A Motley Vision Turns Ten: A Q&A with William Morris

This Month A Motley Vision, the first (and still the best!) Mormon arts and culture blog, turns ten years old. To commemorate the occasion, I sent AMV founder William Morris a few questions about the the blog and how it has evolved over the last decade. 

Here are his answers:

Scott Hales: Take us back ten years. How did A Motley Vision get its start? What motivated you to create the blog?

William Morris: In early 2004 I found out about Times & Seasons from Clark Goble, who I knew from our mutual participation in the Association for Mormon Letters email list. I quickly became a frequent commenter on T&S. It’s funny — I had known about blogs for years because I work in higher ed PR, but it had never occurred to me to look to blogs to discuss Mormonism, especially since I was most interested in Mormon art, and that need was filled by the AML-list.

Later that spring, the the technology behind the AML-list melted down. Apparently, that got sorted out within a couple of weeks, but I never got the news. So I continued to comment on T&S and the other Mormon blogs that were popping up and before long had decided that the bloggernacle needed a Mormon culture blog. I re-found the AML-list before AMV launched, but the limitations of that technology and format were much more clear to me now that I had experienced the bloggernacle so I went ahead with my plans for AMV.

My motivations were twofold: a) I had things I wanted to say and b) I wanted there to be a place in the bloggernacle specifically dedicated to Mormon literature and art.

SH: AMV is a group blog, but it is also your brainchild. How have your interests, personality, and values shaped the voice of the blog?

WM: I think it’s that simple: AMV represents the nexus of my interests, personality and values. It represents the conversation I want to have. And as I recruited co-bloggers, I reached out to the voices that engaged with and seemed to want to talk to me. But I suppose at the center has always been my conviction that culture is important to Mormonism in the 21st century; that Mormon culture needs a radical middle; and that AMV should be a voice for the radical middle. And, of course, that humor should be deployed whenever possible.

SH: How does AMV fit within the broader landscape of the Mormon bloggernacle?

WM: To be honest, it never really has fit all that much within the broader landscape of the bloggernacle. In the early years, AMV would get a bit more participation (and link love) from the big group blogs, and there was more conversation that would take place across blogs. But that was true of all blogging back in the day. Now, I suppose it’s part of the Mormon arts ghetto. Which is just fine with me.

One of the things I’m proud of it that AMV has been a place where both orthodox and liberal Mormons could feel welcome (if not always fully comfortable) and where both AML-types and LDStorymaker-types could sometimes come together and interact. I don’t know that we’re wildly successful at that. But we have had some good across-party-lines conversations over the years.

SH: How has AMV’s audience changed over the years? What do readers and commenters bring to the blog?

WM: The people have changed, as co-bloggers and commenters and readers gain an interest in and have time for Mormon arts culture conversation and then don’t, but AMV has always been a small blog with a core group of commenters and lurkers. I think part of the reason for that steadiness is that the blog has stayed consistent in tone and scope. That has limited the audience, but every time I felt the urge to do the things that would broaden the audience, I decided that while more readers and commenters would be nice, it would also increase the likelihood of me and/or the audience burning out.

What I love about the AMV commenters is that they are all interesting people who seem to be willing to play along with the way AMV works and the tone we try to set. We get very few look-at-me types and have almost never had a major flame war. And even when things get a little heated, the commenters are really good at finding their way back to some common ground and not take things too far. In short: AMV commenters are the best, and it is them and my co-bloggers that make it an awesome thing to be part of.

SH: This week you posted links to your favorite AMV posts from the last ten years. What makes a good AMV post?

WM: A good AMV post is one where the author is wrestling with something (a concept, historical discovery, specific work, experience) related to Mormon literature and art and may not have all the answers yet and may not be able to fully express exactly what they are feeling or thinking, but they are willing to put themselves out there and take the risk that comes with showing us part of who they are.

Another type of good AMV post is one where the author is incredibly excited to share something cool/interesting/inspiring that they have come across.

SH: How have your ideas about Mormon literature and culture changed over the last decade? How has blogging influenced those changes?

WM: I am both more and less hopeful about the state and future of Mormon literature and culture. To me it is blindingly obvious that culture is one of the best cures for all the ills that come along with late capitalism and technocratic liberalism (and all the other -isms of the 21st century). That it is the best flip side to official discourse because it can interrogate and process the messiness of life and society without becoming dogmatic or reifying what are complex situations. There are certain things that the LDS Church can’t and shouldn’t do.

But it’s also become apparent that U.S. Mormonism can’t quite bring itself to embrace culture as the solution, and, instead, has turned to politically provided right/left narratives to help it explain/form itself. I think that’s a mistake. And I think we’re increasingly seeing why that’s the case. Our artists seek respectability. Our people seek meritocratic rewards and/or filter their self as a Mormon through outside-supplied narratives. Part of the reason for that is that the correlated narratives don’t always work perfectly. But the answer to that is a multitude of narratives, ones that resist both the world and the cultural constraints of corporate LDS-ness while still connecting to the community of the Church and the truths of the gospel.

And yet, hope abides. AMV is a storehouse for thinking about Mormon art. We have some fabulously talented people in the Mormon arts community, and when the broader culture is ready, we’ll be ready. And as is often the case, the younger generation is going to come along and pick out the good and discard the crap, and show us how it’s really done.

Blogging at AMV has also forced me to more closely examine my assumptions about the function of art and the role of artists and how that happens in relation to Mormonism. And because blogging is, by nature, a contrarian form, I have found myself resisting the truisms that abound about Mormons, Mormonism and Mormon art. Things like that we’ll have Shakespeares and Miltons of our own. And Mormon can’t write tragedy. And Mormons are nice and competent and bland. And Mormons can’t produce art because they have church callings and families. I think there is some truth to all of those tropes, but what’s more interesting is all the ways in which individuals, families, communities, and specific works of art transcend them.

On a more personal note, I’d say the biggest change is that because of my writing about Mormon literature, I became a practitioner of Mormon art. And that has been a fantastic and challenging experience, one that will culminate when I publish my collection Dark Watch and other Mormon-American stories later this year. It’s 10 years of AMV compressed into 40,000 words in the form of short fiction.

SH: How do you envision the future of AMV?

WM: I go back and forth on the future of AMV. For a long time I have said that the minute it no longer becomes fun or the right offer is made, I’ll shut it down — that there’s no reason to do it just to do it. But as time progresses I am beginning to come around to the idea that there’s a virtue in keeping it going. Even if I don’t have as much time and energy to put into it as I used to, it has now outlasted many other Mormon arts endeavors and while the readership has dropped off from the height of bloggernacle participation, AMV still has an important function in the world of Mormon art. I also keep finding that I have things I want to say or projects (such as Mormon Histories — my upcoming anthology of LDS alternate history fiction) I want to do that are most at home at AMV.

So the future of AMV will look a lot like the past. Unless WordPress radically changes as a platform.

So the future of AMV will look a lot like the past. Unless WordPress radically changes as a platform.

 

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