Richard Dutcher Hates Mediocre Art

Walking into Christian bookstores sometimes makes me want to puke. What we’ve decided to settle for makes me sick.

As a Christian artist one of the things that frustrates me the most about the Christian culture is the acceptance of mediocre art. More often than not Christians accept bad art just because there’s a Bible verse attached to it. What it says is that people are more interested in propoganda than beauty. Quality artwork expresses both beauty (perhaps “craft” is a better word) and truth. Sometimes a piece of art will more strongly represent one of these than the other. But it seems that to enter into our Christian ghetto the most important feature of art is that it express only things which are safe and uncontroversial. Such a representation is not only a false view of life, its a false view of Christianity and the Bible.

I have never seen any of Richard Dutcher’s films. I have no idea if what he produces has any quality. But he wrote an editorial which I think is powerful and accurate for many reasons. He wrote it to the Mormon media community, but I think what he has to say has a larger audeince than just Latter Day Saints.

Dutcher says:
In my experience, those who wave the flag of “family films” are usually those who have discovered that they lack anything valuable to say, the talent to say it, and the ability to compete in the marketplace. They are looking for a popular cause to compensate for (and to excuse) their lack of ability.

Concentrate on the presence of positives in your films, not merely the absence of negatives. Focus more on the presence of good acting, writing and cinematography and less on the absence of profanity, women’s breasts and gunfights. Passionately adhere to the guideline that it is better to tell an R-rated truth than a G-rated lie.

Stop trying to make movies that you think the General Authorities would like. General Authorities buy very few movie tickets. Make films that the rest of the human family will enjoy. Stop being afraid that if you put something “edgy” in your films then maybe you won’t get any important callings. Who cares? Someone else can be in the bishopric or the Relief Society presidency, but no one else can make those films, those very personal films, that only you can make.

At the end of his article Mr. Dutcher makes it sound like he is leaving the LDS community. This makes me sad. I think someone with his perspective is desperately needed to communicate Mormon stories and values. I hope more like him arise in the Evangelical world.


8 thoughts on “Richard Dutcher Hates Mediocre Art

  1. I appreciate that you are starting to have this type of dialog about truth, beauty. I especially like the quote “stop being afraid that if you put something “edgy” in your film then maybe you won’t get any important callings.” and the “Passionately adhere to the guideline that is is better to tell an R-rated truth than a G-rated lie.” and “Concentrate on the presence of positives in your films, not merely the absence of negatives”. I also truly appreciate, the section about good acting writing and cinematopgraphy as well. It is very important that the quality of our creative work shines through and then truth can be seen. I personally hold to a relationship based belief in Jesus Christ from a Judeao Christian viewpoint. I pray that your search for truth & beauty will be fufilled. regards –

  2. Holy crap, Amen!

    There is so much mediocre schmaltz: art, music, poetry, fiction, film, all supposedly justified by it’s positive message.

    The idea (at least to the consumer) I think is that the message (Jesus or whatever it happens to be) makes up for the poor art. Not so!

    First, there is absolutely no reason why you can’t have great art be not only positive but overtly religious. In fact, a huge slice of Western Civilization’s great art throughout the centuries has been religious. Open up an art textbok and you’ll immediately see what I’m talking about.

    The message does not vindicate or excuse the medium. In fact, it is the opposite: the more important the message, in my opinion, the more it demands to be presented in the finest medium possible. Christian art, if it is indeed depicting the most important thin in the world, should also be the best art in the world.

    Instead, “Christian” and “family-oriented” art have built a ghetto market for themselves where moral standards may be high but artistic standards are tragically low.

    Walk into an LDS bookstore and you’ll see it. Watch “Mormon Movies” critically and for the most part, you’ll see it.

    There are exceptions. Some Christian pop (I think of Jars of Clay’s first album) is absolutely objectively fantastic. Some Mormon Movies (God’s Army, for example) have been really good film.

  3. I think the root cause of this is the worst kind of hypocrisy.

    Using the religeous culture to make a buck. It isn’t to inspire, uplift or teach truths. It is to become money changers of the culture.

    It can be kind of creepy. People identify more and more with the chachkys (sp) and cultural extras that they don’t even recognize the actual doctrine.

    It is some of the bad fruit that is going to get the wild branches hewn down.

    I know that may be a little heavier than you wanted to get, but it can really get to turning my stomach when I dwell on it. My wife doesn’t even like going into Christian bookstores, includeing LDS stores, for exactly this reason. Very sad.

  4. No, I think you are right about that.

    When I see those “Testa-Mints” sitting on the cashier counter I want to overturn some temple tables. It’s nothing more than selling faith.

  5. It’s not always commercial.

    There’s a much-loved and incessantly-quoted poem in LDS culture called “the touch of the master’s hand.” here’s a link:

    This poem has a sweet Christian message, but the fact is, artistically speaking it is total crap. It is not good poetry, by any legitimate rubric. examined critically, it is pure sentimental tripe.

    But it is quoted again and again, always used to bring tears ot everyone’s eyes in a Sunday sChool lesson or whatever. Myra Welch certainly wasn’t marketing a commercial product when she wrote it; she was just writing a schmaltzy poem. People write schmaltzy poems all the time. there’s nothing inherently wrong with it.

    You know what, it’s even okay to like schmaltzy poems. I mean, I like comic books and the Spice Girls, so who am I to judge?

    But the message doesn’t vindicate the medium. The Master’s Hand is not made into a good poem, no matter how powerful the message. In fact, in my mind the message is actually diluted by the crappy medium. A more excellent poem would enhance the message a hundredfold.

    But try telling Mormons that you think the poem is crap, and you’ll get a lot of message-absolves-the-medium talk. And also, people will think you’re a bad person because obviously you can’t feel the spirit through this beautiful poem. Even if the poem is bad, if you had the right attitude, you’d feel the spirit in it, blah blah blah hang me.

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