You only need to listen to your favorite song, gaze upon a beautiful painting, or recite your favorite poem, to know that art has a profound place in our lives. Though much of our day to day life is about necessity—eating, sleeping, making a living—there is a part of us that desires more. It’s not enough to simply live our lives, we have a need to make those lives more meaningful, more beautiful. As Albert Einstein aptly put it, “It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.”
We may not agree on the type of art, but we can all agree on the power that art can have over us. Art defines our culture, connects us as people, and engages our desire to seek beauty.
Why does a novel have a way of transporting us? Why is music able to transform our mood? Why do we as human beings—who one could argue, might spend time on more productive things—have such a voracious appetite for creating and consuming art?
Creation is part of our Divine Nature
In The New Essentials of Unification Thought, a book based on the teachings of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and one of the essential scriptures of Unificationism, the author tells us, “Artistic activity is derived from God’s creation of the universe” (303).
God is the ultimate artist. His creation, the greatest work of art. Our own inherent nature, as children of our Heavenly Parent, is one that desires to create, but it’s not just about the artist. Art also requires an audience. Can a singer be happy if there is no one to hear her sing? Or a painter feel joy if no one sees the painting? Perhaps to a certain extent, but where art really comes alive is in its ability to engage with an audience. When someone is moved by a piece of music or a work of art, that person helps fulfil the artwork’s purpose. God too, created the world not just for himself, but for his children to enjoy and as a place where they could become creators themselves.
When we engage in the creative process, whether as an artist or a consumer, we are part of a powerful dynamic, one that can even affect real change in the world.
Art Can Make a Powerful Difference
While politicians argue policies, and scientists research facts, art shows us a mirror. In doing so, it is able to confront issues in a way that creates a visceral, some may even call it transcendent, response. Unification Thought discusses Art and its importance in transforming culture, “in creating a new culture in the days to come,” it says, “true art activities must be developed” (301).
Art is a reflection of the culture, but it is also a catalyst for changing and shaping that culture. Here are just a few examples of Art and the “art activists”, that have shined a light and ignited a spark throughout history:
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” enraged the south and empowered northern abolitionists. The success of the novel gained widespread attention in America, Europe, and Asia, and helped to spur the anti-slavery movement that would eventually divide the country in the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln was reported to have met the American author Harriet Beecher Stowe ten years after the book’s publication and said to her, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war.” For more books that changed the world, start with this list of 25 from the New York Public Library.
The famous painting by Pablo Picasso depicted the Nazi bombing of the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. Though originally painted and exhibited in Paris, it toured the world shortly after, bringing worldwide attention to the Spanish Civil War and made a powerful statement of the atrocities of war in general. For more works of art that challenge perspective, check out 82nd & Fifth, a series of videos featuring curators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City talking about art that has changed the way they see the world.
Whether or not you cringe when the song comes on the radio for the hundredth time this holiday season, the song was a huge success that changed the landscape of giving. The fact that this song brought together so many artists for one cause, and caught the attention of the world is a big deal. The song sold 2 million copies and with the Band Aid and Live Aid concerts combined, raised about 150 million dollars towards the famine relief effort in Ethiopia. For more revolutionary music, check out this comprehensive list of the 100 songs that changed history. From Beethoven to Public Enemy, the songs on this list are anthems of their time, a cultural wake up call that helped to bring down walls and make things happen.
Though writing a novel or creating a painting may not create immediate change, they play an important role in creating an emotional connection with the audience. This shift in perspective or social awareness, sets the stage towards the kinds of real societal change that would come afterwards. In this way, Art is both a reflection of who we are as a society, and a hope for who we want to be.