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Jens Bergman Rydal Penrhos 001489-003

Q8. “Art is a lie that brings us nearer to the truth” (Pablo Picasso). Evaluate
this claim in relation to a specific art form (for example, visual arts,
literature, theatre).

I am going to evaluate this claim through the form of visual art.

In the bible Pontus Pilate asked Jesus ‘What is truth?’1. Long before this and ever since,
humans have been curious about the term truth. We all strive for answers and the so called
“truth”, led by our curiosity and appreciation of truth as being pure. We can argue that art is a
form of knowing, one of many vehicles that can be used to express ourselves and these so
called truths. We do, nonetheless, encounter many issues with the term and its meaning: how
do we know that something is the truth, what aspects incorporate telling the truth and is truth
even knowable? The pragmatic theory of truth suggests that “we acknowledge the problem
and give up on truth...and look for truth that works. This means abandoning intuitive ideas of
objectivity and absolute truth...that a proposition is true if it’s useful to believe; that utility is
the essential mark of truth”2. An example of this is scientific ‘facts’, a truth that has been
deduced from copious trials and has worked up until now, this doesn’t however validate the
fact according to my opinion.

One can argue that truth is highly subjective, something based on one’s own personal life
experiences and that it can be determined by cultures, environments and status for example.
Indeed, there are elements of truth to this postulation. However what about knowable truths,
the big truths, such as the scientific laws, what decides their validity? My opinion is that it all
comes down to perspective and convenience, a practicality; believed for the moment due to
the lack of better alternatives.

To give an example, 1000 years back into history when humanity was still oblivious to the
heliocentric motion of the planets. Back then, we could have had two different perspectives of
planet movement.
One could have argued that the sun rotates around the earth, another could argue that the earth
rotates around the sun. Neither of these arguments were then definitely true.
They were based on personal perspectives, on personal observations. Now, 1000 years later,
we know that the Earth does indeed rotate around the sun. What has changed? Our
perspective or our observational platform of things that has changed through science and
1 The Bible, St. John, XVII. 37
2 theory of knowledge second edition, Nicholas Alchin, Hodder Murray 2006
Jens Bergman Rydal Penrhos 001489-003

astronomy. We all now know that the heliocentric theory is the valid one. Truth itself has not
changed, therefore I believe the truth is eternal.

As Picasso so neatly said if art is a lie, how can it reliably convey us closer to the truth of
knowledge? Is Picasso in fact telling us that art is a copy, or does the statement impart
something of a deeper meaning?
The mimetic theory3 of art says that the purpose of art is to copy reality, a photo of a
person shows every single detail of the picture for an instance in time, but that does not tell us
anything about the truth, for example ‘Taking the Christmas Picture’. In my opinion it’s a
pain, but when I view the picture I see us all gathered as a big happy family. The photo only
tells parts of the story as it only show’s a snapshot and not the event as a whole, to an extent it
lies. However even though all art can lie as it is a secondary source of knowledge according to
my opinion, photo art brings us further away from the truth, it in fact makes it easier for the
artist to convey a lie if that is his intention. It could be argued that “Art is what you can get
away with”4.

If art is an illusion, does it liberate the artist, giving him a license to depict human experience
in contrastive ways in order to portray a unique perception of the ‘truth’ of human nature?
Schopenhauer said “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the
world”5 can it be possible for a lie, an illusion far distanced from the reality, to widen the
boundaries of the viewer. Guernica6 which is a famous piece of art made by Picasso, a
surrealistic portrayal of the attacks against the town Guernica during the civil war of Spain.

The painting does not portray Guernica, the people living in Guernica nor the landscape of
Guernica but still it depicts the mournful day when Franco’s troops stormed the village. I
believe that this validates the claim that art does not have to show the truth to tell it.
The mind does not store full memories or feelings; it generalizes creating groups and sub-
groups linking together everything into a big cobweb, which is why surrealistic art alluding to
symbols might communicates information better than the reality.

3 Richard van de Lagemaat, Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma, Cambridge Education 2008
4 Andy Warhol, 1928-87
5 Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788-1860
6 Picasso, Guernica, 1937
Jens Bergman Rydal Penrhos 001489-003

Art is above all else, a form of communication. In this sense it is language; it gives us the
choice to model the world and thereby to think of the world in different shapes and forms.
Symbols have been used to store knowledge since the beginning of time.

Art arose as a very public and practical form of communication; Egyptians used pictures as
their written language, the so called hieroglyphs, and has only later on developed this into a
more private and impractical expression of a personal view of life. As Burroughs said "I
myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions."7 if this postulation
is true. Did art become more personal, more subjective, did it just as man itself start
containing flaws, can you therefore claim that art no longer contains the truth?

Although man contain flaws, above all else man is specialised at finding flaws in others.

Therefore I do believe that art which is man’s way of expressing his opinion is the perfect
way of portraying a version of the truth, as seen by the artist. The claim that art is a lie that
contains the truth can therefore be made.

There are many knowable truths such as the scientific laws, which are distinct from our
perspective and our experiences. And those truths are what we search for in life. They are the
uttermost depth of our reasoning, and definitely something to look for in art.

I have to ask myself, what is Art and where do you draw the line between art and a urinal?
More importantly, why is Duchamp’s urinal8 considered art, and the one in the boy’s
lavatory not, is it the intention of the artist that is the final decider upon something being art,
what is really true art?
These are the questions that may cross one’s mind when trying to establish a line between art
and everything else. Who drew the line and can we change it, but more importantly Do we
even want to change it?
Britannica online defines art as “the expression of creativity, imagination or both.”9 After
hearing this definition, I am however left with even more questions.

The reality is that art means something different to everyone. The same way as everyone has
different perspectives. Everything materialistic that exists had to be made by someone;
someone had to plan it, using their own creativity and imagination. From this point of view,

77 Augusten Burroughs, Magical Thinking: True Stories, ST. Martin’s Press New York, 2004
8 Marcel Duchamp, Fountain 1917
9 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/36405/the-arts
Jens Bergman Rydal Penrhos 001489-003

the only thing that’s between your folded paperclip being art is an exhibit in a gallery to place
it on.

Today we can do a lot with computer generated graphics, which create a type of photo-
realism, and it is indeed very impressing. Producing something that looks exactly the same as
in real life, is in many ways mimicking what one can do when one takes a photo. But i believe
art has to mean something, make one feel something. That is what many consider the bottom
line, if it doesn’t move or target one in any way, one doesn’t believe it can be considered art.
Some of the most wonderful classics seem very photographic, such as Canaletto’s Warwick
castle10. Works of art like this one require technical skill, and even though they indirectly
mimic photography, they can still evoke a feeling or emotion in the observer.

Primitive art can be extremely powerful in its own way. Abstract art can also be inspiring and
moving and say something more complex and subtle than something distinct such as
Kandinsky’s Sketch For Composition IV11
As artists moved from a more truthful representation of the world to a more abstract one. As
art became less 'photographic', did it become more of a lie and thereby enhance our way of
perceiving the world, bringing us to a new level of understanding of art, the world and
ourselves or are we due to the ‘simplicity’ moving further away from the truth as it impossibly
can convey the complexity of life?

Picasso was a visionary, a person who broke free from the chains that shackled him to ‘our
reality’, he wanted more out of life and expressed it in his work of art. Picasso is in this sense
much like a ground braking scientist who work against the crowd, who’s telling them their
wrong to finally discover the real truth.
Weren’t angles painted before man could fly?
The way in which I want to interpret Picasso’s quote is that art just as science is a tool used by
human to find our limits, the boundaries of our capabilities, the truth. Art of angels and flying
men have therefore been the triggers for scientists who have thereafter made it a part of our
reality. Art is the ambitions and dreams expressed by men, things that has not yet been
achieved, it’s the scientists that thereafter makes truth out of it.

10 Canaletto, Warwick Castle1748

11 Wasilly Kandinsky, Sketch for Composition IV 1911
Jens Bergman Rydal Penrhos 001489-003

Word count:1600, Question, footnotes and bibliography not included


The Bible, St. John, XVII. 37

Richard van de Lagemaat, Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma, Cambridge Education,
theory of knowledge second edition, Nicholas Alchin, Hodder Murray, 2006

Augusten Burroughs, Magical Thinking: True Stories, ST. Martin’s Press New York, 2004

Work of Art

Picasso, Guernica 1937, 3.45x7.7m

Jens Bergman Rydal Penrhos 001489-003

Leonardo Da Vinci, Mona Lisa 16th century, 77x53cm

Van Gogh, Sunflowers1887, 92.1x73cm

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain 1917, (sculpture)

Canaletto, Warwick Castle1748, 70x120.5cm

Wasilly Kandinsky, Sketch for Composition IV 1911, 10.2x20cm

Famous Quotes

Andy Warhol, 1928-87

Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788-1860

Electronic references