Mormon Arts Festival 1995
Elder M. Russell Ballard
The Lord's Purpose for the Artist in the Gospel Plan
I've prepared some remarks and if you'll bear with me I'd like to refer to them, because I think this is a very significant time in the history of the Church. And I speak, I am sure, for the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve in sharing these remarks with you.
God's stated purpose,
brothers and sisters, is to bring about the immortality and eternal
life of man. Obedience to Gospel principles makes it possible for men
and women to work out their salvation through the grace of the
atonement of Jesus Christ, which atonement was part of our Heavenly
Father's plan from the beginning. God's purpose for the artist, in
the Gospel plan, if indeed it differs in the slightest degree from his
purpose for plumbers, electricians, salesmen, teachers, or others, the
difference would be only in the language used.
The artist expresses himself or herself in universal symbols, images, sounds, and feelings. Artists have the unique opportunity to present their opinions, and perspectives on Eternity in visual and audio symbols universally understood. Great art touches the soul in a unique and uncommon way. Inspired art speaks in the language of Eternity, teaching things to the heart the eyes and ears can never understand. Aristotle said, "The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but the inward significance."
The word artist is not included in the Holy Scriptures, but their
presence and significance are unmistakable. There are a myriad of
references to all manner of workmanship described as exceedingly fine
and curious; that the creative process is rooted and revered in Heaven
is evident in the Lord's use of the word "workmanship," not only to
define the artistic accomplishments of his children, but the results
of his own creation. "And behold, thou art my son. Wherefore, look
and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands. But not all, for
my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease."
God's purpose for the artist is to inspire. To give us visions of ourselves that we might not otherwise see. To make us better than we would have been. The world is better for the arts and artists in it. Few earthly things bring joy more fully to the world than the arts. Tuacahn, this beautiful facility, has been established to create an environment for the artist to flourish, but not without purpose. While achieving greatness in artistic pursuits, painting, music, drama, dance, film, sculpture, and the written word, you should always seek to achieve God's purposes. Ruskin said, "All great art is an expression of man's delight in God's work, not his own."
"The Spirit of Christ," Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, "is the means by which the Lord invites and entices all men to improve their lot and to come unto him and receive his Gospel. It is the agency through which the Lord strives with men; through which he encourages them to forsake the world and come unto Christ; through which good desires and feelings are planted in the hearts of decent people; it is the medium of intelligence, that guides inventors, scientists, artists, composers, poets, authors, statesmen, philosophers, generals, leaders, and influential men in general, when they set their hands to do that which is for the benefit and blessing of their fellow men."
The greatest artists have been humbled in acknowledgment of the source of their inspiration and the power behind their creation. No one can feast their eyes on the art of Michelangelo, or be consumed with the Spirit of his master works, and not see the hand of God. The artist himself knew it, as he expressed in his statement, "The true work of art is but a shadow of divine perfection."
Free agency allows abuse of creative capacity, but as Blaikie said, "The highest art is always the most religious and the greatest artist is always a devout man. A scoffing Raphael or an irreverent Michelangelo is not conceivable." "Thou, O God, dost grant unto us all good things for the price of labor," DaVinci wrote. Bernard Rands, the Pulitzer prize winning composer put it this way, "The creative act must never become an act of selfish indulgence, there is more to creating than merely establishing the work of an individual. Really, the commitment to be a composer or an artist or a poet is no less than the commitment to seek that which is divine."
This is the time, brothers and sisters, to make our voices heard. In the media today, as we would look at it from any vantage point, I think we'd have to say that Lucifer's influence has a far more dominant influence than the Lord's. We are in a war. This war is the same that was waged in the pre-mortal world. Lucifer and his followers are committed to their evil direction. Our Heavenly Father and his Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, have given a plan for Heavenly Father's children and we have the responsibility as leaders and members of the church to take this glorious plan to all of our Heavenly Father's children. It is my judgment that much success will come as we become more expert and more able to harness the wonderful technology that our Heavenly Father has given to man to proclaim His message. In Shakespeare's time he was limited generally to the Globe theatre, but we now have a global theatre. As our opportunities widen with modern satellites, computers and fiber optics, it will literally open doors worldwide.
Bruce Christiansen, who is here today, former president of Public Broadcasting Service, now Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications at Brigham Young University, speculates that future historians may be inclined to describe our day with this variation of the famous poem, the Rhyme of an Ancient Mariner: "Media, Media everywhere, and all the eyes did blink. Media, media all around, and nary the time to think."
As I stated a week ago, in General Conference, we're moving into an era when the information superhighway will have the capacity to cut a wide path right into our homes, with fiber optic computer technology that can link homes to an incredible assortment of messages and influences. This highway will be a conduit of information that will have the power to change our culture and thus our very lives. As we consider the importance of nourishing our intellects with the promising potential of superhighway resources, we must be ever cautious about our choices of programs and the impact of media in our lives. Those who understand our Heavenly Father's eternal plan for joy and happiness for his children will be better prepared not only to make but also provide choices as the information superhighway rolls across the earth. The computer, television, satellite, microchip and even the telephone, all can bless and enhance our lives or can make them miserable.
Now, just imagine, brothers and sisters, if you
will, twenty-two thousand, three hundred miles above the equator,
one-hundred and eighty satellites circling the earth, each with
twenty-four transponders beaming to earth. Now with new technology,
each transponder can send multiple signals to millions of receiving
dishes on the ground giving individuals a myriad of choices.
With so many choices, our work not only needs to be uplifting, it must be excellent. To set it apart from the mediocre of the worldly. People deserve quality alternatives, the kind, with the influence of the Holy Spirit, that you who are sitting in this room are capable of providing.
To give some perspective to the rapid growth in opportunities created by technology, it took twelve years to put one million television sets in the homes of Americans. Five years to sell one-million CD players into the homes of America, and just eleven months to sell one-million direct broadcast small dishes. Each unit, by the way, is currently receiving one-hundred seventy-five channels, in a dish the width of this podium, 18 inches, and able to be placed outside your bedroom window.
A challenge was placed by Spencer W. Kimball in 1974 that the Church has never really grasped yet, and I see what's happening here--in my judgment, one of the most encouraging things of my experience of the last 19 years as a general authority--as the fulfillment of the vision of a prophet of God spoken in 1974. Let me just read to you what he said in a sermon entitled "When Will the World Be Converted?"
"I believe that the Lord is anxious to put into our hands inventions of which we laymen have hardly a glimpse. King Benjamin, the humble but mighty servant of the Lord, called together all the people in the land of Zarahemla and 'the multitude was so great that King Benjamin caused a tower to be erected, that thereby his people might hear the words which he should speak unto them.' Our Father in Heaven has now provided us mighty towers: radio and television towers and possibilities beyond comprehension to help fulfill the words of the Lord that the 'sound must go forth from this place to all the world.'"
President Kimball's vision of towers is being realized. Possibilities
beyond our comprehension to help fulfill the words of the Lord that
the "sound must go forth from this place to all the world." In this
day a number of LDS artists from all fields, from writers to musicians
to painters and performers, are beginning to fill the world with
goodness and truth. We are a special people, our standards are
different, our principles are sure, yet we are not alone.
Contrary to popular notions about movies, according to Variety magazine's Top 10, All-Time Domestic Movie Hits, published in January of 1995, which does not take into account any inflation, or I might add, any of our standards, it is still worth noting that not one was R-rated. I think that's saying something. In a day and time that opens an opportunity and a vision for all of you that I believe is unique, many people will still respond to values-oriented messages; we know that.
Now I've never painted a picture or composed a sonata, or won an award for acting, but I have been inspired by artists, and a great example to me is that beautiful dialogue in A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens had to be inspired of God when he wrote that. He had to have the inspiration of Heaven, and how many lives has this little dialogue touched over the years?
"Who are you?"
"Ask me who I was," responded Jacob Marley. "In life I was your partner, Jacob Marley."
"You're fettered," said Scrooge, trembling. "Tell me why."
"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the ghost. "I made it link by link and yard by yard. I girded it on of my own free will and of my own free will I wore it. Is the pattern strange to you?" Scrooge trembled. "Or would you know," pursued the ghost, "the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full and heavy as long as this seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it since. It is a ponderous chain."
"Jacob," he said imploringly, "O, Jacob Marley, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, Jacob."
"I have none to give," the ghost replied.
"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge and now began to apply this to himself.
"Business?" cried the ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business. Charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business."
Just ponder that. Can
you write today, can you produce today, with that kind of impact, that
kind of vision, that kind of Gospel standard as we all rejoice in
every Christmas time as we listen to A Christmas Carol?
God's purpose for the artist in the Gospel plan is ultimately the same as for all his children: to bring to pass their immortality and eternal life. Each of us must use our tools, our gifts and opportunities to triumph in the contest of mortality. Immortality is a gracious gift; eternal life may demand that you discover God's purpose for the artistic passions he has given you. Whether to declare the gospel in quiet singular ways or proclaim that Christ is Savior with the power of universal symbols, it may be the same to God's purposes. You must strive to understand your role and in the shadow of His purpose carry on your work. And as in all things spiritual, only the process of prayer and inspiration can yield sufficient guidance. You must not succumb to the ways of the world. You must not compromise, under any circumstance, your standard, for which you cherish your testimonies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Hundreds of years ago, a prophet of God taught the same principle from
the visionary perspective of eternal truth. I read to you just a few
verses from the Book of Mormon:
"For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ." (Moroni 7:16-17, 19)
We are determined to live by Heavenly Father's plan. We will use our
given moral agency to make decisions and create art based on
revealed truth, not on the opinions of others or the current thinking
of the world. Use TUACAHN and other inspiring opportunities around
you to increase your talents. Use all that God has given you to help
you to bring to pass His purposes. Use the technology to join
creative hands with fellow artists across the globe. Lift, inspire,
change hearts, make people better than they might have been.
Again, the words of Dickens, from A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of life, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."
We call upon you in the arts, you my precious brothers and sisters, to expand your vision of what can be done. If we're going to fill the world with goodness and truth then we must have artists who are worthy to receive inspiration so they can bless the lives of our Heavenly Father and all of his children. Never in the history of the world have truth and technology been so prepared for talent; and with that gift humbly applied, the artist can assist God's purpose and bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
I would pray, my beloved brothers and sisters, that our Father in Heaven may touch your hearts and your minds, that we may accelerate the great cause of the Gospel. The world needs what we know to be true so desperately. And we have not learned yet to use the great media of the arts and the power of technology to carry the glorious message of the restoration to the world.
In closing, may I say that I believe that our Heavenly Father has touched Hyrum Smith in an unusual way. I know him intimately as he's expressed our relationship. And to you, Hyrum, I pay tribute. First of all, that the Lord has blessed you, and that you have been willing and anxious to use that which you have been blessed with to really enhance the purposes of God upon the earth. To your dear companion, Gale, for her support. There is not one of us who sits here today that doesn't fully realize this would never be without your vision and generosity. And my God bless you in every way.
And in the name of Jesus Christ and by and through the holy Apostleship I invoke a blessing on each of you. That your minds may be clear, that your lives may be pure. That you may walk and bathe in the marvelous blessings of heaven. That revelation and inspiration may pour to your minds. That you may have the power of the pen to take that revelation and that inspiration from heaven and write beautiful music, write beautiful poetry, write great plays and drama, and create dance and art and sculpture--all of which would declare that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, that he has spoken in this day and time and that the fullness of the Everlasting Gospel is once again upon the earth. May God bless you, each and every one. May your families be blessed. May your homes be a sacred and special place. And may his peace walk with you now and always, for which I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.