Wednesday, April 6, 2016


“The purpose of Art is to convey the truth of a thing, not to be the truth itself.” Sylvie Beresford Todd, a character in A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Art and literature are subjective to the extent that my perception of the truth may vary from your perception. My experiences and knowledge, my sensibilities and nature are not yours. We will bring all these and more to art, and they will shape our understanding.

A Castle in Ruins, Ha Ha Tonka State Park
Photo Courtesy of Al Griffin Photography

That does not mean any wild notion about a work of art is valid unless we grant the legitimacy of audience evaluations and admit nothing else. Consider a former classmate’s attempt to synthesize James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. When asked to weigh and measure the character and his choices by novel’s end, she said, “Well, I think Stephen would have been happier if he would’ve just found a girl, fallen in love, and married.”

Her evaluation has no merit and shouldn’t be given serious attention because it doesn’t take into account the actual context or boundaries the novel establishes. Stephen was conflicted by his own desires. He contemplated the celibate, cerebral life while trying to resist a sensual and contemplative life wherein he records as accurately as possible the human experience divorced from parochial, provincial restrictions that could include traditional marriage. His choice, in the end, is to reject celibacy in favor of sensuality. He will live, live fully, and produce art based upon the life he lives and the lives he observes.

Joyce effectively and successfully “conveys the truth” of an artist’s conflict, but it may not be Joyce’s truth or even the truth of all art. It is the “truth of a thing” told as truthfully as paint or dance or words can tell it.

Those who object to the “truth of a thing” and seek to censor it, as many sought to censor Joyce, must be ill-equipped to discriminate between the truth and the truth of a thing. They seem to believe their personal truth will be shattered somehow by brushing against the truth of a thing--also known as someone else’s perspective--as revealed in paint, dance, and words.

Another’s truth of a thing enriches my understanding. Another’s truth of a thing leads me nearer the truth, and that seems to be important in the short time we’re given to uncover it.

Reading Challenge:

Read A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson.

Writing Challenge:

Write your truth, but be warned, it’s not easy to do.