Subject: Does Narrow Artistic Taste Predict Dogmatic Attitudes?
Date: Nov 03, 2008
Author: bob mccue

I had the chance to go through the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in NYC last week. Staggering, beautiful places.

As I moved back and forth through the artistic epochs on display there, a correlation between artistic and cultural trends occurred to me. That is, the degree to which the artistic range within a community allows us to predict its dogmatic orientation.

For a good part of the last couple of centuries, the artistic community has been disposing of categories. What is art? for example. Questions like this used to have clear answers. Then the answers became less clear. Now for the most seriously artistic among us, they near impossible to answer. At the MOMA I saw wonderful Impressionist paintings a short distance from piles of ostensible garbage. I say "ostensible" because once one apprehends the nature of the philosophical point being made by the creators of the garbage and the context within which they were communicating, their creation acquires unexpected meaning, often related to its lack of meaning. I have no problem with the inclusion of this kind of human artefact in a great museum.

While artists were deconstructing their community standards, other kinds of categories were being questioned in the broader society. What does it mean to have different skin color? Different sexual orientation? To have a child out of wedlock? To be a citizen? Why do white males always have to be in charge?

Artists were ahead of, if not leading, a lot of this. The Dada movement and various streams of modern and postmodern art questioned basic values. Only a small percentage of society was aware of this, let alone understood it. However, that was an influential small percentage. And, it may be that they simply felt something in the air and reacted to it, while that something would have eventually led to the Civil Rights and other similar movements whether they were involved or not.

These movements followed broad evolutionary patterns and processes. For example, they follow the principle of creative destruction - that in most of the complex systems that are important to our lives (like the biosphere), there must be regular destruction to make room for new growth.

Social organisms are as varied as animals. Some are slow and cumbersome; others more nimble; some dull; others flamboyant. All are reflections of the social niches that produced them. But there are some consistencies. For example, the flamboyant tend to be nimble. Slow creatures that attract a lot of attention tend to get eaten and fail to reproduce.

Similar consistencies can be found within the range of social organisms. For example, as I look around me at the various social organisms with which I am familiar I notice a correlation between the range of artistic expression that is embraced within the group and how dogma or rule bound they are. For example, the narrower the range of art that is popular within the group, the more likely it is that a relatively narrow range of acceptable behaviours will exist for each category of person within the group.

Behaviour is circumscribed by dogma. All young adult males must go on Missions because it is God’s will. Most of your time on Sunday and otherwise free time during the week must be dedicated to activities determined by religious leaders. Sex outside of marriage is prohibited. A woman’s highest calling is to have babies and then stay a home and raise them. Etc.

Artistic taste is the subject to dogma as well. Strict sexual mores, for example, make it hard for many Mormons to appreciate Greek sculpture and Renaissance church art, let alone modern cinema. However, I think there is more at work here.

Dogmatic religions tend to be conservative. That is, they resist most change. Mormonism exemplifies this. Each major change must be approved by 15 ancient, white males. This guarantees that evolution will proceed at glacial pace. Young people are only encouraged to innovate within the playing field established by institutional authority. This produces artistic prodigies like The Osmonds, and the occasional finalist on American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance.

A study conducted at Ricks College (as it then was) noted the absence of Mormon Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes, and wondered why Brigham Young’s prophesy that Mormons would dominate the arts and sciences was not yet being fulfilled.

The answer is clear. To encourage the creative act is to encourage chaos and undermine authority. By emphasizing order, Mormonism and other similar groups stifle creativity. And this is reflected in a relatively narrow range of group artistic taste.

Order and chaos are at opposite ends of the same spectrum. Creativity occurs as we move away from order and toward chaos. This loosens up the system, and allows new forms to emerge. It releases a lot of new creative energy. And this is hard to control.

So, highly obedient groups of people tend not to be creative. And if you are not creative, your range of interests and behaviours tends to be narrow.



Subject: Re: Does Narrow Artistic Taste Predict Dogmatic Attitudes?
Date: Nov 03 16:32
Author: byTheirLogicYouShallKnowThem

bob mccue wrote:
>To encourage the creative act is to encourage chaos and undermine authority.

Agreed. I found that, as a scientist and an artist with work in galleries, my creativity soared as I questioned my TBM heritage. Of course, cause and effect are hard to establish as questioning and creativity grew together. Was I questioning b/c I am creative? Or am I becoming more creative b/c I question? But there is a correlation, no doubt.
>Creativity occurs as we move away from order and toward chaos.

While this is true, it is not all inclusive. Creativity can be an organizing process too, as innovation shows.)

On another note, can one be truly creative and innovative without having some level of "self-centeredness"? That is, can you run counter to group think and remain selfless and altruistic?


Subject: WOW! Excellents posts!
Date: Nov 03 16:54
Author: Merovea

As a "reasonably" well educated Mother, I am pondering all of the above theories because I am dealing in the present with a son who is forging on in the world of science as he is shedding his "brainwashed Mormon youth"...the latter are his own words!

Such people who find themselves in the forefront of creative thinking do indeed contemplate the chaos around and in front of them such as an explorer carving his way through the jungle with nothing more than a machette. They have a need to forge forward and as such they are alone and frightened.

Thankfully, today, in the world at large there is a greater awareness and respect for such people, except in mormondom where the minds are narrow or even closed and exclude those who think outside of the prefabricated mold.

Keep posting on this, I am thirsty for whatever suggestion might come along to help my son.


Subject: What use does tscc [this so called church] have for art anyway?
Date: Nov 03 17:14
Author: alscai

Another thing about creativity, artistic expression, thinking, etc. is that they're so inefficient, especially for an organization that views its minions as nothing more than fodder for their tithing-fed, proselyting empire.

What use does the morg have for art, except as use as propaganda tools (e.g paintings of JSmith as a sensitive family man)? Even as a TBM, hearing SWKimball ask why there weren't more top Morg artists/musicians/authors seemed a ludicrous question to me with an obvious answer: a TBM's time and talents were all pledged to the church, where they were dumped into the church vat and melted down for the benefit of the corporation--err--kingdom.


Subject: Science can sometimes get dogmatic too
Date: Nov 03 18:37
Author: byTheirLogicYouShallKnowThem

Merovea, the best thing for a budding scientist to keep as they become proficient in the tools of analysis is an open mind.

I know, you're thinking that scientist already have such open minds. Not so. They are dogmatic too.

I work in the "hard sciences" (physics, math and some biology). There can be a difficulty with practicing the rigors of the tools while maintain a wacky, creative side. Mostly this is due to the "skepticism" needed to be a thoughtful scientist. But skepticism of unfounded wild-ass claims and skepticism of tradition in science are both good. Often I think scientists become dogmatic in traditional views because the tools require us to be attentive and rigorous. Of course, there is a heavy political side too: in order to get funding you need to preach the party line.

I think that encouraging a new scientist to have some hobby or aspect that is carefree and not rule or analysis bound (art, fiction writing, dancing) is a great way to keep creativity a part of their lives and to enhance their search in science.


Subject: Re: Does Narrow Artistic Taste Predict Dogmatic Attitudes?
Date: Nov 03 17:40
Author: frog

...what about the art and poetry in the New Era and Ensign?! I was creative when growing up,and the art in the back of those magazines was depressing - there is no innovation or pushing of boundaries. Most mormons view art and artists with suspicion.


Subject: The most difficult part of my mission..
Date: Nov 03 18:37
Author: manfred

...wasn't the tracting, the door-slamming, or the mind-numbingness of it all, it was the cultural vacuum into which I unexpectedly found myself.

Up until the day I left on my mission I had listened to classical music with rapt attention just about every day of my life. My mission president was a stickler and forbade any non-mormon music, and that only on P-day. So I was longing for Mahler but could only listen to Saturday's Warrior. Sometimes I was so parched that I would lie in bed at night and go though one of the great works in my head from beginning to end. It was tough.

But to my mission president there was no difference between Bach's b minor mass and 'Cat Scratch Fever' so it was all verboten. Philistine.

Before arriving at the MTC I stayed in SLC for a couple of days at the home of LeGrand Richards' daughter, and LeGrand was living there at the time. We had a BBQ with various family members and they asked if I could play the piano for them. I played some greatest hits from the classical repertoire and finished with Debussy's 'Feux d'artifice' (Fireworks), not atonal by any means but definitely modern.

Well, this impressionist work left a real impression. The final sputtering notes were greeted with bewilderment, astonishment, and dead silence. Finally Legrand's SIL muttered to me gruffly 'The next time someone asks you to play, play something with MELODY!'. His words seared into my brain. I felt dizzy and confused. It had never occurred to me that the Lord's elect could be so culturally backwards. The party immediately dispersed in order to avoid the satanic spirit that I had brought into their home.

I managed to give a few recitals on my mission. The idea was a tough sell to the MP, but the first was such a PR success that it softened his heart and I was able to get some practice hours in on the Lard time...teehee...



Subject: Re: The most difficult part of my mission..
Date: Nov 08 05:10
Author: Don Bagley

Nice post, manfred. I have a collection of songs by Mahler that is extraordinary. The lyricism is beautiful.

I can't imagine being forbidden from listening to such work. I'm glad I never went on a mission and sorry that you did.

Have you ever noted the similarities between chamber music and rock ensembles? It's weird, but you have a rhythm section in both cases. In chamber music it's usually a harpsichord (percussion) and a cello (bass), while in rock it's drums and bass guitar.

In chamber music two violins do what vocals and lead guitar do in rock. Isn't that wild?


Subject: Yep Steve Benson once came and spoke at my school
Date: Nov 08 05:32
Author: Asator

and the Professor said, "It's been said there could never be a great Mormon artist because their creativity is confined by the dogma of the Church"

To which Steve Replied, "I am not a Mormon."


Related Topic:   210  Where are the Michelangelo's in Mormonism?


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