live the “good” life (which truly is the bad life) and then die before the consequences catch up to them.  It’s a message of “eat, drink, and be merry – for tomorrow we shall die.” accompanied with the expectation that either God doesn’t exist, that He doesn’t concern Himself with the people on our planet, that we’re all damned no matter what good we try to accomplish, or that God loves us unconditionally and will save us no matter what we do (so, do whatever pleases us at the time, right?).

This focus needs to be counter-balanced with an alternative.  People need to realize that good exists in the world and want to contribute to it.  We need to reground our moral bases so that all of society is basing their understanding of societal values on common principles.

Art should be created that is so glorious and beautifully inspiring to people, that they shift their focus back to hope and faith.