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By Daniel A. Siedell / Baker Academic / 2008
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Unfortunately, within certain Christian communities, art is often viewed with skepticism, if not disdain. Art historian, critic, and curator Daniel Siedell presents a different perspective in God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art. It is a welcome addition to the scant volumes that cover an evangelical reflection on the arts and the aesthetic life. Siedell ultimately contends that art is not antithetical or hostile to Christianity. Instead, it’s in dialogue with it as well as a gift as opposed to a threat to faith. The author extracts insights about worldviews from thinkers ranging from Francis Schaeffer to David Naugle. Furthermore, he constructs a framework for interpreting modern art “in Christ.” Siedell also examines the role of visual art in worship and Christian experience. The book is enhanced with images from such artists as Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, Enrique Martinez Celaya, and others.
God in the Gallery will serve as an essential text for Christian colleges that emphasize worldview thinking and integration of faith and learning; in addition, it will play a helpful role in curriculum development and will reshape the direction of campus art departments and galleries. In sum, professors and students of art, aesthetics, theology, and the intersection of faith and culture will appreciate this dialogue.
We’ve been waiting for this book for nearly 40 years. Finally, a robust and unapologetically Christian engagement with contemporary art by an ‘insider’ to its world and conversation. Though Siedell invites us beyond the wooden ideal of ‘the Christian artist,’ at the same time he articulates a vision of artistic practice and criticism rooted in the church. He provides much-needed wisdom, modeling how Christians can charitably engage modern art. He also provides much-needed guidance for how Protestants can—and should—incorporate the arts in worship beyond the eclectic pastiche of the ‘hip.’ Required reading for emerging artists—and their teachers.
—James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy, Calvin College
God in the Gallery is a seminal work of interpretation, a guide for skeptics and faithful alike, in which Siedell offers a most profound, encouraging survey of contemporary art. An Emmaus Road encounter for those traveling on the path of contemporary art, Siedell’s careful and loving attention paid to known and unknown artists will surely open our eyes. A must read for all of us laboring in the art world and in the arts academia.
—Makoto Fujimura, artist, founder/creative director, International Arts Movement
Dan Siedell is an exceptionally thoughtful and articulate observer of the very difficult intersection of religious belief and contemporary art. Writing from the perspective of a committed religious belief, Siedell makes his careful way toward modernism and postmodernism, paying attention to those moments when modernism’s utopian aims have appeared as the search for ‘a new world, a better world, a perfect world, redeemed, perhaps saved.’ Siedell argues, very gently, for a more capacious reading of secularist critics, such as Clement Greenberg, and he reads Janine Antoni, Wolfgang Laib, and even Jackson Pollock as instances of ‘artistic practices of belief.’ The aim is to develop a ‘rich vocabulary’ to help revive ‘the sacramental and liturgical identity of human practice.’ The book is full of unexpected and promising confluences. Here a reader will find the principal secular theorists of modernism, but this book is also ‘nourished by Nicene Christianity’ and informed by a wonderful range of authors, from Florensky, Levinas, and Wyschogrod to Seerveld, Wolterstorff, Walford, and Dyrness. This is a tremendous book, a genuine effort at dialogue in an arena marked by the near-complete absence of open exchange.
—James Elkins, E. C. Chadbourne Chair in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Daniel A. Siedell is the director of theological and cultural practices at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and chancellor at Knox Seminary. He previously served as professor of modern and contemporary art history at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and was curator of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He has published numerous articles in Books & Culture, Christian Scholar’s Review, Studies in Religious Perspectives, and various other journals.