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MONDRIAN

and the Pursuit of Perfection

by Mike Walsh

Thursday
Jan022014

Introduction

Art and theology, different and related, both are rooted in humanity’s transcendent nature. They belong to each other.[1]

Carl Rahner

The theologian Hans Küng, states that any great artist must possess a creative freedom which allows the artist to explore in the quest to create something new and beautiful, which offers a different perspective to the viewer than any previously seen.??[2] Likewise, I believe that the task of a theologian can be likened to that of an artist; to create something new and beautiful which offers a different perspective. Art and theology share in that task, to open up new ways of seeing which enrich human experience of life.

In theologically exploring the creative process, one may not feel instantly drawn to the branch of theology known as systematics, especially since in our post-modern world such approaches to theology are regarded as inflexible and outdated. However, in this paper, through an exploration of the works of 20th century Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, I outline different approaches to systematic theology, and engage in a critical theological analysis of the themes which emerge. In the dialogue which follows, I will argue that Mondrian engages in a similar process to that of a systematic theologian, namely Paul Tillich, in his quest to create a perfect work of abstract art, though what is regarded as perfection develops as his work develops.

It is not my intention therefore to conclude this paper with a complete, concise, systematic theology. It is more appropriate to outline the theological principles which emerge, rather than create a definitive theological systematisation of theology.[3] Therefore I begin the process of seeing theology as I have discovered Mondrian saw his art, as a continuing development and process, never reaching completion, this in itself being perfection.

Triptych

Three brief encounters with Piet Mondrian

I commence this paper by way of a written triptych; three distinct stories  which, when hinged together, form a complete piece depicting my fascination with the work of Piet Mondrian and his pursuit of perfection.

My first introduction to the work of Mondrian came at aged fifteen in a GCSE art class at school. A large pile of postcards and pictures cut from magazines, of works by famous artists were placed in the centre of the desk and we were given the task of choosing one to first sketch on paper using pencil crayons, and then to produce a cross stitch representing the work. From this pile of van Gogh’s, Monet’s, da Vinci’s and others, one painting stood out. Not for its classical beauty, nor for any recognition on my part, but for its simplicity, both in terms of the minimalist clear cut lines, which I enjoy and find calming, but also I was guilty at this first encounter with a Mondrian of the classic response, ‘I could do that in five minutes’! Given that I actually did face the task of reproducing a famous piece of art, this observation was even more pertinent. I looked on with glee as I set about my task with only four coloured pencils and a ruler, watching classmates struggling to reproduce works like The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa!

Despite my liking for economy of effort as a school pupil, my relationship with Mondrian had begun, and was not to end there. Quite simply, I just liked the iconic ‘composition’ works. From that first meeting they have remained for me an important influence in my life, instantly recognisable as Mondrian, and always bringing pleasure and a sense of calm when I encounter one.

My second encounter with Mondrian of any note was several years later when ‘channel surfing’ late at night. I stumbled across an Open University programme about Mondrian, which transformed my uninformed fondness into a growing fascination and deepening appreciation for his work. I discovered Mondrian’s seemingly simple paintings represented a lifetime of thought, design, and execution and that each composition followed an ever developing and complex set of rules. The simplicity of the end result masked the huge amount of work which had gone before. This resonated strongly with me since it is strikingly similar to the way I most often think and behave. Whether I achieve the desired end result or not, in most tasks my process is both painstaking and private, some form of coherence is necessary before I am confident enough to reveal any work to others. The finished work I hope is both a clear and concise expression of my meticulous design and thought. Some accuse me of being a perfectionist, others perceive me as rigidly systematic – whereas I find the whole process creative and inspiring.

My third meeting with a Mondrian was again unexpected. When visiting Barcelona in November 2004 I visited the Joan Miró museum, which unknown to me was also showing a small exhibition of Mondrian’s work. As well as seeing the triptych, Evolution, in person and appreciating its large proportions for the first time, the highlight of this chance encounter was simply turning a corner to enter a large white room, and there in the centre of the facing wall hung a small, simple composition, [Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow, 1930, Oil on Canvas, 46cm x 46cm] framed only by the huge expanse of white. It was a numinous experience, perhaps akin to a devout Roman Catholic visiting a holy relic, to view up-close a genuine Mondrian; the detail, the precision, the brush stokes, the real thing, unframed, uncluttered, just there. I would agree therefore that the human encounter with art is, as Tillich recognised, a religious experience. Art is a symbol not a sign, which can represent reality in a way that ‘real’ experience cannot.[4]

Mondrian’s Neo-Plastic paintings reveal something real about me and have come to represent what I perceive to be good theology; seemingly simple to those who encounter them, but complex, detailed, and profound to those who care to delve deeper, and journey on the search for perfection.[5]

This paper presents me with the opportunity to explore further the relationship between the works of Mondrian, theology and notions of perfection.

Copyright © 2014 Mike Walsh


[1] Dillenberger, A Theology of Artistic Sensibilities, 226.

[2] Küng, Art and the Question of Meaning, 19.

[3] Mead, The Once and Future Church, 69.

[4] Dyrness, Visual Faith, 63.

[5] The word perfection is most often used to indicate flawlessness, the absence of error. However, perfection can also be viewed as action or accomplishment, leading to a view that perfection is the process of continual development.

Sunday
Jan262014

From Nature to Abstraction

Early Years 1872 - 1900

Deicher, Mondrian, 93 - Photograph of Mondrian 1892Piet Mondrian [born Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan] was born on the 7th March 1872 in the small Dutch town of Amersfoort, the second of five children to Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan and Johanna Christina Kok.6 Life in rural Holland at that time was harsh; the poverty experienced by most caused many, including Mondrian’s father, to attain some sense of stability in life from the strict conservative ideals of the Protestant church, with its austere moral code and resistance to social change. Mondrian, though influenced by his stern protestant upbringing, preferred to escape from the realities of life and the long-term illness of his mother through his painting. Mondrian was taught to draw by his father, a local school headmaster and qualified art teacher, at a very early age. He and his father would often create devotional pictures for the church, reflecting the idealism the church attached to traditional rural life at this time. It was escape into these idyllic pastoral scenes which Mondrian often referred to as his, ‘new life’.[1]

At his father’s insistence Mondrian also became an art teacher, but it was painting which had become his real passion and he longed to be a recognised artist in his own right, entering the Amsterdam Academy for Fine Art in 1892. By his mid-twenties he was producing impressionist pastoral scenes at a prolific rate,[2] as well as many portraits of young girls with flowers, reminiscent of the kitsch religious pictures he drew with his father. [3] Yet the idyllic nature of his early work masked what a troubled young man Mondrian was, with very few friends or social skills.[4] View of Winterswijk – 1898/89 Olga’s Gallery, [online] www.abcgallery.com/M/mondrian/mondrian5.html (accessed 16.08.2008)

Early Work 1901 - 1911

In 1901, as in 1898, Mondrian failed to be awarded the Prix de Rome, the most prestigious art prize in Holland. The jury, consisting of conventional art academics, commented that Mondrian lacked a talent for drawing, particularly struggling with the human form and conveying life.[5]

For the next few years the disillusioned Mondrian produced little, until a move away from the city in 1904. Once in the countryside he returned to painting traditional Dutch subjects such as tranquil pastoral landscapes, moonlit nights and of course windmills.[6] Mondrian realised, that at least in terms of his own financial survival, he had to paint what the public liked. However he was clear to stress the separation between his public and private artistic expression.

Portrait of a Girl with Flowers – 1900/01 Olga’s Gallery, [online] www.abcgallery.com/M/mondrian/mondrian9.html (accessed 16.08.2008)If the paying public demands naturalistic art, then the artist can use his skills to produce such pictures – but these are to be clearly distinguished from the artists own art.[7]

The paying public in Mondrian’s view were responsible for his own development going into reverse.[8]

In 1906 he began to emulate the works of great artists, in particular van Gogh, not only to further please the public but also to develop his skills in portraying life truthfully and beautifully.[9] Yet this was not to say realistically; Mondrian’s work showed significant advance becoming carefree and overtaken by brilliant colours.[10] His works of 1908/9, The Red Tree20 amongst others, use a palette consisting almost entirely of red, blue and yellow, an early period of works using only primary colours.

Also in 1909 Mondrian began to consider his spiritual and philosophical beliefs, joining the theosophical movement[11] founded by Russian Spiritualist Helena Blavatsky.[12] Blavatsky believed that it was possible to attain knowledge of nature more profound than that provided by experiential means;[13] this understanding was to profoundly shape Mondrian’s artistic development.

The death of his mother in 1909 unleashes a self-destructive force in Mondrian; the vibrant colours almost disappear from his work, as does public interest. His triptych, Evolution of 1910/11 was dismissed by critics as ‘cold and empty’.[14] Yet this work represents Mondrian’s own evolution into ‘a painter not of experience, but of cool, abstract form.’[15]

As if to mark this transition, in 1911 he moves to Paris where he discards his father’s name and becomes known as Piet Mondrian.[16]  This was the beginning of his ourney from nature to abstraction in the search of perfectio.

Evolution 1910/11, Olga’s Gallery, [online] www.abcgallery.com/M/mondrian/mondrian24.html (accessed 16.08.2008) 

Copyright © 2014 Mike Walsh


[1] Deicher, Mondrian, 8.

[2] Deicher, Mondrian, 9.

[3]Deicher, Mondrian, 11.

[4] Deicher, Mondrian, 9.

[5] Deicher, Mondrian, 15.

[6] Deicher, Mondrian, 16.

[7] Deicher, Mondrian, 17.

[8] Deicher, Mondrian, 17.

[9] Deicher, Mondrian, 18.

[10] Deicher, Mondrian, 22.

[11] Deicher, Mondrian, 24.

[12] Encyclopaedia Britannica, [online] www.britannica.com (accessed 16.08.2008).

[13] The Theosophical Society, [online] www.theosociety.org (accessed 16.08.2008).

[14] Deicher, Mondrian, 24.

[15] Deicher, Mondrian, 25.

[16] Deicher, Mondrian, 31.

Sunday
Feb022014

The Nature of Abstraction

In her book Super, Natural Christians, Sallie McFague begins by asking questions of how Christians both use and understand the word ‘supernatural’ and how that can lead to a preoccupation with things other-worldly in some spheres of the Christian church. She argues that the word ‘supernatural’ should always have a comma after the word super – becoming, ‘super, natural’[1]. The insertion of a comma transforms the word to accentuate not the Christian concern with life beyond this one, but on the contrary, emphasising as Christians we should be more concerned with this life, with the preservation of the whole of God’s creation.[2] The separated word ‘super’ also indicates the heightened or extra concern Christians should have for God’s creation.[3]

In relation to the development of Mondrian’s work, I would like to borrow this phrase and employ it in a slightly different way, though I still believe complementary with the work of McFague.

Many of the authors who have written biographical pieces on Mondrian talk of the development of his paintings from idyllic natural landscapes to stark abstract compositions. Indeed, this section of the paper I have entitled ‘From Nature to Abstraction’ and Mondrian himself spoke in terms of becoming an abstract artist, striving to create what he considered to be a pure or perfect form of abstract art. However, as I will explore in the following section, Mondrian also spoke of his art not simply being the arbitrary removal of anything natural from his paintings. In fact he criticised such attempts as socalled abstract works which were purely decorative pieces.[4] His pictures, reflecting his theosophical beliefs, were to be regarded as ‘a pure reflection of life in its deepest sense’.[5] Mondrian ‘had to discover in the basic properties of painting the means that allowed him to fulfil his spiritual quest’[6] for perfection.

In a letter to H.P. Bremmer he wrote in 1914 he says:

Nature (or, that which I see) inspires me, gives me, as it does virtually every painter, the emotion from which the urge derives to create something. But I want to approach truth as closely as possible, and thus I abstract everything until I come to the essence (always the external essence!) of things.[7]

Mondrian uses the language not of removing the natural, but intensifying it, almost like zooming in with a powerful microscope, or pixilating an image on a computer screen, seeing far beyond our usual experience. He further theorised:

All naturalistic colour when intensified is pure, just as all line when intensified is straight, and all form when intensified is plane.[8]

 As he continued to experiment he noted that without careful planning one could easily achieve pattern, repetition or figurative representation unintentionally.[9] Though that is not to say his line and colour combinations were mathematically calculated, but constructed with ‘utmost awareness’, according their general beauty.[10] Mondrian’s theories reveal to us that as his work developed to be constructed using only straight lines and stark planes[11] of primary colour, they are not void of the natural; even the natural world is structured,[12] which many regard as evidence for the existence of God.[13] His work represents nature intensified until only the most basic constructing elements remain. Mondrian’s work is not abstract and un-natural, but intensified nature, or ‘Super, Natural’. For Mondrian, ‘The picture can be a pure reflection of life in its deepest sense.’[14] This is the perfection he is striving for. Mondrian was constantly frustrated with the lack of understanding of his art, as he believed people are incorrectly influenced by the art of the past, believing it to be good art only if it expressed a true physical likeness.

However, art is not simply ‘the expression of the appearance of reality such as we see it.’[15] Pure abstract art holds in tension the objective reality of beauty and the subjective reality of expression of emotion.[16] It was therefore astonishing to Mondrian that his abstract art was criticized for not being real.[17]

The true meaning of any piece of art, naturalistic or abstract, escapes the viewer if they concentrate only on the surface and its likeness to that which can be seen and the subjective beauty of the work. Yet most people make little or no effort of imagination or attention[18] to understand art at this level.[19] As a church minister I find a similar frustration in a lack of engagement with the scriptures; a surface reading which does not lead to understanding or relevance.

The paintings below represent the beginning of Mondrian’s process of stripping away the surface and intensifying colour and line to reveal what he regarded as a purer representation of life. However, in his continuing search for perfection his work rapidly develops far beyond this point.

Church near Domburg - 1910/11 [Olga’s Gallery, [online] www.abcgallery.com/M/mondrian/mondrian22.html (accessed 16.08.2008)]The Red Mill - 1910/11 [Olga’s Gallery, [online] www.abcgallery.com/M/mondrian/mondrian23.html (accessed 16.08.2008)] 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Copyright 2014 Mike Walsh


[1] A phrase used by Sallie McFague, in her work Super, Natural Christians.

[2] McFague, Super, Natural Christians, 5.

[3] McFague, Super, Natural Christians, 6.

[4] Chipp, Theories of Modern Art, 356.

[5] Chipp, Theories of Modern Art, 322.

[6] Riley, Mondrian - Nature to Abstraction, 10.

[7] International Modern Art, [online] www.tate.org.uk/liverpool (accessed 20.09.2008).

[8] Mondrian, Natural Reality and Abstract Reality (1919-1920) - The New Art – The New Life, 118, [online] http://pietmondrian.tripod.com (accessed 15.08.2008)

36 Chipp, Theories of Modern Art, 56.

[9] Chipp, Theories of Modern Art, 56.

[10] Art Quotes, [online] www.artquotes.net/masters/piet-mondrian (accessed 22.09.2008).

[11] The phrase Mondrian uses to describe large flat areas of colour in his paintings.

[12] Dixon, Art and the Theological Imagination, 8. However, according to Templeton, order may be a function of our seeing, choosing to look in a certain way. 64.

[13] Templeton, The strangeness of God, 65.

[14] Chipp, Theories of Modern Art, 322.

[15] Chipp, Theories of Modern Art, 359.

[16] Chipp, Theories of Modern Art, 349/50.

[17] Chipp, Theories of Modern Art, 360.

[18] Kidd and Sparkes, God and the Art of Seeing, xii/iii.

[19] Chipp, Theories of Modern Art, 361.

Sunday
Feb092014

A Period of Transition: Paris, Cubism & Beyond 1912 – 1916

Olga’s Gallery, [online] www.abcgallery.com/M/mondrian/mondrian36.html (accessed 16.08.2008)When in Paris, Mondrian was inspired by divisionism, fauvism[1] and particularly the Cubist works of Picasso and Braque, colour vanished once more from his work and his paintings became a framework of black lines. As his work developed the usual rules of composing a picture disappeared, his paintings had no centre to focus on and no discernable order of the composite elements at all. Abandoning all order Mondrian scattered forms casually across the canvas[2] as this piece Church at Domburg, 1914 shows with the tower clearly visible at the bottom of the picture.[3]

In abandoning order, Mondrian had pushed the laws and boundaries of Cubism even further than Picasso. For him, now anything was possible.[4]

Gradually I became aware that Cubism did not accept the logical consequences of its own discoveries; it was not developingabstraction towards its ultimate goal: the expression of purereality.[5]


De Stijl and Neo-Plasticism 1917 – 1924

Returning to Holland for the period of the 1st World War, Mondrian became good friends with Theo van Doesburg a painter and writer in art theory. Together they launched a magazine De Stijl[6]  or ‘The Style’ with the ambitious aim of shaping the modern world,[7] ‘to bring art and life together into a greater whole.’[8] In ondrian’s De Stijl writings the language of essence, substance and spirit are often used, as such, I believe his theories are increasingly theological.

Composition in Colour A Olga’s Gallery, [online] www.abcgallery.com/M/mondrian/mondrian42.html (accessed 16.08.2008)As explored earlier, in developing his own ‘style’, Mondrian attempted not to remove any trace of nature or landscape from his work, but to intensify anything natural to the point at which they became completely abstract. As such his paintings were no longer possible to give names and were simply titled, ‘Composition’. However, Mondrian was still not completely satisfied, as the freefloating nature of his designs still gave the impression of depth or Composition in Colour A[9]

landscape.[10] And therefore the removal of any sense of depth or perspective from his work became the next challenge in the development of the idea he now called, Neo-Plastic, using colour, line and form only in their purest state,[11] to create the perfect abstract painting.

His first Neo-Plastic ‘success’ was Lozenge with Grey Lines, 1918[12] a summation of the development of his Cubist, post Cubist and Neo-Plastic ideas.[13] This simple grid of grey lines was to form the framework for the next stage of Mondrian’s work, giving his new compositions structure and balance. In the whole of modern painting, which had previously shown itself as spontaneous, colourful and enigmatic, there had never been a picture such as this.[14] While Mondrian believed this to be the first ‘success’ in his process to strip art to its base elements, theologically it may be criticised as essentialism.

From here Mondrian reintroduces colour to his work as the rules of his Neo-Plastic system develop further. In Composition: Light Colour Planes with Grey Lines, 1919[15] a grid similar to that of Lozenge with Grey Lines remains just visible beneath the surface oils, but the theory had developed further. ‘By intensifying all colours, Mondrian restricted himself to use only the primary colours, red, yellow, and blue; intensifying all lines left him only horizontal and vertical lines; and intensifying all forms provide him with only flat planes of colour to work with, and there is no rendering of form to create threedimensional illusion’.[16] He now believed he was ready to paint in a consistently abstract form.[17] As both architect of the system and builder of the resulting Compositions, what constitutes success is defined only by Mondrian, but defining and then applying theory in a meaningful way is the task of both artist and theologian.

Olga’s Gallery, [online] www.abcgallery.com/M/mondrian/mondrian48.html (accessed 16.08.2008)In the summer of 1919 Mondrian returned, with excitement, to Paris, but was disappointed to find that fellow Cubist artists had not ‘advanced’ as he had. Unlike the Cubists, Mondrian was still attempting to create a perfect abstract painting in line with his Neo-Plastic and Theosophical beliefs. Energized by a change in the public attitude to his art, due to a clamour for powerful colourful works, he continued to develop his colourful grid paintings, but these were far more radical than the less abstract Cubist work.[18]

Olga’s Gallery, [online] www.abcgallery.com/M/mondrian/mondrian53.html (accessed 16.08.2008)In this early grid painting above, Composition with Red, Blue and Yellowish-Green, 1920, the colours are dull and the lines are thin and grey. Overall the painting is more uniform yet not as clearly defined as later works. In 1921, the year in which his father dies, Mondrian’s work goes through a transition which has long been regarded as the most decisive in his development; he produces the works which are still instantly recognised as ‘Mondrian’. These are characterised by thicker, clearly defined black lines and brilliant ‘super, natural’ colours of red, yellow and blue.[19] The grid is bolder and the coloured planes are vibrant, yet fewer in number as white

space is used more frequently.[20]  Some fields are left open so the colour meets the edge of the canvas, maybe even travelling beyond it conceptually. Not all the black lines reach the edge resulting in removal of pattern and uniformity which gives the impression that the grid is not confining the colours but floating over them.[21] Overall his paintings became more dynamic. Mondrian referred to the rhythm of his paintings, stating: ‘they are not intended to appear static, but moving’.[22]

Picture of Mondrian [online] www.aroots.org/notebook (accessed 30.09.08)This is not the culmination of Mondrian’s artistic evolution, although the refinements became more subtle, Mondrian's work continued to evolve during his years in Paris. The ever increasing number of criteria Mondrian placed on his Neo-Plastic quest meant he could not simply draw a grid and randomly fill in the gaps with colour. Creating one of his compositions now became an increasingly difficult task requiring constant painting and over-painting until the right balance was achieved,[23] as a result, Mondrian worked endlessly on his seemingly very simple paintings.

Tableau 1, 1921 Olga’s Gallery, [online] www.abcgallery.com/M/mondrian/mondrian51.html (accessed 16.08.2008)I believe Mondrian’s task had become similar to that of a systematic theologian, but rather than organising theological ideas into a logical system of thought, Mondrian is organising artistic rules of composition concerning form, line and colour. This then raises the question; does this render Mondrian’s strikingly simple works of art merely an arbitrary reproduction of the basic elements of painting across a canvas? Or is he operating within a much more developed and complex system? To answer this we first need to take a brief look at the differing approaches to systematics.




Copyright 2014 Mike Walsh


[1] Riley, Mondrian - Nature to Abstraction, 11 Divisionism and Fauvism, the practice of painting with pure, unmixed and vivid colours.
[2] Deicher, Mondrian, 38-40.
[3] Olga’s Gallery, [online] www.abcgallery.com/M/mondrian/mondrian36.html (accessed 16.08.2008).
[4] Deicher, Mondrian, 40.
[5] Piet Mondrian, [online] http://pietmondrian.tripod.com (accessed 15.08.2008).
[6] de Stiji, first front cover, [online] www.gardenvisit.com/history_theory/garden_landscape_design_articles/america/international_modernist_garden_design_style_america (accessed 16.08.2008).
[7] Deicher, Mondrian, 45/6.
[8] Richter, Art from impressionism to the internet, 68.
[9] Olga’s Gallery, [online] www.abcgallery.com/M/mondrian/mondrian42.html (accessed 16.08.2008).
[10] Deicher, Susanne, Mondrian, 49.
[11] Tate - Glossary, [online] www.tate.org.uk/collections/glossary (accessed 20.09.2008).
[12] Olga’s Gallery, [online] www.abcgallery.com/M/mondrian/mondrian46.html (accessed 16.08.2008).
[13] Deicher, Mondrian, 50.
[14] Deicher, Mondrian, 53.
[15] Olga’s Gallery, [online] www.abcgallery.com/M/mondrian/mondrian47.html (accessed 16.08.2008).
[16] A Web Book on Piet Mondrian, [online] http://pietmondrian.tripod.com (accessed 15.08.2008).
[17] Deicher, Mondrian, 53.
[18] Deicher, Mondrian, 54.
[19] Deicher, Mondrian, 58.
[20] Olga’s Gallery, [online] www.abcgallery.com/M/mondrian/mondrian53.html (accessed 16.08.2008).
[21] Deicher, Mondrian, 58.
[22] Deicher, Mondrian, 7.
[23] Deicher, Mondrian, 61.

Saturday
Feb152014

Systematic Theology - a Pursuit of Perfection?

Three Approaches to Systematic Theology

For there are ‘made’ laws, ‘discovered’ laws, but also laws – a truth for all time. These are more or less hidden in the reality which surrounds us and do not change.’[1]

Below are three concise descriptions of differing approaches to Systematic Theology which I shall explain in turn in relation to Mondrian’s belief that there are made, discovered and universal laws.

The first describes systematic theology as a method whereby the whole of Christian theology is divided and restructured into neat themes in order to create clear and thorough categories that explain different aspects of the Christian tradition. For example, many books of the Bible give information about salvation, but no one book gives a complete picture. Systematic theology attempts to take all the information about salvation from the Bible and other Christian sources and organizes it into a system known as soteriology.[2]

This description may be a simple and helpful starting point; however it does render a systematic theologian’s task as little more than reordering Christian documents and ideas into a thematic directory or an orderly catalogue of information. Although this is a huge task, I believe it is for little return since it also carries the danger of losing the subtlety of delicately nuanced argument which can be found between different books of the Bible by neatly placing writers of different traditions or theological viewpoints together under general headings with no acknowledgement of context. Mondrian clearly did think in an orderly and systematic manner. This approach to theology and art arbitrarily shapes ideas to conform to made laws of the kind that Mondrian’s art was directly challenging.

A second, more comprehensive, description of systematic theology, argued for by Pannenberg, amongst others, though originating from a similar perspective, also introduces the idea that the systematising of theology into themes also necessitates some form of apologetic exercise, taking into account subtle differences between authors and sources and interpreting each theme for today’s context. Therefore the need for a systematic theology is renewed with each passing generation.[3] As Schleiermacher states, the aim is not just to create an orderly directory of information, but to demonstrate that the Christian tradition at its centre has a pre-existing sense of coherence from which it is possible to derive a core set of principles. So the task of the theologian in this understanding of systematics is also to discover existing laws.

A third understanding, which can be found in the work of Tillich, takes the idea further still. For him systematic theology should not only draw on the the sacred texts of Christianity but must also explore philosophy, science, and ethics to produce as full a view and as versatile a philosophical approach as possible.[4] Although Tillich does categorize theological and philosophical resources into constructed themes, and engages in the search for pre-existing coherence, he also engages with ‘laws’ which could be said to represent a greater truth which is hidden from us but unchanging. Tillich works within what he regards as a system searching for universal truths and responding to existential questions concerning the problems of human existence raised by contemporary philosophical analysis. He then asks what responses can the Christian tradition offer in answer to the existential questions raised by his system. His system therefore also has to be detailed enough to be applied both broadly and particularly to any theme of theology. It is this unambiguous use of a system and search for a more universal coherence with which I find many similarities to Mondrian and his pursuit of perfection.

Although Tillich was also ‘unique in giving theological depth to the arts as an important part of theological method,’[5] it is a comparison between his approach to systematics and Mondrian’s system which I will explore in the next section, not specifically his engagement with art.[6] Likewise, the scope of this assignment does not cover any of Tillich’s theological conclusions.

Copyright © 2014 Mike Walsh

_____________________________________________________

[1] Chipp, Theories of Modern Art – from Mondrian, 353.
[2] Enns, Moody Guide to Systematic Theology.
[3] Pannenberg, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 7.
[4] Tillich, Systematic Theology vol. 1.
[5] Dyrness, Visual Faith, 62.
[6] From this point I will refer to Mondrian’s Neo-Plastic ideology as his system, in comparison
with Tillich and his system.