A Necessary Lie: Finding Truth in Art

Pablo Picasso (1913) used to say, "We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given to us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies."

The liberty in expression is not one of the man’s basic needs, yet one that overpowers his/her heart and mind. Human existence have depended explicitly on the basic needs; food, shelter and clothing. But as Maslow’s theory of hierarchy of needs explains, these basic needs, called ‘physiological’ needs, are only the beginning of the man’s growth; self-actualization is a goal of human existence. In all of these levels of needs, the will to express one’s soul is a common denominator. Expression may use many forms that will generally fall in these major categories: speech, writing, and actions, or a combination of all three. As babies we would communicate through crying, then as years add up, our mastery of language becomes refined, and we use it to study things, and express, in turn, how we understand them. People use any of the categories to communicate, and to say what one needs, or what others may need from them, all these helps in achieving the maximum potential that one can reach.

One that has captured man’s nature of discovering, exploring, and knowing ideas, things, events, phenomenon, is that of the Arts. It has been generally seen as the handwork in paintings of some of the world-renowned painters, as Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, or Michelangelo. But this definition is very restrictive and suffocates the vastness of the Art’s ability to help man/woman express him/herself. Its conventional definition is stated as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form, such as painting or sculpture, and other branches of activity, such as music, literature and dance, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power” (Oxford Dictionary). This definition leaves us to choose from the many forms of how one can express himself, and be understood by the society. Let us take Literature, as an object of this discussion.

Literature has been defined as, “use of a language, or 'devices' in poetry or prose, by means of which things the audience normally perceives, or thinks of, in a habitual ways become 'defamiliarised', so that it sees, or thinks of them in a fresh light, or with intensified perception'” (Magrini, 2009). In here, we learn that Literature transports the human mind in a new and more ‘intensified perception’ of things around him/her. The meat of most of the literary works we encounter, as in the written works, such as the famous novels, A Tale of Two Cities, The Little Prince, and other, are in fact stories of ‘fictional characters’. Although by a common norm, literary works are fictional. Mikkonen (2010) explained that, “…literary works are, at least for the most part, fictive: their content is fictional and their mode of presentation is not assertive; nonetheless, at another level, the works may `imply' or `suggest' propositions, which the reader is invited to assess as true or false”. The characters in the literary works, we have known recently, such as the Lord of the Rings, used characters that do not actually exist in real life, such as dwarfs, elves. But the values found in the film and in the novel, such as the eternal theme of ‘good championing over evil’, are rather important for readers and the society in general. Patches of the real-life scenarios and instances are implicitly covered by these novels, and provides the reader/audience with an option to further assess the reality. In its strictest sense, the products of literary works or art in general are viewed as “lie”, a deviation from what is actually considered as true.

Magrini (2009) further explains the context, at which the relationship between art and truth can be tackled, “…it must be understood “with a view to the conquest of nihilism,” within the historical context of a radically novel interpretation of sensuous reality.” Magrini defined truth as “fixation of semblance”, and art as “transfiguration of semblance”. He further explained that art is life’s “greatest enhancing force”. To expound on this, we must understand the concept of nihilism, defined as negation of one or more putatively meaning of life. It extends to the general idea of the nihilist existentialism, wherein nothing has any significant meaning or any meaning/purpose at all. Nietzsche “…aims to attack the root of nihilism, abolishing the destructive “essence” of Platonism – the distinction between “true and apparent world”, by going back to the ‘sensuous’ aspect of truth or reality. Anything that is perceived through the senses is referred to as truth.

Nietzsche’s quest to abolish nihilism is summed up by Magrini (2009): “Nietzsche expresses the ultimate concern with “life,” and it seems that the awareness of creative life and the “return” of life is most vital to his unique and influential ideas about humanity, which reveal the foundations of a “new” life and existence, an existence that fruitfully springs from the renewal of the forgotten sensual and spiritual ties to earth, nature, and the body, a life in which humanity’s greatest possibilities are reflected within its creative artistic activity.” The return of life, as mentioned in here, according to Nietzsche, can be gleaned from the ability of Literature/Art to transport humans to a different level of representation of things that heightens its emotion and value to the reader/audience.

As Picasso mentioned in his quote, “We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given to us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” Arts use for its major contents the imaginary skill of the human mind to develop characters, events that are not factual, making it a ‘lie’. But as with the discussions of Magrini and Mikkonen, art enables the audience to reconsider reality, taking the second look at the work, and beginning to see things in a different perspective/light, as the author intended it to be. Adding on, the interpretation of a literary work is open for the reader/audience, and is not boxed within the author’s representation. The reader/audience has the liberty to process the art on his own, and produce a different variation of its meaning, making life in the work be presented in a new and more powerful manner. The manner/method used by the author/creator of the piece of Art, is very well-rooted from an awareness that the finished product will communicate the ‘art’ with its audience as something true, and something that has its value.

The essence of an Art, when it is passed on to the hands of the reader/audience is its ability to change reality, and create a new meaningful experience. This seemingly mandate of Art, renders it as crucial and necessary to balance the tendencies of man to look past beyond life and the interconnectedness of life and spirit, as against absolutism and pure abstract reasoning. Through Art, blood runs through the readers’ mind and heart once more. 

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