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On Truth, Art, and Fake News

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I'll start with the conclusion. For me, art is always about truth. Some kind of truth. The artist's truth.

As I said before, I have no degree in art, so I know nothing about it. I also have no degree in philosophy, but I did take a couple of courses in university, and I'm interested in philosophy to the extent that it provides excellent dinner party conversations. I mean, what dinner party can't be lifted by opening up a discussion of the human condition? I'm telling you that I'm not an expert because I hate it when people make it sound like they are.

Anyway. I was reading A Little History of Philosophy, which is a brilliant book, and that got me thinking about all sorts of things. For instance, Plato. Plato is most famous for his Cave Allegory, where he argues that people don't see the world, only an image of the world. In that sense, it's like sitting chained in a cave in such a way that you cannot see the outside world, only shadows on the back wall of the cave. Plato said that philosophers free themselves from these chains and go out of the cave, and tell people that they see the true world. Plato also said—and here's where I'm getting to my point—that artists show an image of the world, and therefore all art should be forbidden because art is several times removed from the true world.

As I wrote before, I visited the fantastic Rodin exhibit last week. One quote caught my eye: " is the artist who is truthful, and it is photography which lies, for in reality time does not stop, and if the artist succeeds in producing the impression of a movement which takes several moments for accomplishment, his work is certainly much less conventional than the scientific image, where time is abruptly suspended." (Auguste Rodin).

What Rodin is saying is that it's the artist's job to capture the truth about the world, even if to do so (s)he has to sacrifice scientific accuracy. At face value, this argument sounds dangerous as it may lead to fake news and global warming (not to mention holocaust) denial. And it is a fine line to be walking because it is entirely possible that Donald Trump's truth is that immigrants are bad people. But I think there's a difference. First, as in good comedy, good artists usually "punch up" rather than "punch down". That is, as an artist you stand up for the minorities, for the oppressed, for the people who cannot stand up to power. You call out lies and point out the shackles that have been placed by the dominant culture. Or, at least, you try. Or, at least, I try.

The second difference between art and fake news is that the intent matters. Now, intent is a tricky thing, and as Stephen Schwartz put it:

"Is one a crusader

or ruthless invader?

it's all in the label which is able to persist" (The Wizard, in Wicked The Musical).

In other (less elegant) words, everyone has an agenda, and the accepted perception depends on a lot of things, including who has a better marketing team. Still, for me, there's a difference between telling a story because you're trying to find some kind of truth and telling a story because you're trying to get something out of it. I know the world doesn't work like that, but I wish it did.


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