Art, said the painter Edgar Degas, is not what you see, but what you must make others see.
For many artists, what they want others to see is something that inspires, that uplifts, that makes a difference in their lives.
"Artists through the ages have tried to capture images that are inspiring," Greg Olsen says; it's one of the fundamental purposes of art.
While it is true that art does not provide physical sustenance for the body, Liz Lemon Swindle adds, "it does provide food for the soul. And that is something
equally hard to live without. Art can teach, provide comfort, strength, courage."
And that's something, she says, that we need now as much as ever.
That's the philosophy behind the formation of the Inspirational Art Association, a group recently organized to "foster the creation and promotion of inspirational art, to showcase wholesome content and extend its influence to individuals, homes and communities throughout the world."
The group is kicking things off with an inaugural exhibition that will be held at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building this weekend, which will feature the works of between 25 and 30 local artists.
The association provides "an opportunity for us to come together with a much louder voice," Swindle says.
These are artists, founder and organizer Greg Stroud says, "who jumpstart the imagination, who provide a passport to places I can't go on my own. I'm not an artist; I can't do what they do. But I can benefit from what they do."
Inspirational art is a tool any family can use to teach values, he says. He knows a woman who has a large painting of Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail hanging in a prominent place in her home. "She told me that we often teach children that if they are good, bad things won't happen. But that's not always true. Bad things do happen to good people; we need to be aware of that, learn from that. Her painting is a great tool in teaching that."
Families need to be exposed to works that lift and inspire, Stroud says. "They need it now more than ever, with all that's out there. We can't control the world, but we can control what is in our homes and create an atmosphere that can lift us up."
People hardly blink when they have to pay $2,000 for a large-screen TV. "But ask them to pay $2,000 for a work of art, they fall over," he says. "Yet, in the long run, the art can be more meaningful. Art should not just be something that matches the sofa. It can be something that reinforces the values we want to teach."
The Inspirational Art Association is not a Mormon organization, although many of the charter members are LDS artists, he says. "We invite anyone to join us who believes in this kind of art, whatever their faith, whatever their religion." They hope the organization will eventually involve people all over the country, even the world. "This is really a revolutionary idea," Stroud says.
It's something that many people have caught the vision of, says Jay Ward, IAA president. Artists can be solitary and competitive, so "to have them come together to unite and pool resources, share camaraderie" has been very exciting, he says. "We hope to offer all the standard things as association offers: education opportunities, conferences, information about things such as copyright and licensing, an epic website that will showcase everyone's art and social networking. We want to learn from one another."
Emily Dyches Pugmire appreciates the mentoring aspect of the association. "Mentoring has a snowball effect," she says. That's one thing she learned when she "fell under the wing of Joseph Brickey. He asked me to help paint the murals in the Copenhagen Temple." Another thing she has learned, she says, is "that it is nice to get praise. But it is so much more satisfying to give praise, to help others rejoice as well."
Everyone has worked so hard to get the association going, adds Marilyn Gandre, a member of the IAA board of directors. "It's so great to promote uplifting art."
What many people don't realize is that there is "a huge renaissance of art coming out of Utah," says Sandra B. Rast, a member of the IAA board. "There are so many magnificent, professional, inspiring artists. This is a fabulous venue for them, a gift we can give to the world. Together we can all influence families' lives and homes and counteract all the negativity out there. Together, we can fight for goodness."
Jon McNaughton agrees. "I've heard that Utah County has more artists per capita than any other county in the country." Inspirational art doesn't have to be just religious images or sacred settings, he adds. McNaughton is known for his landscapes. "This is a great new fraternity of artists; something I've never seen happen before. A lot of us have been lone rangers."
There are economic benefits in working together, he says. "But a lot of us don't do it for the money. Sure, it's nice to support ourselves. But we do it for more than that. We do it because that's who we are, it is a part of us."
Inspirational art was "a natural outgrowth of what's important to me," Olsen says. "My art reflects my faith, my love of family." And that's the same for the other artists. "The philosophy behind the group is simply to promote art that lifts people, however that happens."
Photographer Scott Sumner is also excited about the association and its broad scope. At times in the past, LDS artists have been blackballed by other groups, he says, "but the boundaries are falling. More and more, we see people coming together. We want all artists to showcase what is faith-promoting to them. Many, many people recognize that God has given them a talent that they want to use for the benefit of their fellow men."
Visual arts are a powerful force, he adds. "They have such a powerful influence on the human mind. We want to make more of that art available for minds to absorb. We want to help people recognize God's hand in their own lives. That can happen with all different media. People see with their hearts and their feelings, and the way they relate to art becomes priceless."
Or, as poet Robert Browning said, "art is the one way possible of speaking the truth."
If you go...
What: Inspirational Art Association Inaugural Exhibition
When: Friday, 1-5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Where: Bonneville Room, Joseph Smith Memorial Building
e-mail: carma @desnews.com