Pablo Picasso, the 20th-century badass painter, said, “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”
I learned this quote in my 10th grade American Humanities class. This course was my fancy magnet school’s way to explore historical eras through the lenses of the visual, performing, and literary arts that dominated them. The class was big by design; there were 40 of us, and led by a team of 3 teachers who would each spend sections of the double period lecturing in their specialty, and encouraged independent study, critical thinking, and engagement in seminar-style discussion. So basically, it was unlike many, MANY high school experiences in the country.
I will forever be grateful for the grace I was given through a quality public school education. Unfortunately, that isn’t a right. But, I digress…
The quote was the way our teacher got over the din of the bunch of teenagers who were happily chatting about not being freshmen anymore. We hushed at the idea of something like art – this thing that we are supposed to revere and respect as the baring of the human soul’s grief or joy – as a lie. That was some bold shit to say, and it caught our attention.
Picasso, like many 20th century masters, used to confuse me in my youth. I didn’t understand how these shapes (like Warhol’s soup cans, Pollock’s scribbles, or Mondrian’s squares and rectangles) brought these visceral emotions about in people. How do they see all of this emotion in this incongruous effort. How can doing whatever you want be good for anybody? Doesn’t art have rules?
The answer to those burning questions, I’ve found, is “Fuck No, my dude.”
Why? Because art imitates life, and that shit has no rules either. Control is an illusion, and perception is everything. Art – real art – is not an interpretation of “life”. It is a reminder that reality is subjective, and the minute that one of us turns away from staring at the collective portrait of the world, chaos envelops. And that chaos is the Truth.
And isn’t that nice.