Art / essay


“The truth of an idea is not a stagnant property inherent in it. Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is MADE true by events.” by William James from The Meaning of Truth.

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell.

What is the relationship between art and reality? For me art generally caricatures reality. The artist becomes the manipulator and propagandist who tries to overcome the natural pragmatism of its viewers. When the viewer swallows the unrealistic notion that artistic elucidation invades the intellect like nirvana that has inculcated the mind of the Bodhisattva, art then melts the capacity to see and understand the truth. Why else does art feature prominently in the suffocating cages of communists, socialists, and dictators in general.

Statue of Truth Before the Canadian Supreme Court.
Statue of Truth Before the Canadian Supreme Court.

For Plato, art is an imitation of nature.

BF Skinner the famous behavioral psychologist, proffered his vision of art in his utopian work, Walden II. He thought that art, as it is institutionalized and practiced today, has an ill effect on people and preferred to minimize its influence, especially in eliminating what we might call “fine art”.

BF Skinner, The Behaviorist at Harvard Circa 1950.
BF Skinner, The Behaviorist at Harvard Circa 1950.

Before going further, let us examine some predicaments that anyone involved in art has experienced.

Feeling a sense of inferiority occupies a large part of the adherents of artistic endeavor. This state of mind is cultivated in art academies and in the fine art business, despite the detachment from talent or intelligence that contemporary art manifests itself in our times. It is of utmost importance that a few are exalted and the rest viewed as deficient. To deny this aspect of the institution of art reaches a level with the heretics during the Inquisition. Nailing a thesis to the art museum’s door will get you excommunicated.

Martin Luther Posting the 95 Thesis on the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
Martin Luther Posting the 95 Thesis on the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

Many have heard the derisive statement that someone’s work is “simplistic” or “common”. Such terms go to the impact of gaining a superior position rather than any sort of legitimate criticism. Many great, enduring works are simple or founded upon common concepts. Raphael’s Madonna and Child, Beethoven’s Fur Elise, The Veteran’s War Memorial by Maya Lin, all are examples of simple subjects using common concepts. Yet one can look upon and glowingly expand on some of the scribbling of Matisse, for instance, and then claim someone else’s work is “simplistic”.

Untitled, Oil on Canvas, Cy Twombly, Tate Modern, 2008.
Untitled, Oil on Canvas, Cy Twombly, Tate Modern, 2008. This Painting Sold for Over 46 Million Dollars.

Indeed, such statements say more about those who utter them than they do about any particular work of art. Always trust your judgment over others. Realize that much art criticism belongs in the realm of the phony and the celebrity even if you use such social mechanisms to advance your work. Today, many successful artists have a following because they are followed. They are famous for being famous and nothing more.

Never accede to false comparisons as a justification for not participating in artistic endeavors. The rankings of biased and subjective academics should not deter anyone from not doing that which they find satisfying. There will always be someone a better draftsman or drawer, a better painter or sculptor. If art becomes simply a competition then it loses all meaning personally. Therefore, never let winning or achieving awards cloud the real accomplishments. Suffer first to achieve with yourself. And if you never succeed–and you never will–you will know the joys of creativity and the wonders of life. Art is about the act itself!

George Braque said that “Truth exists, only falsehood has to be invented.” This is a telling statement of a 20th-century artist swept up in the “isms” and the silly manifestos that read like a patient with unsuccessful psychiatric treatments. Read the Futurist Manifesto for a good laugh.

Yet Braque was correct as Heisenberg was correct with his Uncertainty Principle. Truth sways and evades capture. Art is the falsehood that requires expert invention. Unlike the empirical qualities of physics, artists attack reality and forcibly effect a compliance to beauty and desire based upon human values.

Unfortunately, artists from the early 20th century introduced politics and political activism into the profession of art. Dali was shunned by the surrealists who admired a butcher like Stalin. We know of Man Ray, the cubists, the trio of confused Mexicans like Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco who foolishly embraced communism. Many of these concepts infected the art establishment and educational institutes and poisoned them into moral and cultural relativism that increasingly denied the existence of any standards and fostered hatred for western traditions.

The art institutions have become so turgid with political indoctrination and so intellectually rigid that many of those inside these institutions actually consider art as agents of correct political thinking or the opposite such as misogyny, racism, and phobias of all kinds.

Truth IS an invention. It may be one that leads to effective responses to the real world but it is entirely an invention. Every individual formulates the truth of any particular occurrence. This is why different people see the same event and report what happened in several ways.

Art is an invention. It alludes to the truth, it hints at the truth but it does not portray the truth. Even photographs manipulate reality by distorting context and subject. Art generally is a lie. The greater and the more convincing the lie the better the art.

It is quite amusing to hear an actor or director talking about films as portraying the truth. They delude themselves. A film is an invented story put to moving pictures. Actors do acting on film. They don’t do life. A film is a story where the people responsible determine the outcome. Reality never happens this way. The only time this happens is when in the laboratory a scientist produces a predicted result due to a previous understanding and development. A film can be based upon an actual event or person but it is a dream or delusion of the event, not the actual event.

Sorrowfully, the ubiquitous and persuasive influence of film and its promotion as truth has led to a population of people who think if the event or the situation is similar to what happens in films or is imagined, the end result will be the same. This means that evil people or deficient cultures can be changed by accepting upon ourselves being or thinking in a certain way. Reality is that a Pol Pot will always be a Pol Pot, an Idi Amin will always be an Idi Amin. A thief in Calcutta will be a thief in London. Human beings and cultures do not change based upon the shallow and simple meanings and philosophies of melodramas of TV and film.

Film, too, is under assault from those who wish it to conform, to spread a political ideology. With film, the difficulty lays with having to bring in large sums of money by enticing large audiences, a sort of democratic republicanism. Frankly, purely ideological movies can win awards for being boring and tedious. So the producers of films try to introduce their biases obliquely by syrupy melodramatics that have their characters succumbing to goodness or niceness usually from heavy outpours of understanding, patience, and tolerance. Of course, if that doesn’t work there is always the evil corporate executive, the war-mad general, or the greedy, self-centered middle-class person engaged in stereotypical behavior. These days, film has devolved into braindead plots about superheroes from children’s comic books because goodness always defeats badness.

The essence of truth in art is that art does not need truth nor does truth need art. People enjoy visual experience concocted by skillful hands. They also like to be tricked and made to see things in strange or beautiful ways. Burdening art with truth makes it boring, oppressing, and the tool of the worst sorts of manipulators. One may make a statement in art but no one should confuse this statement with anything except the expression of the artist. Seeking truth in art leads to nowhere. Much like the expansion of the universe, where every point expands away from every other point, the artist who searches for truth gets no closer to it than those that don’t.


One thought on “Truths

  1. If I followed you, I affirm your conclusion. I am not convinced about the futility of the by-ways and deadends art has pursued in recent decades. But I do believe art creates reality. Its essence is creating. Maybe not from nothing, but from very little. Fascinating essay! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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