Poll: Art

Years ago, when I came back to church, part of me was under the impression that a good Mormon housewife should own all the major categories of LDS religious “art”. To decorate my home as a young wife, I quickly (and cheaply) ordered the very distinct portrait of Christ in a red robe, the one of Him surrounded by children, the landscape of Him visiting the Nephites, and a few others. I felt like such a good member missionary, able to clearly identify myself as both a Christian and Latter-day Saint to any non members that happened to come into my home. I even framed the Proclamation on the Family and the Living Christ to flank the sides of Christ’s handsomely stern yet vaguely loving face. Over the years I received as gifts other pieces of art, perhaps less recognizable to those outside church culture, but very conforming to the inner standards of what it means to be devout and “with it” as far as US church culture goes (Greg Olsen anyone?).

But in the last few years, I have become increasingly ill at ease with the decor of my home. It wasn’t that I was ashamed of the visual reminders of discipleship, but that I had conformed so thoughtlessly to aspects of a culture that I had very little else in common with. These paintings weren’t reflective of my own personal taste or even religious vision. I was intimately familiar with places like the Louvre and the Hermitage. I knew good art. So why was my home void of it?

Well, I’ve been slowly remedying this gap in my portrayal of self. I’ve replaced most of what I used to have with pieces that still communicate my beliefs, but in a way that feels closer to what I feel and see in my mind’s eye as the nature of God. I still feel drawn to include religious art in my home, but much more on my own terms. A couple years ago for my birthday I bought a few Minerva Teicherts to jumpstart these changes. I particularly love her scene of Jesus with Mary and Martha, and feel that it speaks to all the sides of the woman I am and can become. I also recently added da Vinci’s Head of Christ to my entry way. Unlike most LDS depictions of Him, da Vinci portrayed Christ as neither masculine nor feminine, but as truly encompassing all traits. And for my stairway, his Woman’s Face that I am appropriating as my own divine feminine. Along with more paintings that include Mary, both alone and with her babe, I am feeling the pull to create a strong sense of the female divine in my home for my daughters.

I’m also trying to include more art that reflects nature; an aspect of the divine that I want within my home and not just outside it. So my sense of expression is evolving. Not sure where it will end up, but I like where it’s going better. And of course, in full disclosure, I do still have painted boards with vinyl letters from years of RS activities on a few of my walls. I guess I don’t hate them enough yet to find replacements for them. Or I’m too lazy. Please don’t judge me. Also, decorating is not one of my talents – my walls are all beige.

What about you? What type of art do you like to have around you? Do you think it is important to have your religious beliefs portrayed visually in your home? Share your choices in this week’s poll, and you can always vote for more than one at a time.


Corktree is exploring life and spirituality in new ways and new environments while studying midwifery, reiki, yoga, homeopathy, herbology and evolutionary nutrition. She has 3 daughters and one son, which add up to what now feels like an enormous family of 6.

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42 Responses

  1. Keri Brooks says:

    I live in an apartment and I’m on a student budget, so I don’t have a lot of art. I do have a framed poster-size print of Michaelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”. I love that painting; there’s something about it that really speaks to me. I think it’s because I really love hands as an artistic subject and there’s something holy about a painting of the hand of God. I also have a framed poster of the galaxy. I’ve always loved outer space; it feels so holy.

  2. The religious art I have is a picture of the very modern Portland temple “antiqued” that was given to me as a gift for my wedding. This, after I had just had seriously uncomfortable experiences in the temple that I wished I could run from. But I loved my sealing, so I tried to make the piece remind me of that.

    But I really hate it. I don’t know why I display it. The architecture of the Portland temple is so clean and modern (which is very much my style), that the sepia toned antiquing looks ridiculous.

    I also got several Deseret book gift cards and AWFUL “easy” cookbooks when we got married. DH and I would go to Deseret book and be at a total loss as to what to buy. Religious/Patriotic art was out. Spiritualesque books are rarely as uplifting as they intend to be (and I was a law student with quite enough to read as it was). I despise those faceless little figurines. So usually we bought food from the Lion House and when they finally got it in stock, the Bon Apetit cookbook–the tome of excellent and relatively quick recipes.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that like religious art, religious cooking and books are so often imitations of what is actually quality. Deseret book specializes in this imitation and the store is offensive–not in the blatant way that seeing violence is offensive. But because it’s mostly crap. And crap offends me.

    • alex w. says:

      I’ve never cared for those figurines but didn’t put much thought into the why, and I think you’ve pinpointed it for me: faceless. Eeeh.

      • Corktree says:

        Unfortunately I have a few of those figurines given as gifts, one from my mother-in-law that I feel compelled to display. Anyone have experience with not putting up gifts?

  3. amelia says:

    I chose option #3. I don’t particularly like the wording of option #3 because it implies, with that “but,” that somehow the religious art I have does not reflect my taste or my love of certain periods or styles. I do have several pieces of religious art, and I like all of them for their style or their color. My religious art includes: Cowper’s Our Lady of the Fruits of the Earth, which I have because I love it–it is beautiful and vivid and one of my favorite pre-Raphaelite works–and not for any religious reason; a couple of very small figurines of Buddha and Ganesh, gods I have claimed for myself; and a small Virgin as Our Lady of Perpetual Hope because I have learned, or tried to learn, to build my own hope rather than rely on Mormonism and its God for it and she reminds me of that. None of my religious art has much to do with religion per se, certainly not to do with my Mormonism. They have to do with my taste and my expression of self and my rejection of Mormonism as the only answer. Cowper’s Our Lady has no religious significance for me–I display it because I simply love it as a work of art. The other three have some religious significance to me, but they are not representative of my devotion–to me they represent my independence from devotion imposed.

    I like a lot of religious art. I’ve spent countless hours in museums in D.C., NYC, Boston, L.A., and London, as well as a few other places with lesser known museums, and it’s pretty impossible to spend the kind of time I’ve spent studying and falling in love with art and not find some religious art to love. But I’m not a big fan of using art as a means of branding oneself via one’s religious beliefs. I understand that the art we choose to hang on our walls projects an image of who we are. Anyone who spends time in my apartment will know I love 20th century art and that I love color and that I have diverse tastes (Fragonard, Hopper, Rothko, Picasso, Matisse, Cowper, street artists in Boston–very different styles). They’ll know something about me and what makes me tick. But I don’t hang those works of art to communicate messages about my beliefs. I hang them as an act of self-expression, because I love them, because they speak to my soul.

    And now I really need to go to an art museum. 🙂

  4. cchrissyy says:

    I have absolutely no art on the walls, and this has been true at every house I’ve had since college.

    I do own one price of art, and I do love it. It’s in a box somewhere. I tried to find it online to link here but no luck. Anyway, it is Mary, as a child, sitting with her mother reading to her while angels circle overhead.

  5. Hydrangea says:

    I like how you mentioned that the art we display is a “portrayal of self.” Art in our homes should motivate us and expresses the many facets of who we are- including our spirituality.

    Religion is paramount to who I am, but at the same time trite, LDS art really doesn’t speak to me. I have a few unimposing, subtly religious pieces that I display.

    There does seem to be some unfounded, unspoken rule about “good mormons” and their display of Jesus pictures. Thanks for sharing your story!

  6. lanwenyi says:

    Our “art” is mostly photographs. We love re-experiencing the joys we’ve shared in our lives by looking at the pics around us. That said, we also have a few pieces of art. Most of them are handmade pieces (2d or 3d, both religious and non) that I love b/c of who made them. The rest of our art is made up of prints of famous pieces that my husband and I both like. Most of them relate to nature.

  7. jks says:

    I shy away from having typical Mormon decorations. It is not my style. However, I recently decided I really did want a temple picture and bought one at deseret book that was totally cool and my style. I liked it. It was pricey, but I liked that it would portray something important to me in a visual way that I liked.

  8. spunky says:

    I like this- art is very expressive of self, so it is an important thing to consider in creating your home.

    In my early 20’s I did like church art- but I grew up in “the mission field” and in going to Utah for school, became enamored with the lithographs of Christ. A limited budget left my walls void. I don’t know if it is me or that Mormon art has changed, but I would not at this point have any major-sized Mormon art lithographs in my house. I do like the small post-card sized ones, because I put the VT message and an address on them and use them as VT postcards. There are two new ones of Christ with children of colour that are my favourite for this.

    I do have two lithographs of classic Mormon art. One was my favorite as a child. It is Christ with the four children- as a child I thought it was a photo of me and my siblings with Christ when he stopped by… I think that is why I love it- the young me thinking that Christ just popped by once like a Home teacher or something. Still makes me giggle. The other is a second coming one that is at the Mormon Battalion in San Diego. I also remember this from childhood thinking that it looked like Christ almost had wings– then when I learned of the story about the commission of the painting, and “correcting it” by painting the wings out, I just liked it even more. Reminds me of the atonement, in a way. Otherwise, I have art that artist friends made for me, and some from a Navajo reservation I worked at for a time, and others – sculpture, weavings, silk paintings, etc, that my husband and I collected in our travels. So our art more reflects our lives, and I like that. It’s us. It’s our home. Yummy!

    • Corktree says:

      I love your story about thinking Jesus had just “popped by” when you were a child. Too funny.

      I actually do like that piece because of the diversity it shows, but I’ve moved it upstairs for the kids because it still makes me feel too conforming in a way and it’s not much my style.

      And I forgot that I do have a couple original paintings by people that mean something to me. Somehow, even though they aren’t great art per se, I do love them the most and feel inspired by them, even though they’re just very typical nature scenes. Something about that fresh looking paint that makes them seem more powerful.

  9. TopHat says:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot since we’re moving and I get to re-decorate a new place. Over the years we’ve received as gifts: a framed Proclamation on vellum with our family picture behind it, an 8×10 drawing of President Monson, a large (20×24? bigger?) picture of the Oakland Temple, Christ at the pool of Bathesda from the MOA. We had the Proc up while we lived in Provo, but its never found a place in ou California home. I’m going to toss it. We’ve never put Monson up because it’s a little creepy to me to have him in our house watching us. We did put up the Christ one because I do like it and the temple because that’s where we go to church and my 3yo is in love with it (but I sheepishly take it down when non-members visit). And then we have all our family pictures up, which is really sickeningly cute and matchy.

    After our move, I’m only putting up stuff that really speaks to me. I’m making my own art for some of it- like a mobile and some placenta prints and also I’m going to frame some of my daughter’s drawings and change those out every month or so as she does more. I want my house to be a reflection of my personality, not upper-middle class Mormon land.

  10. Rachel says:

    My husband, who isn’t LDS, really gets a kick out of LDS interior decoration. In our office, where I’m sitting now, we have Monet, Hopper, Vermeer, a huge chart of the galaxy, a Rothco, and an homage to Ansel Adams a friend of ours shot. Certainly that’s a huge mix! In the den we have a couple O’Keeffe’s and family photos. In one hall we have a Jesus and little girl with lamp. I feel odd when Mormons come over that they don’t see the usual stuff. I feel like I often do, that we don’t measure up.

    • Corktree says:

      You list a handful of my favorite artists, but for some reason, I never felt inspired to purchase any of their work. Growing up, Monet was my favorite by far, but as I got older, I discovered I didn’t love impressionism as much as I thought, and felt like I was molding myself to something just for the sake of conforming to expectations since my family all *knew* that I loved Monet. It makes me wonder what the best way to teach art appreciation to children is. I don’t want my own children to feel pigeon holed, I want them to be able to allow their taste in art to evolve naturally and give it room to grow. My oldest picked out an original painting from an artist for her birthday one year, and it was fun to hear the reasons she liked it, but I hope she will understand if she doesn’t love it as much one day and not feel weird about changing her mind.

      • Rachel says:

        My kids are at Christine Donnell [magnet arts K-8] so their walls are covered in work they have done at school. Well, that, and my younger one does have some Tinkerbell stuff ((shudder)).

  11. Amy says:

    I think what you are saying is true. I don’t think that for a piece of art to be moving and religious that it has to be made by a Mormon artist and be sold in Deseret Book. Truth can be found in many places and we should embrace all truth! And all truth comes from God. And we don’t all have to have the same art- how boring would that be?!

  12. Madame Curie says:

    I chose #2. We have mostly religious “art” on display in our home, including some Hindi mandalas, a statues of the Buddha and Krishna, a plate that my husband had made in the Ukraine of the San Diego Temple, a cross, and a menorah.

    • Corktree says:

      This reminded me that I have an “altar” in my front room for meditation, with a sculpture and a candle and fresh flowers (and a small buddha shaped chocolate – multiple layers of meaning there). I wouldn’t have qualified it as such before, but in some ways, I do feel like it is my own expression of art in the way I have arranged it.

      And I really want a menorah!

  13. Angelina says:

    Huh. I had to wander around my house before I could answer these questions. What’s on the walls: Two paintings done by an artist friend of ours, one of our children and one of a temple we have fond memories of. One print, “Peter and John Running to the Tomb” by Eugène Burnand. And various framed Asian textile art, photos and sketches that bring back memories of work done in that area of the world.
    I like having art around me that reminds me of people and places I love. I like the Burnand because I think it’s extremely well done and I love the story it tells, but I also like it because it reminds me of my mother who loved it.

  14. cchrissyy says:


    Here’s the picture I was looking for when I posted earlier.
    There are certainly concepts about religion and life that it brings to my mind every time I see it. Primarily about the future, and how often people are molded and prepared for big things that will come as life unfolds. Both the unimaginable blessings and the unimaginable pains. I see this message in the unseen angels overhead and in the direct content of a mother teaching her child from a book.
    I like being prodded to think of Mary as a normal kid, even though she was special from before her birth until after we’re all gone. Also, people so rarely think of Anne (do any other Mormons even know her name?) so it’s nice to see her depicted at all.

  15. Mommie Dearest says:

    Not many Mormons know who St. Anne is, but those who are art lovers would know the subject of the Virgin Mary with St. Anne as a venerable and oft-painted one.

    I have a print of Christ with the woman at the well by Carl Bloch. He’s become more popular lately, but I liked his work when I was in college and started looking at the art in church publications with a more practiced eye. I’ve had this print for years but I recently discovered my image is heavily cropped on both sides. The modern church artists (like those featured at Des. Book) are all rather boring to me, though there are some young guys who are doing some interesting work. Kirk Richards and Brian Kershisnik would hang in my house, if I could afford them. Or find prints easily. I have a Maynard Dixon print and some other artist’s posters framed (like Vermeer), but I like original art, and will buy it when it’s something that appeals that isn’t out of my budget. I have some small oil paintings by obscure artists and some large format landscape photographs. Family photos. Bas relief sculpture. Actually, now that I think of it, I have some pretty odd art on my walls, but it all means something to me and I like it.

    I have plans to make an embroidery sampler that says “The gospel is for everyone, even people you don’t agree with.”

  16. wonderdog says:

    In addition to the watercolor of Notre Dame, I have several peices painted by my daughters. My son painted murals of X-men on the walls of his room. My wife made him make the boobs realistic sized.

  17. alex w. says:

    I am in transition right now, but will be decorating my own home (apartment) later this summer after a big move & after I get married. I do not plan to have much, if any, religious artwork because I grew up in a mixed-religion house with little religious artwork and will soon be living in my own mixed-faith household. I have never been particularly drawn to a lot of religious artwork even though I really do enjoy art. I think, if I do eventually have religious art in my home, it will be more of rennaisance-era and er…classical (I have forgotten everything I learned in art history!) paintings than Mormon artwork because that is what I prefer.

    As far as art in general, I love photography. I have a print of Capitol Reef that I want to frame eventually, and a series of photographs of galaxies that I developed (but did not take myself) in an astronomy class years ago. Other than those, I would prefer to have my own photographs because it is a hobby I enjoy very much.

    On another note, my boyfriend and I by accident ended up in the McNaughton gallery in the Provo mall (SouthTowne Mall? I dunno.) on Saturday, and the erm, artist himself was there, along with several very large and in/famous paintings placed prominently. I almost stuck my foot in my mouth when I realized that it was the gallery of the painter whose pictures had been removed from BYU, but made an okay save. That was fun 😆

    • alex w. says:

      Oh. I forgot. Because I grew up with little religious artwork at home, I almost couldn’t take it when my 2nd apartment in college was what I call a “Relief Society House.” There was nothing in there that wasn’t religious…except my Edward Scissorhands and Beatles posters. Such a heathen 😀
      (Luckily, it was only for the summer.)

    • Amelia says:

      Ha! Now I’m tempted to go to the MacNaughton gallery just to see the (in)famous paintings. Though I’d lose the mouse-hover feature I can use on his web page.

  18. Janna says:

    Generally, I am not a fan of overt religious works of art. Although, I have a small print of this: http://rembrandt.louvre.fr/en/html/r24.html.

    I don’t think this next thought is necessarily true for Exp II’s audience, but I often think that we overlook non-religious works of art – visual and performance – as not having a deep connection to or representation of God. For example, last year, I saw Marina Abramovic’s “The Artist is Present” at the Museum of Modern Art – one person looking into the eyes of another. For me, the work explored many aspects of being human– connecting, judging, stillness, discipline, limits — all things that religion, and certainly, spiritual living explores. Another contemporary artist, Rirkrit Tiravanija, sets up a small kitchen in a gallery and serves Thai food to patrons as a way of commenting on the loss of connection and sharing between individuals. He makes one dish at a time, exemplifying that value of the one-to-one transfer of parts of the self that “nourish” another person. Or, even Michael Landy’s “Break Down,” in which the artist destroyed all of his possessions (even his car, his deceased father’s coat, etc.) in an enormous “obliteration” machine in order to explore attachment to objects — reminiscent of messages that we have heard over and over again from scripture and leaders of the church. John Adams’ “Nixon in China” opera has moments of transcendence so celestial, when I hear them, all I can think is, “This is God. This is God.”

    My point: we can learn and explore eternal truths in many artistic avenues that are not found at Deseret Book.

  19. EBrown says:

    I have an extensive collection of santos by various New Mexico artists, including Charlie Carillo, Frankie Nazario Lucero, David Nabor Lucero, Marie Romero Cash, Monica Sosaya Halford, et al. I also have several paintings by Janet McKenzie who explores the divine feminine in her work. In addition, I have many paintings of figures, landscapes, and abstractions. I’m also have a small but growing collection of WPA art. I collect Pueblo pottery, North Coast First Peoples art, Baule colon art from Africa, and Yoruba beadwork. This is the tip of the iceberg. I would not put anything on my wall if it did not have some artistic merit. When I see that Del Parson painting in family members homes and the proclamation on the family hanging on the wall I just shake my head. One of those homes houses an architect but I would never hire him because of what I consider questionable taste. Washington praying in the snow? People!

  20. I answered “other.” We have exactly zero pieces of Deseret Book “art” in our house. A lot of what hangs on our walls was given to us by my father-in-law, who is a well-traveled gay architect with good taste. 🙂 It includes textiles from around the world; an aboriginal sand painting from Australia; an original oil by my husband’s uncle, a retired chemistry professor; a painting of Ganesha from Nepal; paintings of horses on wood panels from Mongolia; a folk art wooden bas-relief of a Brazilian favela; watercolors purchased on the street in Milan; original oils by Maine painter Henry Isaacs; a large batik from E Africa; a framed embroidered pillowcase done by a dead relative as a wedding present for my inlaws; and an architectural drawing of Hammam Sousse, Tunisia, that he did while a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s. He has also given us some small sculptures and other pieces of 3D art. We also have a set of Lane Twitchell prints, a large oil painting of a stylized chair by a former neighbor, several works by my friend Aimee Erickson (a set of abstract encaustics and a set of small oils of electric insulators), b/w photos of our family, framed photos by other family and friends, other textiles, including a large piece of Marimekko fabric (Koivo) I expropriated from my mother’s fabric collection, several works by our children, and a few other small oils we’ve picked up along the way. None of it was very expensive (well, except for the Twitchell prints), but it is colorful and full of personality. (I get the sense I’m older and more established than many of you, as well as very lucky in the inlaw department. 🙂 )

    • Oh, plus how could I forget the Sri Lankan carved and painted wooden masks!? We have two of those, also from my father-in-law, one of them very visible as you first enter our house.

  21. Stella says:

    I bought prints from museums around the world that I framed and decorated with. Now, even those are out of my style. I tend to seek after original art and have a painting that is about 1,700 that I am saving up for and feel it is worth it.

    I had a picture of the temple in my bedroom, a small 5×7, when I was growing up because it was the prettiest thing I could stand that was religious. I haven’t felt any associations with any photos of Jesus, ever. And I think it’s my upbringing, but when I walk into my sister’s house and see ALL the religious art AND the words everywhere in decals “Live, Laugh, Love” “Remember” “Families Are Forever” –I feel like I’m being bombarded. I dislike it. But to each her own.

    • alex w. says:

      Re: “Live, Laugh, Love” decals, et al:
      I thought they were cute-ish the first time, but now I feel like I’m walking into the same house/living room each time I see one. It’s weird how common they are. Like microwaves.

    • Sijbrich says:

      Huh. I felt the same when I first saw them. They seemed kind of neat. I went to a party a friend had to sell those and we all made a free little block that said “Simplify” but it was soon after put in the donation bag as I chose to “Simplify” and get rid of excess clutter on my shelves and I realized I didn’t like it that much. I often see those decals in other homes and after I start seeing the same thing in two or three people’s homes I usually get sick of it and decide to never copy that idea for lack of originality. I don’t understand why some people like to have the same decorations as everyone else.

      • alex w. says:

        They seem to be very common bridal shower/wedding gifts.

        Oh goodness. I’m getting married this summer. What if I get stuff like this?

      • Sijbrich says:

        Don’t be afraid to start a box to be donated to DI as you open your wedding gifts.;-)

      • We got a very large framed picture of the temple as a wedding gift. It was not to our taste, so we took it back to the distribution center in Salt Lake, and they gave us CASH! So I’d try that before DI. 🙂 (NB: it was 15 years ago, so I guess policies may have changed.)

  22. Violet says:

    This is a very timely post. Since I am trying to transition my home from some of the more traditional mormon wall hangings such as the Family Proclamation and the Living Christ. I just ordered two weeks ago some vintage prints of historical women Alice Paul, Ines Millholland and Annie Oakley. I would love to get more. I plan to frame them and put them somewhere in my house, not sure where yet.

  23. Sijbrich says:

    I really enjoyed this post, too, and it made me reflect on the artwork that I have in my home. I love what I have hanging on my walls and it’s a joke my husband and I have that I need to stay away from Aaron Brothers store because I love buying frames and hanging up artwork that I have accumulated over the years and through my travels. I didn’t consider them religious before, but now I realize that the old photograph that I have of the Dome of the Rock from the 1940s, a photo I took of the Big Buddha statue in Hong Kong, and the Buddha and Chinese goddess statues that I have from my mother-in-law on display in our kitchen would surely be considered religious art. In terms of Mormon art, my husband had displayed (before we even knew each other) a framed 5×7 postcard of Christ above our front door. It’s still there. I like that it’s small, in an obscure place, but every once in a while I’ll glance at it. I also have a black and white photograph that I took of the Boise temple spires against a very clear sky that I like for artistic reasons. We had the Proclamation to the Family printed on vellium over our engagement photo that the stake presidency gave us when we got married. I was never a huge fan of it. I don’t get hanging that up. The writing is small and it’s long. I never stopped to read it, and there are perhaps little things in it that I don’t fully agree with, so it was recently replaced with the MormonAd “It’s Nice to be Important, but More Important to be Nice” (but it’s in Spanish – Es Bueno ser Importante, Pero mas Importante Ser Bueno) that has a painting of Christ and a Child that I have loved since I was little. I have better feelings when I look at that than I ever did when looking at the Proclamation to the Family and I feel like it is a true reminder to me of what I should be focusing on with my family members. The rest of our artwork, including our toddler’s bedroom is either original (adorable pastels of birds my husband did as a child), or artwork from our travels (old photographs, a clock from Italy, papercuts from China and Singapore, pottery from Peru, etc., etc.). I love it. It reminds me of how amazing and fulfilling my life has been thus far. A few family photos on the mantel, too.

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