Hubbard believed that integration between the elements of a work of art is the true key to its success.
by Massimo Introvigne
Almost to the end of his life (1986), Hubbard continued to investigate the relationship between artistic creation and technique. He realized that too much insistence on technique could lead to the conclusion that art was perspiration only, with a limited role for inspiration. He cautioned that artistic creation, just as any other creation, should be a joy for the artist: “Force yourself to smile and you’ll soon stop frowning. Force yourself to laugh and you’ll soon find something to laugh about. Wax enthusiastic and you’ll very soon feel so. A being causes his own feelings. The greatest joy there is in life is creating. Splurge on it!”
In one of his latest utterances on art, dated 10 March 1984, Hubbard also reminded artists that, although messages not communicated through appropriate technique would never reach the audience, the message itself remained essential: “Successful works of art have a message. It may be implicit or implied, emotional, conceptual or literal, inferred or stated. But a message, nonetheless. This applies to any form of art (…). Many elements and much expertise go into the creating of successful works of art. Dominant amongst them is message, for this integrates the whole and brings comprehension and appreciation to those for whom it is intended. Understanding is the base of affinity, reality and communication. A message is fundamental to understanding.”
The dialectic relationship between message and technique, on the other hand, becomes part of the technique itself through the notion of “montage,” defined by Hubbard as a four-stage sequence, “a formula that helps one to achieve clear aesthetic communication of art”: ”1. Figure out what your message is. 2. Decide to communicate the message. 3. Put things or arrangements in that contribute to the message. 4.Take out or exclude things or arrangements which don’t contribute to it.”
A montage is “a series of shots with one message.” Shots should not be confused with scenes or pictures. A picture is a scene communicating a message, while “A shot is anything and it has no message in its own right and doesn’t talk unless connected to other shots (…). Individual shots in a montage have little meaning in themselves individually but when cut together deliver a single message. By confusing (…) a montage shot and a scene, one gets very little audience reaction and after all, that’s the name of the game.”
Montage consists of “integration” of different, and compatible, shots, and without integration “you don’t have art.” The language comes from cinema, but integration is the technical key of all arts.
Integration is learned, sometimes painfully, although for certain happy few the skills can also be “native.” To learn, artists should become able to look at their own works in two very particular ways. The first is defined by Hubbard as the capacity “to view any piece of work in a new unit of time each time one views it. One has to be able to sweep aside all past considerations concerning any piece of work which has been changed or is under handling and see it or hear it in a brand-new unit of time as though he had never heard of it before. By doing this, he actually sees or hears exactly what is in front of him, not his past considerations concerning it.”
This may seem complicated, but Hubbard claims it is the secret explaining why many artists fail. When they look at their works, they do not see them as they really are now but still perceive their precedent versions they were not happy about, which have been corrected in the meantime: “Some painters, for instance, will redo and redo and redo a painting up to an inch thick of paint when, possibly, several of those redos were quite acceptable. But he continued to try to correct the first impressions which were no longer there. By not viewing his painting in a new unit of time as though he had never seen it before, he cannot actually get a correct impression of what is in front of him.”
Hubbard claims that professional artists are actually aware of this problem, and try to overcome it by looking at their works in a mirror or through a reducing glass rather than directly. This relates to the second skill any artist need: the ability of seeing each work from the point of view of the intended audience, which may be very much different from the professional point of view of the artist. Obviously, the second skill presupposes the first, since the audience would look at the work of art in its present version, and would be unaware of any previous version still present in the artist’s mind. Summing up, “what really separates the flubbers and amateurs from the professional are these two skills. One has to be able to view or hear anything he is working on at any time in a brand-new unit of time. And one has to be able to see or hear his production from the viewpoint of the eventual audience. In other words, the really excellent professional can be fluid in time, not stuck in the past and can be facile in space location. There is no reason why one should be stuck on the time track or fixated in just his own location in space. Actually, just knowing that these skills can exist is often enough the key to acquiring them.”
Armed with these two skills, the artist will be able to build the work of art as integration and composition. Composition and integration are not synonymous, but are strictly related. Hubbard claimed that composition had not been clearly defined before him, and this lack of a definition became the source of much confusion. For him, composition is the sum of “any or all of the actions necessary to integrate and give meanings to a message.” These “actions” are obviously different in different forms of art. For example, for a painter the elements of composition will be “the actual objects to be shown, color, color harmony and color depth, depth perspective, geometric design and the use of mood lines, and calligraphy.” Some of these elements are discussed by Hubbard in more details than others.
As for “the actual objects to be shown,” Hubbard believes that each work of art should have a “center of interest.” Two or more centers in general do not create integration but confusion: putting them together is theoretically possible, but very difficult. Here, Hubbard is close to those religious critics of modern art, such as Hans Sedlmayr (1896–1984), who lamented the “loss of the center,” making contemporary works more difficult to understand.
For Hubbard, the center of the work, and the main ancillary objects, should be clearly identified and identifiable. More subtly, they should also determine the dominant and secondary geometric shapes in the composition. Here, Hubbard also introduces the notion of “mood lines,” i.e. abstract line forms that influence the audience’s emotional response. Vertical lines communicate drama and inspiration, horizontal lines, happiness and calm, and so on. There are several systems of mood lines described in manuals for artists. In the posthumously collected edition of Hubbard’s bulletins on art, Scientology used the system of mood lines developed by visionary landscape architect John Ormsbee Simonds (1913–2005). Simonds’ theory of form was influenced by Zen Buddhism and by Anthroposophical theories he was exposed to through his mentor at Harvard, Marcel Breuer (1902–1981), formerly of the Bauhaus.
Another common tool Hubbard recommended to artists, the color wheel, was promoted in his times through references to market surveys, but in fact had been first used in a different context by Robert Fludd (1574–1637) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). Like many Theosophists (and market researchers), Hubbard believed that colors correspond to specific emotional states.
Hubbard suggested the systematic use of the wheel for exploring color harmony and color association. The principles he mentioned were fairly standard, and referred to the positions of the colors on the wheel: (a) “direct harmony,” or use as complementary of the color directly opposite the key color; (b) “related colors,” or use of colors immediately adjacent to the key color; (c) “split complementary,” or use of the colors directly adjacent to the complementary color identified through direct harmony; and (d) “triadic harmony,” or use of the colors two spaces to either side of the complementary color. Hubbard, however, advised that “when you use triadics and splits, they have to be in small areas.”
In addition to harmony and association, Hubbard mentioned color depth, defined as “the apparency [sic] of depth (relative distance from the viewer) characteristic of different colors and depending on the background against which they appear.”
“Warm colors appear to advance while cool hues recede from the observer.” Color depth is in turn relates to “depth perspective,” constructed through a variety of techniques, of which Hubbard claimed in 1984 to have offered “the first codification.” His classification distinguishes between (1) depth by aerial perspective (“distant areas go hazy; near areas go sharp”); (2) depth by color; (3) depth by linear perspective; (4) depth by light; (5) depth by shadow, or by “light as shadow”; (6) depth by solidity, as “solidity of shapes is different than shadow actions. The solidity itself is special. A thing can be drawn to be solid. Then one can add perspective”; (7) depth by focus (“things when quite near are sharp. Things that are far are a bit blurry”); and (8) depth by lateral movement.
Finally, Hubbard examined the cases when a text should be integrated into a work of art. It is important, he notes, that calligraphy, or the style of type or lettering, integrates with the rest of the work: “From the viewpoint of integration, flowing color patterns or lines have no integration whatsoever with a sharp, modernistic style of typeface. The type doesn’t align with the art form, so the two don’t integrate. They don’t seem to belong together, so they don’t seem to be art. To integrate with flowing color patterns, the calligraphy or lettering would have to fit with lines that give the impression of ‘in motion’ or ‘flowing’ or something similar. Different color patterns or geometric lines would require different types of calligraphy. In other words, in an ad or other design the calligraphy or type style should align and integrate with the art form used. And the type style itself should agree with the colors.”
Ultimately, integration remains the key to the whole discussion of art techniques by Hubbard.