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Why BYU professor Anthony Sweat paints little-seen moments from Church history and what he wishes people better understood about them

by | Nov. 25, 2020

Makes You Think

Anthony Sweat isn’t just a BYU religion professor and an author; he is also a talented artist. We recently sat down to ask him about his latest book, his faith, his family, and his love of painting unique Church history events.

Many people know you first for your speaking or writing, but you also paint. How did you first get in to painting?

I loved drawing for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I honed my skills with countless Michael Jordan drawings and portraits of random speakers in sacrament meetings. I got more serious in high school and took advanced classes, and then made it my college major and was accepted to the University of Utah’s fine art program, completing my bachelor’s degree in painting and drawing. Although God led me in a different direction to become a religion professor, my original career plans were to be a full-time studio artist.

Where do you go to find ideas for your writing and art?

I look for gaps. Whether in my writing or in my art, I ask myself what holes need to be filled that I am passionate about and may have something useful to say about that hasn’t been said? That drives my creative expressions in word and in paint.

Do you have a favorite piece of art from your newest book, Repicturing the Restoration?

That’s like asking parents about favorite children. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and it depends on the day (just like kids!). But, to avoid an altogether lame and general answer, I am proud of the "Relief Society Healing" image and also the "Ordination of Q. Walker Lewis." They both approach subjects that have been visually avoided or overlooked, yet have something important to say, especially today.

What is one thing you wish people understood better about Church history?

Oh man, so much. But one point in particular is crucial: Church history need not be squeaky clean. Church history is full of mortals, and no mortal (individually or as a group) are either perfectly good or perfectly bad, flawless heroes or devilish villains. Saints—past and present—are each full of reds and yellows, blues and greens, purples and oranges, with all the symbolic aspects those colors convey. We have highlights and also shadows. If we don’t acknowledge the shadows, we can’t see the shape in three dimensions. If we don’t look at the entire color wheel, things are monochromatic and dull. Church history in its reality is full and rich; and it’s in seeing all those elements that we see God working with everyday people like you and me to create the divine masterpiece painting of the Restoration.

What is your favorite medium or style to paint in?

 I typically paint in oil paint. Oils offer a richness, texture, and workability that is just hard to find in other mediums like acrylics or watercolors. In terms of style, it depends. I am overtly representational in my art, but I have impressionist and abstract leanings. Sometimes not making things photo-realistic is better. It tells a viewer, “This is a painting. Interpret it.” My "Divers Angels" or "Chamber of Father Whitmer "paintings are a good example of this. But I think style is overrated. What I care about is communication. What communicates best what I want to say, and to a viewer? Then the medium and style become means to an end, not the end themselves.

► You may also like: The story behind the first baptism for the dead in this dispensation is one you may have never heard

What hobbies do you have outside of writing and painting?

Hand modeling. That was career option #3. Kidding. As a creative person, I love to build and make things. I can’t play any instruments, but I love music, and I sing along to songs like it’s nobody’s business as I work or drive. And I really do like to bike, swim, run, hike, etc. It’s good for my mind and spirit.

What is your favorite part of being a father?

Helping my kids grow into their own. My wife and I aren’t raising kids, we’re raising adults. We’re not raising a family, but future families. Eternal ones at that. So, learn to make your own lunch (you’ve got hands!), it’s your homework and grades (not mine!), and develop your own relationship with God. I’ll help, guide, encourage, and love you along the way, but it’s your way. (Sound like I’ve given that speech before?) Watching your kids find their way and grow in capacity and experience is awesome. It may be what brings the greatest joy, and sorrow, to our Heavenly Parents also.

What is one thing on your bucket list?

I don’t do bucket lists. I am a driven and goal-oriented person, for sure, but I’ve learned that greater joy, peace, and opportunity come in my life if I don’t try to force the joy, peace, and opportunity by trying to say it is dependent on certain activities or circumstances that must happen in my life in order for me to be happy. So, no bucket list here. I’m just trying to follow the Spirit as God directs me, and that has led me down paths no bucket list could have planned.

The year 2020 marks 200 years since the First Vision. What does the Restoration mean to you? 

God made clear two messages in the First Vision: 1) The nature of God and his Plan had become corrupted by man-made doctrines 2)The covenants and ordinances of exaltation, and the power to perform them, had become lost. Those two central themes dominated the rest of Joseph’s life, and they do mine also. The Restoration helps me better comprehend God (and therefore myself and His children), gives deep meaning and understanding to life and gives me power and purpose through covenants. It means everything to me.


Check out Anthony's newest book of art and Church history, Repicturing the Restoration: New Art to Expand Our Understanding, at Deseret Book stores or on deseretbook.com.

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