Truth Through Lies
You’ll be relieved to know this post isn’t about politics, current events, liars, or anything criminal. Instead, it was inspired by a quote from Albert Camus. He said “fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” My immediate thought was that his statement applies to painting, too.
Think about it. A painting is basically a two dimensional, flat object that we understand to represent a three dimensional, solid thing. It could be a portrait, a landscape, a city scene, or a still life. The trick, or the lie if you will, is that we accept a well-executed painting as having depth and dimension. I’d suggest a really good painting goes even further with the lie. It shows us not only solid objects, but an emotion or experience.
The artist may have looked at a person, set up a still life, or photographed a place, but the creative challenge is to show how it felt. Was the person sad, the fruit tempting, the water soothing, the city energized? To convey the experience, so the viewer can have an emotional connection, an artist has to go beyond merely replicating what they saw. Instead of copying every detail of a scene, the focus shifts to what was exciting, and a truly creative artist paints how it felt. Colors get brighter and people move around the page. Extraneous details of clothing, tablecloth, or architecture disappear, as do electric wires, passing trucks and anything else that gets in the way of telling the story.
The idea is to focus on what matters in order to capture the feeling and the energy, showing the truth of the experience through the lie of the painting. This painting of Mont St. Michel is about the majesty, isolation, fear and awe it inspired as we approached the infamous rock. Yes, there’s now a road and marshland, but its tiny town and overpowering cathedral, its history as a prison and an impregnable fortress, were the real story for me.