Friday, January 13, 2012

It is a truth universally acknowledged...

(I will give $10 to anyone who can find me an American Mormon female between the ages of 12 and 65 who doesn't know the end of this quote) Everyone say it with me now:

... That a single man in possession of a good fortune MUST be in want of a wife!

-Jane Austen, prophetess.

I feel like her statement is in fact the only truth left in the world that may lay claim to universal acknowledgement, and that only because of its trifling consequence (good luck to all those single rich men out there. Your life is hard, wah wah).

Every where I turn I see truths of much greater import acknowledged only by sections of the population. Some of the most important truths-- when life begins, the existence and character of God, the efficacy of corporate taxation in economic improvement-- are hotly debated.

The more I thought on these debates tonight, the more I became aware of another fairly inconsequential universally acknowledged truth: all art either professes to reveal truth, or delights in rendering a fantasy.

As always, I began to run down my mental timeline of Western art history to find favorite pieces that would help substantiate my theory. Here are some of the world's most famously truthful artworks, followed by equally famous works that delight and amaze us through their impossible, imaginative, other-worldliness. Feel free to fight me on any of my classifications; in fact, I could use a good art debate and I have deliberately chosen artworks I had to think carefully about before I relegated them one camp or another.


The Parthenon: truth in proportions (Golden ratio, Da Vinci Code, anyone?)

Leonardo: truth in anatomy (a truth punishable by death at the time, as examination of corpses was blasphemous and forbidden in Italy)

Courbet: Truth/Reality in choice of subject matter. At a time when Parisian art was a little heavy on the naked nymph side, Corubet chose to examine, across HUGE canvases, the life of the poor and uneducated of France.

Jackson Pollock: Truth in gesture. Debated about this one for a while, but he goes on the truth side, for now, despite his misogynistic personality...

Andy Warhol: Truth in irony. I found myself recently explaining Warhol's repetative working method to a missionary recently (random!)


Paolo Uccello: Fantasy in three dimensions (look how fastidiously he drew lines clashing here and there, especially on the ground, to give you a sense of a great, deep arena of battle!) Also, fantasy of power. Uccello was one of the many masters under the thumb of the Medici. Here he pays homage to his patrons and subtly exaults them via symbols such as the orange representing the Medici family.

Boucher: Fantasy of the French bourgeois Utopia. I think we can all agree that this is NOT an accurate depiction of every day life for the majority of seventeenth century Frenchmen and women.

Van Gogh: Fantasy of emotions. He paints emotions as if they had the ability to alter the world, when in fact it is the other way around.

Jacque Lipchitz: the fantasy of futurism. Modern life breaks up movement and the centrality of forms and bodies into confusing alternations between nothingness and weightiness. (aaaaah modernist mumbo jumbo- the ultimate fantasy that probably only 10% of the viewers buy into).

Jenny Holzer: Fantasy of truth in the mass media. I have so much to say about Jenny Holzer. Another day. Cliff notes version: She creates scrolling lightworks that spell out messages that don't make sense, and often contain jarring, threatening allusions. She does so to make us realize how much we are conditioned to believing what we read in the media.

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