What is Truth in Art?
Thanks to all who posted comments on my previous post! Looking at your thought provoking remarks, two basic questions emerge, which may be fun for us to consider.
1. Are there really such things as masterpieces – art which is recognized over time and across cultures as being great?
On this point, the art scholar Kenneth Clark said that masterpieces exist “by the extraordinary fact that they can speak to us, as they have spoken to our ancestors for centuries.” He also suggests that although we may disagree about the reasons for it, “the impact of a masterpiece is something about which there is an astonishing degree of unanimity.”
Will you consider for a moment a painting suggested by the Lone Beader, Sargent’s painting, The Daughters of Edward D. Boit? While it may not have the general recognition of a painting like the Mona Lisa, it is a draw for art museums and acclaimed by critics of the day. At 124 years old, it stands the test of time in an Anglo cosmopolitan world. But would a Kuna native of South America see anything in it? Would a young girl of a Transylvanian village look at the two daughters in the background and identify with them in any way? Would she find them a bit peculiar and wonder about their future? Would she perceive that these two sisters would suffer mental illness and isolation for their entire lives?
It is questions like this that fuel the debate about whether there is or is not such a thing as a masterpiece, whether those works considered by many as masterpieces may simply be engineered by the shapers of public opinion. Let’s for the purpose of today’s post take the position that, for whatever reasons, some art works will stand the tests of time and location, to be considered by many as masterpieces.
Do we care? Do we want to create a masterpiece? Like me, most of you probably think creating a masterpiece is totally out of the question, way beyond anything you can imagine about your own art.
Yet I’m willing to bet that most of us want others to enjoy and appreciate our art. We want to grow as artists, to improve, to feel pride in our work. As Jackie y/il says, “To me, it is very rewarding/encouraging when others like my work, but the reason I do it and keep on trying to improve is that it makes me feel good and that is what, to me, is important.”
I believe that to improve and feel good about our art, we can benefit by understanding some of the reasons why certain art works might be called masterpieces, and then strive toward those elements in our own work. In the previous post, I paraphrased Kenneth Clark about one characteristic of a masterpiece, saying that it should not aim at art, but at truth. And, this brings up the second question that emerged from the comments:
2. What is truth in art?
Lane savant says, “The point to any honest endeavor is to pry a small chip of truth out of the face of the black wall of chaos,” yet he questions the availability of universal truth to us mere mortals.
Sharonb says, “I come undone because the word truth infers a universal truth – that truth stands for all time across all cultures- which I do not believe in.”
The Lone Beader says, “Realism in the visual arts is the depiction of a subject as it appears in everyday life, with no interpretation. This may also include depicting the unpleasant. In life, many people choose not to see the truth. So, I feel that expressing myself in this manner is a way to show others exactly what I see.”
Vicki says, “It seems like a bit of a philosophical question, but I'm wondering if we can EVER make art that is anything BUT our truth?”
I think there are some artists who believe they can tap into some universal truth, that they possess a gift of perception and that their mission is to reveal truth through their art. Perhaps Kenneth Clark leaned in this direction, believing that there is some form of universal truth in the great themes of mankind – birth, death, love, revenge, family, war – to name a few.
While I respect this opinion, what seems more important to me is the notion of personal truth. Like Sharonb’s recent post about bloggers who write with a genuine voice, I believe that personal truthfulness is a necessary and perhaps inherent component of art... that the artist is attempting to convey something important (to them) and truthful (from their own perspective). Maybe this is too obvious to be of significance. But it's helped me, especially when I'm stuck, to be mindful of my truthfulness rather than to ask what should I add or do to make my work look better. In other words, to aim at truth rather than at art.
Vicki seems to agree, saying, “I also have had the experience of trying to help my art more fully express my intention, rather than trying to make it more complete visually. The former was so much more satisfying on a soul level!”
I began yesterday’s post with a reference to The Divas, a piece in progress by the Lone Beader. To my eyes, it seems entirely authentic. Even at this early stage, it rings true of Diana’s love for dogs, her poignant attachment to the story of these particular dogs. The Divas is a good example of how telling personal truth raises the bar on one’s art, making this piece more than a cute picture of four dogs, making me curious about the story and highly interested to witness her progress.
3. Here are a few questions for you to consider:
- What do you think about the concept of personal truthfulness and authenticity in your art work?
- Is this something for which you consciously strive and plan? If so, how?
- Vicki comments, “Art has such a subconscious component, like our speech or our dress, that even when we're doing it "intellectually" our inner being is always being voiced in a variety of choices - colors, shapes, composition, topic - that are somewhat beyond our rational control.” How do you feel about this? How is your subconscious truth revealed in your art work?
- Suzyq comments that Van Gough was an artist who told his own “truth,” despite the negative reactions of others. What is your experience with fear of criticism or self criticism blocking the expression of your personal truth?
Although I’ll soon return to beads, treasure bracelets, dolls – pictures and process, I’m hoping you will stay with me and contribute to the current discussion for a little while longer.