The Interview: In this episode of the LDS Perspectives Podcast, Laura Harris Hales interviews Jennifer Champoux, an art history scholar, about how biblical women are depicted in the art of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Portrayals of biblical women are scarce among images that are endorsed by the LDS Church. Those women who are depicted are frequently shown as simplified, didactic figures, and they are typically divided into two groups: wise or foolish. This dichotomy is apparent in the symbolism and formal elements of many LDS paintings of both the parable of the ten virgins and of Mary and Martha, which are the only images in which we see groups of women.
Champoux takes us through an examination of LDS depictions of Mary and Martha, revealing that they generally rely on earlier Christian visual and textual interpretations that privilege Mary and show her as quiet and passive. Most LDS images do not offer alternative interpretations of the story, although Church leaders have offered various readings.
Champoux also explains how Minerva Teichert’s painting, Jesus at the Home of Mary and Martha, offers an intriguing counterpoint to other LDS images of this scene. Teichert’s style and symbolism leave the meaning open for interpretation by the viewer, and she incorporates distinctive LDS ideas about agency, personal study, the balance between faith and works, and the primacy of scripture.
This study of Mary and Martha images reveals larger patterns and tensions found in LDS visual culture, such as the scarcity of images of biblical women, the presumed accuracy of images endorsed by the Church, and the way Church members incorporate visual imagery into their religious experience.
Jennifer Champoux’s article, “Wise or Foolish: Women in Mormon Biblical Narrative Art,” was published in BYU Studies Quarterly 57, no. 2 (2018): 71–93.
About Our Guest: Jennifer Champoux is a lecturer in art history at Northeastern University, and also previously taught art history courses as adjunct faculty at Emerson College, Emmanuel College, and Colorado Community Colleges Online. She earned a BA in international politics from Brigham Young University and a MA in art history from Boston University. She currently serves as vice president of Mormon Scholars in the Humanities. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband and three children.
This podcast is cross-posted with permission of LDS Perspectives Podcast.
I never had much regard for movie and music critics. Their wordplay nearly always missed the import or meaning of what they observed. Their mouthings were designed to elevate themselves as sophisticates.
Here, Laura showcases a liberal–a feminist, who is an art critic, who of course lobs her intellectual grenades at Church output. Are there scriptural Joan of Arc’s that our Latter-day Saint fine artist men and women have outragously snubbed? Champoux will show us that there are. And if women are depicted as meditative or contemplative, they are not–they are rather benign flowerpots on canvas. And why no pieces showing Abigail? Art, goes the adage, is so much in the eye of the beholder. But Jennifer will show us the way our eyes are supposed to behold, just like Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert did. See it through the eyes of a liberal. Through the eyes of a feminist.
This was an outstanding episode; extremely interesting and informative.