Putting Art (Back) In Its Place

by John E. Skillen

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Retail: $24.95
Size: 6 x 9 inches
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 250
Pub Date: November 2016
ISBN: 9781619707597
ISBN-13: 9781619707597
Item Number: 707597
Categories: Religion and Culture

Product Description

Most Christians today view art from a distance: Do not touch!

In frames and galleries, art is walled off from the rest of life. Christian discussions of art focus primarily on artists as lonely dreamers and encourage training artists in technique, while leaving them up to their own devices in deciding what to create and how to keep food on the table.

Yet for a long time, artwork assisted communities in performing actions that defined their corporate work and identity (their liturgies). Art touched the entire community: the artist, commissioning patrons, advisors who articulated beliefs and ideas, and representatives of the community for whom the art was made. The whole body of Christ played a part in the creation and use of art that said: Touch me and see!

In order for Christians to foster a vibrant culture of the arts, we must restore and cultivate active and respectful relationships among artists, patrons, scholars, communities and the art they create. Putting Art (Back) in its Place equips laity and clergy to think historically about the vibrant role the visual arts have played—and could again play—in the life of the church and its mission.


"Using the early Renaissance in Italy as case study and model, Putting Art (Back) in Its Place makes a powerfully persuasive argument for how art can and, more importantly, why art should play a significant role in shaping the life and aspirations of a community—civic or ecclesial. For those who ask why Italian Renaissance art and culture so captivates and conjures up a wistful longing for some lost ideal, this book provides at least part of the answer. Drawing on his many years of experience building intentional community for students in the hilltown of Orvieto, John Skillen skillfully unveils the power of works of art made for a particular people, place, and purpose and lays out a compelling vision for how art can inform—even shape—communal life in a voice that is truly his own—winsome, learned, and authentic."
Rachel Hostetter Smith, Gilkison Distinguished Professor of Art History, Taylor University

“This book has solid academic credentials, but it is not “academic” in the sense that word is too often used. The book springs from John Skillen’s long residency in Italy and his intimate knowledge of Italian Renaissance art, and makes an impassioned argument that the visual arts can deepen our life together. He draws extensively from history to propose roles for art that are absent today, hoping that art might again live with us instead of continue its solitary confinement in museums and galleries.”
Theodore Prescott is a sculptor and Emeritus Professor of Art at Messiah College. tedprescottsculpture.com

“Dr. John Skillen releases his long awaited book—which asks what role art can play at the heart of our communities (again!). He discusses powerfully the essential role it played in Italian culture over a 300 year period (before, during, and immediately after the Renaissance) revealing the depth of connection made to the deepest wellsprings of meaning and belonging.

Dr. Skillen then moves us into a receptive frame of mind, offering hope and challenge as we consider a vital place for art once again—putting it (back) to work in its capacity to "say" those things embedded in memory, imagination, and the future vision of a people. A must read.”
Bruce Herman, Department chair and professor of Art at Gordon College

“This volume is an excellent resource for those teaching classes in art appreciation and also for church leaders who long for quality music, architecture, and visual art in their churches once again. While dealing with topics that are at once historically rich and theologically deep, the book is approachable and easy to read for those with some background in the arts. As an added bonus, the book also offers access to a website which allows readers to visually see all of the pieces of art being discussed within the text—a wonderful advantage for today’s visually-oriented student.”
John Mark Miller, Adjunct Professor of Fine Arts, Dallas Baptist University

For those whose acquaintance with Italian Renaissance painting comes from a college art appreciation course or from being a member of a group touring the sights in Italy, Skillen's Putting Art (Back) in Its Place will come as a stunning eye-opener. Renaissance paintings are typically abstracted from their contexts and treated as episodes in stylistic history. Skillen puts them back in their architectural, liturgical, and narrative contexts, and illuminates the social practices whereby the public at the time would have engaged them and whereby the public would, in turn, have been formed by them. The discussion is wide-ranging, deeply informed and insightful. Many times over I had the sense of scales falling from my eyes: "So that's what's going on in that chapel!" "So that's what's going on in that painting."
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Yale University; Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia; Honorary Professor, Australian Catholic University

"Written with lively clarity and accompanied by a website that provides images of the paintings as well as detailed study questions, Skillen’s book offers insight that extends beyond its area of specialization. An informative and often dazzling explanation of Renaissance Italian art, the book encourages a countercultural view of what art might be to us: a communal and spiritual touchstone rather than a decorative or economic object."
Alex Miller, Jr., Adjunct Professor in the humanities at Gordon College

Author Bio

John Skillen is a specialist in medieval and Renaissance literature. He taught at Gordon College for 15 years before launching an arts-oriented semester program in Orvieto, Italy, in 1998. Since then, Dr. Skillen has been teaching courses in Orvieto on the cultural context of medieval and Renaissance Italian art, on Renaissance storytelling in literature and visual art, and on Dante’s Divine Comedy. With students of all ages, Dr. Skillen has lead dozens of seminars and retreats that study Italian masterpieces in their original locations. Dr. Skillen directs the Studio for Art, Faith & History in Orvieto, Italy, which he founded in 2005.