aesthetics makes you more alive, according to Matthew Geddes, the dean of the College of Performing and Visual Arts at Brigham Young University–Idaho. “What it means to be in an aesthetic environment becomes more clear when you consider the opposite of aesthetic—anesthetic,” he says. “When something is anesthetic, it deadens you, it numbs you, it makes you less alive, less able to feel. Whereas something that is aesthetic enlivens and makes you more able to feel. That’s the kind of environment we continue to foster at BYU–Idaho.”
Geddes recently shared these thoughts as I spoke with him and Gerald Griffin of the art department about indoor and outdoor beautification as a fund-raising priority at BYU–Idaho. They said the priority actually came from the desire to create an appropriate aesthetic environment on campus.
A few years ago Geddes and Griffin approached the administration with a proposal to acquire various pieces of artwork to place in some of the buildings. Shortly after the initial approval for a relatively modest beautification budget, President Gordon B. Hinckley made the historic announcement regarding the transition of Ricks College to a four-year institution. As new buildings were subsequently announced, and because artwork is not included in building budgets, the need for an increase in the goal for beautification quickly grew.
What place, besides our homes and temples, has a greater need for soul-stimulating surroundings than a university? The whole purpose of a university is to be a place of holistic growth. Impressionable minds and—particularly at Church-affiliated institutions—spirits are to be stretched there.
appropriate surroundings have a positive affect
There are some who say they care little about what is around them or that they don’t need art. “But everybody cares about their environment,” contends Griffin. “Everybody picks out curtains and paint and carpet and has a yard that’s landscaped. And given the choice, they would rather have it be beautiful than have it be ugly.”
Geddes says, “We make a very conscientious and concerted effort to purchase artwork that many people will find interesting and beautiful and fulfilling. We don’t buy or accept gifts of art that confuse or intimidate people; we do our best to purchase things that will just delight people—that they’ll respond to immediately and enjoy—art that is approachable.”
Along with classroom buildings at BYU–Idaho being comfortable and admirable settings, they have two main purposes. They are laboratories for learning and are often places of worship. “As much as possible,” says Geddes, “we hope people become sensitized to what we add to the campus, that their sensitivities are heightened, that their awareness is greater.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell has said, “The greater our sensitivity to the Spirit, the greater our response to beauty, grace, and truth in all their forms as these exist about us. Our righteousness opens us up like a blossoming flower to both detail and immensity” (New Era, August 1982, pp. 4-7).
I think part of the administration’s goal is to achieve something in line with that of the carefully landscaped, designed, and decorated chapels and temples. Actually, President David A. Bednar refers to BYU–Idaho as a “temple of learning” and compares the university to temples in several ways. Indeed, just entering these beautiful buildings and grounds can help us rise to a higher sense of being.
beauty in our lives
Back when I was a student at BYU–Idaho (then Ricks College), I would take breaks from my studies on the third floor of the David O. McKay Library, and walk to a drinking fountain nearby. There hanging on the wall was a particular painting of an ocean view through the window of a beach house. It was a welcomed respite from the homework back in my study carrel and the frigid winter outside.
Since returning to campus as an employee, I have sought out and found my old painting, and now I have several additional favorites. I have discovered paintings and sculptures and even specific locations in buildings that can bring me peace, a smile, and a sense of something greater. You probably have your own special memories of somewhere here on campus or elsewhere.
I recently ran across the following “creed” written by J. Leo Fairbanks, a sculptor, painter, mentor, and oldest brother of the sculptor Avard Fairbanks:
Art is for service; for making things
beautiful as well as useful;
for lifting men above the sordid things
that grind and depress;
to give a joyous optimism in one’s work;
to realize, during one’s leisure, the ideals
that have been contemplated in one’s
most precious moments;
to take pleasure in seeing beauty as it exists
in what man has made as well as in one’s
to see all the ideal in the real;
and to realize transitory hopes in enduring
To me, the purpose of art is to visualize ideals,
to realize ideals, and to idealize realities.
— Cited in A Sculptor’s Testimony in Bronze and Stone,
Eugene F. Fairbanks, p. 9
Students need art and beauty around them to provide places of reflection and revitalization, places to pause and be mentally and emotionally stimulated.
A dual affect of artistic beauty comes when the object of their attention is applicable to their area of study. Geddes says, “One of the other things that we try to do, in addition to having things that make the buildings more aesthetic, is also to find pieces that have an educational aspect to them. A lot of what we acquire has some relevance to the function of a specific building.”
For example, Geddes and Griffin were recently trying to find something artistic to hang in the Mark Austin Technical and Engineering Building. They were able to locate some intriguing historical blueprints, century-old building concept illustrations, and copper-plated engravings. “Besides being very beautiful pieces,” says Geddes, “they’ll be of particular interest to the students who have classes in that building.”
As part of the broad university experience, students should also have the opportunity to gain cultural knowledge, including art periods and movements. When they graduate and spread across the world, they will take with them at least some ancillary knowledge and firsthand exposure to the arts that will bless their lives, as well as the lives of their families and others.
Classes like Introduction to Humanities, which fulfills a general education requirement, often have assignments for students to report on the artwork they see around campus. In these cases, carefully placed pieces of art serve a direct educational purpose. “In fact, we purchase things that students will see in their textbooks. And doing so creates a direct educational experience—it’s explicit as well as implicit in those cases,” says Geddes.
The most recent additions to the art collection at BYU–Idaho are now among some of my personal favorites. Just two months ago I joined Geddes and Griffin as they returned from Salt Lake City with two bronze sculptures by Avard Fairbanks and two 7 x 10 paintings by Theodore Gorka.
The sculptures, Tragedy at Winter Quarters and Youth and New Frontiers, are companion pieces commissioned by the Church and exhibited in the Hall of Religion at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934.
The paintings, one of Joseph Smith teaching a small group of people and its companion piece of Emma administering to the sick, have both been used on the cover of the Ensign.
These and other pieces of art were provided by the Museum of Church History and Art as a result of the close friendship between the university and the museum. This relationship began, according to Geddes and Griffin, after they first started acquiring artwork for the school.
Griffin says, “The ‘seed money’ we received from friends of BYU–Idaho for this beautification program has now gone far beyond what we initially hoped. After we were given the money that had been donated, we contacted the Church Museum to see about purchasing some items. Since then, we have shared the costs on a few projects. We see our relationship as mutually beneficial as we help each other with our respective challenges—theirs is one of little storage space, while we have plenty of space and not enough to fill that space.”
“With regard to those [Gorka] paintings, here we had this huge wall in the religion and humanities building, divided by a pillar, and no idea what we would hang there,” adds Geddes. “We needed two pieces that had to be big enough to look appropriate in that space, and they had to compliment one another. And there they were at the museum. To cap it off, the museum is thrilled to have given them a good home.”
While the university’s Church-appropriated budget does not include funds to purchase such remarkable items, the money made possible by many charitable individuals has made beautiful acquisitions, like those mentioned above, possible.
contributions accelerate what we can do
The contributions to indoor and outdoor beautification do even more than provide a means for art acquisition; they help enhance and accelerate building or structural projects that have been planned and approved by the Board of Trustees.
David G. Richards, assistant to the president for Development and Alumni Relations, has been with BYU–Idaho for over 25 years. Just one of many projects he has assisted in over the last several years is the development of the area between the Hyrum Manwaring Student Center and the John Taylor Building.
He worked with a few generous individuals who provided significant funding for elevating the space, terracing it with attractive rockery, surfacing the expanse with brick pavers, and landscaping some of the surroundings. While this new quad has already become a gathering place for students, it will be further developed with donated funds and will include a significant focal piece.
The towering silver-toned pipe organ in the chapel of the Taylor Building and the renowned Ruffatti organ in the Barrus Concert Hall are just two more examples of caring people providing the means for significant enhancements. In many cases, these people had been to campus, had seen the potential of improving upon something either existing or in the works, and acted on a desire to beautify.
In addition to his work with philanthropists of all ages and giving abilities, Richards has a passion for building construction and loves seeing the remarkable campus evolve. He says, “It’s exciting for me to see friends of BYU–Idaho helping add a little something to enhance the campus and make it just that much of a better place for our students.”
In my view, enhancing the physical facilities through art or otherwise actually fulfills a small portion of what John Taylor foresaw when he said, “We believe that we shall rear splendid edifices, magnificent temples and beautiful cities that shall become the pride, praise, and glory of the whole earth. We believe that this people will excel in literature, in science and the arts, and in manufactures” (Remarks made in the Bowery, Great Salt Lake City, April 6, 1863. Reported by G.D. Watt).
more opportunities to beautify
One wonderful aspect of supporting indoor and outdoor beautification is that everything done to enhance the physical environment of campus is a visible change. All anyone needs to do is set foot on campus or even visit www.byui.edu in some cases, to see the changes those who have contributed have helped create. Griffin simply states, “Artwork on our campus is tangible evidence of somebody’s contribution.”
Geddes, Griffin, and the administration know the money they are able to use for these purposes does not just materialize. “We know that it comes from contributions and by sacrifice,” Griffin says. “That’s why, when we go out and purchase works of art, we try to respect the value the artist or art dealer has placed on a particular piece, but we also drive a pretty hard bargain.”
Something currently in the works is an informational and pictorial portfolio of ideas and desirable pieces of artwork. It will be kept at the Development Office for guests and friends of the university to look through. “It will include some research on the pieces, what they are, what they cost, what their value is, and what places on campus might be best served in displaying them,” says Geddes.
“Then when someone comes along interested in the arts,” Geddes continues, “they can select something we would love to have on campus, and at the same time strikes them as particularly beautiful. It wll be a springboard for those who want to be part of beautifying the school.”
But this opportunity to beautify campus is not just for those who can fully fund the purchase of a valuable work of art. Anyone can give and know he or she has contributed to the ongoing development of a beautiful and inspiring environment. Families or other groups of associates can also join their efforts and gifts and make a bigger impact than they may have thought feasible.
When you contribute, you help enrich the students’ educational experience and provide a better means for them to appreciate God’s and man’s creations. As Elder Maxwell put it, “There is so much to see and so much to celebrate righteously. Indeed, appreciation for the world (and all in it) which God has given us is but a prelude to adoration of the God who has so gloriously displayed His creativity for us. Creativity permits us to see the wondrous order of things, their infinite beauty, their scope, but also their incredible detail. To use the words of Moses, we then see and feel things which we ‘never had supposed’ (Moses 1:10)” (New Era, August 1982, pp. 4-7).
No matter the amount, you can make a difference for students at BYU–Idaho. Contact the Development Office at 800-227-4257 and ask for more information about supporting indoor and outdoor beautification on campus, or visit www.byui.edu/giving.
For showing your support of BYU–Idaho students and for helping provide a way for them to see and feel things they “never had supposed,” the students thank you and we thank you.
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