I am about the delve into a thorny issue that has been topmost in my mind for a while. However, I have not dared up till this point to venture into this field. It is about how art can distort reality. I know that just uttering this sentence will send many of my readers on their hind legs. Saying a thing like this is blasphemy for very many people.
The problem is that a idea like this will cause a defense mechanism to be activated quite automatically. If one is a friend of art and culture, it so easily happens that all critique of art is unconsciously seen as an attack on ones basic values. The sorry result of this can also be that any real analysis of the critique itself becomes impossible. Still, I will boldly try to convey my ideas even is a thorny issue that can so easily backfire.
The worst form of lying is the telling of just one side of a complex story. This is at its worst in fiction, when a successful novel can transform the view of a whole generation on an issue. The writer does not need to lie consciously. He or she just needs to omit mention even the possibility that there are other very different ways to see the issue at hand. In such a case, the writer is not lying, but the result can be a complete distortion of reality.
This all is not very original. Anybody can see this thing happening all around them all the time. However, it is strange how rarely this issue comes up in public discussion. There is a subconscious process going on. The danger could be that this would work both ways; also those works of art that support my own pet ideas and ideologies would be scrutinized if looking at the factual trustworthiness of works of art would be more common. This can be one of the hidden reasons why there is so little talk about this area.
Is it also so that the 'freedom of artist' creates so strong protective cover around their works that people do not dare dispute the one-sidenedness of so many works in the fear of stepping on the artistic freedom of other people?
First and foremost we need to preserve the freedom for all people to write or paint or film just whatever they would ever want. However, it should be balanced with the strong will to point out the factual falsehoods and one-sidenedness also in the fields like literature, cinema or theatre.
I must again and again stress that all artists must always have the freedom to create whatever they want. I don’t want to mess with that very basic right at all. I just want to remind that all works of art are always subjective windows to the world.
The more of the different windows on offer one does take the pain to look out to the world, the more complete our view of the world will be. We just need to remember that we can see only a small slice of the world out of a single window.
Admittedly, great art is rarely born out of 'on the other hand and on the other hand' -thinking. It is just too bad that reality is built in that way and all. Great art will quite inevitably distort reality; as the more forceful and more poignant art is, the greater also the distortion can be.
This eternal problem will never be solved. In fact, it does not need to be ‘solved’. In practice people just need to be aware that art is not life. All too often it is just life with its true complexity and vagueness taken away.
Art imitates life. However, to make interesting (and most of all sellable) art you so often need make life more interesting, more straightforward and more uniform than it really is. The very simple act of following the conventions of an art-form will very often distort the view of reality that is in the end presented, even if you real aim could be just telling your story as faithfully as you can.
However, the real problem are the artists who have a hidden agenda which they will never admit. It pains to see stories whose real purpose can be seen from page one, but the writer never admits it. I have no trouble with art that has a real purpose and an agenda, when the purpose and agenda of a work are clearly to be seen. The real problem are the stealthy ones.
For me at least, best art is born out of a wish to change people or society in some way or just to drive an important point home. This need and will just need to be visible. The distortion of reality that is involved then also becomes clearer.
There is still one more danger. There is the danger that a great artist is seen to have powers and wisdom that he or she does not and, in fact, cannot ever have. A vague enough and multi-layered enough way of saying things can make people believe that you have found answers also to questions for which, in reality, you just cannot have any kind of real answers.
The very skillful use of language can hide the fact that the answers are just opinions, guesses and shots in the dark. An artist can have exceptionally good opinions, and he can make wonderful guesses. However, it is all too easy to forget that they are still just opinions and guesses, even when they are extremely skillfully expressed.
People love certainty and the danger lurks that a great artist will offer certainty also in areas where none can ever exist. Many people can find this comforting, but there is the danger of making the reality conform to these imagined answers.
The Stochastic Motivational Analysis that I have spoken before in this blog may help even in analyzing the works of art that we meet. Basically you just need to try answer these questions:
1. What kind of personal ideological connections the artist has to the issues at hand?
2. Why is an artist interested in just in one idea he or she is presenting?
3. Why does the artist want us have just that piece of information, but not some others?
4. Do the institutions or country that the artist identifies with have some kind of special relationship with the issue? Can this relationship affect his or her ideas on it?
5. Can financial considerations be the reason why an artist brings just this idea up at this moment?
6. Is the artist just following some current, popular trend?