The title for this post comes from an article by Ian Leslie that deals largely with the idea that actors and writers are at heart artistic liars, whose lies are seeded with a deeper truth. The full quote follows:
Given the universal compulsion to tell stories, art is the best way to refine and enjoy the particularly outlandish or insightful ones. But that is not the whole story. The key way in which artistic “lies” differ from normal lies, and from the “honest lying” of chronic confabulators, is that they have a meaning and resonance beyond their creator. The liar lies on behalf of himself; the artist tell lies on behalf of everyone. If writers have a compulsion to narrate, they compel themselves to find insights about the human condition. Mario Vargas Llosa has written that novels “express a curious truth that can only be expressed in a furtive and veiled fashion, masquerading as what it is not”. Art is a lie whose secret ingredient is truth.
It seems to me that this concept speaks to the fact that human language is not always sufficient to fully express exactly what it means to be human. In many ways this is useful way to look at religion. In our modern technological society- a descendant of an age of enlightenment gone rogue – science often seems at odds with religion. This is because science works under a completely different rubric from religion.
Where science seeks to break down, analyze and compartmentalize, religion seeks to open, set free and experience. Both are useful and objectively good. It is when they try to interact that we have problems. Maybe instead of pairing matters of faith with matters of reason we would be better off using art. Whether you accept the “factualness”of any given religious dogma matters less than whether that story or belief points to a larger truth that pales before language.
This is not a new age statement that all religions are equal. Just as some art contains more truth than others, some religions speak closer to what it means to fully express our inner humanity.
If one studies Rembrandt’s The Philosopher in Meditation one can see that the painting shows a man sitting near a window; on the far right is another man tending to a fire. The dark border of the image that surrounds the soft golden glow of the room emphasizes the philosopher’s stillness and the calmness that he embodies. The light illuminates the philosopher and his thoughts while the stairs remain untraveled, but waiting.
Did Rembrandt witness this scene? If we traveled back in time could we see it? Probably not, but it doesn’t detract from the meaning of the image he created. Now imagine a velvet Elvis; while still art, the value in terms of the truth communicated is clearly lacking. Yet Elvis is a documented reality.
The core of the matter is what brings out an essential truth, not what can be scientifically proven. Art is a lie whose secret ingredient is truth- or- religion is the myth whose secret ingredient is truth.
In other words, true art.