The sixties beget all kinds of social experiments, and even Mormons were not immune to the call of the bohemian zeitgeist of their times. It may interest you to know that in the late 1960s there was an artists’ commune in the foothills of Alpine, Utah, calling themselves the Art & Belief Movement. Four artists – sculptor Neil Hadlock, figurative artist Dennis Smith, symbolist realist Gary Ernest Smith, and romantic realist Trevor Southey – and their families formed the core of the group. Though as transitory as many hippie communes of the era, this Mormon version is worth a closer look.
Nathan Florence’s documentary-in-progress, “Art+Belief” does just that . Later this week, in the spirit of Mormon culture(s) and the “1960s at 50,” I’ll be introducing Florence’s film at the Mormon History Association meeting in Provo. He’ll screen a generous portion of the film and open it up to Q&A with the producers and several of the artists who will be there as well. Here’s the film’s trailer:
I have lots of questions, and I can’t wait to see a longer section and talk about it with the group. It seems to raise so many fascinating issues. Art plays an interesting role in Mormonism, and artists are both important to Mormon culture and marginalized within it. The formation of a Mormon artists’ commune seems to defy expectation (what could be more foreign and unconventional?), and yet hearkens back to the United Order and other deeply Mormon models of collective enterprise (what could be more natural?). If being an artist is a kind of spiritual calling, as I think each of these artists might argue that it is, how does with work with or against Mormon identity? Neil Hadlock remembers that they clashed with the Church (who bought or commissioned some of their works) over aesthetics and meaning. As he puts it: “what the Church wanted was Illustration. What I wanted was Art, because Illustration answers questions and Art asks questions.”
This session will happen Friday, June 5 at 3:30 pm in Cascade Room D of the Provo Convention Center. Hope to see many of you–and your questions about this important emergent film–there!
 see also Dale Thompson, “Searching for Reconciliation,” 15Bytes: Utah’s Art Magazine, Jan 2013.