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God in the Gallery

A Christian Embrace of Modern Art

series: Cultural Exegesis

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"A genuinely important contribution to the discussion of Christianity and the arts. . . . The book has already proven itself to be the stimulus that was needed to bump the conversation about Christianity and art out of the ruts into which it had settled."--Fred Sanders, Cultural Encounters

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. The latest book in the Cultural Exegesis series, God in the Gallery 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.

About the series: The Cultural Exegesis series provides methodological and foundational studies that address the way to engage culture theologically. Each volume works within a specific cultural discipline, illustrating and embodying the theory behind cultural engagement. By providing the appropriate tools, these books equip the reader to engage and interpret the surrounding culture responsibly.


"We've been waiting for this book for nearly forty 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, associate professor of philosophy, Calvin College; author of Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?

"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

"Daniel Siedell's passionate appreciation for common grace is apparent on every page of God in the Gallery. This is a book that should be widely read not only for its penetrating account of the contemporary art world but also for its larger understanding of Christ and culture."--John Wilson, editor, Books & Culture

"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

"Finally! A book for contemporary Protestant communities that drinks deeply from the christological dogmas that arose out of the Byzantine iconoclastic controversy (eighth and ninth centuries). In a masterful way, Siedell shows the contemporary relevance of Nicaea II (AD 787) for modern artists and the worship practices of Western Christianity. Readers will discover an iconic worldview that is simultaneously incarnational, sacramental, and transcendent. More than a book, it is an event that celebrates the universal and timeless relevance of Orthodox icons for the twenty-first-century church--East and West." --Bradley Nassif, professor of biblical and theological studies, North Park University

"In these beautifully crafted essays, Siedell brings the eye of the curator, the intellect of the critic, and the passion of the believer to a much-misunderstood subject. The reader is rewarded with a clear, sharply critical, theologically astute, and decisive apologia for the essential contribution of contemporary art to the life of faith."--Robin Jensen, Luce Chancellor's Professor of the History of Christian Art and Worship, Vanderbilt University Divinity School

The Author

  1. Daniel A. Siedell

    Daniel A. Siedell

    Daniel A. Siedell (PhD, University of Iowa) is presidential scholar and art historian in residence at The King's College in New York City. He is also visiting professor of Christianity and culture at Knox Theological Seminary. Siedell previously was scholar in...

    Continue reading about Daniel A. Siedell


"God in the Gallery is an impressive detonation in and of itself. The Christianity-and-art conversation is gridlocked. . . . A book capable of broaching this impasse has long needed to be written--but who would have suspected it would be this good? What makes God in the Gallery noteworthy is that it addresses another gridlock as well, that of contemporary art. . . . Siedell's qualifications enable him to address both these dilemmas. . . . The book offers a brief survey of modern art, an introduction to the condition of and key players in contemporary art, a summary of the academic-populist divide in art criticism, a diagnosis of the Christianity-and-art conversation, and a primer on recent theological trends. Of course one book can't do all these completely, but this one does them all surprisingly well. . . . High is the pile of sophisticated recent books on theological aesthetics. God in the Gallery might enable such labor to actually reach where it is needed most--plunging from the ethereal heights of the seminaries deep into the streets (even the gutters) of contemporary art. . . . As Siedell explains, the art world is extremely complex, and wholesale dismissals are entirely unwarranted. Many of the artists Siedell has worked with are also frustrated with the art world, and Siedell's iconic vision is a needed strategy for that world's renewal. Christians who consider contemporary art an unpleasant mystery will find this book an effective primer to genuine engagement. . . . Siedell's vision of contemporary art inspired by the Christian icon is a compelling one."--Matthew J. Milliner, First Things

"What do you think of when you hear the words modern art or contemporary art? Few subjects have generated as much obtuse commentary, and the blame for that failure can be found on every hand--starting with artists themselves, and not excluding those whose job is writing about art--but Christians have contributed more than their share to the general muddle. How refreshing, then, to have this book by an evangelical scholar equally conversant with Mark Noll and Marcel Duchamp, one whose fundamental attitude toward creation and the Creator is gratitude."--John Wilson, Christianity Today

"Siedell provides a fascinating personal journey with wider applications which identify positive entry points to modern and contemporary art; all of which are worthy of further and fuller investigation."--Jonathan Evens, Art and Christianity

"Siedell's argument for receiving and treasuring modern and contemporary art is a welcome contribution to the ongoing debate concerning visual art in the life of the Protestant Church. . . . Valuable insight into the world of modern and contemporary art, its development and formal criticism, is found in Siedell's book. He is both thoughtful and articulate. Siedell does maintain the distinctions between high and low art, a line that some seek to blur or even eliminate today. But his focus on the development and contemplation of high art, especially non-objective expressions, is a timely challenge to the evangelical world that is largely inundated by low art. . . . All Christian constituencies struggle to make sense of non-representational artifacts produced in the last one hundred years. Siedell provides a necessary call and initial step toward critically engaging in constructive conversation with this powerful world of art and those who have brought it to life."--Mark A. Torgerson, Worship

"Daniel Siedell strikes out in search of an alternative assessment of modern art with God in the Gallery. . . . Readers will appreciate the historic contextualization within which to evaluate Siedell's main arguments. Particularly important is Siedell's recurrent return to the concept of the Icon. . . . This book would be very valuable to anybody interested in understanding the relationship between Christianity and the visual arts. Significant events that shape the relationship between the two are outlined. A fresh perspective on how the church could again engage with the institution of contemporary art in a meaningful way should be valuable to those within the church seeking to engage with the often-misunderstood art world. Artists will find solace in the affirmation of art as a liturgical and contemplative practice that, even when not overtly addressing religious subject matter, parallels and complements the practices of faith."--Arnold Carlson, Doxology

"One of the more thoughtful and mature books in this field. . . . A very important work. [Siedell] gives a profound and serious invitation for Christians of all sorts to take modern art seriously. He takes exception to some of the 'in house' writers, critics, and patrons who have promoted 'Christians art' and desires for us all to engage the real stuff. Very provocative."--Byron Borger,

"There is a kind of intensity and restlessness about Siedell . . . and a passion too. . . . [Siedell's] attention to Nicene faith is refreshing, especially when so much Protestant theological engagement with the arts limits itself to the direct quotation of scripture without acknowledging that we all read scripture with the eyes of tradition, and that it would therefore be wise to imbibe the biblically oriented tradition in which all modern Christianity is historically rooted. The Nicene focus is also encouraging in that much of the theology-arts debate outside the evangelical sphere has taken its cue from Paul Tillich and his heirs, and thus neglected the stabilizing profundity of this more ancient wisdom."--Jeremy Begbie, Image

"This insightful book makes a significant attempt to reconnect the world of modern art and the Christian faith, which are so often seen to be irreconcilable. Siedell, as an art historian, critic, and curator, has a wealth of experience and a passion for modern art, which make this a very enjoyable read. . . . Siedell opens the reader's eyes to appreciate modern art, and provides insights on the art world which are interesting to both art beginners and art professionals."--Clare Moll, Theological Book Review

"For readers . . . who are interested in 'pursuing a biblically informed, Christ-centered Trinitarian engagement of contemporary culture,' Siedell's book is a model. Siedell is eminently qualified for this engagement. . . . He lives in the world of contemporary art, cares passionately about it, and is on a personal quest to make sense of it as a believer. . . . God in the Gallery [is] a genuinely important contribution to the discussion of Christianity and the arts. Siedell has managed to carve out a new conceptual space for Christian engagement with modern art. . . . The book will be most helpful for readers who already know where the museum of contemporary art is, and who are already consuming a lot of contemporary art and art criticism. For those readers, the book has already proven itself to be the stimulus that was needed to bump the conversation about Christianity and art out of the ruts into which it had settled."--Fred Sanders, Cultural Encounters