VIII. Art and Ethics

Recently, the vulgarization of art has often been discussed, even in the news media, and the relationship between art and ethics has become an issue. Art is one form of human dominion over the creation. Dominion over the creation, from the original standpoint, is intended to be carried out only by those who have reached perfection after passing through the growth process, which includes the three stages of formation, growth, and completion. Perfection means the perfection of love and the perfection of character. Therefore, one is meant first to become a loving person or an ethical person, and upon that foundation, to have dominion over all things. This means that an artist should first be an ethical person before he or she is an artist.

We can understand the relationship between ethics and art from the perspective of the relationship between love and beauty. Love is an emotional force that the subject gives to the object, and beauty is an emotional stimulation that the subject receives from the object. Thus, love and beauty are so closely related that they are like the two sides of a coin. Hence, we can understand that ethics, which deals with love, and art, which deals with beauty, are inseparably related. When we look at art and ethics in this way, we come to the conclusion that true beauty can only be established on the basis of true love.

Up to the present, however, such has not been the case with many artists. This is because there has not been any firm philosophical explanation as to why artists must be ethical. As a result, even though many artists, especially writers, have dealt with love as their theme, in most cases the love they dealt with was the non-principled love of the fallen world.

History is filled with such examples. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), who advocated aestheticism (art-for-art’s sake), was imprisoned on charges of homosexuality and died in disappointment and poverty. The romanticist poet Lord Byron (1788-1824) engaged in creative activity while carrying on licentious affairs with many women, and led a dissipated life. The works of such artists are little more than expressions of their fallen love, or their agony.

On the other hand, there have been writers who tried to express the ideal of true love. Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was one of these. While exposing fallen life in the upper class of Russian society of his time, he expressed true love. That is to say, while employing realism to express reality, he employed the style of idealism, pursuing the ideal. However, there have been very few artists, like Tolstoy, who have engaged in creative activity while pursuing true love.