By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – November 1, 2015) — In Daniel A. Siedell’s newest book, Whose Afraid of Modern Art: Essay on Modern Art and Theology in Conversation, he states, “Every painting is a self-portrait.” It’s an intriguing sentence. Siedell goes on to clarify: “it is the artist’s disclosure of himself to his audience, a painted justification of who he is in the world…” Another engaging thought. Siedell concludes the sentence with these words: [art] “is profoundly theological.”
I couldn’t agree more: Art is theological.
I think of these words as I mull over a triptych I’ve been working on for several months entitled, The Unanswered Question. I stared the painting a few months back, during brooding time in my life. The painting consists of three small canvases, each painted with oil in an expressive way. The final painting resembles a question mark with a fleeting period (a bottle cap).
The painting’s name is based on a musical composition by Charles Ives, from whence I took the title. Ives’ composition has three major parts: strings (representing time), woodwinds (representing voices giving answers), and a trumpet (asking the same question: what is existence?).
Ives’ work is philosophical and probing, if not menacing and a little unnerving (though beautiful as it is). It’s a masterpiece that’s been with me since my college days when I was first introduced to it, acting as a reminder of existence and the pounding questions asked within life.
If I take Siedell’s phrase, “Every painting is a self-portrait” as representational of my own painting, I’d have to say I agree with him: it clearly demonstrated my state of mind at its conception, from the colors used to the structure and order of the painting/s.
And I think the case can be made throughout history via many artists work: be it Da Vinci’s quest for symmetry, science, and order to express the world in which he lived, or to Van Gogh’s paintings that dealt with love, spiritual illumination, and mental instability; all artists leave a piece of his or her self on their medium.
So what is the role of the artist within the church?
Siedell uses words such as “joy and pain,” and a “wanderer” to describe artists working in the modern context. He states, “The modern artist often subsumed his virtuosity for the sake of assuming a childlike posture in the face of a terrible and beautiful world, in which forces act upon us despot our attempts to control and manipulate them…Modern art is lament in paint, and affirmation that we are broken and the world is not as it ought to be.” Siedell continues, “ Modern are remind us that contrary to our artistic, scientific, and political pretenses to control, we remain helpless children in the face of a world we cannot comprehend, filling us with awe and terror, joy and pain… And the only thing left that we as helpless children can do is to cry out for help and believe that our cry will be answered.”
Once again, I think Siedell is correct: the artist is one who cries out—offering a self-portrait of our place in the world, asking questions, much like the trumpet in Charles Ives musical composition: “what is existence?” And the questions that have the most power are theological in nature: why am I here? What’s my purpose in life? Is there more to life than the daily monotony? Why is there evil—or love for that matter? These are questions worth asking.
And the artist can help ask them in a much more sublime way than most.
But only God can provide the final answers—as found in His two books: the Word (Bible) and World (His creation). And artists do well to probe these two books with great care and consideration. For in them we find the God who is, was, and is to come; a God of beauty and love conjoined with power, holiness and awe.
Some questions in life may go unanswered, but when it concerns God—the answer is clear: He is pure actuality—absolute perfection; He is all that He can be; He is the question and the answer wrapped in one.
And knowing this about God should act as an unending resource for artists, writers, dancers, and poets—all people of expression—to find unlimited resources, intellectually, physically, and spiritually. In the end, artists within the church need “cry out and believe that our cry will be answered.”
For more on the artwork of Brian Nixon, read Dan Wooding’s interview here: http://www.crossmap.com/news/the-pastor-painter-controversy-and-beauty-in-the-artwork-of-brian-c-nixon-13870
Photo captions: 1) Dr. Daniel A. Siedell. 2) Who’s Afraid of Modern Art?. 3) Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook excerpt. 4) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon
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