Illustration professor encourages growth through preparation, experience

Savannah Hopkinson
Robert Barrett, a professor of illustration, speaks at the BYU devotional on May 8, 2018 in the De Jong Concert Hall.

Robert Barrett, a professor of illustration in the Department of Design, discussed how creativity and the LDS Church overlap during his devotional at BYU on May 8.

Barrett drew from the lives of artists and historical LDS figures to show how courage and motivation to endure hard things leads to great achievement.

From Michelangelo to Norman Rockwell and from Oliver Cowdery to Elder Richard G. Scott, all of Barrett’s heroes overcame odds and underwent personal struggles to become the men and women of talent and honor they grew up to be known for.

Barrett noted that preparation is paramount in the pursuit of achievement. Artists prepare sketches, tonal studies and color comprehensives prior to beginning their masterpieces, just like dress rehearsals in music, theatre and dance are an integral part of preparing for public performance.

“If ye are prepared ye shall not fear,” Barrett quoted from Doctrine and Covenants 38:30. “Or as President Monson often remarked, ‘When the time for performance arrives, the time for preparation is past.'”

The Lord can sanctify efforts of scholars and creators, Barrett said, but it requires a diligent search for learning.

He told stories of young “artist missionaries” who ventured from Utah to Paris to study at the Acadamie Julian. They had studied their whole lives as artists and dedicated many years of prayer to pleading for the opportunity for training that would enable them to be instruments in the Lord’s hands.

The preparation and prayers by these missionaries were not in vain; upon returning from their training in Paris, these artists created murals for the Salt Lake City, Cardston Alberta and Mesa Arizona temples.

“The art missionaries came to understand through their diligent search for learning that it took a great deal of energy and time to acquire the skill and knowledge they sought,” Barrett said. “Sacrifice and patience became important components in their quest for learning.”

Barrett also highlighted that, no matter how much time students devote to books, true learning comes through experience. He quoted the author David McCullough as saying, “You can’t learn to play the piano without playing the piano; you can’t learn to write without writing, and, in many ways, you can’t learn to think without thinking.”

Understanding the gospel is a very similar situation, Barrett said.

“We will only receive a testimony of tithing by paying our tithing. We will only know the Book of Mormon is true after reading it and praying about it. We will only know if the course we are pursuing is correct by first choosing it and then asking God if we are on the right course,” Barrett said.

But this principle of learning by doing often requires individuals to stretch beyond their current abilities. For Barrett, obtaining a master’s degree meant not only to create art, but eventually meant learning to research and understand art criticism, interpretation and concept. As a result of this pursuit, Barrett’s experiences were projected into his artistic work, and it became more personal and symbolic.

“I routinely tell my students that if they want to progress rapidly… they must be willing to leave their ‘comfort zones’ and work on the edge of their capabilities,” Barrett said. “They must be willing to take risks, fail and try again.”

Luckily, he added, in mortality there is more than one opportunity to grow and achieve.

The next devotional will be held May 15 by Brianna Magnusson, a professor of public health.

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