Essays on Art
Hugh Moss


Edited by Sean Geer
25 January 2021


What is art, and what is it for? After millennia of human creativity and the vast amount of art that they have produced, these may seem like questions that are barely worth asking – or at least, that have been satisfactorily addressed by audiences and critics over several centuries. 

I strongly disagree. Moreover, I'd argue that several factors – not least recent geo-political events and the global impact of the modern western revolution in the arts – are the root-cause of the current confusion in the art world, obscuring both the true nature and ultimate purpose of art. As a result, we're in danger of losing sight of art's most fundamental functions and benefits. Worse, we are depriving art of its freedom to fulfil its highest role, for artists and audience alike.

These factors have not, of course, prevented art from being made, nor stemmed the tide of creativity and visionary genius. Art remains one of our most important means of communication, one that inspires us at many different levels and across the bandwidth of human consciousness. But I also believe that it has been constrained for a long time, and that its true potential will only be fulfilled if we rethink most of our existing theories about what art really is and what it's really for. In particular, we need to revisit our view of the global turmoil caused by the modern revolution, and completely reassess its impact. And we also urgently need an art theory that is truly trans-cultural, not one governed by a dominantly western perspective.

The essays that follow have been written with exactly these reassessments in mind. In them, I outline the basic changes required to adjust our current theoretical approach; changes that will allow us to efficiently understand any art form, from any culture, at any point in time, from the same overarching perspective. One of the foundations of my theory is that we should expand our definition of art to include any creative response to experience, rather than relying on our existing prejudice about what is and isn't art.

This inclusive expansion of the domain of art allows us to consider another foundation of my theory; that creativity, the underlying definition of all arts, is our most efficient means of evolving our individual and collective consciousness. Few would argue against the notion that art leads inevitably to a more enlightened understanding of the self and its place in culture and civilisation; and thus eventually, life, the universe and indeed everything. Creativity is the basis of culture; culture, in turn, is the basis of civilisation. Without art we cannot build, sustain or even understand ourselves and our civilisations, one of the many reasons why humanity has always revered creative perception and expression in its manifold forms.

It is no coincidence that creative response to experience is what unifies all four of our central domains of our human experience – religion, philosophy, science and art. Significantly, though, art is the only one of the four capable of subsuming the other three. Science, religion and philosophy are all unquestionably vital tools for pursuing knowledge and understanding, but they have so far failed to deliver the Theory of Everything that their proponents once promised. Perhaps we are looking in the wrong place; and perhaps, by elevating art to equal stature, we might start to find some of the answers that we're still missing.

Many other foundational adjustments are presented in outline in the introduction, and I'll expand upon them in subsequent essays. By approaching the subject from different angles but viewing it through the same overarching theoretical framework, we can begin to clarify the current confusion that permeates the global art world.

I published the broader theory underlying my convictions in 2015.1 The same ideas are touched upon in an interview with Sean Geer in the recently published retrospective catalogue of my own paintings.2 Although many less complete iterations of the evolving theory have been published since the early 1980s in various sources.

I should add a note about my intent here. My aim is not to present academically rigorous essays, but instead to introduce and expand upon some important ideas that will get us to the heart of the problem faster, even if they are not exhaustively (not to mention exhaustingly) academic in tone and structure. Some of the ideas will inevitably be refined over time, and amended as appropriate; feedback is welcome by email or by using the feedback form in the menu on the left, this will give me an opportunity to respond to questions, clarify the overall message and make changes to the text where it makes sense to do so. Time dictates, particularly as I approach the age of eighty, that I be selective as to my response to feedback. But I welcome any and all contributions, and will do my best to address and incorporate useful comments. I should also add that you may well disagree with some or all of what I have to say; such is the nature of theorising, especially on a subject as emotionally complex as art. In that eventuality, by all means feel free to start your own series of essays! Many people have, but so far they don't seem to have resolved the confusion…

Hugh Moss
At the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat