I have got to say it is a wonderful pleasure to be here -- but not as much pleasure as I thought because they told me that President Hinckley's dedicatory prayer would be long after I was through talking, but they didn't tell me that I was going to have to follow immediately after an apostolic blessing. They also didn't tell me that somebody had broken into my home, stolen my notes, and gave the most important parts of my talk to Elder Ballard. Now I know what the Bishop does in all of his free time.
More than 60 years ago at the dawn of the sound era in film, my grandfather, Lester Card, whose dream it was to make movies, put all of his money, and the money of everybody he ever met, into a feature length movie entitled Corianton which opened in Utah in 1931 and flopped miserably. Every dime was lost. There was great controversy about it; many of the people who had invested did not understand about risk investment, they felt they had been cheated. He left the state and never produced another feature film, though he did a lot of educational films, documentaries, that sort of thing. He made a lot of mistakes in the making of the film, and I'll talk about some of those a little bit later on, but it existed. Now it's only a bunch of reels of film stored in my uncle's barn in Fenton City, Washington. But it existed then because he dreamed of doing something for his people, to his people, for his God. It was the first LDS commercial feature film, and to my knowledge it remains the only LDS commercial feature film. Maybe I'm mistaken on that, correct me later, but we're here because we are every bit as foolish as my grandfather was. We dream his dream.
Now, this talk's theme is about "Mormon Aesthetics" but the word aesthetic is really misleading and not terribly useful to us because it deals with sensory response, with the natural reaction to artistic stimuli, with pleasantness. Now when it comes to Mormons we can paraphrase Shakespeare and say "We Mormons, have we not eyes, have we not ears, when you prick us do we not bleed, when you tickle us do we not laugh?" Our responses are the same as any other human being's responses. There is nothing special about Mormons that makes it so that we don't get tense over the same things, we don't identify with similar characters, that we don't have the same kind of emotional responses to art. So, in that sense a Mormon aesthetic would be ludicrous. A gorilla aesthetic, now that would be different, but a Mormon aesthetic, we're all the same species.
However, we happen to live in a time, in America especially, but throughout the world (I find this everywhere I've gone), when the so-called serious arts have abandoned--have rejected--aesthetics. They call it an aesthetic, but it is an anti aesthetic. They are deliberately non-pleasing, elitist, difficult, obscure. They encourage and create art which requires mediation, precisely because it violates the principles of natural aesthetics. You can't possibly like this book unless it has been explained to you how to receive it. You can't possibly appreciate this music unless you have been educated to understand what's going on with it. And this anti aesthetic is perpetuated by the academics who profit from that very mediation that that art requires. Not financially. We all know that they are grossly underpaid, though some of them are less grossly underpaid than they would have you think. Eric Fielding, for example. I've seen the car, Eric. Just teasing, just a joke, I actually haven't. But they are paid socially, psychologically, personally, in status and in a feeling of control. Now this anti-aesthetic art is in fact rejected by the public as art. Nevertheless, the very public that rejects it believes that in so rejecting that art, they prove themselves to be low-brow. And they call the art they love escapist, or shame-facedly admit, "It's trash. I know that this isn't real art because I like it and I understand it." That's what has happened to American art. If you like it, it must not be good.
The result is, if we were to create naturally aesthetic art--art that communicates to people who are exposed only to the ordinary cultural cues of the society they grow up in--to create such art is revolutionary, or--here's the rub- cynical. Because, unfortunately, money confuses everything. If you follow natural aesthetic principles, you will tend to make more money than people who don't because your work will please more people. And so the assumption of elitist art is, if you're trying to communicate with other people, your motive is money, while their motive is somehow pure and above all that. The public's rejection of their work is proof of their purity. Therefore, we must pretend that we don't notice all the grants, all the prizes, the academic sinecures, the rewards that come to a few of those artists through the snob hit, because that is clean money. And thus we end up with a false dichotomy of the money-grubbing popular art versus the penniless self-sacrificing serious art. This is completely bogus. Just as many popular artists starve. Just because an artist tries to speak to the public doesn't mean he succeeds or that the public will be glad of his effort.
Also the elitist artists are just as likely to be seeking personal payoffs. Praise, position, popularity. They simply choose to receive it from a different audience. But no description of Mormon art can possibly be meaningful if we start by selecting a sample of Mormon artists to take seriously because they fit the world's paradise.
I ran into this in the English department at BYU. It's a serious problem there because they refuse to look at what Mormons actually like, because it is not good enough. Because it doesn't fit the world's standards. But my belief, as I'll demonstrate here, is that we Mormons have something much more important to do than impress professors. And the tools of natural aesthetics are important to us. We want to use them because we actually would like to speak even to the uneducated and humble.
So if you start discussing Mormon Art by throwing out the popular, you will be describing only the art of Mormons who have been co-opted by the American elitist culture. And if you consider only the popular, then you will be cutting out some of our most thoughtful and talented artists whose influence is much greater than the mere numbers of their fans might suggest. I hate this dichotomy. It is entirely created by the elitists who teach artists to close the door to most of the people who hunger for the gifts that those artists might have given. I tell student writers (young people who want to become writers) do go to college and major in everything except English because what you learn in English is not going to help you. Just go in, break into the office, steal their reading list, read everything on it, make up your own relationship with those writers and then learn some history. Get a little idea of what life is. Have a friend who doesn't write.
I was, mistakenly, in a Doctoral Program at UNCG for about an hour-and-a half one year (University of North Carolina at Greensborough for those of you who have no idea of what those letters stand for) which has a noted MFA Writing Program and so I was associating with some of these MFA and Ph.D students. We went after class to the Market Street Grill across the street and we were sitting around talking around this table and I happened to just comment, "Well, of course, what matters is that you become a writer in order to change the world." I took that as sort of the beginning. I was going to go on and make a point, but their baffled looks stopped me cold. They had no idea what I was talking about. "Change the world? A writer? Don't you understand? I am going to write art novels." No one reads them except other people trying to figure out how you get published. One of the students said to me, "I'm a writer because that's what I want to be. A writer. To have a career. To write something really good." And when I got him to translate a little further, what he meant was, to write something that would be praised by people he respects, which means the academic literary elite.
Now, let me read you a quote from Anthony Trollop. I found this book about a year ago and I've been saving it with about a hundred dog ears (most of which I will not be able to use in this talk), but I want you to know that the book is well worth reading, and really rewards us because he writes from another era- before this false anti-aesthetic was created. He says, "I have, from the first, felt sure that the writer, when he sits down to commence his novel, should do so not because he has to tell a story, but because he has a story to tell." He re-phrases it later. "The writer cudgels his brains not always successfully and sits down to write not because he has something which he burns to tell, but because he feels it to be incumbent on him to be telling something." That's the careerist: I'm a writer; I better be writing hadn't I? We Mormons have a different aesthetic because we are not careerists, at least not insofar as we're LDS. We don't think that advancing our own career is reason enough to justify our lives. Rather, we have a purpose higher than ourselves. We have a cause--and I had a real nice way of saying that, but Barta Heiner said it much better today on a earlier panel and I'll remind you. She said, "Something wonderful is coming because someone wonderful is coming and it is important for us to prepare the way." That's our cause in a nutshell, however many manifestations of it; however many different avenues to that end we take, we have a mission.
Now, that doesn't mean that all Mormon Art is going to be didactic. Some, in response to this cause, create art that is explicitly Mormon about that subject matter. You can tell on the surface that that is what they are doing. Some create art to proselytize, to reach to the outside world and bring them into the church. Some create art to teach true principles, not necessarily tied to Mormonism per se, but to make sure people learn true things. Some simply create art to give their audience an experience of goodness and nobility or even sometimes an experience of evil and unpleasantness so that they know what it is without having to live it.
We all measure our success morally rather than aesthetically or financially; how are people are changed by what we give them? And if we don't feel like we are making a difference we feel like we've failed even if we have money, even if we have fame, because those things really don't satisfy you. For one thing I promise you there is never enough money and there is never enough fame if you are hungry for it, because it only lasts a second. We are busy creating art for the world and for the Church whether we like it or not, especially if we think of ourselves as wanting to support ourselves with our art. We're going to have to create for the world. The Church cannot support, the Mormon audience is not large enough to support many artists.
But this creates tension when we create art for the world because you can't create the same art to communicate effectively with different audiences. If you are writing to nine-year-olds, you can't write the same way you would in writing to 25 year-olds. You will baffle one and insult the other.
When I was working on the Hill Cumorah Pageant one of the difficulties was that I wanted to use as many pieces of dialogue from the Book of Mormon as I could. But in order to communicate to the people of his time that what he was writing was scripture, Joseph Smith wrote, not in the natural language of his time, not in the language that people spoke around him, but he translated into a language that they would recognize as scriptural. Unfortunately he hadn't completely mastered that language. He knew some of it but he was actually one of the least well read in the Bible in his family. When they were reading the Bible he was thinking--terrible habit to get into--but the result was that if we tried to use on the Hill the scriptural language exactly as it appears in The Book of Mormon, there is no way that it could be understood at the speed that it goes by. When you are hearing it you can't say, "Wait, wait, stop. Hold the Pageant. I didn't get that. Please go back." Run the tape a little bit, and everybody rewinds and goes back. It doesn't work. You can't do it. So we needed to communicate. At the same time these were sacred words and we finally worked out a compromise that the words of the Lord would all be given exactly as they appear in The Book of Mormon. The other words I would do the most respectable possible paraphrase in formal contemporary English. That is, we didn't start making them speak like guys on the street, but it was still instantly intelligible.
Now that kind of compromise, I mean, that one's an obvious one, but there are a lot of things that have to be explained differently to non-Mormons from Mormons. I've heard some people say, "If you have to write differently for the world then obviously you're sacrificing some moral principle." Not at all. I'm simply trying to communicate with people who need different things to help them understand the story that I am telling, or who allow different things. One of the joys of being here with you is, when I speak to non-Mormon artists and writers I have to use the most amazing circumlocutions in order to get the points across. I can just say it to you because you understand. You have the same vocabulary I have.
If you ever doubt me just remember the sad case of Governor Ed Meacham of Arizona. I lived in Mesa, Arizona for three years from 1964-1967, the height of the Goldwater era in Arizona. I know how those old farmers would talk in the foyer at church and when I heard all those quotes from Ed Meacham, I thought I was home. That's how they talked. That was the language they used. It didn't translate very well when he sat in the Governor's mansion in Phoenix. You can't talk the same way, you can't talk the same language.
Now I'd like to talk about first, the relationship of Mormon Artists to each other, the relationship of Mormon artists to the institutional church, the relationship of Mormon artists to Mormon people, and finally, the relationship of Mormon artists to the Lord. If I skim that last it's only because Elder Ballard really did cover every important point I had to make in that category. So I will spend my time mostly on the other three. Please remember that my wrap up was meant to be the other way. Maybe I will still do it, if there is anyone left by then.
The relationship of Mormon artists to each other. First of all, we need desperately to be non-competitive with each other, to rejoice in each other's success, to recognize that just because I don't particularly care for the works of writer X doesn't mean his work doesn't have a place in the Mormon Church. I hear artists often sneer at each other's work. "Oh, that was trash." "Oh, that was garbage." "Well, I don't understand why anybody ever bought that book." "I don't know why anybody likes that music." Well, if you don't understand it then I urge you not to write that kind of music, or not to write that kind of book. You don't understand that audience at all, do you? So write for your audience and don't begrudge them theirs.
In some areas, some fields of artistic endeavor, people think that there's sort of a smaller pie, that there are only so many contracts and you've got to go out and get them. The result is you find Mormon artists engaging sometimes in really shady, nasty business practices towards each other and the justification is, "It's business." Shame on you. Shame on you if you do that. There is room for everyone and if you think you can't survive without taking away someone else's bread, then maybe you should go into a different line of work.
I can think of examples immediately. When I was writing for Living Scriptures an old friend from college days called me up and started pumping me on how to write that kind of thing. "Well, how do you go about doing that. I'm just curious about this." I was baffled. I thought, you sit down and you start typing. What's the problem. I don't get what you are asking. I find out later he was going after my contract. He was trying to take away my job and he was asking me on the basis of friendship to help him learn how to do it. He wasn't the only one. He's not a unique case. There are some of you here, maybe not in this room but certainly at this conference that I know for a fact have engaged in precisely those practices. Stop it. It corrupts you. It hurts them, but it hurts you so much worse and it will show up in your art.
We should be slow to criticize other artists. This doesn't mean you have to like whatever they do, but especially we should be slow to criticize them on moral grounds. We should start from the assumption that their motives are pure. Now, maybe after long experience we'll learn that those motives are not pure after all and fine, you have to make your moral judgments but don't leap to the conclusion.
I remember how many people leapt to the conclusion that when I wrote the novelization of The Abyss that I was just doing that for the money. Do you have any idea the pathetic amounts of money they pay novelizers? I make ten times the normal on my books. I wouldn't even dream of discussing seriously with a publisher the price they pay for novelizations. They had to pay ten times as much and I'm still getting far less than I ordinarily would because I didn't get the normal royalties and foreign sales. I sacrificed to do that because I believed in Jim Cameron's script and he and I wanted to prove that you could actually adapt film into a good book. We proved it to our satisfaction but we'll never do it again. It was, like all collaborations, twice as much work for much less money. But people assumed that I was doing it for money. Why did they assume that? Because they knew nothing about the business first, but second, because we always seem to want to think evil of one another. Let's stop doing that, too. Let's assume that if someone writes something that's morally offensive to you that maybe they didn't think it was morally offensive. And maybe, they meant well.
Now, in the relationship of Mormon artists to the institutional church, this can get very tricky and I urge you do not ever look to the Church for validation of your art. The Church commissions art only for it's own immediate mission. So if you are chosen by the Church to write something it's because you are useful to the Church. They believe you capable, but they are certainly not validating the whole body of work. The fact that I wrote "The Hill Cumorah Pageant" doesn't mean that the brethren have therefore approved everything I wrote before that. They hadn't read everything I wrote and I have a feeling (in fact some of them have told me) that they don't approve personally of everything that I have written. Some of them have also written to thank me for having written other things--it has nothing to do with anything. I am not writing to please the institutional church. Neither should you be creating your art in the hopes that somehow the church will pick it up and adopt it for something. What would that mean? What effect would that have? None at all. It's between you and your audience.
We happen to be at an era in the Church when the art commissioned by the institutional Church is exceptional. When you think back to the things that we used to put up with, seminary films and even their best efforts--Windows of Heaven comes to mind--and you compare it to the marvelous work that we see when we go to the temple for example. Or Mountain of the Lord. There is a group of seminary films coming out now that, except for just a few words from scripture, are wordless. Wordless and gorgeous. Amazing! That's because it happens that at the head of the Church right now, able to cut through the bureaucratic red tape, we have someone who actually lets good artists do well.
But that won't always be the case. No prophet lives forever and the Church has normal bureaucratic impulses. All of us who have worked with committees that do not include a member of the First Presidency or at least an Apostle and, believe me, all of the committees I have worked with never included any of them, know that as soon as you get below that level in the hierarchy you immediately run into the bureaucratic problem of "Ooh, I'm afraid someone might not like that higher up than me, therefore, let's not even let them see this one." So the people making the decision never see your best work. They see only what is already pre censored, already adapted by the fears of people who are afraid for their career. It's a shame, but the Church is like any other bureaucracy. It's going to happen, especially among the paid employees, the salaried people. So if you want to have a terribly frustrating experience, by all means try to do all of your creative art for the Church.
However, having said this, let me make sure you understand that I would rather spend the rest of my life doing exactly that than to have to spend the rest of my life trying to please a Hollywood production company. The Church, bad as the bureaucracy can be, at least is not evil. I honestly have only had two or three experiences in Hollywood (and never with any of the people who were spending the money, only with people who, like me, were suffering from them) where I thought the person was actually honest. Everything else that has ever been said to me in Hollywood has been a lie. And not only that but when I find out it's a lie, the explanation of the lie is also a lie. I'm not condemning the Church, I'm just saying recognize that free art that you create will not thrive in that institutional setting.
Another point is people assume that the church is somehow watching its artists. Spying on you. I remember that after I wrote a little thing called Saintspeak the rumors kept circulating. I kept hearing that someone had heard that I had been rebuked by the brethren. Now, how could such a rumor start? I certainly didn't start it and since none of the brethren ever rebuked me, I don't know who could have started it. There were certainly no witnesses to an event that didn't happen, but the rumor spread (I think) because people really liked the book but they wanted to feel a little dangerous about reading it. Therefore, if we can get a little folklore going that "I'm doing something really naughty by doing this," then Mormons get that vicarious pleasure of having sinned and still being able to have a temple recommend.
Do you want to know who the most vicious censors in the Mormon community are? Do you want to know who really goes after you? Signature Books. When I published an essay in Sunstone about those who wanted to deny the Prophet the right to tell us the Lord called homosexuality a sin, the editors of Signature Books (and Signature was at that time distributing Sunstone, maybe they still are) sent a letter to Sunstone saying, "If you continue to publish things by Orson Scott Card, we'll have to rethink our relationship."
Now, if that had been a letter from President Benson (who was President of the Church during that time) on his stationary, everyone would have known that that was terrible censorship. But when I called Gary Beggare on it he said, "That's not censorship. It's just our free right to decide who we will distribute or not." But it is censorship, folks. It was his effort to silence me. Likewise, when I was writing Saintspeak, it was editors on the board of Signature Books who-- I had to fight to leave in that book all the positive things. All the definitions in this Mormon dictionary that actually hinted at what we should believe or even should do because those are too sticky sweet and the funny stuff was better. But mainly because the funny stuff was perceived as being somehow sticking pins into the Church, which is not how I saw it. The censors are not the brethren. They don't want to censor us. They want to leave us alone.
They want us to leave them alone, too. So many artists with a great idea want to talk to an Apostle and have the Church put on their show. Fortunately this is a group that is mostly pros. You know that that is never going to happen. You are not going to waste their time but, oh, there are so many sad little plays that are sent to the brethren. We have to be our own judges but one thing we need to know is that we must support the cause of the Church. That's how we keep from attracting the negative attention of the Church. It is just a simple matter of loyalty, of having enough sense to think, "You know, if I write this work of art, if I create this, it might actually (if it became well-known) harm the Church in its ability to do its work."
I once started a story that was based on my mission and I'm going to mine some of the ideas out of it because it was one of the best stories I have ever thought of. When I got 50 pages into it using a missionary character following through what happened to me--and it wasn't hostile to the church; it depicted mission life too accurately--I realized that if this book were read by non-members they would then, whenever those guys in white shirts came to their door think, "I know what's really going on with you guys." I would harm the work. The manuscript doesn't even exist anymore because I won't do that. It's the reason why Hatrack River Publications doesn't publish missionary stories. It's because I won't publish one that lies and says it's all rosy but I also won't publish one that tells the truth because it will interfere with the ability of missionaries to do their work. So I'm silent on that. Now that was my personal choice. I don't judge anybody else for your personal choices. I'm just saying you have to think of the consequences. Art actually does change the world, whether you think it does or not. And so when you create it you have to be aware of what it's going to do and your first loyalty is not to your career. Your first loyalty is to the Church of Jesus Christ. If it's not then you have a problem, and it's not between you and me.
You need to concentrate on ward service for many reasons. First, humility. The greatest way of making sure you never believe any of your good press, any of the good reviews, is just to go back to your ward. I know for a fact that some Mormon artists who have left the church have left the church because no one at church seemed to know how important they were. But it's great to go back to where what I am is Young Men's President and what matters is are we going to take another bike trip this weekend. It really lets the wind out of the sails from people coming up and saying, "Oh, I loved your book." Now, I like that. It is nice to know that people love my book. Please don't stop telling me if you did, but you need the corrective--somebody like Tom Hanks who seems to have it together. I don't know what it is. Maybe he comes home to his wife and she says, "Oh, that's nice. What's for dinner?" Maybe that is what he has, but you see other people, Hollywood figures, who obviously don't have anybody saying to them anything that will bring them down to earth, or they reject anyone who does that. We need to make sure that we keep our humility.
Now I will have to say (because some of you may have run into this; I certainly have) that every now and then there has been some bureaucrat on some committee in Salt Lake City who sends a little Xerox page from one of your publications or a Xerox of a review with yellow highlighter marks up certain passages that are questionable. And they send them on to your Area Presidency and the Area Presidency sends it on to your Stake President and sometimes it's your Stake President and sometimes it is a General Authority and he calls you in and says, "This was sent to me. I don't know anything more about it than this sheet, but what about it?" They're almost always deeply apologetic because most of the time these little sheets are unbelievably stupid. I finally took the matter to one of the brethren and asked about it and he agreed with me. I really had no doctrinal problem with the two points in question.
I really think that what we need to keep in mind is what Elder Faust said at this last conference. Just a little passage in one of his talks [where he acknowledges that] the bureaucracy of the church sometimes gets a little out of hand. It's a growing church and every now and then something happens that frustrates or irritates. And he asked us please, just to ignore that and go on with our work and that is what you do. If that ever happens to you just remember, that's not how Church discipline starts. Okay? Your membership is not in question. Try to be patient and don't sit there and brood about it for months and years because it doesn't do any good and it really (as long as you know that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing) really doesn't matter.
Now, if, in fact, what they've done is caught the fact that you are going off on a tangent and start to become an enemy of the Church, then I hope you will pay a great deal of attention to it, but as long as you know that you have a testimony, that you are working hard at your Church callings, you love the Lord, you believe in the Gospel and you are doing your best to make your art be good in every sense of the word, they you don't have to worry. Salt Lake City is not after you. They are not going to censor you. You are free and they will never touch you. Now if you work for the Ensign, that's different. When I worked for the Ensign I learned how to write stuff so pre-correlated that when I wrote the book The Mormons, wrote the text for it, I wrote it before the revelation on blacks in the Priesthood and they didn't have to revise my Priesthood section after the revelation. That's how good I was! But that's writing for the Church for the institutional purposes. When you are editing your own work, you do the best you can and let the chips fall where they may as long as your conscience is clear.
That is another reason to stay active in your ward. If your Stake President doesn't know who you are when he gets one of those [letters], then you might have more trouble then if he knows perfectly well who you are because he has seen you at every stake conference and he's watched you fulfill your callings. You know what I mean? It helps to be known as a real person and not just as the writer of this or the painter of that.
The relationship of Mormon Artists to the Saints at large. I want to come back to my grandfather, Lester Park and the movie Corianton. He learned Cecil B. DeMille's lesson. He learned the Cecil B. DeMille formula which is, you have a scriptural story that is inspirational at its ending, but you have some sex along the way. So he chose the one story in the Book of Mormon that has any sex in it. In fact, it's one of the few women named in the Book of Mormon--Isabel the Harlot. When you think about it out of only four women's names given in the Book of Mormon, one quarter of those mentioned is a prostitute. That's kind of an unhappy coincidence. But the reason that it flopped in Utah is because Mormons were outraged. The same Mormons who loved everything Cecil B. DeMille did and flocked to it. And the reason is they can take it from the world because they know it's the world!
But if it's you, man, how dare you produce something that doesn't meet a much higher standard! And in a sense, they are right. We should meet a higher standard, but maybe they are wrong about where the boundary lines are. For you at least. It's a tricky issue. It's a tough one, but you have to deal with the fact that in the Mormon community, they are not going to be rational about this. They are going to expect great things from you as a Mormon. The surest way, of course, to win respect in Utah is to go out in the world and make your career there because it is like Mormons have this deep inferiority complex.
When I was visiting in Brazil I was stunned at how impressed they all were by my science fiction awards which of course, everybody here knows are kind of meaningless. I mean, we know the real awards are the Oscars and the Pulitzers and things like that. What's the Hugo and the Nebula? But in Brazil, it was an award and it was given by Americans to an American because Brazil has a national inferiority complex. Indigenous writers have a terrible time getting published because everybody just wants translations of American books. In a way, that's what goes on in Utah. We are all Galileans saying, "Nothing good can come from Galilee," so we don't really respect a writer or a painter or whoever, a filmmaker, unless they've made it in the big, bad world. You've all run into that. You tell people you've written a play and they say, "Oh, how interesting." But if you say, "Yes, my play appeared at such and such a theatre,"--outside of Utah, not Mormon- then they are impressed. "Oh, well, so you are real then." That's the attitude. This is why, of course, the rumor circulated that Walt Disney and Ray Bradbury were LDS. We have to believe somebody Mormon is doing well.
The funny thing is that our inferiority complex is completely unjustified. When I was a student at BYU we put on a lot of plays and we had good plays and bad plays, but we assumed that Broadway was better. I finally, as an adult, got to go to Broadway and to the West End in London and see what they are doing, and yeah, some of the leads were better, but I saw a performance of Les Miserables in London in the West End that had the understudy filling in the role. He would never have been cast in that part at BYU. When I was a student there, I knew of four guys that would have had that part before him. But it wasn't just him.
Broadway is not that much better, if it is better at all, than what, at least sometimes, we do here. Not everything we do here, but then, some really lousy things get put on Broadway and Off Broadway. My family went to a show called "Four Dogs and a Bone," a year ago that had a little thumbnail review in New Yorker magazine that said, "The funniest foursome in New York." So we went. IT WAS BAD! It was like first draft student work (the play was). It wasn't funny. It was pathetic and they couldn't tell. They didn't know. The critics in New York are no smarter than we are and the artists are not necessarily better. Some are, some aren't, but we have the awe of the world's art. Think of how many bad movies are made. Think of how many bad movies are made in which millions and millions of dollars are spent. They don't know any better than we do what's good so why in the world do we have an inferiority complex? It might just be that the thing you are working on right now is the best thing being done in America in that field right now.
We should be proud of our artists. Proud of each other. The Mormon public will always assume the worst. When I published my book Saints I got all kinds of mail from Mormons saying, "Oh, I loved it. It was the first time I ever really understood those early days in the church. Thank you for making Joseph Smith come alive." "Were you ever a Mormon?" Or, "When did you leave the church?" That one was my favorite. And I think, "Now, let me get this straight. You loved it, it strengthened your testimony. In order to write it I must be a Jack Mormon?" What's going on? But we have to assume the worst about people and the more visible you are, the more some Mormons will hate everything you do, no matter how loyal and defensive you try to be. Just remember, since you can't please everybody, don't kill yourself trying. Just do your best to do something that you feel is good and that you believe the Lord will think is good and you think will effectively do some part of the Lord's work.
What makes me saddest about the Mormon censors, and most censorship that does happen within the Church originates with normal, ordinary Latter-Day Saints, is that they think first of punishing and not first of doing what the Doctrine and Covenants tells us to do and talk it out with the offender and try to understand. That just drives me crazy when they act in secret behind our backs. We put our names on our art, and when I think of poor Brian Evenson, whose book Altmann's Tongue is definitely disturbing, but is also extremely moral and man, this guy can write! Now, he's writing elitist art which should have protected him 'cause most Mormons should never have known it existed, but the publisher puts stuff on the flyleaf to call the attention of Mormons to it and there was a student who read it and anonymously attacked him and now his livelihood is in question.
You don't know how many Mormons there are that go straight for your livelihood, who go straight to try to get you fired from whatever it is that is providing you with the means to feed your family. They've made no effort to talk to you. No effort to understand what you are doing. They just want to destroy you. Now folks, that looks like evil to me. Those are not Latter-Day Saints and you don't have to please them. Now you may lose your job. That's one of the ironies. You don't get respected by the Saints until you've worked outside, but once you've worked outside, you have something in print, something that people can look at, and the second you have something that they can look at you have something they can hate and then you become controversial. And you always will and so then you become unable to teach at BYU apparently. Which means that inevitably BYU will end up having only unpublished writers teaching how to write which strikes me as being quite an ineffective way to teach writing. Maybe that is what Tuacahn exists for, is to give us a place where people who can't be certified 'controversy free' can still help teach other people how to do this art. It's possible that that is what this is for.
First of all, let me point out that one of the unfortunate facts is that the Brethren get our hate mail. They don't write to us, they just send us an unsigned copy. They write to the Brethren when they hate our work. They don't get any of our fan mail. The Brethren have seen all the people who hate everything that I've written but they've never heard from the people who have joined the church because their interest started with one of my works. The spirit converts them, of course, but their interest started with this or that work of mine or just because they liked my books and they knew that I was a Mormon and they thought, "Well, it can't be all idiocy then can it, if I like this guy's stuff?" You'll find that happening all the time if that hasn't happened all the time already. But they never get that. They never hear about it. But they do, I think, understand the situation because all their fan mail goes to them, but their hate mail goes to Sunstone so they know what it's like to have your critics writing to somebody else. But please remember, you can't ignore the complainers.
Those complaints about the moral quality of your work should at least give you pause. It doesn't hurt to re-examine your own moral decisions every few months and maybe you will change your mind. I have at various times in my career, changed my mind about what my standard was and I hope that no one sits there and minutely goes through my work and discovers when I stopped using the 's' word in my fiction, but I'll tell you where and it will save you the effort. It was with Ender's Game that I started cleaning it up. I found myself starting, for the sake of realism, to let my characters use blasphemy that I would not tolerate in my home, and I thought, "I'm going to give this to my son to read. How am I going to explain to him when these characters say, 'Jesus Christ' that it is not reverent?"
So I cut it all out and I haven't looked back and you know something? My work has never been criticized for being less realistic because my language cleaned up a little. Not completely. There are still some people who hate what I leave in, but the point is, I changed my mind. And you might, too. So don't figure that just because some of these people are cowardly people who send you anonymous criticism that you can just ignore them. One thing to remember about them is that what's wrong with them is that they are trying to make everyone think and feel exactly as they do.
But that's what we do. That's what art is. For as long as they pay attention to what we have created we make them experience something our way and with our work in their memory, we've changed them forever. So naturally the complainers covet our power but they can never have it, having no talent of their own. All they can do is try to silence us and they really can't succeed at that either in the long run. So I think that makes it all the more important that we show respect for their views precisely because we don't want other people to feel obliterated by what we do. When I write a book, I have a lot more people reading what I say than that one poor person who writes an anonymous letter to one of the apostles complaining about it. They're helpless in the face of the power that I have as an artist. You have that same power so you must try to understand why these powerless people get so angry over what we do with the power we have.
Finally, our relationship to the Lord. I hate to skip this but really, that's been covered. It's been said over and over here that we need to stay fit vessels for the Spirit. But it's more than that because I don't think the Spirit is there writing our work for us. I think, in fact, it's quite rare that the Spirit of God intervenes, just as I think that it is relatively rare that the Spirit of God tells Apostles what words to say or what decision to make, because the Lord doesn't need puppets. The Lord needs people with initiative, and with their own thoughts and feelings and ideas. We must be susceptible to the Spirit, but the reason why these commandments are commandments is because they are natural laws.
You become less free and less good if you break the commandments. You have less power, you have less to say. You need to remain pure so that you are a whole person. Otherwise your work will quickly degenerate into self-justification or into pathetic things like "Pulp Fiction," where the forty-five minutes that I saw was so obviously a writer trying to be cool, who had no concept of truth or of anything that mattered. I was wasting my time with a child's work. You can become a child at any point that you become so impure you forget what it means to be a grownup because that is what Godhood is all about - caring more for your children than for yourself.
But then if the Spirit does work through your works, do remain humble about it. Remember that the Spirit can work through anything. One of my favorite convert couples in our ward out in Greensboro first became interested in the Church because they were attending an anti-Mormon sermon and the guy was so filled with hate and rage against Mormons that they turned to each other and said, "If this moron hates them so bad, there must be something to it." And they came to church, took the lessons and joined. The Spirit can work through anything. So don't get too proud if the Spirit works through your stuff.
Serve faithfully in your callings; that is part of your service to the Lord. But remember, to love your neighbor as yourself is the second commandment. And remember please, ignore that horrible doctrine from the world that says we love ourselves first. That is the opposite of what the Lord is saying. The plain sense of what the Lord is saying is, "Treat your neighbors the way ordinary people treat themselves." That's all. He isn't saying, "You must take care of yourself first so that you'll have something to give." The only way you heal yourself is to stop thinking about yourself and try to do something for other people. As long as you are trying to love yourself first you will fail. There will be less and less there to love. So you need to love others and that means serving faithfully in your callings in the Church. It's hard.
I spent this entire last summer not doing any traveling - some of it that I needed to do, I didn't do - and actually not doing much writing because I never had an unbroken stretch of time. I was just newly called as the Young Men's President and we'd had kind of a non-program for a long time and I was determined to have a good activity program and to do the calling right. I had to set aside my writing. Now that caused a few financial problems but we're okay and we had a great summer making movies and riding bicycles all over Greensboro, which, by the way, is like this. [He demonstrates hills] It's like San Francisco so those are tough kids, I'll tell you. I rode in the follow car.
Your callings are a more precious gift than your art because your art is given to strangers and your callings are given to individuals that you know and love. And if you can't serve that person in your ward, what makes you think your art is going to do anything that matters? I believe that our Church callings are more important to our careers than our careers are; that if I'm not doing my calling I have no business doing my business. Now maybe you won't reach quite that radical view but I think I am right. In my own life at least, I know I am right. When I am not concentrating on my callings my work becomes worthless very quickly.
But remember this: most important of all I think is, you are not your art. The world will tell you that you are. The world will tell you that if you are a genius then everything is forgiven. There is no redemption through genius. Genius excuses nothing. If you are a genius and you beat your wife, you are a wife-beater. If you are a genius and you neglect your children, then you are a lousy father or a lousy mother. If you're a genius and you're hard to live with then you're a jerk! If you're a genius and you're an alcoholic then you're a drunk.
Get your life under control. Your art will be better for it. And when you point to all the examples of drunken adulterers who created wonderful art, just think what they might have created had they lived a different life. We'll never know, but their art never came out of the bottle and it never came out of infidelity and it never came out of self-gratification.
The Mormon Aesthetic is to use aesthetics in the service of God's work and God's work is to bring joy to all who will receive it. But we will not always bring pleasure. God does not give us joy by putting us in a world without pain or evil. God's prophets do not give us joy by saying only words that will make us comfortable. Our art will sometimes cause pain. It will sometimes depict evil. It will make people uncomfortable, but never for the sake of the pain or the evil or the scorn we feel for those whose sensibilities we've shocked. Rather we must do all things in our lives, our art, our callings, our family-raising, and all the other important things we do, in order to help people transform themselves into beings capable of receiving eternal joy.
So our work will sometimes be as unappreciated as some of the prophets have been, though few artists are actually stoned to death. But if we do it with an eye single to the glory of God we will be able to face him at the last days with hands full of the talents he entrusted to us which we have put at risk and greatly magnified for His, and not for our own, sake. He will be our true critic and judge. He will forgive our honest errors. He will forgive our failures of skill or of wisdom. He will accept our pure, consecrated offerings. He will say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord."
Now, you can tell a Mormon artist because in the midst of the world's praise, in the midst of the world's scorn, his ear is tuned to hear that one voice speaking in his heart. And thus, the world and all of its follies have no power over Him. And by serving that one Master who knows the end of all arts, we have the power to create good things that did not exist before we made them. To transform our audience. To free them and empower them.
"I'll sing to the Lord," said Moses. And Alma said, "If you have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, can you feel so now?" We have. We can. We will. We do. And I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.