In a world with hunger, war, and great inequalities, although I live a simple life as a student, I do so within the richest societies of the world: the US, Japan, and Germany. I have the luxury of traveling to other countries, and I have rarely chosen to go to countries less privileged than my own. One may call this socio-economic – even a form of nationalistic – discrimination, but I will openly admit my own weakness when faced with other people’s suffering. I want to help, but know not how.
And then, there is what I do. I spend all my time pursuing the most luxurious pastimes: education and art. Both of these are only practicable when all other needs are satisfied, but they do satisfy the spirit like no other activity. Some artists and many scholars talk about the internal drive that governs their activities in art and research. I would say this drive is more fundamental than some basic needs, but why is that so? That’s what I would like to think about here, but of the two, education is perhaps more easily justified as moral. So, I would like to focus on the question: How can art be justified?
Many would say art is not justified. A criminal’s interests in literature and art even now are presented in courtrooms to condemn the criminal’s moral capacity. So it may be said that art makes evil inner desires apparent. Certainly I agree with that, and in that sense art is an indulgence, but in the act of engaging in art in whatever form, those inner desires are externalized for inspection. The artist and the audience both can then draw their own moral judgment of the situation presented artistically. Therefore, a person’s preference in art may show the challenges that person faces, but not that person’s level of moral judgment. So, art is a tool for developing moral judgment.
However, art is still a luxury. Some art forms like opera, architecture, haute couture, or noh require large sums of money, which may be difficult to justify collectively. Each expenditure must be judged for its own moral value. However, luxury arts in almost all instances explore the extreme limits of beauty. I will not discuss the moral value of beauty here, but in the process of its exploration, art highlights a fragile balance between beauty, happiness, and satisfaction on one hand, and all the challenges of being human on the other. Such challenges include gender, racial, and socio-economic equality, the transience and fragility of life, and the very question of how much affluence is necessary for human happiness.
So, my current answer for the question in the title of this post is, the morality of art depends on the viewer’s level of engagement. However, even if the viewer engages in art purely to satisfy personal desires, in the process of externalizing those desires, the viewer has an opportunity to examine the morality of those desires. The more that opportunity is taken advantage of, the more moral the enjoyment of art becomes, no matter what its content may be.
Therefore, in my work with noh, I want to show the moral challenges it presents. I want to highlight the problems it raises: the balance between the inner mental world with the outer world of society, human exploitation, the power of human emotion, the human ability for destruction, the limits of reason and rational interference into events, and more. These issues are all expressed in noh. If only they can be made apparent and easily understandable, I think noh’s audiences and supporters would grow.
Particularly now, at a time of year when we celebrate what we have, I hope we can also remember the costs for our good fortune.