In Aspects of the Novel, developed from a series of his 1927 Trinity College lectures, E.M. Forster shared an excerpt of work by author André Gide. The passage examines “the old thesis of truth in life versus truth in art.” Upon first reading this phrase, I thought brilliant idea—then doubled back for another pass and sunk into it like a warm bath. Truth in life versus truth in art.
The title of this piece you’re reading could easily be renamed Plato Versus Aristotle. The former believed artists create a mere imitation of life that distracts from truth. Aristotle took a view friendlier to creatives. “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearances of things, but their inward significance.” The manner in which artists depict an object, projects their “inward” experience of the world—#speakyourtruth.
In 1923, Picasso delivered the famous lines that at first blush make him sound like a Plato sympathizer. “We all know art is not truth.” But then Picasso went on to add, “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” Now his perspective smacks of Aristotle.
As a novelist, I aspire to writing plots and characters infused with truths in life, so I turned to well-thumbed books on my shelf to read how others weigh in on the issue.
“Your job is to see people as they really are, and to do this, you have to know who you are in the most compassionate sense,” writes Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. Write in the same way you recall “looking at a child tenderly” or with the “fleeting sense of being startled by beauty or insight, or by a glimpse into someone’s soul.”
In Still Writing, Dani Shapiro tells about how the author “has caught and wound herself around the thread of the universal.” The “truest and most artful self-revelation occurs when the self is subsumed to the art.” That being said, the reader internalizes that revelation and along with their own truths to make new meaning.
In the afore mentioned passage Forster quoted, Gide told his friend he was writing a story that combined both truths—the sort contained in life and in art. “I want to put everything in the novel. All of real life.”
His friend replied, “My poor man, you’ll bore your readers to death.” The infinitesimal detail of around-the-clock daily life is dizzying as many people reading stream of consciousness writing will attest.
Later in the conversation, Gide revealed that his central character would be a novelist who will “struggle between what reality offers him and what he tries to make it offer.” Regardless of genre or art practice, this may be the crux of creativity.
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A widower and young mother struggle to overcome their tragic pasts in a dying mill town. The Last Hoffman is the story of a quiet man who is tested and discovers his courage. It will restore your belief in second chances.
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