Janalee Emmer, Associate Director of Exhibitions and Programming of the Museum of Art, delivered Tuesday’s devotional address.
In her career as an art historian and museum professional, Emmer has learned secular and spiritual lessons from the art she has studied.
Emmer started by quoting Rosa Bonheur, a female painter in the nineteenth century: “My whole life has been devoted to improving my work and keeping alive the Creator’s spark in my soul. Each of us has a spark, and we’ve all got to account for what we do.”
While Bonheur used her spark to open doors for women who would follow her, Emmer asked what we are doing to keep the Creator’s spark alive in our souls and develop our divine gifts.
“The truth is that this search for your place, for excellence and for your particular aptitudes will be a lifelong pursuit,” she said. “While not all of us are artists, all of us need both creativity and inspiration to find our way. I believe that the arts and the gospel can guide us as we go, providing fresh perspectives, new ways of looking and much needed reassurance.”
Emmer pointed to the book "Night" by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel as a formative piece of art that influenced her faith in God. Upon his arrival to Auschwitz, he and his father were separated from the rest of his family, and he witnessed firsthand the horrors of the Holocaust. The horrific circumstances Wiesel lived through affect how he describes his faith and relationship with God in his narrative.
“Faith that is tested, wounded, but here, is a powerful, transformative kind of faith,” Emmer said. “That kind of faith recognizes that because we look through a glass darkly, we will still have questions. It is a faith that has battle scars but also enduring resonance.”
Artists like Wiesel teach us about experiences we could not have on our own. Emmer referenced Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial as an example of pain and loss that looked different from previous war memorials. Emmer stated that digging deeper into different types of art can help us learn and empathize with others.
“In art as in life, things that are outside your experience and from a different culture, religion, race or century may initially seem strange, confusing or even uninteresting to you,” she said. “You might be inclined to reject these alternate and unfamiliar views of the world. If you approach these experiences with an open mind, in a spirit of learning, you may be surprised at all you can learn.”
Emmer pointed out that some artists feature the ugliness and harsh truths of the world while others highlight its magnificent beauty. This vast scope of the human experience represented in art allows us to grow.
“The key is to not become myopic and see only what is right in front of you, just the beautiful or only the terrible, and draw narrow and often incorrect conclusions,” she said. “It is a mark of spiritual maturity to be able to hold both of those truths in your heart at the same time.”
Emmer emphasized that through her study of art and the gospel, she has been able to transform her thinking, cultivate her empathy for others and comfort her soul.
“Consider your interests and find a way to pursue them,” she said. “The joy that this creativity generates is part of the outcome, but there is also a transformative power that that happens as we create; we learn in small but meaningful increments about the creative process and becoming more like our Creator.”
Mark L. Pace, Sunday School General President, will deliver the devotional address on March 16 at 11:05 a.m.
Brother Pace's remarks will be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org (and archived for on-demand streaming), KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM, BYUradio 107.9 FM, and SiriusXM 143.