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Philosophy 101: Is There Any Truth in Art?

“Art is a lie that makes us realise the truth.” - Pablo Picasso

To examine whether there is any truth in art, one needs to first understand what art is. It has been a question that has kept many philosophers busy trying to uncover, over the last few centuries. The Oxford dictionary offers the definition; the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. It is perhaps a brief and simplistic idea of what art is, but nevertheless, it is a start, and hopefully gives a general understanding that anything produced which has creative ‘intent’. Whether one is talking about painting, sculpture, music, dance, or poetry, because there is creative intent, it can be deemed as art. However, of course, arguments can be made about how worthy the intentions may be.

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With a general understanding of what art is, examinations can be made further, into what is meant when the notion of ‘truth’ is added into the equation. When delving deeper into the artist’s vision, and whether or not it informs us of anything, a good place to start is by addressing idealization. Idealization - in this instance, is the notion that anything represented in art is perceived as perfection or better than in reality. It is not copying particular objects, as Greek philosopher, Plato thought, it is 'copying' the forms. To copy or express the forms would therefore be conveying the truth. (Plato’s Theory of Forms essentially refers to the idea that the physical world is not really the 'real' world; instead, ultimate reality exists beyond our physical world.) Several Renaissance artists consciously expressed the idea of perfectionism in their paintings. Palma Vecchio’s A Blonde Woman (c.1520) is not a painting depicting a specific individual, but it is his perceptions of the 'ideal' woman. So, Idealization helps the viewer to understand one way in which art might express a truth.

The National Gallery. (n.d.). A Blonde Woman [Photograph]. A Blonde Woman.

Another way a ‘truth’ might be demonstrated in art is to look through the lens of the artist’s unique visualizations. For example, looking at the intentions of a particular painting and positing observations; look at the artist’s unique take on the everyday things many take for granted. The beauty in the everyday minutiae of life. Vincent Van Gogh's Chair (1888) painting is a perfect case in the point of making the ordinary extraordinary. Van Gogh's vibrant and striking piece draws in the viewer to see the beauty and imperfections of everyday objects that might otherwise be overlooked or dismissed as just a chair. There seems to be an authenticity to Gogh's work that is hard to deny.

The National Gallery. (n.d.-b). Chair [Photograph].

The reader could be forgiven for thinking that the aforementioned quote by Pablo Picasso is at odds with idealization, but a closer inspection into what the artist is saying reveals that, actually, may just fall directly into line with the theory. Scrupulously trying to pinpoint if and when Picasso actually said, "Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth." is extremely difficult. However, Picasso is said to have had a conversation with an American critic named Marius de Zayas. The interview was published in The Arts (New York, 1923) and is a conversation on Piccasso's views on Cubism. His main argument is that he does not think there is any correlation between research and modern painting. Picasso feels that there is an incongruity there and the idea of intention and research takes away from the beauty of stumbling into something spontaneously. He goes on to say, 'When I paint, my object is to show what I have found and not what I am looking for. In art intentions are not sufficient and, as we say in Spanish: Love must be proved by facts and not by reasons."

Art does not necessarily have to express a vision or truth. In music, for instance, there is a heavy emphasis placed on emotion. This could quite easily include truth but not necessarily so. Sometimes art is simply made for the purposes of enjoyment and entertainment. A poem may include truth but also just be the meandering thoughts of a poet who wishes to record their thoughts of a particular day. Artifacts such as, ornaments or vases, and rugs are examples of things that are made with no truth connected to them whatsoever.

Because art is ultimately a very personal thing, it has to be concluded that I personally feel that the best art, meaning the most purist art where there are no hidden intentions or ulterior motives like making money or selling (although both those things may be by-products of what then happens) is the best type of art. When there is a truth and authenticity woven into the subject, and the viewer/listener/reader knows that the artist has lived and breathed through every little detail taking meticulous care in getting their message across. It adds to the pleasure of the art. Perhaps people can relate to the feeling of disappointment when, after listening to a great pop record or watching a film or a play, they notice that the singer was singing someone else's words, or the actor in that great film they watched was really unpleasant and rude to everyone they came into contact with and took the job because it paid very well. It takes something away from the art.

Finally, I will end with a quote by the great French painter, Claude Monet that encapsulates a truthful sentiment: "People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand when it's simply necessary to love."


  • ‘Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth’-Pablo Picasso. (n.d.). Reddit. Retrieved 12 August 2021, from Quote. (n.d.). Claude Monet quotes. Retrieved 12 August 2021, from

  • The Theory of Forms by Plato: Definitions & Examples. (n.d.). Study.Com. Retrieved 12 August 2021, from

  • philosophy for AS. (2008). Routledge.

  • UK Dictionary. (n.d.). art. Lexico. Retrieved 12 August 2021, from

  • Image 1. - Dreamstime. (n.d.). Original digital painting cubism style of a man plays the guitar and a fantastic bird listens to his song [Photograph]. Original Digital Painting Cubism Style of a Man Plays the Guitar and a Fantastic Bird Listens to His Song.

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Peter Terrence

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