The Lord's Purpose for the Artist in the Gospel Plan
by Elder M. Russell Ballard
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
From an article in the Ensign, July 1996
Painting: Elspeth Young, Growing Light
From a speech given at the Mormon Arts Festival 1995
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the complete speech click here: The Lord's Purpose for the Artist in the Gospel Plan
See also: Filling the World with Goodness and Truth
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.