We’re happy to hear from Scott Higginson, art lover, art collector, and art dealer. Scott and his wife, Cindy, are the parents of four children, six grandchildren and live in Mesa, Arizona. He graduated from BYU in 1980 with degrees in Journalism and Political Science. After a brief stint living in Washington, DC., they returned to the west living in Las Vegas, Nevada prior to moving to Mesa in 2000. Scott represents a number of LDS artists at: http://foursquareart.com/ https://www.facebook.com/foursquareart/ and on instagram, @foursquareart22. Here’s Scott:
What sparked your interest in art?
I have always been fascinated by the creative process. I love observing creation in all forms. I believe there is a real spiritual dimension to creativity. That spark, whether it’s the urge to paint, dance, write, sing, cook, knit, invent, construct, garden or any other expression of self, comes from a non-physical, non-mortal part of our being. It’s source is spiritual and each of us express it differently. Then, somehow, there’s the magic of connecting this internal inspiration to our arms, hands and fingers in the very physical act of painting and creating an actual piece of art. It really is amazing when you think about it. So, my attraction to the arts is rooted in fascination. The uncanny ability of an artist to manipulate dabs of paint into patterns and actual brush strokes which, when seen as a whole, convey movement, depth, form and, most importantly, light, is astonishing to me.
How did you get started collecting artwork?
My start is a bit different than most. While attending BYU I worked in the general book department of BYU. We had a wonderful children’s picture book section. I would read many before shelving them and I started collecting picture books. I was drawn to the wide diversity of art techniques used and, more importantly, how the artwork informed the story. Peter Spier’s “Noah’s Ark” was my first picture book. It went on that year to win the Caldecott Award. It’s wordless and yet full of emotion and raw story-telling power. I now own over 500 picture books and I have them alphabetized by artist on our library shelfs. This started me down a path of deep appreciation for the power of art to generate emotion.
Years later, I bought my first original oil painting. “A Man Reading a Very Small Book” by Brian Kershisnik. It went well with my picture book collection and, to me, the halo around the man’s head indicated knowledge gained through reading and art. I was attracted to his work already as my brother-in-law had a couple of his pieces. From there, I was hooked. Original art contributes significantly to the emotional feeling we want in our home. So, we’ve acquired other paintings along the way. There is real power in original art.
How is the power of original art different than, say, reproductions?
It’s really hard to describe, it’s something that has to be felt. The best way I’ve been able to explain it to friends who sense it when they visit our home and to my clients is to compare it to watching television versus seeing a live production on stage. Or listening to a CD of Handel’s Messiah compared to hearing it, feeling it, live with full orchestra, chorus and soloists at the Kennedy Center. They just don’t equal each other in the emotion and power that is stirred within each of us.
The same is true with art. A print of a great painting is pretty and, yes, it decorates the wall, but, with an original painting you’re better able to experience the emotion of the artist, to connect on that spiritual level I talked about. It’s tangible. When you make that connection, you and the artist are like two tuning forks, set to the same frequency. The emotion of the artist resonates within you and it becomes a shared experience.
How do or how can the arts overlap or compliment the missions of the church?
I love this quote of Elder Maxwell and use it on my business cards and website. It’s even on the back of my art van:
“When we rejoice in beautiful scenery, great art and great music, it is but the flexing of instincts acquired in another place and another time.”
I believe seeking, experiencing and embracing beauty can feed our spirits, nourish our souls and draw us nearer to God and Christ. So, if you accept the premise that along with providing saving ordinances the mission of the Church is to provide avenues for each us to increase and strengthen our spirituality, then the arts, all of them, are an important tool to be employed along with prayer, service, obedience and others in accomplishing the purposes of God. As the world becomes darker and darker, we will each need to discover and cling to beauty and light.
What, if any, developments have you noticed in Mormon art during your lifetime?
Two things: One, I’m so very, very pleased and grateful to see wonderful, powerful original art appearing in LDS temples and not just art with religious subject matter. Landscapes can be equally powerful in conveying a spirit of peace and an understanding of God’s love. In the past most temple art has been very illustrative in nature, conveying emotions from scriptural accounts. I see that changing and I think that’s a wonderful advancement. A tangent to this pattern is more quality, contemporary fine art being used in the Ensign magazine, including some even depicting angels with wings!
Second, I see more and more women in the Church continuing to nurture and develop their artistic talents in the arts by finding ways and time to create and sell their artwork while at home. It’s a wonderful creative outlet from the stress of motherhood and allows them to hone their God-given talents. Etsy has been a big contributor to this trend. I love watching their growth as artists. Eventually, as their talents and skills improve, galleries will discover them. I’m fortunate to represent several impressive young artists who fit this description.
What developments would you like to see in the future?
When I was younger, I feel there was a greater emphasis in the Church on the beneficial and contributing value of the arts in our lives. I remember dance festivals, speech and art contests and an emphasis on crafts…creativity in general. The Relief Society once had “Cultural Refinement” lessons. Art appreciation and paying for the actual development of those with artistic talent was once a significant part of the culture and identity of the Church. I would welcome a return to that in the lives of Church members.
What are some of your favorite places to look for art by LDS artists?
I love to visit the Springville Museum of Art twice a year to peruse and enjoy their annual Spring Salon and Spiritual and Religious Art exhibits. They are both wonderful events to see the works of quality artists. The festivals held in Spring City, Utah on Memorial and Labor Day weekends are also a good source as is the Church’s International Art Competition. I have friends operating are some terrific art galleries in Salt Lake and Park City, too. I’ve had some great references from other artists and I get unsolicited inquiries online each month from artists. Not all of the artists I represent are LDS, however, but most are.
How did you find yourself in the art gallery business?
I’ve spent most of my professional life in the world of politics and government affairs. That work environment has changed dramatically in the past 35 years. At this point in my life, I needed and wanted a more uplifting environment and to find work that brought joy to my soul and I turned to art. I also wanted to help others experience the emotional connection I’ve found with original art.
I investigated opening a “brick and mortar” gallery and found the overhead costs to be more than I wanted to take on. I learned from talking with some gallery owners that more and more of their sales were occurring over the internet. So, I launched FourSquare ART, an online original art gallery. By lessening my overhead costs, I’m able to return a higher percentage of each sale to the artist, where it belongs. Which really makes me happy.
Additionally, by starting this business, I discovered something remarkable and, to me, very telling. Those individuals engaged full-time in the creation of art are, without question, some of the kindest, deeply connected, genuine and most peaceful people I’ve dealt with in my life. Artists see life with a different, unaffected perspective. Nearly the opposite of many found working in politics today. I treasure my associations with each of the artists I work with through FourSquare ART. They are each real, wonderful souls.
What advice would you give to someone interested in starting an art collection?
Trust your instincts, buy only what you love and make the plunge.
It’s interesting and enjoyable for to me to work with clients who are buying original art for the first time. It’s a key part of my business model. We’ll walk through a series of PowerPoint slides I’ve prepared to unearth their initial reactions and determine the subject matter, style and media most appealing. When working with couples, it can be quite fun to watch the debates and interplay.
I also try to take away their fears. Many people are hesitant to buy original art because they “don’t know if it’s good art” and/or “it costs too much.” Quality and price seem to be the constraining questions.
First, the “quality” of a piece of art is best determined by whether it moves you emotionally. Does it inspire you? Does it make you happy, feel nostalgic, brighten your day or cause you to think? Does it bring you joy? Remember, all art has an audience. It may be just the mother who hangs a child’s finger painting on the fridge, but, every piece of art will touch someone. You may not like it, but someone will. So, if you see something that “speaks to you,” then it’s good art for you, it’s a match, buy it. Quality is determined by how it makes you feel not by what others think about it.
Secondly, art can be acquired at all prices. After looking around for years at art, I’m convinced price does not necessarily denote quality. One of my favorite paintings on my website, right now, is a small $500 painting by Lindey Carter. In the art world we hear the term “emerging artist,” denoting an artist who perhaps for years has been painting only for friends and family and is just now entering the art market and beginning to have some success with selling their art. I believe there are “emerging collectors” as well who are just entering the market. They may be ready to spend thousands on a large piece right off the bat, but, generally, they will be more comfortable buying small at first and allowing their interest and acquisitions to grow over time.
Finally, I’d tell them to avoid high-pressure galleries at first, some are better than others at working with new buyers. It’s important to get comfortable with understanding art and how you feel around it and how you react to different types and styles. Visit museums, try art festivals or small community galleries first.
Bottom line, buy what you like. Art can be a financial investment…and there are those who buy solely for that purpose…but art should be viewed as an investment in the emotional energy of your home or work environment.
Tell us about a piece you’ve collected that means a lot to you. Why do you love it? What’s the story behind your connection with this piece?
Wow, I could answer these questions for each of our paintings and each of the FourSquare ART artists. As I said, we should only buy paintings we connect with and I’ve tried to follow my own advice, but I need more wall space. Here’s just a few that come first to mind.
A favorite painting, “Dawn,” is of Christ’s empty tomb which I commissioned from Ron Richman, who does such marvelous draped fabrics. I asked him to consider the scripture, John 20:7 “And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.” Every time I look at that painting it makes me grateful for Christ’s sacrifice and causes me to ponder the staggering question, who folded the napkin? This painting has been “lifted” by numerous Christian groups and can be found all over the internet, especially at Easter.
Kirk Richards’ glorious painting “Hosanna Shout” graces our home’s entry and inspires us to remember the blessings of the temple in our life and the need to express gratitude. You should see it in the early morning when the light is reflecting off the copper foil worked into the halos. There are also some wonderful subtle images from Church history on the front of the clothes worn by some of the celebrants. Sometimes we literally will sing out, “Hosanna,” when we walk passed it.
Brian Kershisnik’s, “Halo Repair” sits directly across from my study desk and reminds me we all have need of repentance and where it comes from. It also touches on the role of angels in our process of becoming clean again. This one shows a man getting his halo adjusted which is perfectly appropriate for our home.
A most treasured painting, one that our kids will fight over when I’m dead, is by Natalie Featherston. It’s a colorful trompe l’oeil painting of a children’s drawing featuring each of our family members drawn as stick figures with a banner over our heads proclaiming the title, “Families Are Forever.” We lost a son to cancer just prior to his fourth birthday and there several meaningful nuggets in this painting to remind us of him and our connection to him as a family unit.
Cristall Harper’s lovely painting of and entitled, “Forget Me Nots.” was her sweet gift to remind me of my mother’s recent death and sits on my table in our study/library.
I have four paintings of different balls painted by my nine-year-old nephew on the wall outside my bedroom door. His first was done following our visit to the baseball hall of fame and they are each as creative as any other paintings I own in his use of color and design to show and depict the balls in play. Unlike most nine-year-olds, Sam did not draw an outline of the baseball, he let the edge between the blue sky and white ball define the shape. I think that’s pretty amazing.
I have a collection of small landscapes by a variety of artists, including, Jeff Pugh, Erin Spencer, Bridger Konkel and others which, in several instances, give a unique “view” and make me think of places I’ve visited in my life. Many of them feature clouds which have always been inspiring to me and draw me towards the heavens.
What do you look for in artists you choose to represent?
Thoughtful art. It’s pretty easy to recognize the work of artists who simply put some paint on a canvas from those who give meaningful thought as to where and how they put that paint on the canvas. It becomes more clear as you analyze their work using the traditional criteria of design, color, texture, form, etc. But, I look first for examples of intent. Were they just painting, or were they expressing emotions and purpose in their work. I want to represent work that’s moving and has an element of spirituality to it whether it’s a figurative, abstract, landscape or still life. I believe all of the FourSquare ART artists produce that kind of work.