I was interviewed last week by this young man from a local campus newspaper. I thought he did a good job of telling my story. Thank you, Robert Burnside, for taking a stand among your peers where Liberalism is the norm.
Painting Success, by Robert Burnside
The word, “success,” can be defined millions of different ways, although the basic meaning is generally understood. It is something everyone desires, something many people spend countless amounts of the most important commodities attempting to achieve. Its price tag frequently causes seekers to look elsewhere for something more affordable, however cheap imitations never offer the same satisfaction.
In 2008 a middle-aged Christian artist named Jon McNaughton adjusted the typical comfortable subject of his paintings to better meet his personal price tag of success. The content of McNaughton’s art was previously serene landscapes and Christian in nature, however a powerful experience caused McNaughton to add another element into his art… politics.
McNaughton, whose conservative political views had never been visible in his artwork, sat in his studio on the second floor of the Provo Towne Centre mall during the 2008 Presidential election. He leaned forward in his chair placing his elbows on his knees and head in his hands, with his eyes closed he uttered a silent prayer saying, “Lord, what can I do? I’m just an artist.” McNaughton then briefly opened his eyes, and looked in the direction of his easel to see an elaborate painting containing more than 50 specific figures, “wholly completed, all details. I saw it for about 10 seconds, the name of the painting came into my mind, then I sketched it out as fast as I could as much as I could remember.”
The title that came into McNaughton’s mind, “One Nation Under God.” The image that accompanied it was much different from the previous landscape paintings he was familiar with. Standing front and center was Jesus Christ holding The Constitution, behind him were multiple historical figures including many of the founding fathers of The United States, as well as multiple U.S. soldiers from different time periods, in the foreground were common relatable figures in today’s world including a student, a mother, a lawyer, a farmer, a politician, and others. The message was unmistakable, The Constitution, a holy document endorsed by Christ, was not being treated as such. McNaughton asks the viewers to place themselves in the painting, where would they fit in the foreground?
The reaction to, “One Nation Under God” was something that McNaughton never expected, “It stirred up the bees nest,” he said, “which I never planned on happening… I expected liberals to dismiss it, and conservatives to say, ‘right on!’” The painting received international attention. To say liberals dismissed it would be a dramatic understatement.
“One Nation Under God” has been no stranger to liberal media including the Huffington Post, Mother Jones, and the Bill Maher show, all of which criticized the painting in one way or another. The painting has been the subject of many satire paintings, mocking its message.
“It’s really been a lightning rod to the left.” Said McNaughton, “I think there’s a double standard in the art world… You can express yourself as a liberal painter, but if you express yourself as a conservative painter they trash you.” The trashing McNaughton speaks of stems from the much-debated religious affiliation of many of the Founding Fathers in the background of the painting. Critics are quick to point out that many of the Founding Fathers were deists, and did not profess traditional Christian beliefs.
McNaughton’s response, “I was not suggesting that there should be no separation of church and state or that all the Founding Fathers were Christian,” he says. “I just meant to say that the Constitution was divinely inspired and that the Founders believed society should be based on Judeo-Christian values at its core.”
Click on image to learn more
While McNaughton’s statement about the unfair treatment of conservative artists is commonly true among leftists, the painting has received considerable praise from right-wing conservatives, including many that are not part of his typical Latter-Day Saint following. As a result of the painting McNaughton has had the opportunity to speak to many large groups such as the Knights of Columbus. He has been featured as an artist on multiple local news outlets, his YouTube video explaining the painting has reached over three-million hits, and the painting which went on sale in October of 2009 is still the current top-seller among his other successful paintings.
“One Nation Under God” can also be viewed as the figurative spark that led to McNaughton’s other successful paintings which mingle religion and politics. Another painting by McNaughton that has had its fair share of controversy is, “The Forgotten Man” which portrays a middle-aged man sitting on a bench with his head down, a trail of money and amendments lead to the constitution itself lying beneath the foot of current U.S. President Barrack Obama stubbornly folding his arms, in front of an audience of all the past Presidents of the United States, each with different reactions.
One angry individual entered McNaughton’s studio and exclaimed, “Whenever you mix religion and politics, that is not art!” McNaughton responded by saying, “I think that’s exactly what art is.”
McNaughton stands firmly behind his paintings and the ideals they represent, unapologetically stating, “As an artist you have to be true to yourself, and this is who I am, I’m a religious person, I’m a political person, and I love art… I’m not trying to be anything different than who I am.”
Through the thick lenses of his glasses, the price tag of success for Jon McNaughton reads, “A painting that causes someone to think and feel.” A desire to communicate ideas and feelings motivates this humble artist. Whether you agree with the messages in his paintings or stand in strong opposition, he succeeds.