Paul Tillich, The Theology of Art
Paul Tillich(1886-1965) is well known as a theologian of culture. For almost 40 years, he expressed through lectures, speeches, and articles his consistent view on the interrelationship between religion and art. His essential conception of art is seen in the following statement: “Art is an expression of an individual's experience of the ultimate reality.” However, he himself did not collect his writings on art for a book. 『On Art and Architecture』(1987) is edited and published posthumously by Dillenberger. And it is the only material by which one can follow chronologically the essential ideas in Tillich's theology of art. Focussing on the book, therefore, this article wants to consider his theology of art in general and his expressionist theory of painting in particular.
For adequate understanding of Tillich's theology of art, however, it is necessary to recognize the following points. First, Tillich sees that religion and culture are not contradictory but mutually indwelling. This article will elaborate on that point in relation to his so-called ‘theology of culture.’ Second, in explicating his theology of culture Tillich chooses the most typical form of art in culture, that is, ‘expressionistic style’ of art. It is because the expressionistic style itself for him is ‘religious.’ Third, Tillich is a theologian of Protestantism that rather distances itself from visual arts. As he points out, Protestantism tied to ‘words’ is suspicious of visual arts. But Tillich is personally attached to visual arts to the effect that he could be considered Catholic.
This paper's task is to make clear Tillich's theology of culture, and his thoughts on expressionistic style and religious(Protestant) art.
Tillich's theology of art is, in fact, a type of his theology of culture. If theology is a discourse on the manifestation of the divine in and through all beings, theology of art is possible and, in that case, it is a theory of the manifestation of the divine in the very act and creation of art. A theology of art presupposes that one is able to recognize the manifestation of the ultimate reality in artworks. As a result, - this is decisive - in order for art to be religious it needs not necessarily deal with specifically religious objects. A secular art can be religious if an expression is given to the experience of the ultimate meaning and being. Then, the art form of every age, in which experiences of the ultimate reality are expressed, is the record of the religious existence of the age.
As Tillich sees it, the greatness of the 20th century lies in a discovery of the principle of expressionism, that is to say, a rediscovery of the principle of breakthrough into the depth reality by destroying the surface of beautifying naturalism. Therein, that is, in the abundance of secular subjects, Tillich sees rather the possibility of a new Protestant religious art.