Centering the Arts in Christ
by K. Newell Dayley
From a devotional given at Brigham Young University, March 6, 2001
Painting: William Whitaker, The Cellist
Will we be willing to place Christ at the center of our work?
During the ministry of Jesus in Palestine, there were many who “believed on him; but . . . did not confess him, . . . for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42–43). The same challenge exists today. Do we believe in Christ but fail to follow Him because we love the praise of men more than the praise of God? Or are we willing to follow Him but uncertain about what that means? “Behold I am the light,” He assured the Nephite faithful. “I have set an example for you” (3 Nephi 18:16).
If we desire to center the arts in Christ, we will follow His example. He asked the Nephite disciples, “What manner of men ought ye to be?” And He answered His own question ever so simply: “Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). More precisely, He said, “I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48). He invites us to be like Him! Not just to believe in Him, but to be like Him—to acquire, in process of time, His righteous attributes.
If we seek to center the arts in Christ, will our artistic endeavors differ from those of others? If so, in what ways will they differ? How might our efforts also parallel the work of others? For what purposes should followers of Christ use the arts? Must they be willing to depart from some of the world’s artistic traditions? If so, will that limit their creative energies or liberate them? Such is the nature of the questions that confront those who would follow Christ.
WHAT ARE THE ARTS?
What are the arts, really? Are they subjects, professions, cultural artifacts, or events to attend? Yes, but that is not what they really are. The arts embody a unique learning process that awakens the very core of one’s being to life’s meaning and beauty. Through the arts we can learn to see, hear, move, and feel with greater sensitivity and understanding. They provide both substance and stimulus for learning the creative process and nurture our capacity to explore the infinite. The arts enable us to communicate important realities that can be shared in no other way. Elder Boyd K. Packer has affirmed that “because of what [artists] do, we are able to feel and learn very quickly . . . some spiritual things that we would otherwise learn very slowly” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord,” Ensign, August 1976, 61).
We separate the arts, perhaps to better understand them. But learning processes called music, drama, painting, sculpture, dance, poetry, literature, or film are really parts of a greater whole. They encompass an approach to learning and knowing that is unique. The arts must be an essential core component of a balanced education.
The arts are also a marvelous manifestation of “the light of Christ,” for the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things. [D&C 88:7, 11–13]
The creative flame that ignites artistic creation has its origin in “the light which is in all things.” Christ is the source of the power that is within us whereby we exercise “free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (D&C 58:27–28). His light gives life to our creative potential. His love impels us to creative action. Art itself appears because there is a spark of the divine nature in God’s children.
Those who remove themselves from the Light of Christ through pride or disobedience may use the “form” of art to express themselves, but “they deny the power thereof” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19). Technical skill becomes the substance of their work because they are unable to receive the power that would give it life and meaning. In contrast, those who seek to follow Christ are free to receive the enlightenment and pure joy that flows through art centered in Him. We are “that [we] might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). Art centered in Christ immerses us in joy!
Art That Is Centered in Christ
1. “Inviteth and enticeth to do good continually, . . . to love God, and to serve him” (Moroni 7:13).
2. Persuades us “to believe in Christ” (Moroni 7:16).
3. Seeks the welfare of Zion through service motivated by the pure love of Christ (see 2 Nephi 26:29–31).
4. Plants joy in the hearts of those who are seeking to be like Christ (see 2 Nephi 2:25).
5. Is virtuous and full of charity toward all men (see D&C 121:45).
6. Radiates light and is filled with hope (see Moroni 7:48).
7. Is born of meekness and lowliness of heart. The pure love of Christ is its driving force (see Moroni 7:44–47; 8:25–26).
8. Invites “the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love” (Moroni 8:26).
9. Is created by those who, through faith in Christ, “shall have the power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in [Him]” (Moroni 7:33).
10. Is miraculous in its manifestation of beauty and love.
11. Those who create it desire to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny [themselves] of all ungodliness; . . . and love God with all [their] might, mind and strength . . . , that by his grace [they] may be perfect in Christ” (Moroni 10:32).
12. Is manifest according to the power of the Holy Ghost (see 2 Nephi 32:2–5).
Forms of Art Created by the Great Deceiver
1. “Inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually” (Moroni 7:12).
2. Persuades us “to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God” (Moroni 7:17).
3. Sets the artist up as a light to the world for the purpose of getting “gain and praise of the world” (2 Nephi 26:29).
4. Offends the sensibilities of those who are seeking to be perfected in Christ (see Matthew 16:23).
5. Is profane, corrupt, vulgar, violent, and blasphemous (see Ephesians 4:22, 29; Moses 8:28–30).
6. Is dark and hopeless (see D&C 10:20–21).
7. Is born of pride and selfishness. Money is its driving force (see 2 Nephi 26:29, 31).
8. Is strong in “perversion; and [those who create it] delight in everything save that which is good. . . . They are without principle, and past feeling” (Moroni 9:19–20).
9. Is created by those who walk “in [their] own way, and after the image of [their] own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol” (D&C 1:16).
10. Is made to appear wonderful, even though it embodies darkness and sin.
11. Those who create it “do withdraw [themselves] from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in [them] to guide [them] in wisdom’s paths. [They] cometh out in open rebellion against God; . . . listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in [them], for he dwelleth not in unholy temples” (Mosiah 2:36–37).
12. Is manifest according to the power of the devil (see Jacob 7:4).
Such are the contrasts that exist between the work of Christ and the work of the deceiver and his followers. There is no middle ground. There is also a simple test. Art that is centered in Christ invites the Holy Ghost to be present during its creation and, again, as it is experienced by others in performance, exhibition, or publication. Satan’s counterfeit has no such power (see Moses 1:12–21).
If we were to labor with all our heart, might, mind, and strength to center the arts in Christ, would we help to bring forth Zion? And would we then enjoy the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost more abundantly? I believe we would. But we must be clear in our understanding. “Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise [the Lord] cannot receive her unto [Himself]” (D&C 105:5). We must be willing to give up the idols of the world, abide by the principles that characterize celestial life, and follow Christ.
The Lord has admonished us to “keep [His] commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion” (D&C 6:6; 11:6; 12:6; 14:6). “For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; . . . Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments” (D&C 82:14). What a wonderful opportunity we have to place the arts in service to the cause of Zion. Is this not real? Is this not the very purpose of the arts? As we participate together in Christ-centered artistic experiences, we will be increasingly bound together in singleness of purpose and a love for that which is good. We will become “of one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:18). Is this not Zion?
But there is a price that must be paid. The arts require diligence, sacrifice, and commitment. We have an example in the scriptures of one who imagined a marvelous outcome when he “took no thought save it was to ask” (D&C 9:7). He failed. We must do more. According to President Spencer W. Kimball, “We must take thought. We must make effort. We must be patient. We must be professional. We must be spiritual” (Spencer W. Kimball, “The Second Century of Brigham Young University,” Speeches of the Year, 1975 [Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1976], 253). And Elder Packer reminds us that our motives must also be considered: “There is a test you might apply if you are among the gifted. Ask yourself this question: When I am free to do what I really want to do, what will it be?” (Packer, “The Arts and the Spirit,” 63). Will those who seek to serve the cause of Zion work in accordance with “the Spirit of truth or some other way? . . . If it be by some other way,” we have been warned, “it is not of God” (D&C 50:17–18).
What shall we do then? How can we know what is appropriate and useful to the cause of Zion? Nephi gave us an answer that is as precise as it is challenging: I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered in by the way. . . . Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak [and, I might appropriately interject, “create” or “perform”]with the tongue of angels? And . . . how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost? Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, . . . feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do. . . . If ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do. Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ. [2 Nephi 32:1–6]
I pray that we will not deny ourselves access to the power of Christ as we seek learning and edification through the arts. Rather, I hope for the day when all we do will be centered in Christ, that we might then enjoy the spiritual abundance He has promised those who are obedient and faithful.
For the complete address click here: Centering the Arts in Christ
Art & Soul
Articles & Speeches
This is the place to find inspiring articles and elevating speeches on the arts which reinforce a spirit of excellence, beauty, and holiness.