In his publication "Varieties of Visual Experience," Edmund Burke Feldman states, "Usually, religious art is the expression of collective ideas about man in his relation to divinity. Sometimes it possesses spiritual qualities. At other times, it functions as education or history or as a kind of visual preaching. Religious art tells a sacred story, enjoins right behavior, or endeavors to sustain faith. But spiritual art endeavors to reveal the divine in human nature and the universe." The "9th Annual Spiritual and Religious Art of Utah" offers both in a visual smorgasbord that is certain to please some while antagonizing others.

Sponsored by David and Ingrid Nemelka and the Springville Museum of Art, the exhibit encompasses 111 accomplished pieces in the Step Down and Southeast galleries of the museum. "No art is so profound as that produced for religious expression," says Vern Swanson, museum director. "Our exhibition displays works of art that span the breadth of personal and official faith. As such, it is both challenging and inspiring."Swanson says the museum did not prescribe what artistic or religious form the work should take, "only that it be an honest and sincere reflection" of the artist's values or spiritual system. This type of open-ended invitation has led to some enigmatic, creative and often inspiritational works.

Brian Christensen's "The Door to Enlightenment" (glazed stoneware, 1994) cries for its cryptic message to be deciphered; the hieroglyph bas-reliefs of keys, old and new, and of eyes and hands, like tarnished, ancient secrets, mystify the viewer.

In "Judgment Day" (mixed media, 1994), Suzanne Tornquist fashions an angel who rounds up humanity for judgment day with a blast from an elongated cornucopia-like horn. What we see are sheep running in abject, bug-eyed terror for their lives. It's comical but also disturbing.

The sculpture "One of the Messengers" (mixed media, 1994), by Evelyn R. West-Haines, is a molten-like blob that looks to have escaped from Pink Floyd's film "The Wall." What could be its message? Its monstrous deformity somehow effects compassion, and the viewer is left with the option of waiting to hear and understand or abandoning the messenger.

Derek Hegsted's "Journey's End" (oil, 1994) is a more traditional view of what - according to the artist - it will be like to finally embrace the Savior at the end of our mortal trials. The painted images are soft, helping to evince emotion: Christ is gentle and he will forgive. Hegsted's fleshtones are so real it's eerie, yet the harmonious tone of the overall work leaves the viewer serene.

It would be easier for a parakeet to swallow a pineapple than to guess the meaning of Maryann Wesster's "Guardian Figure" (porcelain, fired on enamels and gold). She has constructed a naked doll with enamel tattoos of angels and cherubs. On the doll's forehead is a third eye; the bowels are opened by neatly cut doors and the viewer finds painted geometric balance within. It's surrealism at its best, and it's oddly moving.

In Linda Lee Shimmin's "Mary and Elizabeth" (oil, 1994) we have Chagall meets Van Gogh: The canvas is alive with swirling, swaying, vibrant colors. There is a goat, an angel, a baby, food, Mary and Elizabeth emerging from the impasto brush strokes.

"Gethsemane" (mixed media, 1994), by Hagen Haltern, is, for me, the most powerful work. Christ, in profile, looks down, not defeated but humbled by the terrible trial that besets him. His halo battles for supremacy against the onslaught of mankind's dulling transgressions. The texture in Haltern's piece only heightens the misery of the suffering Christ.

David Linn's "The Process" (oil, 1994) is an excellent example of grisaille - a style of painting using only gray tints, giving the effect of sculpture in relief. Linn's piece is the best example of storytelling in the show. A visual parable, men and women fill jars with obviously precious water - perhaps a metaphor for Christ's words. Having filled their jugs, some share with others. All this charity takes place in a desolate landscape where some holocaust has taken place.

All artists in the "9th Annual Spiritual and Religious Art of Utah" exhibit have something to say about their religion, faith or beliefs. Some, while trying to express their feelings, may offend viewers with images that appear negative, prurient or defamatory.

To attempt to see what others see is one of the most challenging, and exciting, aspects of education. Here's to the challenge. I recommend you visit the Springville Museum of Art and witness the glory of the spiritual and religious through the eyes of the artists of Utah.

"The 9th Annual Spiritual and Religious Show" will be on display until Dec. 31.