God in the Gallery Part 3: The Wheels Begin to Come Off

After two excellent, thought-provoking chapters that begin God in the Gallery, the wheels begin to come off when Mr. Siedell begins to talk about the actual…you know…art.

The first huge weakness of Mr. Siedell’s book is that he rests so much of his theory of modern art and Christianity on what he calls Nicene Christianity.  What he means by that is the branch of Christianity that accepted and formulated the allowance of icons in the church.  As he reminds us over and over again, iconography to “Nicene Christianity” is a necessity.  The only problem with this is that if iconography is wrong, then his whole theory falls.  Mr. Siedell never bothers to defend iconography from the Scriptures (presumably because he does not find it there).  He “finds” it in a council of the church (Council of Nicea in 787).  This is a shaky foundation indeed.

Mr. Siedell begins to discuss his Christian embrace of modern art by weaving it around a discussion of specific works of art.  He begins with a whole chapter on “Thing and Deception” by Enrique Celaya.

 One wonders if he does so because the gallery of which he is the curator bought the work, so while it may look like a broken and reassembled chocolate bunny in cellophane to you and I, Mr. Siedell has to make sense of it because he bought it, if you know what I mean.
At any rate, here is what Mr. Siedell writes about this particular work: “It is not what it appears on the surface; it affirms and negates interpretation; it invites yet frustrates free associations; it attracts and repels.  It seems simultaneously banal and  profound.”  
I have learned that these are code words in modern art for: I really have no clue what this piece is all about but I have to say something so people will know that I “get” the art.  Again, this to me is the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” writ large in modern art.
Mr. Siedell spends a lot of time on Jackson Pollock’s (in)famous drip paintings.  He writes a lot of words about the paintings, but none of them ultimately mean anything.  Here are some examples:
“These pictures offer a vertiginous variety of foreground and background shifts and changes, so much so that such relationships, such dichotomies, seem to dissolve.”
“These remarkable paintings transcend the dichotomy between form and content; they can be read either as all form or all content.”
“Pollock’s barn thus became the sacred space within which the priest Pollock worked and the context within which his actions had meaning.  The paintings were the by-product, the residue, the aftermath of certain sacred actions at a particular moment in time in a particular context.”
Oh, NOW I see, the important thing was not the painting, that was the leftover, the residue, it was all about his barn.  He was a priest and the cathedral was his barn.  I am enlightened! 
 
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