BYU law school’s new Jorge Cocco art communicate values to students

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My favorite lawyers tell knee-slapping lawyer jokes. It’s a great tradition.

Here’s a fun one:

A young boy who has just moved to a new home meets the boy next door. “Hello, my name is Billy,” he says. “Which is yours?” “Tommy,” replies the other. “My daddy is an accountant,” says Billy. “What does your dad do?” “He’s a lawyer,” answers Tommy. “Honest?” asks Billy. “No, just the regular kind.”

The jokes are a great way to signal that while some attorneys fit the cultural stereotype, others — most, according to BYU law school dean Gordon Smith — are using it for good.

“I think some people don’t always think of lawyers as peacemakers, especially when we’re fomenting conflict to do business, but that’s not what most lawyers do,” Smith told me on Friday.

We began our conversation in front of the seven striking, original and new paintings by Jorge Cocco Santángelo depicting Jesus Christ exercising the legal roles he filled – healer, mediator, counselor, peacemaker, advocate, legislator and judge. (See all seven paintings below.)

The paintings now hang permanently on a wall outside the controversial third floor courtroom of the J. Reuben Clark Law Building. Smith, on the other hand, left while we talked. He guided me through the paintings and pictures that the law school has recently started to put up around the building.

“The law school as an art museum,” he said.

Standing briefly in his office, which includes both paintings and large photographed portraits of people around the world, he said a lawyer’s role is to reduce disputes.

“Most of us try to resolve conflicts, we try to resolve disputes in a way that allows people to walk away as peacefully as possible. The whole purpose of the legal system is to prevent violent conflict,” he said.

The goal is to use the rule of law – everyone follows a publicly created set of laws that are equally enforced and decided independently – rather than descend into violence and chaos.

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“Lawyers are truly peacemakers in our society, and we want to make that clear to students,” Smith said.

For this reason, Cocco’s image of Jesus Christ as the Peacemaker is the centerpiece of his seven new paintings hanging at the law school.

Cocco spoke at the unveiling. He said the burden he carries means he wakes up every day with more images in his head than he can ever complete. When I interviewed him afterwards, I asked him what else people should know.

“I am honored and grateful,” he said, “for the opportunity to communicate with other people through the gift that God has given me.”

Communicating with law students through art is exactly what Smith wants to do. He has assigned one of the law school staff to oversee the art in the building.

“We try to convey through art what our students want to be when they graduate from law school, and these are people who persistently serve one and make sure no one is forgotten,” he said.

“It’s difficult to teach. That’s harder.”

The idea started with an exhibition of photographs intended to convey the idea that every human being has value and deserves respect, concepts from the 2018 Declaration of Punta del Este Human Dignity for Everyone and Everywhere, an international document that partially was prepared by BYU’s International Center for Legal and Religious Studies.

Now an exhibition of the declaration and photos of people around the world adorn a wall on the second floor of the courthouse.

“When that went up, I had this little epiphany that we have all these walls here that are essentially classrooms, like an art museum,” Smith said as we peered down at this exhibit from the third-floor lobby.

“That’s why we now have an exhibit on women’s suffrage in our library, and outside of the courtroom on the level below we have an exhibit that is about the civil justice system in the United States.”

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Smith then led me around a corner to look at a print of Maynard Dixon’s famous 1934 painting Forgotten Man. The BYU Museum of Art owns the original painting. A print hangs in the office of President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors BYU.

President Oaks is the first vice chairman of the Board of Trustees of BYU.

Smith has spoken frequently about why he had a print of Forgotten Man installed at law school.

“As attorneys, it is our job to go out and treat each individual with respect and to convey that they are children of our Heavenly Father, that their worth is great in the sight of God, and that no one should be forgotten,” he said. “It’s our job to make sure no one is forgotten.”

Smith told me that the law school is in discussion with another well-known Latter-day Saint artist about creating another painting for the law school that relates to Christ’s teachings on the worth of all people.

“Our hope is to bring these issues home with our students,” Smith said. “If you’re a lawyer and have that ingrained in you, you’re going to be a great lawyer.”

my last stories

Kyiv Ukraine Temple Reopens to Latter-day Saints as Conflict Continues (Oct. 17)

Can a public university promote religious freedom? ASU President Michael Crow’s Stubborn Attitude (Oct. 17)

BYU Law School Unveils Artist Jorge Cocco’s New Paintings of the 7 Law-Related Scrolls of Jesus Christ (Oct. 14)

A cyber attack has breached the credentials of some Latter-day Saint members. Here’s what we know (Oct. 13)

About the Church

President Russell M. Nelson, in an address to Latter-day Saints in western Canada, suggested six steps to becoming “true disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf traveled to New Zealand. He was greeted by a Māori warrior in a welcoming ceremony. He then rededicated the renovated Hamilton New Zealand Temple.

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Elder David A. Bednar traveled to five European countries. Here is an excellent account by Mary Richards of his ministry in Romania and Hungary.

Have you seen the photos of the Church’s Hill Cumorah Reforestation Project?

You can download an updated overview of the General Authorities of the Church here.

A BYU football player’s career-ending injury led to acting. Now he is Captain Moroni in the Book of Mormon video series. He has a great prospect of losing a dream and moving forward. Read more here.

I’ve spent both too much time and far too little time browsing the links in this article, which is a great overview of what he calls “the most fascinating Book of Mormon research to date.”

What I read

A Latter-day Saint, father of five, from Rexburg, Idaho, died in Ukraine from shrapnel wounds while volunteering in an international legion defending the country.

From what I’m watching, I really enjoyed the first season of The Rings of Power on Prime Video. The two creators behind the series share the backstory of how they won the competition to make the show and respond to critics in this story.

Oh, and my daughter, who loves the original Star Trek series, is watching Season 1 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds with me. It’s a great nod to the OG Star Trek, with the Captain predating James T. Kirk walking with a young Spock and young Lt. Uhura works together. The title says it all: It mimics the original series as the crew visit strange new worlds and civilizations in each episode. Here is an omitted review.

The Cuban Missile Crisis remains an endlessly fascinating moment in the history of the nuclear age and the Cold War. I devoured this new article by a Deseret News colleague about a little-known man who was at the center of the discovery that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

A trio of BYU researchers say American courts appear poised to open legal marriage up to polyamory.


President Dallin H. Oaks poses next to a print of Maynard Dixon's Forgotten Man in his office in the Church Office Building.

President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency and President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, poses for a photo with a print of “Forgotten Man,” a painting by Maynard Dixon, Wednesday , July 27, 2022, in his office in the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City. BYU Law School Dean Gordon Smith said President Oak’s use of the painting inspired him to hang a print at the J. Reuben Clark Law School.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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