Using Art and Culture to Effect Change

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David D’Or and David Eaton share a bow with the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra at the National Concert Hall in Taipei, Taiwan.

By David Eaton, Lecturer in Music and Culture, Barrytown College of UTS

“Only through Beauty’s morning-gate, dost thou penetrate the land of knowledge.”

 – Friedrich Schiller

david_eatonAs an advocate of art and culture, it has always been my view that the beauty aspect of the truth-beauty-goodness paradigm needs to be more fully understood and supported in any attempt to realize a better world. I’ve had many opportunities to use my talent for providential purposes, both within our community and with artists who are not members of our church, and at the heart of my creative endeavors has been my motivation to use my God-given abilities as a musician to promote the ideal of godliness and to cultivate a culture of peace.

Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805), who as a young man possessed a passionate desire to study theology and become a minister, believed that one’s soul state (Seelenzustand) was edified through experiencing beauty. For Schiller, “aesthetic education” could be the basis for a moral society and help establish the freedom that political revolution conspicuously failed to achieve.

I recently returned from conducting two concerts with Israeli vocalist, David D’Or and the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra at the National Concert Hall in Taipei, Taiwan. The concert was produced by the Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist organization founded in 1966 that boasts three million members and scores of chapters throughout the world. Tzu Chi (which means “relief and compassion”) is based in Taipei and has done an amazing amount of humanitarian work, including providing assistance in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the Japan tsunami and relief efforts in North Korea. The American chapter of the Tzu Chi Foundation received a national award for being the most outstanding volunteer organization in the U.S. in 2012, due primarily to their relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy.

In addition to running several schools, hospitals and free clinics in Taiwan, Tzu Chi has its own cable television network that broadcasts the news of their global relief efforts as well as programming original content that promotes 24/7 the ideals and vision of their organization. They clearly understand the importance of using mass media and art to get their message to a larger segment of the public

While in Taiwan, I was able to meet the Tzu Chi founder, Master Cheng Yen (a Buddhist nun, now 76) and several of the organization’s key leaders. They explained that music and art are important aspects of their outreach. Their belief in the spiritual power of music plays heavily into their philosophy — and their funding efforts. For the two concerts presented last month I arranged one of the Tzu Chi songs, Family, especially for this occasion.

The song “Family” was composed for the Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist organization that does significant humanitarian work throughout the world. David D’ Or sings the song in Chinese, with orchestration by David Eaton.

Because music is an especially effective means to evoke spiritual atmospherics, nearly every religious tradition has utilized it for ritualistic and ceremonial purposes. But the power of music goes beyond that which is ceremonial or ritualistic. In Rev. Moon’s autobiography, he says:

“People often think that politics moves the world, but that is not the case. It is culture and art that move the world. It is emotion, not reason, that strikes people in the innermost part of their hearts. When hearts change and are able to receive new things, ideologies and social regimes change as a result.”

Father made this assertion in the context of establishing the Little Angels. In her speech on April 25, 2013, True Mother recalled that era and how, when our church was dirt poor, Father had the vision and foresight to create the Sunhwa Arts School and the wonderful performing troupe that would “strike people in the innermost part of their hearts” and effectively open people’s mind to the truth of Divine Principle.

Divine Principle asserts the paradigm of truth, beauty and goodness as the basis to establish a godly culture.

“When the body responds to the mind’s emotion, intellect and will, its actions pursue the values of beauty, truth and goodness respectively. God is the subject partner to the human mind; hence He is the subject partner to human emotions, intellect and will. Desiring to realize his original value, a person responds to the perfect emotion, perfect intellect and perfect will of God through his mind, and acts accordingly through his body. Thus, he manifests the values of original beauty, original truth and original goodness.”

In this context it can be ascertained that truth and intellect (knowing) should be harmonized with beauty and emotion (feeling) in such a way that goodness and will (doing) becomes the foundation for a moral and ethical society. Science, art and religion should be juxtaposed to become the basis for building a culture of peace as well as creating artistic expressions that reflect and/or embrace that vision.

When Rev. Moon purchased the Manhattan Center in 1976, it was for the expressed intent of transmitting Divine Principle via television. He spoke of how “music and religion go hand in hand” in bringing people to God. If we are to advocate the Divine Principle’s paradigm of conjoining truth, beauty and goodness, then the “beauty” component needs to be valued – and supported – commensurate to the truth and goodness components.

We know that the family, schooling and popular culture are the three most significant factors in the inculcation of values in young people. The “celebrity-industrial-complex,” with its penchant for promoting and aggressively marketing materialist, secular and often immoral content, is ravaging our youth. Our children are far more likely to be influenced by Lady Gaga and Kanye West than their local politicians or teachers. The pervasive power of popular culture contributes to the downslide of our social wellbeing. The celebrity-industrial-complex is usually at odds with the values needed to create a godly culture.

Conservative columnist George Will recently stated in a speech at Washington University in St. Louis that the breakdown of the family — and the pathologies that go along with it — is the single biggest problem our country faces. Given the grim statistics about family breakdown in relation to crime, poor academic achievement, drug abuse and sexual promiscuity, it’s difficult to argue otherwise. The facts don’t lie and the pervasive power of popular culture often contributes to the downslide of our social wellbeing. The celebrity-industrial-complex is more often than not at odd with our values. We need to provide alternative choices

The good work our Church does to promote family values, interfaith unity, sexual purity and responsible media, economic and political policies are obviously necessary. But equally necessary is the need to advocate and support the creation of art that can begin to influence our society in positive ways. If we don’t support the arts, it will be a continual, uphill battle to gain a measure of success in dealing with the pernicious and pervasive influence of the popular culture.

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Chen Yeng, a Buddhist nun, is the founder of the Tzu Chi Foundation.

My plea here is to balance our outreach programs so that the “beauty” aspect in the truth/beauty/goodness paradigm receives greater emphasis and support. Many of our children have artistic talent, therefore it is important to channel that talent into principled artistic expressions with principled motivation.

Producing a Unificationist version of the TED Talks with principled content could be a good first step. Small concerts featuring artists who share our values could also be done. Music education and internships for those interested in the media arts could be the basis for a crop of young talent to channel their creative juices into a broader approach to witnessing. We could eventually develop our own cable network, as the Tzu Chi Foundation has, perhaps using Manhattan Center as a production entity.

As Father said, using art and culture is the best way to effect change. If so, it seems imperative that we support projects that can assist our effort to convey our ideas to a larger populace.♦ 

David Eaton has been Music Director of the New York City Symphony since 1985. This article is adapted from his op-ed that originally appeared on FamilyFed.org.

3 thoughts on “Using Art and Culture to Effect Change

  1. Excellent statement, David. The nature of art is to stir one’s spirit. One of the challenges that I’ve experienced and observed is how easily it is for artists and the arts to subvert one’s character. Often arts/artists detach from moral principles, or worse yet, pursue immoral principles. Countless examples exist.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a “safe arena” where art can be pursued and celebrated, that is somehow morally/spiritually separated from evil influence.

  2. Great article! Meaningful recommendations! I am particularly in support of your point, “Producing a Unificationist version of the TED Talks with principled content could be a good first step. Small concerts featuring artists who share our values could also be done. Music education and internships for those interested in the media arts could be the basis for a crop of young talent to channel their creative juices into a broader approach to witnessing. We could eventually develop our own cable network, as the Tzu Chi Foundation has, perhaps using Manhattan Center as a production entity.”

    For many years I had similar thoughts – how is is possible to use radio? Why don’t we have our own orchestra, bands and others, with so much talent around? Why do we have our own network — breaking news needs an avenue, etc. But you have articulated it beautifully. I hope we can make it happen – there is a desert for good moral art in our world!

  3. I totally agree. Wouldn’t it be a great idea, instead of selling all kinds of military equipment, to send orchestras and musicians to countries where there are a lot of problems, to make “heal the land” concerts and performances, financed from the military budget. I believe the result would be enormous.

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