Is art truth or reality? What is it that we as consumers and artists seek in the construction of concise and abstract works alike? The truth value of art has been a discussion point as early as the works of Plato’s Republic.
Often, abstract art such as the high art variety of classic novels, paintwork and poetry; have been looked at with an air of scepticism. Interpretations of art works have been so varied that the consensus about their meanings has been dubbed to be subjective and esoteric at the best of times. As a result, the unreliability of these arts is a point of justification for their dismissal from the schools of knowledge as viable.
There is however a linguistic school of thought that acknowledges the relevance of subjectivity in thought, word and deed of cultures. Most notably it is the work of linguist Alessandro Portelli, in his long standing research into the orality of ancient cultures, such as native African cultures, that breaks ground on the dismissal of interpretive art forms.
Portelli contests that when it comes to history, “What one believes to be truthful is equally as truthful as that which can be proven through forensic data.” If art is then an expression of human subjective experiences it then stands to reason that the creative and factual come to mix in the minds of the human subject.
Portelli further compounds how art can be truthful by stating that “narratives where the boundary between what takes place outside the narrator and what happens inside, between what concerns him or her and what concerns the group, becomes quite thin, and personal 'truth' may coincide with collective 'imagination.” Imagination and reality is thus inextricably linked within the human subject.
Though this may seem fair justification for dogmatic schools of thought such as academia to dismiss oral traditions and high art, we find that academia is not so different to oral histories and high art. The truth is that both require interpretation and do not necessarily lay bare all information for the individual to access.
Portelli make this clear by stating that “The first thing that makes oral history different…is that it tells us less about events as such than about their meaning.” In the same way, art does too. Academia follows suit of this as well. We often look into connotations of things as opposed to denotations that give us access to a very literal, and by implication very narrow, understanding of worldviews.
I think that Azar Nafisi said it best in her novel Reading Lolita in Tehran. Reading novels that were previously banned for its sexual content, and furthermore being a woman in Tehran oppressed by a totalitarian state for having any form of sexuality is deemed as immoral. Upon reflection of her state of attaining some form of freedom from the state through reading Lolita she states that one should “not, under any circumstance, belittle a work of fiction by trying to turn it into a carbon copy of real life; what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth.”
The truth be told, this epiphany can only ever be found in the interpretation of works. This is what will make it truthful, at least to the individual’s subjectivity.
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