I recently watched this 45-minute lecture by my friend, Dan Siedell, and I found it challenging, compelling, and fresh. He gives a very different angle on how Christians think about art and its purpose(s). I don’t hear others talking like this. It’s vulnerable and autobiographical, but its points aren’t just subjective musings.
- What Dan describes as “art interpreting me” gets at art’s prophetic role in our lives, causing us to question ourselves, analyze ourselves, as it forth-tells truths to us about us.
- He graciously challenges the understanding of some of the seminal works on art that have influenced evangelicals
The work of art…makes a claim on the viewer: “You, whom I see; you, who stands before me; you must give an account.” And I have felt that claim. Theologian Oswald Bayer simply but provocatively states: “We must be told who we are.” A painting does something like that to me. It diagnoses me, tells me who I am and who I am not. And one of the ways it does that is to disclose the present moment. As sons and daughters of Cain, we live our lives as restless wanderers and enveloped in a fog of discontent. We find comfort in the past with our nostalgia or regret and in the future with our fears and ambitions. We reign as kings in what David Foster Wallace once called “our tiny, skull-sized kingdoms.” The work of art jerks us out of that fog back into the present moment where I stand being looked at by another, spoken to by another, reminded by what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians: “What do you have that you did not first receive?” The painting, when I happen upon it at a museum, exists at that moment for me. I am the intended audience for that work, and it speaks to me. What do I hear? That is the challenge and opportunity of art criticism and theology.
One of the things that compels me most about this lecture is that it seeks to understand (especially modern) art from the motivation of love, first and foremost. I don’t hear that preeminent motivation in the way other Christians sometimes speak of modern art. Also contained in this talk is some very important reflection on the how the law and the gospel play out in life, particularly through art.
The lecture begins at about 4:30 and ends at 46:00, after which begins a time of Q & A.