Contemporary Painting, Negative Theology and Apophasis

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Abstract: This article explores similarities between aspects of contemporary painting and apophatic discourse. The spiritual dimension of Modernist painting is investigated, acknowledging its historically problematic relationship with prevailing critical theories both within the art world and within a wider secular culture. Contemporary painting which seeks a similar depth of experience once found in what has previously been referred to as religious of spiritual art, is seen here as one type of encounter with a form of ultimately unknowable meaning, with comparisons drawn between painting, aspects of negative theology and wider modes of apophatic discourse. The work of contemporary painter Gerhard Richter is presented as an example of how painting may still fruitfully engage with the unknown while maintaining a critical and contemporary outlook. The article concludes by suggesting that painting which is apophatic in nature still has the potential to offer a profound and transformative experience for both painter and viewer.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberN/A
Pages (from-to)37-45
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2020


  • Painting, Apophasis, Negative Theology, Religion, Spiritual


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