State of Mormon Art: 2045
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
In a July 30, 2020, Sunstone panel on “The Struggles & Successes of Mormon Arts,” the moderator--Camilla Stark--asked what Mormon Arts will look like in 25 years and in 100 years.
Here is a report from 2045:
President Stillwell suggested I write a report on arts activity in the Cardston enclave for our stake history now that we are approaching our ten year anniversary. It is hard to know where to begin. I suppose I should start with the fact that President Stillwell and the presidents of the other North American enclaves we are in contact with were very concerned from the beginning about feelings of isolation and a lack of unity among all the saints who didn’t choose to migrate south. There was also a sense that if we didn’t supplement the Church Handbook and other correlated materials with appealing works of art, we’d risk each of the enclaves developing their own eccentric cultures, which would make it more difficult for us to work towards a unity of purpose that will further the Lord’s work in this part of the vineyard. And then, of course, there is the ever-present worry that without artistic work of our own, our members will increase their reliance on what is available (either through approved channels or covertly) from the World.
To combat those fears, we have encouraged an increase in both the production and distribution of art created by members. This is aided by the occasional arts competition, which leads to the creation of many new works. Our artists are also incentivized by the fact that well-liked art and art that is considered particularly well-done has a chance of being shared widely across all of the enclaves and even make it to the saints down in South America, although we are rarely able to verify that it has reached them.
Distribution happens most commonly through physical storage media containing digital files that can piggyback on the delivery drones we maintain or (in some cases) lease from non-Church related entities. Due to weight limits and the fact that not every delivery drone will land at every enclave, we use mini-drones that are programmed to fasten themselves to a large delivery drone and detach once they are within range of a Church enclave. We make sure to use multiple mini-drones for each new set of files. That way if something goes awry, chances are good each enclave will still receive at least one copy. We call this tactic swarming. We call the mini-drones leeches, which has unfortunate connotations, but I am told by the younger saints that this is how language works and that I shouldn’t overthink it. A drone that arrives with a particularly large set of media files is called a plump leech. One that carries files from artists that are particularly known for their fine work is called a tasty leech.
I mention digital files because that’s what we have the most capacity to share. Occasionally, we host artist residencies as a form of cross-enclave exchange. But these have become rare as the land between the enclaves becomes increasingly lawless or worse--in the control of the megacorps who have no compunction waylaying our people and forcing them into their employ. Also growing more rare are traveling exhibitions. These used to take place two or three times a year and would feature members specifically called to share technical innovations, artistic work and/or performances, and conduct leadership trainings. I’m sorry to report that we have not been able to hold one of these exhibitions for the past fourteen months. Enclaves are not only worried for the safety of these traveling ministers, but because those best suited for such positions necessarily are highly capable individuals, they tend be needed more and more at home--or have been recruited for courier missions (which are even more dangerous).
I suppose I should share the nature of the art we create and consume. I’m not well-versed in the history of these art forms nor am I a critic. My children tell me that I like everything too much and that it’s okay to use a certain measure of discernment, but to me each work of art represents the labor and vision of an individual saint or group of saints and is worthy of praise. I also wasn’t the most artsy person prior to the formation of the enclaves, but I think it’s fair to say that we have seen a major resurgence in the importance of poetry. Such poetry draws heavily on images from scripture and history to comment on the current moment. While some of our poets work in traditional forms, pastiche and collage are more common.
This is also true in our visual (whether electronic or in physical form) art as well as we are continually having to cobble together technologies and physical resources. ASCII art and low resolution image collages are quite popular as they take less electronic storage space and can even be printed out or reproduced by hand onto whatever scraps of paper with whatever inks we have in surplus. Popular visual artists include Arnold FreeBird, the the not-Nephilim, Sar1#h, and, of course, our very own Dan Stampede who mostly focuses on combining archival paintings of horses with photos of electronic components he takes with an ancient iPad that he’s fitted with custom-made lenses.
Drama is also big, especially works that don’t require much in the way of production, such as dialogues and monologues that work well both performed live and recorded in audio form. Recent popular ones include “A Conversation with That Bad Dude Cain” and “Put Your Shoulder to the Celestial Chore Wheel.” These works tend to mix the banalities of our currently constrained lives with high flown speculation on scripture and doctrine and/or the absurdity of life and culture in the earlier parts of this century.
Something that actually started here in Cardston but has reportedly spread to other enclaves is young people engaging in competitions where you trade quotes from scripture, conference talks, plays, hymns, and popular song lyrics back and forth. I’ve witnessed many such competitions, and while I can’t say that I quite understand how the points are awarded, they can be entertaining, and it’s quite heartwarming to see that young people these days can quote from both scripture and the catalogs of bands like The Killers and Beehive Dreams.
Video production is not done much these days. It requires so much time and resources. But we do have some secular productions on our servers from the old times. Every year we have to vote on what to delete and add (if possible) to our servers, and such votes have led to a situation over the years such that we mostly have now are bottle episodes of sitcoms, nature documentaries, and food competition shows. This isn’t all that surprising, I suppose, although the food competition shows are torture to those of us who remember what ingredients that are now unavailable taste like. The focus on bottle episodes was at first of concern to the Stake Council because it seemed to indicate an unhealthy preoccupation with confinement, but after much prayer and discussion, we chose to view it as a natural way of coping with our current condition because it shows how creativity and individual expression can still happen with a set of people crammed into the same space. And that people can solve problems and work things out even if they go a little crazy.
Most of our live music is a capella and choral music accompanied by drumming. My parents, were they still alive, would likely be scandalized by the way percussion is used in our worship, but it has the virtue of increasing the number of people who can participate, and many items can serve both their practical original purpose and also be used as an instrument. I can’t say that we have written many new hymns. But we now have numerous arrangements for all of the most popular hymns in the official hymn book as well as those popular songs (rock, folk, country, classical, hip-hop, etc.) that we deem of good report.
The written word is still important, but we find that people tend to want to experience art together. Reading aloud happens more often than reading alone (except for personal scripture study). For awhile it seemed like historical fiction was going to dominate the writing we were both producing and consuming as a people, but that has cooled in the past three years, and we have seen a renewed interest in real-life accounts–journals, letters, sermons, and essays. Many of our writers spend more of their time compiling and editing the work of previous saints than writing new work. Or they write short plays (as mentioned previously). I’d say that it’s not so much that we’re against imagination, as we have a sense that in order to preserve our culture, our people, and our sanity, we need to be connected strongly with the saints who have gone before us. Accounts that deal with hardships--wars, persecutions, poverty, disease, accidents--seem to offer a certain balm to many of us. I still sneak in the occasional novel here and there, but even I find myself increasingly less and less patient with imaginative writing. It seems almost silly now that people had the time to create these idiosyncratic worlds that take hundreds of thousands of words to explain and then other people would pay lots of money and spend hours and hours of time to experience them.
What else is there to report? Some of our older members mourn the loss of video gaming, especially those that offered immersive environments. But such lushness seems almost obscene now. All that electricity and processing power spent to push some buttons to commit the same acts of violence over and over again. What electronic games we still have are puzzles or feature cooperative narrative play.
There are things we miss about a world with more resources. But we are mostly angry (at ourselves, at others, at our ancestors) that we burned through those resources. We are a people who may seem reduced from what we once were, but we are proud of what we have and what we now make and the way we as a community have come together to create and experience art in ways we didn’t used to back when we all lived apart from each other. I think it is safe to say that there has not ever been a time when a greater percentage of the saints has worked to create art. It is certain that there has not ever been a time when a greater percentage of the saints has experienced art together as frequently as we do. Babylon may have broken us apart and hemmed us in, but that has only made us closer.
And more artistically fruitful.