A Unified Theory of Art: Making Sense of It All

A U NIFIED T HEORY OF A RT : M AKING S ENSE OF IT A LL Hugh Moss T O DEAL WITH THE CONFUSION IN THE art world that characterizes the past century, we need to rethink our theoretical approach to art, expanding theory to be sufficiently all-encompassing of any art from any culture at any time. My recent book proposes such a theory. It also links art to its primary role in the evolution of consciousness and explains the fundamental nature of what our modern western revolution in the arts was revolting against. What follows is a distillation of the ideas expressed in the book. [ The Art of Understanding Art — A New Perspectiv e. London: Profile Books, 2015] To adjust art theory to make it universally applicable, I suggest three basic shifts in perspective. The first shift in perspective is to vastly expand our definition of art to be “any creative response to experience.” There is a common tendency, prevalent in, though not confined to, the West, to first judge whether something is or isn’t art, and then deal with it in the lingering belief that art is a separate endeavor, removed from having any role in evolving consciousness. If we pre-judge what is and isn’t art at the outset, we approach art inefficiently and prompt the widespread confusion that permeates the global art world today. If we start out with a view that any particular attempt at creative communication is not eligible as art in the first place, we create the paradox of excluding from consideration some aspects of modern art that have already become firmly embedded as an important part of our cultural heritage. The status as art of any particular act of perception and expression and, as a secondary consideration, a decision as to its cultural importance should arise out of our theoretical understanding, not precede it. The second shift in perspective is to similarly expand our definition of the function of art to make it more inclusive. Art functions in a broad swathe of flexible and overlapping roles. Art can multi-task. But what unites these many interlinked roles is that they form our most powerful, sophisticated, and essential means of considering, expressing, and storing understanding— knowledge and wisdom—not only immediately, but from generation to generation. If you doubt this, try imagining civilization without the arts, without music, literature, painting, sculpture, architecture, etc. It is certainly fair to say that art is the foundation for civilization and defines it better than any other single enterprise. Art as a form of communication is well accepted in current theory, particularly in the past century, but I propose we go further and 46 | Still Point Arts Quarterly We must move beyond seeing the physical work of art as the end product of the artistic process, and instead, see the process itself as the art and its end product the evolution of consciousness. FEATURE