Thursday, June 26, 2014

Terry Teachout on Art and Truth

Room in New York -- Edward Hopper (1932)


The artist whose chief goal is not to make everything more beautiful but to enlist his audience in a cause—no matter what that cause may be—is rarely if ever prepared to tell the whole truth and nothing but. He replaces the true complexity of the world with the false simplicity of the ideologue. He alters reality not to make everything more beautiful, but to stack the deck.
This is what Oscar Wilde meant when he said that no artist ever tries to prove anything, though I'd put it another way. Great art doesn't tell—it shows. And this act of showing is itself a moral act, a commitment to reality.
A man who thought otherwise said, "Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it." But Karl Marx, as usual, got it wrong. The greatest philosophers and the greatest artists seek not to change the world, but to see the world as it is, then show it to the rest of us with the transforming clarity that is beauty. That is a supreme act of freedom. It's what Shakespeare and Mark Twain and Flannery O'Connor did. What Rembrandt and Sargent and Edward Hopper did. What Mozart and Aaron Copland and Louis Armstrong did. They looked, they saw, they showed—and we understood.
In writing about art, I try never to moralize, nor do I look with favor upon artists who do. But I seek to be ever and always alive to the moral force of art whose creators aspire merely to make everything more beautiful, and in so doing to pierce the veil of the visible and give us a glimpse of the transcendently true.

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