An Artist For the Latter Days
Personal, spiritual, and philosophical discussion with fine artist, Derek Hegsted.
CHRIS: Welcome to ForeverLDS. Today is a special day, especially for me because I’m here with one of my best friends---and also one of the finest artists, the finest artists that I personally know. In fact, Derek Hegsted and I have known each other since we were missionary companions, back in 1984-85 in Tallahassee, Florida. That’s how long we have known each other! We knew each other when we were nothin’! When I had published nothing, when he had painted---he’d actually painted some pretty gorgeous stuff. Even then he showed it to me when I was on my mission, then we reconnected and been friends ever since. It was interesting that we reconnected at the moment that he painted the painting that is the cover work for this podcast, “I Will Not Fail Thee,” which is a very famous painting in LDS culture. I met you at a BYU setting when you were showing off “I Will Not Fail Thee.”
DEREK: Really! “I Will Not Fail Thee” was painted in ‘93.
CHRIS: You were showing “I Will Not Fail Thee” at an event at BYU, and I saw that and my jaw dropped. I knew you were a great artist. I knew it because some of the lights and shadows that you had shown me from some high school drawings that you had done. And---Derek and I are both very eccentric; we’re both very ADHD---and so we got along great! I sent him home from his mission---
CHRIS: ---because he was ready and wanted to go, and I wanted to give him a great last three months of the mission and we worked so hard. But we just had a ball!
DEREK: We tracted our last day. Awesome.
CHRIS: That’s right! I made him go tracting on his last day.
DEREK: I was kicking and screaming. “No, I don’t want to work!”
CHRIS: No you weren’t! He loved it, he loved it, he loved those last days of his mission. And actually I only had about three months left of my mission as well. As I said he’s a companion from my mission whom I’ve remained close to ever since. And he has painted some brilliant, gorgeous paintings! And I’ve put them on my website at ForeverLDS and you need to look at them, because immediately you’ll go, “Oh! I know exactly who Derek Hegsted is! “"Journey's End," “I Will Not Fail Thee,” and the first painting that you did, “Fear of Hope.” I think that’s the first painting that was ever done in the Ensign, or that was published by the Church.
DEREK: It was in the world competition for the Church, so I had an opportunity to be with some really big names that have always been friends of mine since then. Greg Olsen, Del Parson, and the likes of that. It was pretty special to be a part of that, working with Carma de Jong Anderson, the world textile expert for the LDS Church. I made the dress! A lot of people don’t really want to do that kind of stuff. But I had the dress made from a pattern, two-thousand-year-old patterns that they had, embroidery, all of it’s really made---
CHRIS: You’re talking about the dress that was worn by Mary Magdelane in that painting. You had an old design of the pattern for dress-making from ancient Israel, and you used that for the pattern. That is cool. That kind of research, as an artist, is what we’re all hoping for and looking for to determine or judge quality in our work. But you know, Derek has gone on from that; “Oh, that was amateur stuff and this is professional stuff...”
DEREK: I feel amateur with some of that other stuff! “Oh, how did I even let that go out and be printed!”
CHRIS: I know that he has studied so much light and form and style and abstract, everything since that time, so he has gone on to do many, many more styles and many, many more artforms---and I wanted to talk about what it means to be a Latter-daySaint and to be an artist. And the challenges that are faced by that. Because what do you think would be one of the questions that we face almost every day from other members of the church, sitting there asking---
DEREK: “How do you make a living?”
CHRIS: “How do you make a living?” Yeah, there’s always that question!
DEREK: The market here in Utah---we have, per capita, more artists in the state of Utah, than almost any other state in the Union. There are so many artists that are actually out there selling! Whether they’re weekend warriors or whatever, there are so many artists. You go to one of the largest exhibitions---the Spring Salon Exhibition in Springville; it was HUGE!---to help the other artists get into it and get into the business, because if you got into there, and you’re in the Salon? People validated you. When you had Vern Swanson, who is one of the kindest, one of the most amazing, intelligent people that understood the arts---he always said, “Well I can’t draw, but I love art,” and so he was the curator. And he was one of the greatest inspirations to me because he believed in me, he kept saying, “You can do this, you can do this!” And it’s very difficult, because the competition in the LDS world is one thing, but our artists that come out of Utah, that come out of the LDS church, are some of the finest Christian artists in the world, period, hands down.
CHRIS: No doubt.
DEREK: And when people find out that we are from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they withdraw.
DEREK: Well, I had a guy who looked at my painting, “I Will Not Fail Thee”---it’s the little girl who’s being held by Christ---and he says---
CHRIS: This is the famous one that’s the cover on the website. And on Facebook.
DEREK: He came up to me and we were talking, and he said, “Well, Mormons are going to hell.” And I go, “Why’s that?” “Because the Latter-day Saint culture does not respect the separation of God and membership. You are too close. You do not have the spacing. Your love to God---you’re just too personal.” And I go, “But aren’t you supposed to be thinking about a loving Heavenly Father? He’s your Heavenly Father You’re talking to Him, but with respect, ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ and that kind of speaking.” He says, “You’re too close. But you---I know that you’re going to heaven. I know that you’re okay.” I go, “Why am I any different?” He says, “Because your painting tells me that you know your God.”
CHRIS: Yeah, I always wondered about that. People who make those kinds of blanket judgments just based on whether they like your material or not.
DEREK: It set me back a little. I thought, well that’s interesting.
CHRIS: I know personally that what I write and what an artist paints, it’s like---sometimes it’s a definition of the best of ourselves.
CHRIS: And every other moment we are just human. Full of flaws, or full of challenges. We’re full of tragedy.
DEREK: I put my pants on the same way as the next guy.
CHRIS: Well tell me a little bit about your background. You grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
DEREK: I graduated from Rigby, Idaho. There was no, none whatsoever, art lessons to be had. They did not offer any art classes.
CHRIS: Well I know from when I met you on the mission, the first piece of art that you showed me was I think a pencil drawing you said had won some kind of an Idaho National---or State competition.
DEREK: I won the state championship a couple times without art lessons because I had a friend on the other side of the river---I lived on a hundred acres---
CHRIS: That sounds like they’re in heaven. You had a friend on the other side of the river? I mean, through the Veil?
DEREK: Well I felt like it was in heaven because it was by the Snake River and he was a falconer. He was Bill Smith, we were in the Osgood area right there by the Snake River, and I got to meet him because he was looking for one of his goshawks that had escaped. “And so I yeah, I like artwork and blah blah blah, but can I come over and see your falcons? Can I see them?” And he says, “Sure come over.” So I went over there the next week and I got introduced to falconry, and I’d go off and I’d scare up the rabbits with him, and we’d go hunting for rabbits with this ginormous redtail hawk. It was just wonderful! I’m just this kid going around living a dream with animals. I loved animals, all sorts of stuff like that. I love to fish, and one of the times we got to---
CHRIS: That is true. Derek is known as one of the great fine artists of the world, but he is also one of the top fly-tying (DEREK: Oh stop!) fly fishermen IN THE WORLD. (DEREK: Oh stop!) It’s like he is so, so obsessed, and he and I---he taught me how to fly fish; a few months ago---I’d fly fish when I was young, but I hadn’t fly-fished for a long, long time. And he took me back and we fly-fished up the Logan River, and we had one of the most unsuccessful fishing experiences I’ve ever had! We didn’t even get a bite!
DEREK: I didn’t even---did I hook one? Did I at least snag one?
CHRIS: You didn’t do any---! So, I lost faith in all of his talents as a fly fisherman. But, ignoring all that, I’ve seen him come home with tons of fish. And as I say, it’s an art for him---everything is an art for him! Tying flies---
DEREK: Those dumb flies will take me up to---literally, some of these flies, I spend up to 30 minutes on a stupid fly. It’s outrageous! But I catch really big fish.
CHRIS: Yeah, he does, he does, he does! But he won’t take me on any of those trips; he takes me to---
DEREK: Logan River.
CHRIS: ---on trips where we get SKUNKED. Yeah, in Logan River where they’re all fresh hamburger---
DEREK: I told you, you have to hold your mouth a certain way and you won’t do it.
CHRIS: I have to hold my mouth a certain way?
DEREK: You have to hold your mouth a certain way.
CHRIS: I’m the problem. That’s what he’s basically…
DEREK: That’s what Leon Parson taught me. You have to hold your mouth a certain way.
CHRIS: Alright, back---this is gonna be a problem, with two ADHD people; we’re gonna go off on---
CHRIS: ---different subjects and it’s gonna be difficult, but I’m gonna keep us focused. I believe there are certain challenges associated with being an artist and being a Latter-day Saint. You constantly have to face the judgment of what Latter-day Saints believe art should be. I remember when I first started my career, where I wrote Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites, I was at one of my first autograph parties and somebody came up to me and they said---and I told them all about my book and they said, “I won’t read a book that tries to fictionalize aspects of the Book of Mormon; I’m only interested in nonfiction.” And I’ve never forgotten that! Because I’ve wondered, Am I doing the right thing, fictionalizing aspects of the Book of Mormon? But what I’m doing is celebrating the Book of Mormon! Should I be doing that? And I know that Derek has had his challenges, because sometimes he will put his heart and soul into painting on a religious subject or on a religious topic, and the powers that be, either at the Ensign magazine or in other areas, will disagree with the shoes on somebody’s feet, or something like that. How do you deal with that kind of pressure and judgment as an artist?
DEREK: It’s kind of like mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. I don’t really worry too much, a lot of times, about the attitudes of people who think they know more about it than somebody else. What I do is I try to give my friends that are professors a chance to show me what they know. I do my research and I do pre-drawings, and I let them be a part of it. It makes me feel good that I’m around people that know more about this than I do. I make sure that I read my scriptures, that I’m studying, and I’m putting all these details together. The hard thing is, is that everybody is a professional about this, and everybody’s got opinions.
CHRIS: You mean everybody thinks they’re professional at this.
DEREK: They think they are. And I will respect that because I want them to enjoy what I’m doing. With your books, you got my kids to want to read about the Book of Mormon, about these characters, going, “Where did Uncle Chris get all these wonderful little ideas to build these wonderful books?” You got my kids to read---they’re some of the first beginning books I had my kids read; they wanted to! And they wanted to go and read the Book of Mormon and understand where this stuff came from, which is wonderful. My paintings---I want people to think past the end of their nose and think about---like with Light of the World, Mary and the Christ-child, Christ is about a two-and-a-half, three-year-old.
CHRIS: That painting is only available to see on my website, or it’s on DerekHegsted.com, but if you want to see some of these beautiful paintings---some of which you will recognize, because they’ve been really publicized and popularized in LDS culture, and some that you may not recognize. And it’s interesting, the stories behind the reasons why some of them were not publicized and the reason why some of them WERE publicized. I’m not sure if we’ll get into that.
DEREK: Well, Light of the World was in the Ensign. It was a piece that the song “Jesus Once Was a Little Child”---
CHRIS: By the way, what Light of the World is, is a painting of Mary with the Christ-child, but the Christ-child is a toddler; he’s not an infant. And that’s an image which not many people have approached as artists.
DEREK: Well it’s the teaching of the mothers. She’s sitting there, teaching---
CHRIS: And so the mother is sitting there, holding a candle, and the mother and the child are both looking at the candle, and you can tell that the mother is having a spiritual, or at least a loving conversation with her son. What was interesting is that he painted the Savior wearing only a loincloth, basically, a small tie about the waist. What’s true about history is that in that particular time the child would have been naked.
CHRIS: The child would have been totally without any clothes in ancient Israel in that particular era. But nobody in modern times would be able to take an image like that, so he said I will at least cover the body of the Savior in some way so that it’s not…. But there were still people at the Church---
DEREK: ---still not satisfied.
CHRIS: There were still people who published with the church magazines who said the Savior should be fully dressed; we can’t see the Savior’s toddler body! Tell me what you did for that painting of the Christ-child as a toddler in order to have it in the Ensign, in church magazines.
DEREK: My wife and I went and purchased a six-hundred dollar edition of Photoshop---
CHRIS: This would have been a late-nineties, right?
DEREK: Yeah. Six-hundred dollars for this thing, shows you how old I am. And I learned how to do Photoshop. And I took a picture of a beautiful little cloth, and I draped it over Christ and I manipulated it and I put it over his body and the Ensign said, Okay, we’ll print it. And they went ahead and printed it with the little toga over Jesus.
CHRIS: Those are the kinds of battles that an artist sometimes has to fight, between what they feel is the true expression of what my art is, and what the commercial market is demanding. The fact is that---it’s difficult sometimes for Latter-day Saints to separate the bureaucracies of the Church with the Church and the gospel itself. Most people understand how to navigate that mentally and emotionally, but many people do not.
DEREK: When you’re dealing with the Church leadership of the magazine---
CHRIS: And keep in mind that the Twelve Apostles, the general authorities, they don’t have time to be involved with all the day-to-day decisions on these things
DEREK: You don’t want to come across as unteachable, and I was very teachable, and I wanted to be a part of something very beautiful and that was in the magazines that would validate what I was trying to say. And what I was trying to say is that Jesus is the Christ. And I want to bear witness that whether or not I was working in New York for Bantam Books or publications in Hollywood---that was the stuff that made money for my family, but I wanted to be able to paint the testimony that I was given, and if I got funding back from the print sales on that, okay, that’s great, that’s the icing on the cake. But it took me awhile to finally separate myself from that desire of thinking I could make a living painting religious pieces because I would rather paint for the Lord making less money than paint for New York and Hollywood and be subjected to some of the unsavory types of styles and subject matter they wanted me to paint. Because they knew I could paint any type of body I wanted to. I didn’t want to paint that type of stuff.
CHRIS: Now, when I knew you on my mission, you had some brilliant pieces of art that you kept prints of, photographs of, in your wallet and in some other material; when did you know you wanted to be an artist for a living? I think you already knew!
DEREK: When I was six years old I was drawing dinosaurs. My first book was a dinosaur book, and I just drew and drew and drew.
CHRIS: You know what? My first book was a dinosaur book. That’s weird.
DEREK: Do you still have it?
CHRIS: I might have it! I might have it. There are things that I do have.
DEREK: My mom didn’t know what to do with me in church.
CHRIS: My mom didn’t know what to do with me in life!
DEREK: (I don’t want to go there.) She’d give me clay in church and I would sculpt. My motor skills---I couldn’t do math, but I could do clay.
CHRIS: That is one thing it’s important to know about Derek. It doesn’t matter what the medium is; whether it’s painting, whether it’s sculpting, whether it’s doing textures on your wall, whether it’s fixing motorcycles, whether it’s tying flies, anything that he decides to put his mind to mastering, if it is a skill with your hands, I’ve never known Derek to fail at mastering it. It’s an incredible talent. It was interesting that when I was in the 8th grade, I made a literal mental choice, because I was doing a lot of painting, a lot of drawing, a lot of things like that, and I said, you know what, I want to be a storyteller. I don’t want to be a painter. Instead, Derek made a different choice. He said, I do want to be in the world of creating images, I want to create images for the rest of my life. Whether it’s a sculpture, no matter what it is, and I’m wondering, how did you balance that with also being a Latter-day Saint. You talked a little bit about how you wanted to celebrate your testimony of Christ with your artwork, and I’m wondering how that experience has been for you, how you’ve felt about the challenges you’ve had to face celebrating Christ, celebrating our mortal relationship with the Savior, and at the same time, having people not satisfied with what you are creating.
DEREK: Let me approach it this way: there’s a reason why they voted me Most Unique in high school. I was approached once---
CHRIS: Because you’re extraordinarily eccentric, just like me!
DEREK: I always say, a little of me goes a long way. I’ve been called “exhausting,” I have been called “annoying,” I have been called, “I have nothing left, will you please go?”
CHRIS: Wow, we have all of the same epithets used to describe each other!
DEREK: All of the same qualities, yes, I know! I don’t know how we stand each other. I just…
CHRIS: We stand each other because we understand.
DEREK: So anyway, back to our regularly scheduled program. I’m gonna put it to you this way: When 9/11 hit, I was approached by five clergy from five different churches. And they asked me if I would allow them to use "Journey's End" for a one-year commemorative poster for commemoration---
CHRIS: "Journey's End," by the way, is a painting of the Savior embracing a mortal, embracing him, welcoming him, after death into the eternities. It’s one of the paintings on the website, which is also one of Derek’s most famous works. Anyway, so go on with your story.
DEREK: So, they asked me to be a part of this: “Would you do this?” I go, Sure. “What will it cost?” I go, absolutely nothing. Not only that, I will help you build this poster. Because, when 9/11 hit, it was so upsetting to me to watch my brothers and sisters die like that, and then to find out how many people died since then the asbestos poisonings and all the stuff that’s gone on. It was very upsetting to me and I had felt such a hopeless, helpless feeling of not knowing what I could do as a fellow American and a Christian, and so I helped them with this poster. And what they did is that they took the silhouette, and a very, very subtle image of the Twin Towers, and they put "Journey's End," with Christ and the man, superimposed with the buildings showing through.
CHRIS: I need to put that image up on the website.
DEREK: It’s beautiful. They did a beautiful job. And what I would do is, “See where that window is? Right at the guy’s eye. Take that outta there.” So we built this together, and I worked with them for months on it, back and forth. And by the time they finished---”Okay, we’re done!” “Okay, great, you’re all good, good to go”---then we’re talking about religion or something like this, and they go, “Well what religion are you?” And I go, “I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” They go, “You’re a Mormon?” I go, “Yes, I’m a Mormon.” They go, “You are the most unique Mormon we have ever had the pleasure of being around.”
CHRIS: Why do you think they said that?
DEREK: I thought, maybe the quirkiness of myself can be utilized to calm people’s fears about what they think Latter-day Saints are truly about. It was a pleasure to be around these people.
CHRIS: So how did they use this painting?
DEREK: They put it on a poster and they gave the poster to people as comfort, but as a commemorative poster for the year of---
CHRIS: So this poster went to specific people who were survivors of some of the victims of the 9/11 experience.
DEREK: It was a celebration. Yeah. They put this poster out as a celebration, and it was such a pleasure to be a part of something way bigger than me. The hardest thing about being an artist is that everything depends upon my creativity---pieces that make people want to spend ten, fifteen, three-hundred dollars on something that’s right in your face, saying “I am a Christian.” That’s quite a message to tell people when you walk in. I had one guy who said, “I don’t want to have all your artwork in my house. I don’t want people to walk in like they’re in the temple.” Then I thought that was an interesting comment, because are we not Latter-day Saints and Christians twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week?
CHRIS: It’s an interesting concept that I think President Nelson has emphasized recently, that our homes are temples!
DEREK: It was concerning me that there’s some people that have that. I don’t throw it in people’s faces; they can come into my house and see originals. But if they don’t want to look at it, they don’t look at it. It’s not a big deal. These paintings were for me, and if you like ‘em, you like ‘em, and if you don’t, I don’t really worry about it. I want you to be able to walk in and not be uncomfortable, but my thing is that I don’t want to do cookie-cutter paintings. I don’t paint paintings just to fit your lifestyle.
CHRIS: No, you’re very choosy about the images that you decide to finally paint.
DEREK: Light of the World with Christ as the two-and-a-half, three-year-old? I was one of the very first---I can’t find in 1999 a painting of Christ as a two-and-a-half, three-year-old. I looked! And then after that, Morgan Weistling did a beautiful painting of Christ as a little toddler. I just wanted to be a catalyst to have people get some inspiration and do their own paintings. Every person that’s an artist should have the opportunity to bear their witness that a picture’s worth a thousand words to say that Jesus is the Christ. I don’t believe necessarily that if you’re a Christian---
CHRIS: More than a thousand!
DEREK: Well that’s true. Everybody should have that opportunity to do that.
CHRIS: When I stared at "Journey's End"---"Journey's End" or “I Will Not Fail Thee” are two paintings that the minute you walk into my house that’s what you see, because I want that to be the feeling that somebody has. I gaze at those paintings and they’re a source of comfort. They’re a source of thinking about who I am, who the Savior is, and what my goal is in this life. The truth is, we don’t know, really, what the Savior looked like. We have certain tags that we associate with how the Savior appears. More people have testified about how the Savior appears in a celestial form than how He appears in a mortal form.
DEREK: That’s an interesting subject you just bring up. I was always struggling: Oh, I gotta do this, oh, gotta make a Roman nose, you gotta do this, here’s the Jewish nose, you gotta do this stuff, oh, he looks too Anglo-Saxon. And I’m looking at this and I’m struggling in my prayers to understand what I’m supposed to do so that this will be pleasing to my Heavenly Father and to Christ. And a really neat feeling came over. The only way I can begin to translate it is, “It doesn’t matter what I look like. What matters is how they feel when they see me in your paintings. It doesn’t matter. What matters is if it is pleasing to the viewer and it brings them closer to me.”
CHRIS: That’s an excellent point. That’s a sacred point. That’s the way that my books are. Instead of somebody becoming nitpicky and saying, “Well obviously your books take place among jaguars so you’re trying to make a statement about where the Book of Mormon took place!” And it’s like, I’m doing the best I can according to research and archaeology in according to what we understand about these subjects, but that’s not the point of the story! The point of the story is to celebrate the Book of Mormon, to give people texture, background, substance to those stories that they’re reading about in scripture itself so that the Book of Mormon itself comes alive. And you’re trying to do the same thing with people’s understanding and testimony of Jesus Christ.
DEREK: Period. It’s just that simple.
CHRIS: And the pickiness of “Is this accurate? Is that…?”
DEREK: I do that for me. Like the dresses. Carma de Jong Anderson says Fear of Hope and Light of the World---which I painted---are two of the most accurately dressed women in church history. I didn’t really care! I just painted what I found.
CHRIS: Church history being ancient Jewish history.
DEREK: Yeah, that had ever been painted in the LDS church. They had panels, they had little tiny X’s that they would cross over in colors. I’ve got the books that show these patterns. They didn’t have some of the things that other people put out there; their dresses were done a certain way. And it drove Carma crazy because all the facts were there, but the point was that the people really didn’t care. A lot of my friends, they were right; people don’t really pay attention to that; what they pay attention to is how did the painting bear the witness? You know what? That’s right.
CHRIS: How did it make them feel.
DEREK: How did it make them feel? Did it bring them closer? And that’s all I wanted to do.
CHRIS: And we know! But there’s always a certain segment of the population that knows enough about these subjects that those kinds of things can become stumbling blocks. They can bother them. And so we do our best as artists to research the topic as thoroughly as we can, and then at a certain point, we jump off a cliff. We just jump into mid-air, saying, I have to paint the image! And if it’s not perfect, that’s okay, because I did my homework and I knelt before God and I’m still trying to do the best I possibly can.
DEREK: You ask Him, will this be acceptable? And He says it’s fine. If people have a problem, then it’s their problem. They don’t like it? Don’t look at it.
CHRIS: Well, we both had our challenges with trying to create art that is going to entertain, inspire, motivate, and uplift, not only members of the Church, but people who are outside of our faith. We are only one voice. We’re not prophets, we’re just simply people who want to play our own role in building the kingdom of God in our own way, using the gifts and talents that we have. And I think LDS artists, any artist, if they fee that, and they follow that guidance and that inspiration, they can change the world!---for a few people. Maybe for a significant number of people.
DEREK: Isn’t that the scripture?
CHRIS: But it’s only ever one piece of the puzzle. They’re going to need a thousand other influences to help a person return to their Father in heaven. And we just want to be one piece in that puzzle to help people make that journey.
DEREK: And that’s all we are. We’re one voice. And then if we can become one voice together--- this world is becoming so aggressive against Christianity, when you find that it’s not cool to be Christian in the United States; as a schoolteacher---
CHRIS: By the way, I should mention that at a certain point, Derek---you know that old adage, if you can’t do, teach? Not true with Derek! Derek did and then decided “I have to give my gifts to the youth of the world. There are people who can benefit from what I have to share.” And so he later went back and got his teaching degree, and decided to give the gifts that he has to the youth of, not just the Church, but---he teaches in Peyson, Utah.
DEREK: American Leadership Academy in Spanish Fork.
CHRIS: American Leadership Academy in Spanish Fork!
DEREK: And when I got there, it was an interesting thing because the way they were taught was not how I was taught, and the way they wanted it to be taught. And so when I came in and started showing them how an art class should be done---we’ll just make it a short story longer---
CHRIS: Oh, and it is an amazing thing, I’ve gotta tell the audience---I have a daughter who is in Derek’s art class, and from the things that she tells me, there is no art department in Utah that teaches what Derek---there’s very few college departments that have the kind of program you do, teaching somebody the kind of fine art talents and techniques.
DEREK: There are some really, really good teachers that are just wonderful to be students, but they’re few and far between. The biggest problem that I get---
CHRIS: This is a small charter school, and it’s got YOU as their art teacher.
DEREK: Do you know what happened last year? My students won their 40th State Championship Award in the arts, over 120 awards. My students have been able to win some top awards in the state of Utah, which is amazing. And so that’s why they come to me and they find out what I’m doing; they go “What do you do?” I say, “I help students unlock how amazing they are. My job is not to make you great at everything, my job is to help you find what you’re good at and help you do better.” I help them build portfolios, I help them do work, and I help them get scholarships, and I help them get into places where they can further the work that they want to do. It’s such a pleasure. It’s so wonderful to be a part of something that’s bigger than me, because we’re all as teachers trying to make a difference in these kids’ lives. I wish I could have started this sooner! I fought it; they asked me to come and teach, I said no, I don’t want to teach a bunch of snot-nosed little kids, no, I’m not going to do this; yes you are! And then next thing you know, Heidi Olsen, a friend of mine---she was a collector of my work and has always loved Light of the World---she goes, “You need to come and teach here.” I said, No, I don’t want to. She said, “No, you don’t understand. You have three weeks to learn your lessons and to get this together, because we fired the teacher and you have to be there in three weeks. Bye!” and she hung up the phone. And I’m like, Oh, flippin’ deal. So I started, and the first year I was there, my kids making it to the all-state championship, won the state championship for our division in art, and these kids have just exploded---I teach seventeen different mediums, but my room is so small I can only teach thirteen. I go from calligraphy to pottery; I’ve got kids that are winning state championships in pottery! The Spring Salon Exhibition is in Springville, and I encourage everybody to make sure that they go there. It’s coming up in January. So we’re going to be having our stuff in January, and then in February the exhibition starts. And you guys want to see something really special? See arts of Utah from the youth. It’s amazing. I can barely keep up with the kids in my school. The ability in the students nowadays, it’s so amazing and I can barely keep up. They’re so talented.
CHRIS: The valiant of the next generation. They have extraordinary talents.
DEREK: It’s wonderful. These kids will take up, they’ll say, “I wanna do a dance,” and I’ll go, “Cool. Well why don’t we do something like this.” And so this ballet star in our school---I love dancing, I did dancing in school, stuff like this---I’ll say, “Say something. Don’t just make it a pretty sweet sappy puppy dog picture. Say something. Honor what the sacrifice of these dancers go through. Show their feet, and how their feet are broken up, and hurting, and losing toenails, and having skin ripped off, and having bandages on their feet so that we can see the beauty and grace of a dancer in The Nutcracker, in these different dances.” And so what she did, took two bare feet and reflected it from the dancing, of the dancer standing right here, in the picture, their reflections are the bare feet, and it shows the wounds. It’s called Reflections of Passion. And I’ve got every dancer that saw it, they wanted it, wanted the picture. “Please get the picture done! Please get the picture done!” Had another girl, she wanted to do a charcoal of a little boy, a little three-year-old in Afghanistan, holding an AK-47, and the father’s got his hand on the child’s head. And she wanted to do this! And I’m looking---”That’s amazing! What can you do to make this better?” And I say, “The hand of the boy isn’t work.” So she refilmed the hand and made it look better. I say, “Now, let’s say something. Take the eyes out and just make it blank white.” It was so striking, so amazing, because the picture’s called “The Red Mosque of Afghanistan,” and it talks about how they take the children, because the families don’t have money---they take these children to the red mosques and they say we will feed them, clothe them, we will teach them, and if they will memorize the Quran, they will go to heaven, and your family will go to heaven. And about twenty years ago there’s only about 3,200 of them, now there’s between 42-44,000 red mosques, and 75% of the suicide bombers come from the red mosques of Afghanistan. Then, guess what, she puts it on Pinterest, and guess who calls her up? The guy who took the picture. He’s one of the top photographers in the world. She’s fifteen in a no-name little tiny school, American Leadership Academy. It’s only been around for fourteen years. And he contacts her and says, “I love what you did with my picture. I need a hard copy of it, I need a digital copy of it, and I want your permission that I can put it in my archive and use this.” She’s fifteen years old and approached by one of the top photographers for the National Geographic, and the world, and she did this, because she was able to be taught. And she took the challenge that I gave her: say something. We do this every year. You oughta see all this stuff these kids are drawing. It’s amazing.
CHRIS: Well, the point that I want to make and what we can probably conclude on is just the idea that a lot of artists, they are in a sense so self-absorbed that they just don’t feel like they can come out of their shell where they’re creating their own art to actually share what they’ve learned, what they’ve observed, what they’ve felt, with others. So that they can then bring their own thing, their own talent and vision to the table and give it to the next generation. So that’s what I admire Derek for as he gets older and older...and older! As we both get so old---
DEREK: Fifty-four next week!
CHRIS: Well we knew each other when we were nineteen, twenty years old; we’ve come so far! With this podcast I’m trying to share some of my experiences, feelings, visions, about what art should be, what my testimony of the gospel is, and I think Derek has done an incredible thing by offering his talents and gifts to the world in his own way. And he will continue to paint! He has in line some images that he’s been telling me about for the last twenty years of Book of Mormon heroes. Images that he has of paintings from the Book of Mormon that would rival anything that’s ever been painted. In a sense, he’s continually asked Heavenly Father, Can I paint these yet? Can I paint these yet? And he feels like he’s finally been given clearance to be able to paint them!
DEREK: Finally got sold.
CHRIS: So we look forward to that. We look forward to all of the things you create, as well as great artists for the next generation. This has been an honor and an opportunity to be with Derek Hegsted. And why don’t we close that out? This might sound like a strange, silly concept, but I believe in it, and it’s still a powerful part of what I want to do. This is what I see so often: artists who fall away from the gospel. Somehow their passion for the art becomes a more important aspect to their belief system or their religion than their testimony of the Savior! How do you keep that balance?
DEREK: Well, the thing is, I’ve had other people ask me that, and once I finally realized that the Church is not there to support you financially. And once I started understanding that it’s not the responsibility to give me work, it’s my responsibility to serve God with my talents and time, effort, everything.
CHRIS: Oh, I can tell you from experience---
CHRIS: We both know that artists feel they deserve to be placed on a pedestal as a result. And instead, just the concept that an artist as a servant is more unique than the world realizes, that artists who feel they are a servant, that they’re basically put in the position that they have, with the talents that they have, so they can give a gift to the world. And Heavenly Father gave them that gift, and really they’re nothing special, they are servants of Christ.
DEREK: That’s a really good point. That brings me to another point---when you realize what a sacred opportunity it is to serve with music, with writing, with the visual arts, etc. etc., and if you realize that you’ve ever caught yourself chasing the dollar, you’ve lost focus of how amazing the arts in general are to serving God. As a vocalist I did theater for years, and the joy of hitting those notes and singing for people is such a special opportunity, and when you’re trying to make a living out of the same time, sometimes, it becomes work instead of the joy of the testimony. And one of the greatest times that I felt in my life is when I started teaching and sharing, and I could still do my artwork at home. When I was able to be a part of something bigger than I was, the joy came back to me. And I was able to see things that I don’t have to compete, I don’t have to compare, I don’t have to be the best. I just paint what I paint because this is what He wants me to paint. And if He doesn’t want me to paint it, then I don’t paint it! But the humility has been hard…
CHRIS: No doubt. Anybody who’s been given great talent has to deal with their own ego and humility.
DEREK: And it’s been so sad to watch how my ego, when people come up to you and say, Have you seen Christ? And I’m going, Why would you ask such a question like that? And then I look over at "Journey's End" and I go, Oh my word, what have I done? What have I said to these people that are searching for answers? What have I done? And I started realizing the magnitude of what kind of a mantle an artist would put on himself---pressure. And it was terrifying, because I’m not---I don’t walk on water, I have one foot in hell and one foot on this side and I’m holding my wife’s leg so hard so I don’t fall down into the pit of despair. She’s the one who saves me. And to have this, and not allow it to go to my head where people thought I was something special...I’m not anymore special than they are. I just chose to speak a different language of the Christ testimony. And I understand now why Michelangelo when he did the Pieta, and they were all saying how great this was, that this great artist who did this at the time was so amazing, and they weren’t speaking of Michael, they were speaking of this other artist, and he was so infuriated by it that he snuck in that night and hammered his name---Michaelangelo Buonarotti the Florentine made this!---right across Mary’s chest. And he did this to prove his point that he was amazing, he was the greatest at that time. And he was! And when this happened, he came out in the morning, and everybody’s angry---how dare you defame this amazing sculpture! the greatest sculpture of the divinity of the Master was the Pieta!---he couldn’t hear them! Because he was affixed on what he had just done. He had just defamed the greatest sculpture and testimony of the arts ever done at that time, with his name across the sash of the mother of Christ. And when he did this, he wept inside and he promised God: I will never, ever put my name on my artwork again. What a painful realization, that he could never take his name off of that sculpture because he saw it wasn’t about him. It was about the living Christ. When people have to have their name on their art just to make a living, it puts them in a really compromising position at times, because people think, “Well if he’s writing this, he must have all the answers.” I hate to tell you all this, but I don’t have all the answers. I am more accountable than ever before, knowing the flaws that I have, and how damned I will be if I do not rise above these things that God has blessed me with. And when I watch Michaelangelo and the love that he had for Christ, and to see what had happened, it changed my life. It changed my world to know that it’s more important that people know who Christ is than for them to know who Derek Hegsted is. I’d rather them not know me. But for them to know that I know that Jesus is the Christ, that He paid with his blood and His life for our sins, and that He is my keystone that saves me from the jaws of hell. He is my power and my light. I have no name. I shouldn’t have a name, but just “Christian.” And if people can understand that, they will understand that no matter how many paintings I paint, how many people that say what an amazing person what I’ve done for them, how they know these things because of my paintings, that they will come to the realization, and that’s all that I’ve always wanted, is for them to have that peace, and that peace cast out the adversary, and he has no power over them but what they give him.
CHRIS: Derek Hegsted. One of my best friends in this life. And a person with whom I’ve had the extraordinary honor and privilege of being able to know in mortality. It’s been such an honor, Derek, to have you as a part of this podcast, and it’s more of an honor to have you as my friend. I want to close this podcast by asking my normal question, which is, If you don’t feel as close to the Savior today as you did yesterday, who moved?And if you can answer that question always pointing back at yourself, then I think you have a better chance of reuniting with Him for the rest of eternity. Thank you for joining us today and thank you for listening. This is Chris Heimerdinger and this is ForeverLDS.