Lying and Art

There’s a great post from the Economist on Lying and Art.  It points out that the core of each, lying and art, stem from a refusal “to accept the tyranny of reality.”  We lie because we desire to change reality, or at least the perception of that reality.  Liars, in a sense, are both playwrights and actors: they get to try out their material on the audience immediately, both inventing and then acting within the same moment.

Artists take this same desire to reshape reality, but do so on “lawful” terms: that is, the audience know it is being lied to.  We readily admit that we are born storytellers (or listeners), “spinning narrative out of our experience and imagination, straining against the leash that keeps us tethered to reality.”  Such stories, according to the article (and common sense), allow us to redefine our futures, to grasp our present world and imagine it in a new light.

This storytelling nature runs deep.  In the case of Jonathon Aitken, a former British cabinet minister accused of relations with arms dealers, he initially lied to authorities about the travails the media’s hounding.  Later, he had to lie to cover up the lie, but created all sorts of other lies in between — unnecessary lies — almost as though he were caught up in the theatrics of it all, the spontaneity, the creativity.  And truly, there is a thrill to lying (albeit much, much less of a thrill when the lie inevitably gets found out), and anyone who has gotten away with anything so small as stealing a cookie can appreciate Aitken’s performance (naturally, we also chuckle a bit at his hubris and stupidity).

But, that is at least partially because, there is a thrill to this invention and storytelling.  Art gives a “a safe space into which our lies can be corralled, and channelled into something socially useful.”  Yet, art does let merely offer itself as an entertaining lie (well, I suppose summer blockbusters might fit in the former category):

The key way in which artistic “lies” differ from normal lies…is that they have a meaning and resonance beyond their creator.  The liar lies on behalf of himself; the artist tell lies on behalf of everyone.  If writers have a compulsion to narrate, they compel themselves to find insights about the human condition…Art is a lie whose secret ingredient is truth.

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