Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Reading Tillich 23: Art

A work of art is a union of self and world within limitations both on the side of the self and on the side of the world. The limitation on the side of the world is that although in the aesthetic function as such, one, otherwise hidden, quality of the universe is reached. Ultimate reality, which transcends all qualities, is not reached. The limitation on the side of the self is that in the aesthetic function the self grasps reality in images and not with the totality of its being. The effect of this double limitation is to give union in the aesthetic function an element of unreality. It is "seeming"; it anticipates something that does not yet exist.
Systematic Theology III, 65.
What Tillich is trying to do here is to give arts a theological role, while at the same time separating it from the religious experience. A work of art can give an experience of unity between the individual and the world - it can overcome the estrangement effected by sin. But it does so only in a way that shows that such an unity is possible. The experience of a great work of art (and I am mostly thinking about music myself) is not a fulfilment of our deepest longing, but a kind of comfort: that fulfilment is possible. I'm not sure if Tillich did notice the parallel between this kind of theology of arts and the eastern theology of Icons. Icons are not properly art, but they have this function of pointing towards that ultimate reality.

What do you think about this suggestion of Tillich's? (I know some of you show great interest in art) It's interesting to read his theology of culture, because since it is not a traditional theme for theology, one does not have very set views coming into it. I for myself have very strong experiences when listening to music (lately this video has completely shaken me). I guess I have always kind of connected this experience with The Holy in some way, although I have not really thought about the nature of this connection. But I suppose this is the way I feel about for example Radiohead. I realize that Thom is not an angel of God, it is not the ultimate reality I experience, but is goes in the right direction. Tillich says that what I experience is just one - otherwise hidden - quality of the universe, and I think that is about right. When listening to "2 +2 = 5" i do feel a deep sense of truth in the way it describes the state of our world right now, and it fills me with an intense sense of Being Here Now. But it is not a complete experience of the world, because there are other perspectives as well, and, according to Tillich the experience happens through images, not directly.

There is obviously a risk involved here; that is, the denial that there is an experience that goes beyond the aesthetic function. This is largely the state of our society today, at least in Europe. Then the arts risk becoming idols instead of icons. But it seems for the most part those involved in creating the art tend to counter this tendency, by stating that the creativity is not coming from themselves but from "somewhere else".

Maybe beauty will still save the world some day.

2 comments:

byron said...

I liked this quote on beauty by N. T. Wright.

NB Thanks for these summaries of Tillich.

byron said...

There is obviously a risk involved here; that is, the denial that there is an experience that goes beyond the aesthetic function. This is largely the state of our society today, at least in Europe. Then the arts risk becoming idols instead of icons. But it seems for the most part those involved in creating the art tend to counter this tendency, by stating that the creativity is not coming from themselves but from "somewhere else".
Acknowledging creativity is a gift is an excellent way of the artists avoiding idolatry. However, I wonder if this message (and I'm thinking particularly of music) is often overridden by media packaging - and so it is the fans who are in danger of (and actually practising) idolatry.

PS Thanks for the link. My interest in art is purely amateur. I'd love to know more, but realise I'm a total beginning in most artistic fields (maybe just a beginner in literature/poetry).