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Home Arts & Culture Art Historian Dan Siedell Speaks on Modern Art and Faith

Photo of Dan Siedell courtesy of The King’s College YouTube channel.


by April Bayer


Nationally-recognized art critic and historian Dr. Dan Siedell visited Concordia this week to speak to faculty and students about the relationship between Christianity and modern art.

Siedell is a Nebraska native and holds a doctorate in Modern Art from the University of Iowa. He served as a Professor of Modern & Contemporary Art History & Theory at the University of Nebraska-Omaha from 2007-2011. He was also the Chief Curator of the Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln from 1996-2007. Siedell currently holds a position as a Presidential Scholar of Art History and Criticism at the King’s College in New York City.

Siedell’s talk on Thursday focused on many of the points he makes in his book Who’s Afraid of Modern Art?: Essays on Modern Art and Theology in Conversation, a text that is used in Professor of Art James Bockelman’s Christian Art and Architecture class.

“The…significant point that Siedell develops later in his book is this: Rather than arguing that culture is Christian or not Christian, the more basic question that both the modern artist and the person of faith ask is, ‘Why do I exist?’(and) ‘What is my purpose?’” Bockelman said in his introduction to Siedell’s presentation.

Siedell began his talk by discussing the relationship between faith and culture and how faith can affect a person’s perception of art.

Siedell went on to discuss his own experiences in studying modern art and working with artists as a student in New York, a curator and a studio manager and how these experiences impacted his faith.

“I did not go through a period of…rejecting the faith, but it never dawned on me that my love of modern art needed to be reconciled with my faith,” Siedell said. “I wish I had thought theologically about my work before I attended graduate school. Today I am thankful that I have a space to pursue my vocation as an art historian wonderfully unencumbered by these questions.”

Siedell also cited the works of several modern artists, including Edvard Munch’s The Scream and the paintings of Paul Cezanne to demonstrate his belief that modern art is useful because it depicts humanity’s distorted, sinful view of the world and illustrates the reality of pain and suffering.

“(Modern art) reminds us of something we want to forget…our suffering, our vulnerability, our weakness,” Siedell said.

Siedell concluded that while modern art can be intimidating, he considers it to be useful because it reminds him of God’s promises and leads him to see Christ in his vocation.

“Who’s afraid of modern art? I am. But I have come to learn that through modern art, through my vocation of living my life in and through it, God has, is and will continue to keep His promises,” Siedell said.

The presentation concluded with a question and answer session where Siedell shared more personal insights with audience members.

“Dr. Siedell’s talk was fascinating!” junior Lindsay Sampson said in an email interview. “He, at times, could be very intense, almost morose about the issues surrounding Christianity and modern art. But, at the heart of it, he had a hopeful message of perseverance and a love of beauty that I think really resonated with Concordia artists.”

Siedell also spoke in a faculty Table Talk session on Wednesday, April 5 about how modern art relates to vocation and the two kingdoms.

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