Monday, January 30, 2017

Truth in Art

There is an uproar and a question of the truth in a work of art has engaged Bollywood and masses. A basic problem has been trying to find real solution down the centuries.

I propose to show Oscar Wilde's dictum, 'Truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style' which might leads us to a real solution of this basic problem (or not).

By 'style', Wilde means the manner in which the artist expresses, that is, the form in which his thought embodies itself as it is born, the form that objectifies his thought. The truth of a work of art is absolutely dependent on the 'style', that is to say, the 'form' of the work. Thus making the question of truth in a work of art dependent on something within itself, and so preserves the absolute autonomy of art. This, I believe and as we shall see, is the only correct approach to the vexed question of Truth in Art. Whether, in other words, the form is absolutely true to its content. The content will be convincing if the form is convincing, and therefore it is style alone that matters. To convince us as true, any work of art as a whole, must contain within itself, in the words of Shelley, the principle of its own integrity - the integrity that results from 'that' perfect correspondent of form to content.

In the course of his dialogue, The Decay of Lying, Wilde (speaking through his spokesman Vivian) shows us that truth in Life and truth in Art are two absolutely different things. To him, the ideal of Art is to break away from 'the prison house of realism' and to create a world of its own. Hence in this connection Wilde claims: 'Truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style.' This is just another of those apparently baffling statements of Wilde that provoke a sceptical, if not positively hostile reaction on the part of most people. A serious examination of this dictum, however, reveals its far-reaching implications. Not only this, it gives us a major criterion of aesthetic evaluation. 

To Oscar Wilde, art and literature must be and absolutely free of the shackles of external reality. What is it, if not a crude fallacy to believe in a work of art just because it happens to resemble actuality, or to disbelieve if it does not. A mere copy of an object seen in nature or real-life is necessarily unreal, since an original is there in external reality : an original that challenges the reality of the copy. But an artistic expression, has its original in the artist's mind, of which it is the objective form, having no other external reality but itself. 

I shall make it simpler by taking another example: this time from ancient Indian art. If we have before us a photograph of an actual eye and compare it with the eye in an ancient Indian painting or sculpture, we shall notice a vast difference between the two representations. If we compare both with the eye of a human being we shall notice that the photograph gives a far more accurate representation than the Indian painter of sculptor's. But this does not in any way affect the 'truth' or the 'reality' of the representation in the ancient painting or sculpture. For example; if we look at the frescoes and sculptures of Ajanta and Ellora, the representation of the eye with that strange curve strikes us as absolute truth. Any attempt to change the form of the eye to make it like an actual eye is unthinkable. I suppose if any attempt was made by the painter or sculptor to reproduce an actual eye, we would immediately consider the work to be far from true as it was trying to copy something outside itself. But by the very fact that no attempt is made to make the eye resemble an ordinary human eye, and that the artist gives his own conception of a particular form which has no model outside itself, makes the work absolutely individual as well as absolutely true to itself. 

The form is the body as well as the soul of a work of art. 

Here's another example: The Greek Myth connected with the birth of Aphrodite has appealed to artists down the centuries and, as might be expected, the goddess of Beauty rising out of the waves of the sea has been a subject to inspire many a masterpiece. And why not, I say. As far as the story of Aphrodite is concerned, we no longer believe in it as a possibility, and therefore, it is today nothing more than an attractive legend. But though we have not the faith that the ancient Greeks had in the deity, when we look at Botticelli's 'Birth of Aphrodite' we believe in her as implicitly as the Greeks believed in her, even though we do not have the religious sanction behind the belief, a belief that was part of Greek heritage. The fact that we believe in the Aphrodite of Bottecelli is due to the truth or the reality that is given her by the painter through his form. 

Even in the case of subjects treated by artists which have ceased to have objective validity, the absolute autonomy of art in the creation of truth through form is still manipulated. Which makes it a sad reality of today's times and what has happened in the name of a historical film. Now an artist of, say, the 15th of 16th century dealing with a concept that was valid in his time, carries conviction to an individual of the present age even though the latter does not believe in that concept any longer. That is, through his style or form, the artist confers truth even on things that have lost their objective validity. Hell, The Ptolemaic system of astronomy no longer stands scientific scrutiny, but that does not falsify the artistic use that Milton makes of it in the form of his great epic. Sir Thomas Browne in his fine prose speaks of a system of natural history or science that was exploded long ago, but the forgotten lore is brought to life again (and believed in) in the pages of the Religio Medici and Pseudodoxia Epidemica, only because the artist's style gives it a right to existence. Not by manipulation or distortion of it!! 

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