On Sunday, Nov. 17, my horoscope said that social scientists suggest the average adult lies one to three times a day.
I looked up for a moment to reflect on the lies I might tell throughout a day and my eyes lit upon a painting I’d been working over. That got me thinking about the idea that art can be considered a form of lying.
Pablo Picasso’s words confirmed my thought, “We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.”
In a certain sense when you describe what the world should be like, you’re not telling the truth. You’re not describing reality, but a fantasy. You’re describing the future, something utopian and something that’s in the imagination.
So in a certain sense, it’s a lie that is extremely important in revealing the truth. It’s not just a matter of artists talking about the future or what life can be like in the future, which constitutes a kind of lie. All fiction is a kind of lie; you’re telling stories that are not true, but they somehow add up to a very important truth.
I think no artist can claim to have any access to the truth, or an authentic version of an event. But obviously they have slightly better means at their disposal because they have their art to energize their theory.
When I make a painting, I hope to create the illusion that it has depth and distance. On a flat surface I strive to present a three-dimensional sensation. I want you to believe you could step through the door, walk up those steps or reach out and grab an object. I am lying to you and want you to believe my lie.
Bad artists copy. Good artists steal. “A good composer does not imitate; he steals,” Igor Stravinsky supposedly said. Faulkner allegedly phrased it as, “Immature artists copy, great artists steal.” Steve Jobs put it most simply, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” The saying regularly inspires artists, thinkers and dorm-room poster designers. But in practical terms, what does it mean?
The difference between copying and stealing is that the first is imitation and the latter is inspiration. The difference is intent. Imitation is laziness or refusal to accept your influences. Inspiration is recognizing that influence and turning it into something new.
“Great artists steal” is at its root about finding inspiration in the work of others, then using it as a starting point for original creative output. Artists may remix, substitute or otherwise mash-up existing work to create something new.
So what makes this “stealing?” It’s that instead of just borrowing something for a weak imitation — which just reminds people of the superior original — you change it with your own compelling ideas. When you’ve truly transformed and elevated someone’s idea, an informed audience could look at both works and say yours explores a certain idea better. You “own” that idea now. So you’ve stolen it!
So now you know, the Belen Art League is really a den of thieves and liars but in the best way possible.
(Jo’l Moore is the president of the Belen Art League Gallery and Gifts. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 861-0217.)