Professor John Skillen directs the Studio for Art, Faith & History while serving as a senior advisor in Gordon College's Global Education Office.
Dr. Skillen's book, Putting Art (Back) in its Place (Hendrickson, 2016) gives an account of the community-and-site-specific places in which art functioned in medieval-Renaissance Italy, and suggests the value of putting the work of art back in the places where communities perform their work. As Nicholas Wolterstorff remarks,
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."
Professor Skillen’s essays on the arts and tradition have appeared in IMAGE journal and the journal of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA); in a book on painter Bruce Herman’s Magnificat triptychs; in Transformations at the
Edge of the World; and on the Studio’s website. Essays published on-line include an account of educating “in situ” in Orvieto in Cardus’s Commentary e-journal, and essays for the European ArtWay on the contemporary architect Richard Meier’s Jubilee Church near Rome and on the new interest in the tradition of ekphrasis, or writing poetry about artworks. Several of the papers presented at the conference entitled Eucharist and Eschatology: Art and Theology in the Orvieto Duomo were published with Dr. Skillen’s assistance by the Seminary of Central Italy in the volume Spazi e Immagini dell'Eucaristia: Il Caso di Orvieto (2007).
Dr. Skillen received his Ph.D. (1982) from Duke University, concentrating in medieval and Renaissance literature. A graduate of Gordon College, Skillen joined the English department of his alma mater in 1983 as the specialist in medieval, Renaissance and 17th Century literature. After leading a number of Summer Seminars in Italy, Dr. Skillen collaborated with his colleagues in the Art department to create the arts-oriented program in Orvieto, Italy, now in its 20th year. Dr. Skillen directed the Gordon IN Orvieto program from 1998 to 2008. The program has hosted 700 students from over 25 institutions, and was featured in a volume of Best Practices in Christian study abroad programs entitled Transformations on the Edge of the World (Abilene Christian University Press, 2010).
The Studio for Art, Faith & History was established in 2005 as the wing of the semester program for developing and administering special projects that offered creative contemporary responses to premodern traditions in the visual arts, theater, and music.