The following is an interview with J. Kirk Richards, LDS Artist and board member of THE VISION OF THE ARTS FUND, which was established in 2015 as a home for the Gospel Vision of the Arts Auction, which provides scholarships and opportunities for LDS artists. As I’ve learned and talked personally with the people working behind the scenes to make this happen, I am both touched and so grateful for their optimism, enthusiasm and patronage of the arts within Mormonism. Recently I visited one of their homes, which is brimming with intelligent, well-crafted, beautiful and spiritually engaging art by Mormons and I left feeling such a strong desire to be a part. I’m excited about this work and the opportunity it will give many people to pursue their own work in the arts. You probably want to take a moment to check out the auction, there are really beautiful pieces up for bid http://visionofthearts.org/auction.html
Q: Tell us about the current state of LDS visual arts.
A: I’m hugely optimistic about the future of Mormon art. I think pessimists focus on a very small segment: the few pieces of artwork that meet the rigorously dogmatic requirements of correlation. But there is a much larger art community outside of correlation—from new classical revivalist schools along the Wasatch front to New York artists showing in the MoMA; from traditional to conceptual and everything in between. There are energetic and supportive networks of LDS artists, encouraging and lifting each other to new heights.
Auction piece “Believe” by David Linn.
Q: What are some challenges facing LDS artists?
A: In a 1977 talk, (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1977/07/the-gospel-vision-of-the-arts?lang=eng) Spencer W. Kimball put forward a vision of great masterpieces, which would one day be created by Latter-Day Saint artists. If we look back in history, great works of art were made possible by the patronage of the church or monarchy, or wealthy patrons like the Medici. I think it’s a challenge today to find venues and sponsors for monumental masterpieces. These are projects that can take years to complete. It has been said before, but if a Mormon Michelangelo is to emerge, it will be with the emergence of a Mormon Medici—someone who is willing to invest in the work of that artist. On a recent trip to Massachusetts, I was deeply moved by an installation of three monumental works by Anselm Kiefer, in a dedicated building within MassMOCA. I’d love to see Latter-Day Saint patrons funding something like this for Latter-Day Saint artists.
Q: Anselm Kiefer has an established name and an extremely high value in the greater art market. How do you justify a project like that for a lesser-known artist just because she or he is LDS?
A: This is a chicken-and-egg situation. An essential ingredient to raising an artist’s name and the value of their work is patrons willing to be on the forefront of that rise—willing to invest in and promote world-class works of art. I hope it’s not a gross overstatement to say that the Jewish community was the leaven in the rising bread of Modernism. A century later the whole world studies artists who were championed by Jews in the early 1900s. The demographics of Mormonism are catching up to those of the Jewish community. We now have similar numbers. We have economic resources. I think the answer is to jump in and do what we can. We can definitely lengthen our stride. If you’re reading this and interested in sponsoring a big project, I’m positive I can connect you with an artist who is ready.
Auction piece “The Framer of Heaven and Earth” by Laura Erekson Atkinson
Q: Tell us about the Gospel Vision of the Arts Auction happening this week.
A: The auction is an initiative inspired by Kimball’s talk, mentioned above. The auction was held twice under the umbrella of Deseret Book, but then dropped, just as momentum was picking up. We are taking over where Deseret Book left off. This year, Fifty LDS artists have donated original paintings to the auction. The artwork can be seen in person at Heirloom Art & Co in the Provo Shops at The Riverwoods through Thanksgiving weekend. The auction itself takes place online and ends this Saturday evening. (http://visionofthearts.org/auction.html) 100% of proceeds from the purchase of these donated works will go towards scholarships and grants for the next generation of LDS artists—to increase education and skill for those interested in depicting gospel themes, to give young mother artists additional opportunities, and eventually to fund significant works by mid career artists. So our hope is that readers will bid generously on these donated works. And by the way, if you don’t see a painting that’s right for you, but you still want to donate, you can do that too on the auction page. (http://visionofthearts.org/auction.html) We’re a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit corporation, so your donation is tax-deductible.
Q: What motivated you to take this on?
A: One of my art teachers, years ago was a convert to the church. His brother argued against the church: ‘It can’t be true—look at their art!’ Contrast that statement with a statement by John Taylor: “God expects Zion to become the praise and glory of the whole earth, so that kings hearing of her fame will come and gaze upon her glory. …” (Sermon, September 20, 1857; see The Messenger, July 1953.) As an art community, we are dedicated to working toward making a greater impact through increased education, expertise, voice, and passion. When Deseret Book started the Gospel Vision of the Arts Auction, they started something good. It was gaining momentum. We want to keep that momentum growing. We want to expand the quality and breadth of what is expected when it comes to the artwork of the Latter-Day Saints.
- Kirk Richards is a board member of the Vision of the Arts Fund, which sponsors the Gospel Vision of the Arts Scholarship Auction. He is an LDS artist working in Utah and Massachusetts.