Art History and Curatorial Studies Student Candace Brown Writes About her Experiences Working in the BYU Museum of Art
By Candace Brown
I have a theory that 19th-century French artist James Tissot would have been enormously comfortable at Brigham Young University, where prayers precede lectures, religious paintings adorn Testing Center walls and education is both intellectually enlarging and spiritually strengthening.
My opinion is based on two summers immersed in the BYU Museum of Art’s exhibition, “Prophets, Priests and Queens: James Tissot’s Men and Women of the Old Testament,” as a curatorial intern.
In 2021, I helped draft and edit labels for the exhibition’s 129 works. In 2022, crafting the exhibition catalog was a crash course in copy editing.
Among other things, this catalog contained original research on the motivation and working process behind Tissot’s ambitious project. As I combed through these essays over and over again, I learned what it means to be a disciple-scholar.
Though Jacques Joseph Tissot (James was his anglicized name) was raised in the Catholic faith, he distanced himself from religion in the early part of his career. However, he renewed his faith after the death of his lover, Kathleen Newton, and felt called to illustrate the life of Christ, followed by the men and women of the Old Testament.
In taking on these projects, Tissot felt he had received a sacred calling. He made multiple trips to the Holy Land to study its physical and human geography and identified himself as a spiritual pilgrim during his visits; he dove into ancient texts and the writings of early church fathers; he made frequent trips to the Louvre to study ancient artifacts; when he composed his illustrations, he was often moved by a revelatory, spiritual sight. Tissot’s works are monuments of disciple-scholarship.
Since arriving at BYU, I’ve been told to be a “disciple-scholar.” For years, I thought this meant that discipleship and scholarship coexisted and could be pursued simultaneously, but separately.
However, Tissot showed me that sacred and secular study don’t passively coexist. Rather, they actively complement one another because to study one without the other — the world without its spiritual foundations, the Spirit without its secular manifestations — leads to a poorer understanding of both.
Now, as I prepare to graduate in April, I will follow Tissot’s lead, integrating my faith and intellect to become a disciple-scholar and achieve what I hope will be awe-inspiring results.