“Arts: Seeing beyond the Surface,” Ensign, Oct. 1992, 39
Seeing beyond the Surface
Symbolic elements bring greater meaning to art.
Reverence. What does it look like? How could an artist paint or sculpt it? Though the principle of reverence is at the core of religious experience, it, like other gospel principles, is an abstract concept.
“Spiritual truths are sometimes very difficult to teach,” said Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1980. “The most conclusive certification of man’s intelligence is his ability to recreate in symbolic form the world in which he lives.”
Laura Lee Stay, a Latter-day Saint artist from Provo, Utah, created a bronze statue of a woman to express the principle of reverence through symbolism. First, she identified four key aspects of reverence: humility, agency, simplicity, and purity. Then she incorporated these aspects into her sculpture. Humility and agency were represented by the woman’s covering her head while worshipping before the Lord. Purity and simplicity were communicated by the pure, simple geometry of the composition of the statue itself.
Other artists also use symbols to depict abstract concepts, spiritual ideas, and feelings, just as Sister Stay did in her sculpture, which she titled Reverence.
“Artistic symbols are visual elements such as color, composition, style, artistic medium, and subject matter,” says Richard Oman, curator at the Museum of Church History and Art. “When combined in skillful ways, visual symbols communicate profound spiritual insights. They often have layers of meaning beyond literal representation; thus artistic symbolism can open our ‘inner’ eyes to gospel insights that are difficult to see with only temporal eyes.”
The following paintings and sculpture from the Museum of Church History and Art exhibit, “Seeing with Inner Eyes: Religious Symbolism and Cultural Diversity in Contemporary Latter-day Saint Art,” show how some Latter-day Saints have used symbolism to express understanding of the gospel of Christ through art.