Art and Truth

… never was there a truer word than “except a man believe rightly he cannot” – at any rate, his artistic structure cannot possibly – “be saved”.

What do you do then, with propaganda? With works of art that certainly have a profound relation to truth and belief, but where that relationship is 90 degrees to the horizontal?

David - Death of MaratMore problematically, there is always something disturbing about the relation of art to truth. The process of representation (taken broadly) offers access to hidden truths, revealing relationships that were always there, offering an altered perception. There has always been a intimacy between art and knowledge – special knowledge (religion, economics, politics, interesting that Art-History, in particular, has become the preserve of the cultured – the Gnostic classes).
And therefore, between art and power.
Hmmm,

It’s also disturbing that it seems the process by which art gives access to truth is through falsification. Art mediates reality through illusions, paint, and props. And through words. It communicates experiences that I have not had, and could not ever have.
Actually, isn’t this also the case with all forms of language? Every form of communication is an artiface, a word is a thing standing in for what it is not. A ‘representation’, a ‘proposition’, is an invitation to a certain kind of experience that we would not otherwise have.
Unfortunately (or not), there are no other kinds of experience, no other forms of knowledge. Everything is Art.
This is even more profoundly true for anyone who accepts the Christian doctrine of creation. Literally, everything is the handiwork of a Creator, an artefact. And humanity is ultimately not something ‘natural’ but an image: a work of form and craft.

All of which makes me think that one of the most pressing and important things to get our heads around is Art Criticism. The question, ‘what makes a good work of art’ is ultimately one of the most profound forms of the problem of truth, it’s right at the core of epistemology.

Is it really so easy to judge between theologies by how they work themselves out in Art? I think the idea is probably right, but then, how would you compare Caravaggio with Rembrandt with the Papunya Tula artists of the Western Desert of Australia? All of them in various ways give expression to significantly divergent theologies.

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4 thoughts on “Art and Truth

  1. What about theologies that seemingly give rise to no art? Can we read life patterns of a community as a complex form of performance art? Especially if that community sees itself as being on display to those around them? Didn't Paul describe himself and the apostles as a spectacle put on for the world?

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  2. Tolkien is interesting on this… a little book called Tree and Leaf.

    How do different artworks express different theologies?

    If Sayer's imagining of Jesus testifies the way it does because of particularly British institutions (as you make clear), then we would need to account for art history, but also history generally. At this point you might very well be able to make parallels with the Papunya…

    But we've only deferred (or multiplied, in fact) the problem of truth. And your question of the relation of history and class returns with a vengeance.

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  3. This is a fascinating post. I was just recently thinking of writing some studies on the bible and art (perhaps 3-4 weeks). do you have suggestions of either passages or art works?

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