Theory of Art
by Dr. Jennifer P. Tanabe
My first reaction to the Theory of Art in Unification Thought is one of gratitude: appreciators of art have a place as well as creators of art! As someone who was rejected from even the largest choir my high school put together, got the only F of my school career in art class, but who has always loved to listen to music, was overwhelmed by the beauty of Michelangelo's "David" in Florence, and spent hours at exhibitions of Van Gogh and Picasso, I feel that my contribution to art is finally validated. My husband, who is an artist, the creative type, also agrees with this. He told me that an artist really needs an audience, people who can appreciate the work of art, in order to feel fulfilled. I am happy to perform that role for him; it suits me a lot better than trying to be creative myself. And I do think it is healthy for us to realize that our involvement in the artistic arena is not limited to creation but also includes appreciation. [Of course, I realize that I do have some talent in writing and lecturing, which is another form of creative activity, so I am not only an appreciator but also a creator, just with a different medium.]
The Unification Thought Theory of Art defines art as "the emotional activity of creating or appreciating beauty" (Essentials of Unification Thought, p.226). This is linked to the theory of values by the understanding that emotion is one of the faculties of mind, and so beauty is the value which is judged by the emotional faculty of mind. Beauty is thus defined as something which does not exist objectively in the object alone, "but is determined through give-and-receive action between the subject, which has the desire to seek value, and the object" (Essentials of Unification Thought, p.228). In other words, "beauty itself does not exist objectively, but the elements of beauty that exist in the work of art turn into actual beauty when the appreciator judges that they are beautiful" (Essentials of Unification Thought, p.242). As in other areas, Unification Thought involves both subject and object in the process, and the goal of the activity is the production of joy. Thus, the role of the appreciator in art is vital, for without an appreciator the work of art remains only potentially beautiful, without actual beauty and therefore without bringing joy which is its purpose.
This involvement of the subject in the determination of beauty explains differences in judgments of various works of art. I used to really enjoy works of art by Van Gogh and Picasso, finding the more classical styles quite boring. On the other hand, I have always appreciated the great works of music by classical composers such as Beethoven and Bach, but could not really enjoy "classical" music much more modern than Tchaikovsky although I have no problem appreciating modern popular music. Clearly, as an appreciator my own interests and taste color my emotional judgment of works of art. In Unification Thought this is known as the subjective action of the appreciator. This also allows us to understand why parents are able to appreciate their children's attempts at painting, and proudly hang them on the refrigerator door or bedroom wall. The parents feel much joy looking at these "works of art," while they generally look like a chaotic mess to outsiders. However, my husband is quick to point out that while the parent may find beauty in the child's picture, that does not make it art! So what are the criteria for art?
Unification Thought explains that "creation is an activity whereby an artist, in the position of object, gives joy to the subject, namely, God and the whole (humankind, the nation, tribe, etc.), by manifesting the value of beauty" (Essentials of Unification Thought, p.232). This definition allows us to make an immediate distinction between the child's work and true art: if the picture is beautiful only to the parents, then it does not fulfill the purpose of giving joy to the whole. To be true art it must be judged beautiful by the whole of humankind (well, maybe at least a large number of people!) and by God.
Now, in order to give joy to God, we must have object consciousness. Unification Thought presents five elements of object consciousness as requisites for the artist as creator. First, the artist should seek to comfort God, especially for His historical sorrow since the Fall of Humankind. Second, the artist should seek to comfort saints and righteous people who shared God's sorrow. Third, the artist should portray the deeds of righteous people of the past and present. Fourth, the artist should herald the coming of the new world with hope, manifesting God's glory. And fifth, the artist should praise God by expressing the beauty and mystery of nature, God's creation. If artists have such an attitude of object consciousness to God their works will be true art. Well, that sure disqualifies most works as "true art," doesn't it! In any case, it is clear that the obscenities that are passed off as art these days do not qualify as "true art," for which I am grateful.
This brings us to the issue of the relationship between art and ethics. From the perspective of Unification Thought, love and beauty are inseparable, like the two sides of a coin, which means that ethics, which deals with love, and art, which deals with beauty, are also inseparably related. Also, art is a form of dominion over the creation, and as such is intended to be carried out by human beings who have passed through the growth stage and reached individual perfection as well as perfection of love. Thus, to be an artist one should first be a moral and ethical person. Taken together with the five elements of object consciousness, this seems to exclude all historical people from the possibility of having produced any true art! Fortunately, the situation is not quite that extreme, for Unification Thought recognizes that fallen people, while yet imperfect, have still made efforts to produce art that brings joy to God, and God has cooperated with their efforts resulting in the masterpieces of great art that are recognized today. Still, we may wonder how artists such as Mozart, who lived immoral and unethical lives and apparently did not dedicate their work to God, were able to produce art of unquestionable beauty. Perhaps the answer is that we do not know the depth of such artists' hearts, and perhaps the struggles in their lives reflected deep tension between their experiences in the fallen world and their sensitivity to God's purpose for creation. Who are we to judge whether anyone is worthy of God's love and God's cooperation in their creative endeavors? And the inspiring side of all this is, of course, that in the future when artists are people who live morally, ethically, for the sake of God and humankind, and who dedicate their art to praise God through the beauty of the creation and the glorious actions of righteous people, the works of art produced will far surpass even the greatest art we know today. Hallelujah!
Now, we have said that love and beauty are inseparable, which results in the inseparability of ethics and art. Additionally, just as we described various types of love based on the family four-position base, so we can describe various types of beauty in the same way. In this way, Unification Thought, unlike traditional theories of art, bases types of beauty on clear principles rather than arbitrarily assigning criteria based on human experience, e.g. graceful, tragic, and sublime.
Unification Thought defines four basic types of beauty, corresponding to the four types of love (parental, conjugal, children's and brotherly-sisterly). These are further divided by the Yang and Yin characteristics, producing the beauties corresponding to father, mother, husband, wife, child, brother and sister. Continuing further, we can also see that age differences produce still further types, as the child's beauty of a newborn baby changes through that of a young child, through adolescence, continuing through adulthood, old age and into the spiritual realm. The realm of beauty, like love, has infinite possibilities. No wonder Reverend Moon tells us that the primary activity of everyone in the Kingdom of Heaven is art!
So, finally, let's talk about how works of art are created. The Theory of the Original Image explains how God creates through the two-stage structure. Human creative activities are also performed through this process. In the creation of artistic works, the inner four-position base is formed in the mind of the artist (subject) to produce a conception of the work. Next, the outer four-position base is formed as the artist uses various techniques to produce the work of art through give-and-receive action between the conception (Sung Sang) and the physical materials (Hyung Sang).
Some people have told me that they don't feel that this two-stage structure represents accurately what happens in producing a work of art. They suggested that in creating a work of art the conception is not always created first, but comes about through interaction with the medium, so it is not true that there are two distinct stages. They criticized the theory as an attempt to apply the model from the Theory of the Original Image to an area where it doesn't really work.
I can appreciate that it is tempting to be so internally consistent in a philosophical system that the same model is applied regardless of its appropriateness, and therefore it is possible that this is what has happened in the Theory of Art. However, in this case I am not sure that the criticism is valid. When I discussed this point with my husband he was initially skeptical of the model, saying that he felt there should be more than two stages! He said that there is certainly an inner stage where the artist thinks about the motif, theme, etc. of the work, before using any physical materials. And this stage can take quite a long time and a lot of effort, research, planning, thinking, etc. to come up with the theme and idea for the work. But then there can be several stages where the artist tries to make the conception substantial, but not necessarily with the materials to be used in the final product. For example, painters often make a sketch with charcoal or pencil on paper before beginning to paint on canvas. As a result of the efforts in this stage the conception may be modified. These stages can repeat several times as different renderings of the conception are produced, until the artist is ready to make the final work in the medium chosen.
I thought about this sequence of events in terms of my writing an article. Certainly I do spend a lot of time preparing internally before I ever set pen to paper, or rather finger to keyboard in these days of word processing. Also, even though I may have the general plan for my article before I start writing, as I write I usually discover that some sections become more prominent while others may not even feature at all in the final version. So there is a lot of interaction between what is produced on paper and the ideas in my mind. And, it is very true that the final version absolutely is not a substantial manifestation of some inner image of the article that was produced in some inner four-position base. What I write is often quite new to me!
But does this invalidate the theory? No, I don't think so. For the key point of the theory is that there are two stages, inner and outer, and the inner stage results in the conception which then is the Sung Sang element for the production of the work of art. Did anyone ever say that the Sung Sang element looks like the resultant being? The work of the outer four-position base is to make a substantial being that contains the Sung Sang elements formed in the inner four-position base, using the Hyung Sang elements chosen by the artist. What my husband and I described as interactions between the original conception and the effort to make it substantial is exactly what happens in the outer four-position base: give-and-receive action between the conception (Sung Sang) and the materials (Hyung Sang). Give-and-receive is a process that may have many cycles as the artist strives to fulfill the purpose of producing the work of art.
Well, this article has now gone through many such cycles! It's certainly a much less painful process using a computer than re-writing or re-typing each attempt. But this fits exactly with the model of give-and-receive. I wish my art teacher in high school had known this, maybe she would have allowed me to take a new piece of paper when my attempts failed. Well, again, maybe it would just have prolonged the agony! Anyway, I believe everyone can be a great artist, either a creator of works of great potential beauty, or the appreciators of such works. Let's start living in that Kingdom of Heaven by creating and appreciating works of art in our lives. By the way, I am grateful to those readers who have expressed their appreciation for this series of articles. It's really true that the creator needs the appreciator to feel fulfilled!