God in the Gallery
30 April 2009 1 Comment
Seidell was curator of The Sheldon when I was a studio art student at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Heather Goodman reviews the book over at L’Chaim. It’s a good review which includes the following quote:
The church, with its liturgical practice, is most definitely not the place to incorporate art that forces the worshiper to ‘ask tough questions,’ ‘challenge previously held beliefs,’ and so on. Those are absolutely important practices, but not in liturgy.
Bear in mind that Seidell is a curator, not an artist or clergyman.
I’m not sure what I think of this particular statement. As someone who thinks often and in detail about the space I visit for regular corporate worship, I can see his point. However, as a visual artist I think I have to disagree. Goodman’s own comments might sum up this discord as well as I can (emphasis mine):
I don’t agree. To be fair, Siedell doesn’t believe that the church stymies imagination but can inspire the imagination, especially through engagement with Nicene theology. But I don’t like this separation of art for the church and art for the world. First, in our teaching (sermons, Bible studies, Sunday schools, small groups), we “ask tough questions” and “challenge previously held beliefs,” so why not in our art in the church? Second, if drawing into the church encourages and prepares us to go out into the world, why should we compartmentalize aspects of our life? Shouldn’t it all flow together?
(I want to note that in addition to stimulating the imagination, Siedell also believes the church can patron the arts and should, not just through funding, but through training the artist spiritually. I wholeheartedly agree with this.)
I allow that there’s an expectation level. You don’t want to shock the worshiper so that they can’t worship. This requires discernment, gentleness, and education. I’ll also allow that not every bit of art is appropriate because it may not be an art that a particular culture engages in. Sometimes this should be challenged, but sometimes it is in line with contextualization. But art that a culture engages in as part of their everyday lives is fair game.
All in all Goodman thoroughly enjoyed God in the Gallery and recommends it for anyone interested in the conversation between art and faith. I’ll add that I’m glad Seidell took the time to write the book from his point of view as a curator.