Ben Crowder was asked to create a piece showing how Heavenly Mother has helped shape our souls from before earth life. This piece (and 22 others from various artists) will appear in the upcoming book The Girl’s Guide to Heavenly Mother, launching spring 2020. The book is currently available for pre-order from D Street Press. McArthur Krishna, one of the authors of the book, interviewed Ben about his artistic journey. Read below to hear his thoughts on Heavenly Mother with both deep reverence and a touch of humor.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve been making art all my life, though I didn’t really get into it until about ten years ago. I work digitally most of the time and painted almost all of my recent pieces on my phone. (Portability is a wonderful thing.) And my art is fairly minimalist, I think.
Outside of art, I love books and ice cream and being at home with my wife and children — but not in that order. By day I’m a software engineer at the BYU library. I founded the Mormon Artist magazine and the Mormon Texts Project and have published a number of editions of the Book of Mormon — a study edition with wide margins, a re-paragraphed reader’s edition, etc.
I liked your art because of the sophistication of paring down to the essence. How did you come to this?
In 2010 I wanted to do a First Vision triptych, using the sequence of panels to indicate the passage of time. Joseph’s experience can be split into three distinct parts: first praying, then darkness and the feeling of imminent destruction, and finally brightness and glory.
At the time, I felt my ability to draw humans was insufficient to portray Heavenly Father and Christ in a way anyone would be happy with, so I went with abstract circles instead.
Since then, my art has largely been an exploration of gospel themes using minimal shapes, trying as you say to pare principles and stories down to their essence. Looking at it from a slightly different angle, I also enjoy taking simple shapes and imbuing them with a variety of religious symbolism.
What inspired you to create artwork about Heavenly Mother?
Our family relationships, both earthly and heavenly, are at the center of what it means to be human, I believe. We often mess it up, but our mortal failures don’t in my mind detract from the holy, glorious potential of these relationships done right.
To that end, our relationship with our heavenly parents is something I’ve long wanted to explore in my art. In particular, the knowledge that I have a Mother there — it’s powerful. I want to convey that in my art, that feeling of Her love and nurture, which seems especially important for those who don’t know their earthly mother or don’t have all that great of a relationship with her. I think Heavenly Mother can, in some ways, fill in that gap.
[SIDENOTE: Spencer W. Kimball was one of the prophets who spoke of Heavenly Mother most often. His own mother died when he was eleven years old.]
What is the significance and story behind this piece for the The Girls Guide to Heavenly Mother book?
I wanted to make a piece that imagines our premortal relationship with Heavenly Mother in preparation for Earth life.
I chose to portray us as smaller in size, to at least metaphorically show that we’re Her children. (Is size an attribute that even makes sense when talking about premortal spirits?) With the blue background I wanted to hint at our future, being sent down to Earth.
And with Heavenly Mother’s posture, leaning in, I tried to convey some of Her love and nurturing. That said, with a circle and a triangle there’s only so much you can do — the viewer has to bring something to the piece too in order to really make it resonate.
How has the process of creating artwork about Heavenly Mother brought you closer to Her? What has it taught you about Her?
Thinking of Her and my relationship to Her and other people’s relationship with Her in the premortal existence has certainly helped me feel more of Her nurturing love. Also, in reading through the manuscript I’ve seen different angles, different ways of thinking about Her that I hadn’t really considered before.
I’ve felt more grateful for Her and Her contributions to the plan of salvation. This process has further deepened my desire to meet Her someday…but not too soon.
What advice would you give to those who want to connect with their Heavenly Mother on a deeper level?
Talk to Heavenly Father about Her in prayer. They’re probably often in the same room, and it seems conceivable that She’s listening in at least some of the time. (Whether prayer is actually like a speakerphone, I don’t know.)
If you were to sit down and have a face-to-face conversation with Heavenly Mother, what would you talk about or ask?
Do I get to go back to the rest of my life after the conversation, or is this in the next life after it’s all over? Because that dramatically changes what I talk to Her about!
Either way, I think I would ask her to tell me about Her involvement in human history, and I’d ask what advice She has for me in my relationship with my wife through eternity.
I’m glad to see more discussion about Heavenly Mother. Everything obviously needs to be kept within respectful bounds, following what the prophets have taught, but within those bounds I’m all for learning whatever we can about Her.