Truth and Art

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Truth and Art

From Brian K. Yoder

Published before 2005


truth and art
Mani Deli: The tragedy begins when the artist hasn't the skill to carry out the idea.

Isn't it an even greater tragedy (in a certain way) when they have nothing to say in the first place and no idea of how or why one would want to express it in the first place? Too many modernists have their heads so full of nihilist, relativist, and Freudian nonsense that they can't even contemplate what it would mean to express an idea of something like beauty, joy, excellence, or justice because they can't even conceive of such things in any coherent way. That's an even deeper tragedy than having such ideas clearly but not having the technical skill to bring them into sensible reality.

Brian Yoder: I very much disagree. A good painting requires an understanding of the truth and it expresses truth as well.

Mani Deli: I suspect you really mean true to what things really look like. Where? Does a portrait, a landscape, a bowl of fruit, a Persian rug, a Japanese print, express truth? However, I grant you that my idea of truth may be a more formal one than yours.

No, I don't mean that. To reuse an analogy I used the other day, if one has the goal of portraying a lonely and forbidding landscape one might paint a night time scene in a desert. One of the things one might include in such a scene is an image of the moon in the sky. Now, the moon certainly does look a certain way, and a realist would no doubt make it look realistic in various ways, but what is the artistic goal of the painting? It is to make the scene look lonely and forbidding. A careful observation of how the moon can give things that look would reveal there are objective things about the way the moon really looks that can give that impression. The pale blue tint of the lighting, the glow of the sky, the chilliness implies by the way the light catches the atmosphere, the thin crescent shape, the composition of the moon relative to other objects in the scene, etc. In short, there are some things about the way the moon looks (or can look) that a good artist can capture in a painting. If the goal was to paint a romantic scene, one might paint the moon very differently, perhaps larger, perhaps with a warmer light, perhaps in a different compositional relationship with the other objects in the scene.

In other words, painting realistically doesn't mean abandoning the idea of selectivity in service to artistic goals.

BY: And it expresses truth by a rational identification of some aspect of reality (usually an abstract one like justice, revenge, motherly love, or a spring morning) and association of that abstraction with the concretes in reality which are to be portrayed in the work of art. A rational approach might express an abstraction like motherly love by painting a woman tenderly holding a baby. An irrational one might express the same abstraction by portraying an old shoe with a fish sticking out of it.

MD: And if the fish and the shoe are beautifully executed and attract the viewer while the woman with baby is poorly executed which painting is then rational or irrational?

If so then the fish and shoe painting is still meaningless and the woman with the baby is still ineffectual. A rational idea that is ineffectually expressed is still rational (though flawed) and an incoherent idea expressed with flawless technique is still irrational. Is that not obvious?

--Brian