Art Is Lie That Brings Truth Nearer

I decided to evaluate the quotation by Pablo Picasso: “Art is a lie that brings us nearer to the truth” because the claim contains several issues that, depending on the definition, may lead to further difficulties in interpretation. What do we mean by “truth”?; What is a “lie”; What do we mean by “arts”?; Who do we consider when saying “us”? A piece of art, as a separate subject, is hermetically understood by every individual. It inspires “us” all, both creators and receivers of the art – leading to specific, personal, conclusions. Therefore, not only the main assumption but also the main outcome of the arts is relativism; that is why we cannot state any absolute values in it. As Pablo Picasso once said: “You will not understand arts as long as you won’t understand that in arts 1+1 may give any result but 2” [1] . This underlines, I believe, that art is never able to give an absolute answer, therefore is a “lie” in absolute terms. Hence, art outlines only the artist’s personal impression, his truth, and cannot be a measure of any unambiguous distinction between the absolute and impression itself. Since it is the quotation of Pablo Picasso that is evaluated in this essay, it can be explained in relation to cubist theory of truth. The theory claims the total truth is a sum of all perspectives. So the more personal truths, in relativistic terms, or various lies (not hole truths), in absolute terms, are added, the closer one gets to knowing the real truth. That is how the art is a lie that helps us realise the truth. I will prove my thesis by analysing what kind of truth do paintings of Johannes Vermeer, a realist, Pierre Auguste Renoir, an impressionist, Edward Munch, an expressionist, and Rij Rousseau, a cubist, tell me separately and altogether about women. These artists, and specific movements they represent, were chosen because of the underlying contrast in both perceiving the truth and expressing it. They represent varied approaches which will allow to present flaws in each view and draw moderate conclusion, which falls into the thesis of the investigation.

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The painting The Milkmaid , by Vermeer, shows a woman standing in a kitchen, preparing a meal. Her face is calm and it can be judged from her clothes and the content of the room that she lives in relative luxury. The painting presents somehow the reality of the 17th century social situation in Netherlands which gives me a social and historical truth concerning woman. Additionally, Vermeer’s truth about women is that they are the guardians of the households. His view falls into correspondence theory of truth, which claims that something is true if it corresponds to a fact. Despite recent XXth century’s social changes concerning woman’s position, they have always played a major role in taking care of home. The movement itself is an example of realism that comprises in the mimetic theory of art. The concept of mimesis assumes that the purpose of the art is to copy reality. Therefore the problem arises when evaluating realism- is it false because it deals with imitation, or it is true through paradox of fiction- that the model presents some regularities of human behavior? I believe that by taking from the character her personal identity in exchange for creating a generalized model, Vermeer in fact hinders the personal truth about this woman. He effectively presents the social order and historical truth, however generalization is always concerned only with average, not with all possibilities.

The painting Woman with a dog of Renoir presents a woman with a dog sitting in the grass. The blurry curves are used in order to show movement of the grass. By looking at the bloom and the reddish shade on a girl it can be judged it is a late afternoon. Renoir’s truth in this painting applies only to woman’s look in a specific place at a specific time. Additionally, the painting says something personal about her- that she probably enjoyed spending her time close to the nature, since her face expresses joy, and that she probably enjoyed watching sunsets. The painting is an ideal example of impressionism. As Childe Hassam [4] once noticed: “The true impressionism is realism that so many people do not observe”. The crucial difference, however, between these two concepts is that impressionism tries to prove that truth is not a generalisation, like in realism. Instead, it uncovers the truth about certain objects in relation to very specific time and place. Therefore, impressionism also falls into correspondence theory of truth since Renoir’s painting corresponds to a fact- girl’s look during a sunset. However, since impressionists tried to immortalise the very glance we must ask ourselves how good truth is that? Following Monet’s thoughts I assume that the truth about everything would be hindered in a series of glances. Thus, showing just one of the uncountable in their number glances gives us only an insignificantly small part of the truth about women in general and the girl in particular.

The painting Madonna by Edvard Munch presents a woman with sunken orbits and slender posture which makes her look like a demon. The foetus in the left corner symbolises fertility and therefore depicts woman as a source of life. Her face expresses experiencing ecstasy and by linking this image with the title of a piece, Madonna, which is the Christian perception of a Holy mother, Munch degraded the value of woman. The artist was a misogynist and his truth is that a woman is a source of all suffering, the mother of heresy and the incarnation of pure evil. [6] Expressionists, like Munch, disregarded mimetic approach to arts; instead they wanted to show the world through the prism of their own perception. Thus, the basic idea in this movement was not to imitate reality (so they were not interested in absolutes), but to present the very subjective and very personal opinions- just as in the coherence theory of truth. The theory claims that a proposition is true if it fits in with our overall set of beliefs. Although the concept of woman being a demon could be true for Munch, for majority of people it would be perceived as extremist and prejudiced view. However, expressionism, because of its fundamental assumptions, speaks more of the painter than of the world. Munch’s perception derives from fear of woman that is why it is so narrow. Nevertheless, this narrowness is a deliberate action. Author, as an expressionist, through his works tells me: “This is MY truth, what is yours?”

The painting of Rij-Rousseau does not describe, as the title could suggested, the outer look. In Portrait she depicted three different bodies which shows the complexity and diversity of women’s nature. It can be cheerful and warm (orange), or impassive and cold (green), and there is also the person between them, poorly visible, brown- imitating the whole uncertainty and mystery of other woman’s embodiments. Rousseau’s truth about woman is hidden in symbols: the green face resembles a mask, so the outer look, which would mean that the blithe person represents the inner nature of woman. Therefore, the painting represents the very essence of the cubist theory of truth-to present the object in the widest context possible by considering it from multiple viewpoints. In other words cubism assumes that we are getting closer to the truth the more perspectives we get to know. But now again, how good truth is that? I now realize that the absolute truth about woman means summing up all the personal truths about each woman separately, yet it is an impossible task. Furthermore, any attempt to draw a mathematically moderate view about woman would mean going back to the very beginning, so the concepts of generalization and mimesis. Therefore, what is gained through dealing with arts is not only finding out how great is our own ignorance, but also how unattainable to comprehend, and impossible to depict, the absolute truth is.

What have I gained through dealing with the paintings of Vermeer, Renoir, Munch and Rousseau? The Milkmaid told me what the social status in Netherlands was in XVIIth century. Renoir immortalised some girl’s look at the time of a sunset, the emotions that her face expressed and the move of the grass around her. Munch told me of his greatest despise and fear of women. Rousseau showed not to trust the first impression because a woman is a very complex being. Therefore, I am wiser with the views of these four paintings, bur now I realise I am poorer with the lack of the perceptions depicted in another thousands paintings. Thus, “I know that I know nothing” [8] of the absolute truth about woman, since I just grasped only an idea of the truth’s complexity. When Picasso said that art is a lie that helps us realise the truth I believe he didn’t mean any specific style, i.e. he didn’t mean that realism is a lie, but that all the achievements in arts, in all styles and assumptions, are just not complete. Having in mind that Picasso actually created cubism, I can’t resist evaluating his claim in relation to cubist theory of truth. According to this idea the absolute truth is a mosaic composed of various elements – individual approaches. In other words, what Picasso meant is that arts is closed in specific boundaries of different styles and cannot present the whole picture, therefore is a lie. However, as new forms and concepts are created the more perspectives are added and, piece by piece, the mosaic is being completed.