“The First Vision”
Perhaps the most significant event in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, perhaps one of the greatest events to ever unfold since Christ’s resurrection to those who believe, is the account of Joseph Smith’s first encounter with Deity. Specifically, the moment when God the Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ, appeared to the young boy and called on him to perform a great work in this last dispensation.
For those unfamiliar with the account, you can read about it in the published Joseph Smith – History. To summarize, Joseph was 13 years old (in his 14th year) and was weighed down by the many different teachings and preaching from the different sects at the time. There were so many different interpretations – which one was right? After reading a Biblical passage on prayer, Joseph went into a grove of trees to ask which one was right, when he received a visitation from the Father and the Son, instructing him to join none of them, and that he would be an instrument in their hands to recover that which was lost of the Gospel of Christ.
Since that moment, Joseph was met with much opposition and disdain for claiming this vision, while it being embraced by many simultaneously. This is arguably one of the most divisive moments in modern religious history as well.
The Different Accounts
There are several recorded accounts of the “First Vision”, some from Joseph, some that Joseph dictated. In all, the different accounts can give us a whole picture of the event. While some criticize the differences, I personally would find it more suspicious if they were all exactly the same. That’s not how I share experiences from my life. Often, depending on what I wanted to emphasize, I would include or omit certain details. Depending on my audience, the time frame I had to share it, what would be well received and what wouldn’t, what point I was trying to make, etc.
I wanted to take from the different accounts some of the most striking elements to my mind, and emphasize the significant parts to portray the feeling I wanted to share in an image.
The result of this painting was firm in my mind from the beginning, and this is one of those instances where I can say that it turned out almost exactly as I pictured it. I wanted to capture that exact moment when the light appeared above Joseph, as if I had a high speed camera was pointed at the grove from a distance, and it snapped the picture at the perfect time. I wanted to get a sense of that moment, literally and symbolically, that chased the darkness that encompassed Joseph, and introduced the light of a new dispensation to a world that was also in spiritual darkness.
I wanted to get a sense of the division this moment reflects, a division of light and dark that accompanied Joseph for the rest of his life, that accompanied Christ during His ministry, and ultimately always accompanied the Kingdom of God when it was on the earth. I pictured that light pouring into the darkness, almost like the image of an hourglass with sand pouring down into an empty cave. I wanted the light to be “resting” on Joseph, illuminating the young boy, the first prophet called of God in nearly two thousand years since Apostasy covered the earth, who was also the first person in this dispensation to see the light of Christ through that darkness.
A Few Details from his accounts
I wanted there to be a “pillar of light” extending from the Father and the Son, with Joseph looking straight up. I felt this was difficult to capture in many images and on film, without getting some distance.
That distance also allowed the painting to give the viewer the immensity of the moment I feel it was.
In one account, Joseph spoke of the light that became more brilliant as it descended through the trees, and he expected the grove to be “consumed” with fire afterword. So, I made the leaves on the trees turning brighter, even white, the nearer they were to the Father and Son, and a white spiritual “fire” that began to “consume” the trees around them.
One part that I was going to include, but chose not to in the end, were angels that were spoken of in one account Joseph shared. I simply felt, after stepping back and looking at it, that the angels would almost be a distraction to the what I wanted to portray. Maybe the angels came shortly after this moment.
The Father and the Son
When considering the Father and the Son, I took a little liberty in their position. A long time ago I had a different picture in my head than the traditional one that is often seen, with God the Father and the Savior standing shoulder to shoulder. Joseph Smith never detailed their exact positions (why would he?) but I pictured them being close together, perhaps with the Father’s arm around Christ, and Christ being on the right hand of God, naturally. This is a loving position in my mind, with a Father introducing his Son in whom He “is well pleased.”
A few years ago, when I was touring the conference center in Salt Lake City, I saw a statue that was almost exactly how I always pictured it in my head. This is the a statue by Kraig Varner, though the one in the conference center has the Father and Son a little higher. I wish I had $11,000 to buy that sculpture, because I would in a heartbeat. It’s truly one of my favorite works of art, LDS or not.
The Final Vision
I really enjoyed creating this piece, and I hope it leaves with you an impression of the magnitude of this glorious event, and you find value in viewing it.