Center for Latter-day Saint Arts

College and University Courses on Latter-day Saint Arts

Would you like to teach a course on Latter-day Saint arts in a college or university?  Do you need assistance with readings or approach?  We would like to help.

The Center is assembling examples of syllabi as an aid to teachers who are contemplating a course on Latter-day Saint art.

Issues and Themes in the Visual Arts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


Course Description

 The purpose of this course is to examine some of the issues and themes in the visual arts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from its restoration in 1830 to the current day, as well as to explore the position of Latter-Day Saint artwork within the wider historical and cultural context of western art history.

Each of the thirteen units will interrogate the assumptions in this purpose statement.  There are many unanswered questions: What is Latter-Day Saint art? Who makes it? Who has the right to label an artist or an artwork as Latter-Day Saint?  Is it appropriate to categorize artists and artworks according to religion? The attempt to categorize or interpret artists by a single trait, such as race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, risks flattening and simplifying their artwork.  Worse still, artists who are sorted into such subgroups are rarely considered within the wider historical and cultural context of their time and among the full range of their artistic peers.  Students should remember this throughout the course, which attempts to consider the problem of “Latter-Day Saint art” from many different angles and perspectives.

This issues-based course will explore the problem of the label “Latter-Day Saint art” thematically, rather than in the form of a survey.  Since there has been little concerted effort to trace a chronology of visual arts in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, students will be encouraged to look up more information about artists, investigate further readings, and compose additional discussion questions to share with the class. This course aims to introduce students to the many and varied ideas revolving around Latter-Day Saint art with the intent of developing a rich conversation within the classroom.

Course Objectives:

  • Students will identify visual artists connected to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and will evaluate their connection with the Church’s teachings, beliefs, and culture. Is this connection a valid reason to identify such artists as “Latter-Day Saint”?

  • Students will evaluate the problems of categorizing artists and artwork as “Latter-Day Saint.”            

  • Students will practice comparing the art and artists covered in the course with other artwork and ideas current in western art history at the same time.  How are their aims, practices, ideas, and techniques different?  How are they similar, or even the same?


Unit 1. Identity: Who is a Latter-Day Saint artist?  

 Slide list:

  • Wayne Thiebaud, Cut Meringues, 1961. Oil on canvas, 16” x 20”

  • Paul McCarthy. Bossy Burger, 1991. Performance, video, and installation at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles. BBQ turkey leg, television, stage set, bowls, cooking utensils, chair, counter, milk, flour, ketchup, mayonnaise, dolls, chef costume, rubber Alfred E. Neuman mask, and video, dimensions variable.

  • Rebecca Campbell. The Wizard, 2008-2009. Oil on canvas. 

  • Carl Hienrich Bloch.Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda, 1883. Oil on canvas, 100 ¾” x 125 ½”

  • Harry Anderson. The Second Coming

  • Jenny Ostraff. Rosebush #3, 2018. Mixed media collage.

  • Melinda Ostraff. Ireland Botanicals #10, 2018. Encaustic.

  • Alexis Fryer Ostraff. White Geranium #1, 2018. Monotype.

  • Elise Ostraff. “Have You Watered the Plants Lately?”2018. Acrylic and oil on wood panel.

Discussion points:

  • Does Staniszewski’s definition of art as “something made to be seen in galleries, preserved in museums, purchased by collectors, and reproduced within the mass media. . . (with) no intrinsic use or value (except) when this artwork circulates within the systems of Art. . .” still hold value in the current day? What other definitions of art exist? How do different definitions of “art” change who can be considered an “artist”?

  • Who can be considered a "Latter-Day Saint artist?"  Does this term include artists born into member families, like Wayne Thiebaud?  Does it include artists who grew up immersed in Church culture, like Paul McCarthy, who was born in Salt Lake City and went to college in Ogden?  Does it include artists who were baptized but have since left the church, such as Rebecca Campbell?  Can you include non-LDS artists whose work has been bought and used by the church, such as Carl Hienrich Bloch?  What about artists who are current members of the Church, but whose artwork is primarily abstract or not overtly religious in content, such as Elise, Jenny, Alexis and Melinda Ostraff?

  • Is it useful or reasonable to attempt to categorize artists or their artwork according to religious denomination?  It may be useful to look to other faiths for comparison: Caravaggio painted for the Catholic church but did not live according to its tenets.  Modigliani is claimed as a Jewish artist even though none of his artwork was religious in content, and he was Jewish by heritage rather than belief.  What other examples are there in art history of artists who painted for religions or were associated with religions of which they were not faithful adherents?  Or examples of artists who were adherents to a faith which was different than that for which they painted or created, such as the Seventh-Day Adventist Harry Anderson, whose artwork was bought by and is still reproduced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints?  On the other hand, some artists, like Gwen John, strongly identified with their religion and made overtly religious works within the context of their faith.  Does it make sense to identify artists like her according to religion, or does it still not make sense when her overtly religious artwork was only a relatively small portion of her lifetime body of work?

  • When is it important to know an artist’s religious heritage?  When is it important to know an artist’s religious beliefs?

  • Can or should art which is implicitly critical of or rejects Latter-Day Saint values and teachings, like that of Paul McCarthy, or sometimes Rebecca Campbell, still be included under the general term “Latter-Day Saint art”?

  • What can we learn from artwork that is made outside of the Church’s support or approval, but still relates to Latter Day Saint culture and beliefs?

  • What role do Latter Day Saint artists play within the larger culture of the Church?

Readings and Resources:


  • Define “art.”  Define “artist.”  Then choose one of the artworks discussed in class and write an argument for or against its status as “Latter Day Saint” art.  Alternatively, make an argument about why such a categorization should not be used.


Unit 2. History: What function do visual arts play in memorializing Latter-Day Saint history? 

Slide List:

  • Sutcliffe Maudsley. Lieutenant-General Joseph Smith, 1842. Gouache on paper.

  • Adrian Lamb. Joseph Smith, 1971. Copy after unknown painter, oil on canvas, 29” x 23”

  • Trevor Southey. Joseph Smith – Three Views

  • Joni Susanto. The First Vision, 1990. Batik, cotton textile.

  • Jorge Cocco Santangelo. The First Vision (This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him), 2016. Oil on canvas, 14” x 30”

  • Robert Campbell. Joseph Smith Addressing the Nauvoo Legion, 1845. Watercolor and ink on paper.

  • George Ottinger. Brigham Young, 1872. Oil on canvas.

  • William W Major. Brigham and Mary Ann Angell Young and Their Children, 1845-1851. Oil on board.

  • Danquart Anthon Weggeland. Gypsy Camp, 1875. Oil on canvas.

  • C.C.A. Christensen. Handcart Pioneers’ First View of the Salt Lake Valley, 1890. Oil on canvas.

  • Minerva Teichert. Betty and the Seagulls.

  • Minerva Teichert. Pioneers Arriving.

  • Casey Jex Smith. Seer Stone, 2016. Colored pencil on graph paper, 7.5” x 7.5”

  • Rachel Farmer. Ancestor Under Wyoming Skies, 2010/2014. Photograph, 16.75” x 22.5”

Discussion Points:

  • Which artists were recording Church history events as they happened, and which artists were painting or sculpting after the events which they depict?  Does that affect the viewer’s perception of the truthfulness or accuracy of the artwork?

  • How are the experiences and attitudes of the artist (or the artist’s contemporary culture) reflected in the way that she or he presents the past?

  • Are contemporary portraits of Church leaders like or unlike early portraits of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, etc.?  How?

  • How did artwork being made for the Church or about Church-related subjects by Church members fit in with the wider aesthetic and cultural trends in America?  Was Latter-Day Saint artwork similar or different than contemporary American artwork? If different, in what ways?

  • How did the varied levels of professional training of Latter-Day Saint artists impact the way that they chose and displayed Church-related subject matter in their artwork? 

Readings and resources:


  • Choose an artwork that depicts an event in Latter Day Saint history.  Describe the artwork, the event depicted, the artist who made it, when it was made, and for what purpose.  Critically evaluate whether the artwork is an accurate depiction of the historical event.  How does the artwork interpret the event? Is it a successful piece of art? Why or why not?


Unit 3. Adam and Eve: Why are Adam and Eve important archetypes for artists?

Slide List:

  • Annie Henrie Nader. Leaving Eden, sometime between 2010-2018.

  • J Kirk Richards. Eve and the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, 2016. Oil on panel.

  • Samuel Evensen. Come Slow- Eden! 2018. Oil and pastel on paper.

  • Trevor Southey. Eden Farm, 1976. Oil on board.

  • Caitlin Connolly. Girl with Space to Fall, 2016. Bronze on marble, 12” x 7” x 8”

  • Suzanne Valadon. Adam and Eve, 1909.  Oil on canvas. 

  • Mahmoud Said. Adam and Eve, 1937. Oil on canvas, 31 1/8” x 22”

  • Paul Gauguin. Eve, 1898-99. Woodcut on light brown wove paper, 12 1/16” x 8 13/16”

  • Peter-Paul Rubens. Adam and Eve, copy after Titian, 1628-29. Oil on canvas.

  • Lucas Cranach. Adam and Eve, 1530. Pair of oil on panels, each 75” x 17 ½”

  • Albrecht Durer. Adam and Eve, 1504.  Engraving, 9 7/8” x 7 7/8”

Discussion Points:

  • Compare depictions of Adam and Eve by Latter-Day Saints to other artists’ depictions of Adam and Eve. What similarities and differences are there between the varied and various paintings?  Are there any distinct differences in Latter Day Saint depictions of Adam and Eve that draw on the account of their narrative given in the book of Moses as translated by Joseph Smith?

  • How does the gender, ethnicity, and religion of the artist affect her or his rendering of the Adam and Eve narrative?

  • Why are Adam and Eve important archetypes for painters throughout history and across many different cultures and religious denominations?

Readings and resources:


  • Write a short paper interpreting an artistic depiction of Adam and Eve.  How did the artist choose to show the narrative?  Does the artist’s gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, nationality, or historical period affect her or his depiction of the narrative?  What is unique about this artist’s depiction of the narrative?  What light does the artist’s interpretation shed on the narrative?


Unit 4. Gender Part 1 – Masculinity: How is the masculine ideal portrayed in Latter-Day Saint artwork?

Slide List:

  • Arnold Friberg. Young Nephi Subdues his Rebellious Brothers.

  • Arnold Friberg. Tales of the Force.

  • Arnold Friberg.Moses Defending the Daughters of Jethro.

  • Tom Lovell. Moroni Hides the Plates in the Hill Cumorah.

  • Tom Lovell. Below Deck, 1950. Gouache, 15.2” x 32”

  • Del Parson. American Prophet, 1999. Oil on canvas.

  • Walter Rane. Alma Arise, 2000. Oil on canvas, 56” x 50”

  • Trevor Southey.  Igor. Oil on canvas, 84” x 60”

  • Trevor Southey. Reconciliation. Oil on canvas, 48” x 48”

  • Rebecca Campbell. In the Catbird Seat. Oil on canvas, 78” x 129”

  • Casey Jex Smith. Looking Twice, 2018. Colored Pencil on paper, 7.5” x 10”

Discussion Points:

  • Did the early careers of artists like Arnold Friberg (who painted sets for Hollywood films) or Tom Lovell (who did commercial illustration) affect the artwork which they made for the Church?

  • How do the male figures within the artwork of Arnold Friberg, Tom Lovell, Walter Rane, and Harry Anderson, among others, reflect the gender standards of the time in which they were painted?

  • What other artists have engaged in creating a visual culture in the church of muscular white men?

  • How does this kind of imagery affect the way boys and young men in the Church see themselves and their future roles?

  • Why has the Church supported so many artist-illustrators who uniformly portray male scriptural role-models as extremely muscular, conventionally masculine, well-groomed, and often clean-shaven?

  • Are there differences in the way masculinity is portrayed by artists who are or were members of the Church but whose artwork has not been bought, commissioned, or distributed by the Church?

Readings and resources:


  • Interview a male member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints about his favorite artwork which he encountered in a Church context or Church publication. Have him describe the subject of the artwork, the style, and what caught his attention.  What influence, if any, did this image have on his feelings about manhood? If a figure or figures in the artwork he chose was male, would he consider that figure to represent a masculine ideal?  Expand on the subject with other questions, and write an evaluation of the interview and the artwork discussed.  Give historical background on the artwork, artist, and subject matter, when appropriate.


Unit 5. Gender Part II – Femininity: What does artwork made by female artists reveal about their relationship to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints?

Slide List:

  • Mary Teasdel. Mother and Child, 1901. Oil on canvas, 37” x 30.5”

  • Minerva Teichert. Queen Esther, 1939. Oil on canvas.

  • Elspeth Young. A Labor of Love: Evelyn Kleinert. Oil painting.

  • Rebecca Campbell. Favorite Things, 2006. Oil on canvas, 102” x 123”

  • Rebecca Campbell. Daddy Daughter Date, 2008. Oil on canvas, 90” x 67”

  • Angela Ellsworth. Seer Bonnets, 2008-to present. Ongoing series of sculptures of bonnets pierced with thousands of pearl-tipped pins.

  • Lee Udell Benion. Annunciation, possibly 1990s. Oil on canvas.

  • Eowyn Wilcox McComb. Samantha, 2011.  Graphite on paper, 18” x 24”.

  • Caitlin Connolly. Creation of Woman, 2016. Found object, oil transfer, and acrylic paint. Edition of 2, 11.5” x 10”

  • Kathleen Petersen. The Art of Washing.

  • Annie Henrie Nader. Dawning Light.

  • Jean Richardson. Fault Lines Amended,2017.   Plates, epoxy resin, gold lacquer, 36” x 72”

  • Rachel Farmer. Ancestors Traversing Quilts (detail), 2017. Site-specific installation including ceramic, fabric, batting, and yarn. 77 x 258 x 20 in. Photo: Etienne Frossard

Discussion points:

  • Compare and contrast artwork by women artists which may be considered critical of feminine roles in the Church with that of women whose work advocates for traditional roles for women.  From whom do they receive support?  Is there a divide within the Church between women who criticize proscribed female roles and those who embrace them?  Are there women artists with a relationship to the Church whose work does not engage in overt discussion of gender roles?

  • Is the Church’s support of the arts gender-equitable?  Do more male artists than female artists get bought or commissioned by the Church or its related institutions?  Do male artists in the Church earn more money for their artwork?

  • Does making artwork that includes female bodies or faces automatically make that artwork “feminist,” or “feminine” in subject matter?  For instance, are there differences between the schematic female representations of women in Brian Kershisnik’s work and that of Ciatlin Connolly or Kathleen Petersen?   

  • Do female artists in the Church face more or different obstacles to making and sharing their work than male artists?

  • In the history of Western painting, women have more often been portrayed passively than men.  Is this true of artwork displayed by the Church or made by Church members?  If so, is it more evident in artwork made by men, or do both male and female artists still engage in actively portraying gender difference and proscribed gender roles in their artwork?

Readings and resources:


  • Create a gallery tally poster for a Church-owned or Church related institution or publication.  


Unit 6. Images of Christ

Slide List:

  • Unknown artist or artists. Hinton St. Mary Mosaic, early 4thcentury. Ceramic tile mosaic.

  • Giotto. Lamentation, 1304-1306. Fresco.

  • Dieric Bouts.  Resurrection, 1455. Distemper on linen, 35 3/8” x 19 ¼”

  • Hans Memling.Christ Giving His Blessing, 1478. Oil on oak panel, 15 1/8” x 11 1/8”

  • El Greco (Domenico Theotokopoulos). Christ on the Cross, 1600-1610. Oil on canvas, 32 ½” x 20 3/8”

  • Caravaggio. Ecce Homo, 1605.  Oil on canvas, 50” x 41”

  • Artemisia Gentileschi (attributed to). Christ Blessing the Children, 1624-1625. Oil on canvas, 52” x 38”

  • Rembrandt van Rijn. Head of Christ, 1648. Oil on canvas, 9.8” x 8.5”

  • Sir John Everett Millais. Christ in the House of his Parents (The Carpenter’s Shop), 1849-50. Oil on canvas, 34” x 55”

  • Paul Gaugin. The Yellow Christ, 1889. Oil on canvas, 35.9” x 28.9”

  • Emile Nolde. Das Lieben Christi (The Life of Christ), 1911-1912.  Altarpiece made up of nine oil paintings.

  • Marc Chagall. White Crucifixion, 1938. Oil on canvas, 60 7/8” x 55 1/16”

  • William H Johnson, Lamentation, also known as Descent from the Cross, 1944.

  • Mark Wallinger. Ecce Homo, 1999. Life-size resin cast sculpture.

  • J Kirk Richards. Cristo, 2014. 161 paintings in oil and acrylic on panel, dimensions variable - installation dimensions 20’ x 40’

  • Jorge Cocco Santangelo. The Tempest—Peace Be Still, 2016. Oil on canvas, 30” x 40”

  • Trevor Southey. Crucifix. Oil on rag, 40” x 30”

  • Walter Rane. Jehovah Creates the Earth, 2000. Oil, 67” x 44”

  • Harry Anderson, In the Clouds of Heaven.

  • Warner Sallman. Head of Christ, 1940.

  • Del Parson. Christ in a Red Robe.

  • Simon Dewey. The Lord is my Shepherd.

  • Liz Lemon Swindle. Against the Wind.

  • Greg Olsen. Worlds Without End.

Discussion questions:

  • How is Christ represented throughout history? How does the depiction of His physical form depend on the artist’s religious or cultural experiences? In what activities is He shown engaging?  What points of His life are most often depicted by artists? What do we learn about Him from these images?

  • Are Latter-Day Saint images of Christ unique in any ways?  Do the teachings of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price influence or change Latter-Day Saint depictions of Christ?

  • How does the style in which Christ is depicted influence the viewer’s perception of the artwork?

  • Are images of Christ made by non-religious artists different than images of Christ made by religious artists? Are there differences in the way Christ is depicted that can be attributed to the specific backgrounds of artists who belong to different religious denominations?  Are any of these differences obvious to an observer who knows nothing of the artist’s background or faith or lack of faith?


  • "Should Christ Look like a Tennis Player or a Movie Star?"

  • Probert, Josh E. “Inculturating Christ: Images of Christ throughout History.” Art and Spirituality: the Visual Culture of Christian Faith, BYU Studies, 2008, p. 29-42.

  • Heuman, Jay. “The Crucifixion: Modern Latter-Day Saint and Jewish Depictions.” Art and Spirituality: the Visual Culture of Christian Faith, BYU studies, 2008, p. 172-186.

  • Infanger, Garrick. “Big Mac Mormonism.” The Immediate Present, Mormon Arts Center, 2017, p. 29-30.


  • Choose an artwork depicting Christ by a Latter-Day Saint artist and choose another depiction of Christ by an artist not associated with the Church.  Compare these two images, and evaluate the similarities and differences between them.


Unit 7. Ethnic and Racial Diversity: Does Latter-Day Saint artwork reflect the diversity of members  in the Church?

Slide List:

  • Brian Kershisnik. Nativity, 2006.  Oil on canvas.

  • John Walter Scott. Jesus Christ Visits the Americas, 1969.Oil on canvas, 47” x 121”

  • Harry Andersen. Second Coming, 1969-1970. Oil on canvas.

  • J Kirk Richards. Eve Offers the Fruit, 2015 or 2016. Oil on canvas, 13 1/2” x 12”

  • Jorge Cocco Santangelo. Ascension, 2018.  Oil on canvas, 40” x 30”

  • Caitlin Connolly. We are all Part of God’s Family, 2016.

  • Eowyn Wilcox McComb.  Cortney’s Book, 2019. Oil on canvas, 9” x 12”

  • Elspeth Young. Till We Meet Again, 2013. Oil painting, 37 ¾” x61”

  • Elspeth Young. And Thou Didst Hear Me, 2012.  Oil painting.

Discussion questions:

  • Does artwork owned and distributed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints reflect the diverse races and ethnicities of its world-wide members?

  • Does the Church do anything to encourage greater representation of non-white artists?

  • While creche festivals and the Church history museum’s world-wide art competition encourage and celebrate diversity, at what other times is the artwork of non-white artists viewed, reproduced or seen within the context of the Church?

  • Is it appropriate for the Church to own and reproduce artwork such as Kershisnik’s Nativity or Anderson’s Second Coming, which represent heavenly angels as all white-skinned?  Is it also appropriate for the Church to continue to reproduce artwork like Scott’s painting Jesus Christ Visits the Americas, which has been criticized for its lack of cultural and historical accuracy? How does the prevalence of light skinned models in artwork used within the Church to teach the scriptures affect the views and feelings of members who identify as non-white?

Readings and Resources:


  • Make a gallery tally of persons of color (either as creators or as subjects) included in Church museums, the gospel art library, or another Church-related institution or publication.


Unit 8. The Church and the Arts: What is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint's relationship to the visual arts?

 Slide List:

Discussion Points:

  • What relationship has the Church had with the visual arts from the early restoration to the present day?

  • When has artwork been commissioned by the Church, and how was that process managed?  Which artists does the Church support?  What types of artwork does the Church choose to display, and how, and where?

  • What effect did correlation have on the visual arts in the Church?

  • Why are original artworks not allowed within the halls of most Latter-Day Saint meeting houses? Why does the Church choose to display printed canvas reproductions of paintings instead?  How are these paintings selected and displayed, and to what purpose?

  • What elements are necessary for Latter Day Saint artists to flourish?  The author of “Thoughts on Mormon Art” suggests that it is patronage, while the writer of “Where are All the Mormon Art Critics” suggests that it is healthy criticism from knowledgeable viewers and writers. What other things might be missing that would be needed for healthy production of the visual arts? Access to excellent art collections for study, for instance ---or good training, encouragement, respect for one’s vocation, a community of peers, and interested and invested audiences?  Can the Church (or its community of members) currently supply these things to artists?  Should the Church or the wider community of church members feel responsible for meeting any of these needs?  Why or why not?

  • Can the Church be considered a good or bad patron of the arts?  Why?

  • Is it reasonable for the Church to ban nudity from its museums, programs, and reproductions?

Readings and Resources: 


  • Interview a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints about her or his relationship with the artwork that they see at church, in the temple, and in church publications and institutions.  Students should prepare their own list of questions.  Some examples might include: What memories does the viewer have of the art pieces they have interacted with?  What emotions do the artworks evoke?  How has the visual art of the church shaped the viewer’s understanding of the church’s values and teachings?  If the viewer is a convert to the gospel, how would they compare their experience with visual art in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to the previous church they attended (if any)?


Unit 9. Appropriation: Is it appropriate for the Church to annex artwork from other Christian denominations?

Slide List:

  • Bertel Thorvaldsen. Christus,1838. Sculpture, Carrera marble.

  • Carl Heinrich Bloch. Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda, 1883. Oil on canvas, 100 ¾” x 125 ½”

  • Carl Heinrich Bloch. Peter’s Denial.

  • Carl Heinrich Bloch. Jesus Healing the Blind Man.

  • Hienrich Hoffman. Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, 1888. Oil on canvas.

  • Hienrich Hoffman. Christ’s Image.

  • Hienrich Hoffman. The Boy Jesus in the Temple.

  • Harry Anderson. The Second Coming.

  • Harry Anderson. John the Baptist Baptizing Jesus.

  • Harry Anderson. Christ in Gethsemane

Discussion Questions:

  • Is artwork changed by taking away the context for which it was originally made and placing it within a new context?

  • Is it important to know the artist’s cultural and religious background when looking at a religious work of art?  Can artwork made by an artist who belongs to a different denomination be seen the way the artist intended by an audience who holds different doctrinal beliefs?  How much does the intention of the artist matter to the viewer when she or he encounters a piece of artwork?

  • Is it moral to appropriate artwork by an artist who is already dead and cannot give input or consent to the way his or her artwork is displayed or reproduced or to reserve the rights to display and reproduce that artwork within a context for which the artist had not originally intended his or her artwork?

Readings and Resources:

  • Richardson, Matthew O. “Bertel Thorvadldsen’s Christus: A Latter-Day Saint Icon of Christian Evidence.” Art and Spirituality: The Visual Culture of Christian Faith, BYU Studies, 2008, p 188-201.


  • Choose a popular artwork currently owned or reproduced by the Church that was not made by a member-artist. Research the artwork and the artist who made it.  Make a personal judgement whether or not it is appropriate for the Church to use that artwork in the context in which it is currently being used. Explain your position.


Unit 10. Context: What spiritual and religious artwork have been made by artists outside of the Church since its restoration in 1830?

Slide List:

  • Jan Styka. The Crucifixion, 1897. Panoramic oil on canvas, housed in the Hall of the Crucifixion at Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery, Glendale, CA.

  • Albert Pinkham Ryder. The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse),1900.  Oil on canvas, 27 3/4” x 35 7/16”

  • Henri Matisse. Rosary Chapel, 1951. Paintings on tile, stained glass.

  • Mark Rothko. Rothko Chapel, 1964-1970 (Building opened in 1971). Series of paintings, oil on canvas.

  • Ana Maria Pacheco. Study of Head (John the Baptist III), 1992. Sculpture, polychromed wood, 31.8 x 50.8 x 74 cm

  • Andres Serrano, Piss Christ, also known as Immersion, 1987. Photograph, 5’ x 3’4”

  • Chris Ofili. The Holy Virgin Mary, 1996. Acrylic, oil, polyester resin, paper collage, glitter, map pins and elephant dung on canvas, 96” x 72”

  • James Turrell. Greet the Light, 2012. Skyspace in the Chestnut Hills Quaker Meeting House, Philadelphia.

  • Bill Viola. Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water), 2014. Video installation at St. Paul’s Cathedral, England.

Discussion questions:

  • Are other Christian denominations more supportive of the visual arts than the Church?

  • Consider any differences in style and subject matter between the artwork discussed in this unit and the previous units.  Are artists outside of the Church more formally or conceptually daring than artists who belong to the Church?  If so, why might this be?

  • How is spiritual subject matter treated differently by artists from different religious backgrounds, or artists who lack a religious background?

  • How does the context of a religious or spiritual artwork affect the way it is seen and experienced?

  • Are there differences between artwork made to be shown in a religious setting such as a church, and artwork with religious subject matter that was made to be shown in a commercial or educational space such as a contemporary art gallery or museum?

Readings and resources:  


  • Write your reaction to one of the pieces you encountered during the class discussion.  What feelings did the artwork prompt? What did you learn about the artist and the creation of the piece? Does knowing more about the artwork change your initial feelings about it?  How does religious and/or spiritual artwork being made outside of the Church compare to artwork made within the Church?  Are formal or conceptual standards different for artists within and without the Church?


Unit 11. The Role of the Artist: What is the artist’s purpose?

Slide List:

  • Create the Perfect Self-Portrait.  “Mormonad,” photograph, August 1996 New Era.

  • Lee Udell Bennion. Self with Adah, 1993. Oil on linen, 30” x 24”

  • Brian Kershisnik. Wounded Saint.  Oil painting.

  • Rebecca Campbell. Vote for Me, 2006. Acrylic on painted paper, triptych.

  • J Kirk Richards. Self-Portrait at 33 (One Good Eye), 2008.  Oil on panel, 9.5” x 26.5”

  • Eowyn Wilcox McComb. The Monastery Garden, 2017-2018. Oil on panel, 11” x 14”. 

Discussion Questions:

  • Is "the value of painting" and the other visual arts "found in the individual way of seeing things," as Giorgio Morandi claimed, or is its value in the service of teaching or promoting an ideal (such as the gospel)?

  • Are there potential conflicts between being an artist and a member in good standing with the Church?

  • Is being a religious artist anachronistic in the context of modern and contemporary art?

  • What role do artists play within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints?  What role do artists play within contemporary society? What is the purpose of art today?

  • Why have there been so few LDS artists who are well known both within and outside of the Church context?

  • Is the Church an example of a supporter and patron of the arts who encourages the development of its artist-members?  

  • Is there a conflict between contemporary art and genuine religious feeling?  

  • Does the Church practice censorship or other forms of discipline on artists or artwork that it does not approve of?



  • Write a personal interpretation of the role of the artist in society, in the world, and in religion. Explain your position and use examples and references wherever possible.


Unit 12. Formalism and Style: How do the formal qualities of spiritual artwork affect their reception?

Slide List:

  • Daniel Everett. Untitled, 2014. Inkjet print, 42” x 34”

  • Levi Jackson. Esterbend, 2015. Single-channel video, running length 3.5 minutes, edition of 5.

  • Paige Crosland Anderson. The Sum of Our Ceremonies, 2016. Oil on panel, 58” x 48”

  • Jorge Cocco Santangelo. Angel 5. Oil on canvas, 16” x 12”

  • Nick Stephens. Wise Man, Foolish Man, 2016. Acrylic and oil on board, 30” x 70”

  • Pam Bowman. Many Small Things (through) I and II, 2017. Cotton rope, steel, 45” x 30” x 20” and 6’ x 3’ x 6’

  • Chase Westfall. Untitled (Veil), 2017. Oil on linen, 60” x 96”

  • Lisa DeLong. Baptism, 2018.  Hand-made watercolors, gold leaf and ink on marbled paper.

Discussion Questions:

  • Define religious artwork. Is it the same as spiritual artwork?  How do our definitions of “religious” and “spiritual” affect the way we look at and categorize artwork, especially artwork made by artists with strong ties to religion?

  • How visible and supported are formalist, abstracted, or abstract paintings, sculptures, and other forms of art within Church institutions or the Church community at large?

  • Jorge Cocco Santangelo identifies his artwork as “sacred cubism,” but his paintings still use traditional perspective despite having highly stylized, flattened forms that are inspired by and reminiscent of Braque, Gris, and other cubist painters.  Is it problematic for him or the Church history museum to claim his connection with the historical idea of cubism if his work does not fully fit within the original program of that movement?  What happens when an artist or institution portrays their relationship to art history in a way that is not accurate? Why might it cause a problem for the artist, the institution, or viewers of the mis-represented artwork?

  • Do the formal choices of Latter-Day Saint artists reflect the cultural trends of the Church?  For instance, Kershisnik, Richards, Connolly, Petersen and Barney, among others, all paint simplified human figures with little or no facial or bodily differentiation to individualize them.  Can these mainly white, largely homogenous, and simplified figures be claimed to reflect the attitudes of the Church towards individuality and unity?  Do they reflect the culture of the Church in Utah?  Or do they represent the views of each individual artist on the roles of the individual and group?  What do the similarities between these artists’ paintings suggest?  Is the relationship and possible conflict between the individual and the group an important theme for Latter-Day Saint artists?

  • Why does the Church focus more on reproducing representational paintings and sculptures rather than including abstract painting s and other media in their collection?

  • Is abstraction a better formal structure than representation for communicating spiritual concepts? The history of abstraction has been tied to ideas of spirituality almost since the start of its modern origins, with pioneering artists like Wassily Kandinsky (who wrote Concerning the Spiritual in Art) pointing out the connection between form and spirit.  Could abstract artwork be used to teach spiritual concepts in a church setting alongside representational artwork that is used to teach scripture stories and historical events?

Readings and Resources:

  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. “Eye and Mind.” The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting, Northwestern University Press, 1993, p. 121-149

  • Lisa DeLong TEDx talk on geometry


  • Write an essay arguing whether representational or abstract artwork is a better means of portraying the divine and the spiritual.  Use examples wherever possible.


Unit 13: Final Project and Presentations

Project Options:

  • Interview a “Latter-Day Saint” artist.  Explain who you chose to interview and why you consider she or he to be a Latter-Day Saint artist. Come up with your own list of questions, including whether the artist considers herself or himself to be a “Latter-Day Saint artist” and how he or she feels about that term. 

  • Curate an imaginary “Latter-Day Saint Art” show, complete with a title list and a show statement that explains the concept of “Latter-Day Saint art,” and why you chose those particular art pieces as examples of that concept. 

  • Make a booklet or website of “gallery tallies” for the Church.  Explain what tally choices you made and why.  What characteristics do your tallies show about Latter-Day Saint art? Write an accompanying analysis of your tallies. 

  • Research an unknown LDS artist and introduce her or him to the class through the creation and presentation of a website, short biography, or art show proposal.  The artist could be a well-known figure whom the student did not know was a member of the Church, or it could be an artist who the student knew was a member of the Church, but is currently under-recognized.  Explore the relationship of this artist to the Church, and attempt to identify whether or not thisartist should be categorized as a “Latter-Day Saint artist,” and why.