Saturday, April 12, 2014

Angela Opel on Tillich's Aesthetic


[Image: Kandinsky, Improvisation 26, 1912, Munich, Lenbachhaus.] {{FN: Tillich used him and showed this picture, which belongs into the German expressionism, but not as much as one would have hoped.}}

Art is revelation of the last reality; art can be religious if it expresses the experience of last sense or last reality. This is handled via his notion of style. The artist makes it possible, to reveal to the observer things that were not understood, known or appreciated before. The interruption of the trusted view of the world is the goal. The aesthetic claim is that the observer needs to step into the work of art. 

Tillich's treatment of works, vocabulary and styles is ideosyncratic, which makes the reception of his take difficult for the art historians. 

In terms of language, Tillich reuses technical languages of the art historians but with a morphed sense. 

[Willem van de Velde, Ruhige See -- Holländische Schiffe gehen vor Anker, 1665-70]

Tillich couples style and motives, claiming that it expresses the theological stance of a time. Style for Tillich implies motives, but that is thinking about it the wrong way. 

[Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Straßenszene, 1913]

The expressive element is important for Tillich, which he enumerates in the styles that he was interested in, brings up the depth of the elements. He then has reasons for how this applies to each style. This differs from the art historical take on expressionism, where colors and line forms and closeness of composition. Sometimes his style claims end up being mannerisms. This skips the meaning that the distortions have. Tillich needed a religious contents which was independent of the picture contents, and chose the style. 

[Caspar David Friedrich, Der Mönch am Meer, 1810]

Only Expressionism in the sense of Tillich expresses the religious ground; but what about Caspar David Friedrich, who was looking for new ways of talking about religion, esp. the landscape. At the End of the 1910s and 1920s, there is such a plurality of geneses of styles that such approaches as Tillich's cannot succeed.

[Gustave Courbet, Steineklopfer, 1849/50]
[Louis-Robert Carrier-Belleuse, Mehlträger, 1885, Musée du Petit Palais]

Tillich has a similar problem with realism (e.g. Steineklopfer). But there is also Naturalism (Mehltäger). Idealism is an elimination of realism, by transcending the reality to improve its depiction.

[Rene Magritte, La trahison des images (Ceci n'est pas une pipe), 1929, Los Angeles, County Museum]
[Joseph Kosuth, One and three chairs, 1965, New York, Museum of Modern Art]

Tillich's work with symbol of the artist is either more or less differentiated than what the art historians do.

[Jacopo Pontormo, Kreuzabnahme, 1525, Florenz, Sta. Felicita, Cappela Capponi]
[Max Beckmann, Kreuzabnahme, 1917 New York, Museum of Modern Art]

Tillich seemed dependent on Georg Simmel, Hartlaubs und von Sydow, which saw in expressionism a restart of religion. 

[Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Strassenszene, 1913]
[Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Farbentanz I, 1930/32, Ingeborg Dr. Wolfgang Henze-Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bern.]
Tillich's approach also makes it impossible to see the development of the artists, as the comparison of Kirchner's works. 

[Paul Cezanne, Stilleben vor Kommode, 1883/1887, Munich, Neue Pinakothek]
[Fritz von Uhde, Lasset die Kindlein zu mir kommen, 1884, Leipzig, Museum der Bildenden Künste]
Tillich saw less Christian truth in von Uhde than in Cezanne, even if during his life von Uhde was a much awarded and rewarded artist, even receiving a doctorate in theology, h.c., from the University of Leipzig.

[Sandor Botticelli, Madonna mit Kund und singenden Engeln, sog. Raczynski-Tondo, 1646-1485, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, SMPK]
This picture was very important to Tillich and had given him strength in WW1, and exposed to Tillich something akin to an revelation. 

However, a tondo must show something important (and not the kitchen); it is an devotional painting of the 16th century, since the private devotion requests these images. The fact that the Madonna shows the knees puts her very close, she looks over the audience to the distance, but the Christ child looks at the observer. The angels are in a turn-based song (left are quiet and look at observer, right are moving their lips). The look at the observer invites the observer in.

Tillich works both collage-like and fragmenting. His attempts of art theology cannot be fitted back into the art history. Thus he cannot participate in the art philosophy, and more background there would be necessary. Sometime Tillich simplifies, skips, or misunderstands, and thereby becomes ahistorical. 

[Der Deutsche Werkbund]

All art has a context. Tillich's theology of art has such a context as well. He saw pictures in the magazines in the trenches, as well as the reading of Simmel, Hartlaub und Eckart von Sydow. Already in Berlin up to 1924 does Tillich include art in his lectures.  

In the USA, Tillich lost a bit of the immediate contact to the art world, even though he lectured at the Museum of Modern Art. But there is a gap from 1936 to 1952 that Tillich basically misses, including Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Rauschenberg, etc.

Tillich helped with an exhibit of religious art at the Chicago Art Institute. He was a member of a commission in 1955 that chose 58 depictions of religious art 

[Sog. Hemstedter Crucifix, 1060, Essen Werden]

[Roy Lichtenstein, Engagement Ring, 1961.]
[Tom Wesselman, Still Life, 1963, New York Museum of Modern Art (?)] 
[Robert Rauschenberg, Inside-Out, 1962, Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen]
These were some of the first times that Tillich got back into the art discussion.

[Willem de Kooning, Woman I, 1950-52]
[Willem de Kooning, Woman Accabonac, 1966]
Tillich wants depictions of something, and this is supposed to be the ungrounded.
Tillich also did not statues, because he could walk behind it, which he thought was not what happened in old Greek Temples.
Tillich did not want to see people objectified. 

[Naum Gabo, Spiral Theme, 1941, London, Tate Modern]
[Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1948, New York, Museum of Modern Art]
Tillich never discussed abstract art, with the exception of this work by Gabo, which Tillich chose to explain some of his types. 

A synthesis of holy and profane is a helpful stance, even if Tillich was insufficiently versed as an art historian to participate in these discussions. 


  • The Werkbund noticed that the objects are neither useful nor aesthetic, which William Morris and the arts & crafts movement brought up after the first Weltausstellung. Design wants functional things that are aesthetically satisfying, which helps the person in their self-development, and they need to be affordable (esp. Morris). The Neue Sachlichkeit argues that ornamentation that is non-functional is ethically wrong.
  • Tillich saw his efforts as an integrative effort, because he wants to be pedagogical that show this spread across the disciplines. He knew that he was reaching across the boundaries, and it is effective and changes its perspectives; an approach that Tillich used for his systems.


Angela M. Opel, Von Botticelli zum Expressionismus ... und fast bis zur Pop Art: Paul Tillich, Bild-/Werk und Kontext.

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