DOXA AND ALETHEIA – TRUTH AND THE ARTIST (PART THREE)

Magritte - La traicion de las imagenes

The dilemma of the artist is: I know there is something buried here, but how do we get it out? And here, the plural we must be emphasised: when the artist thinks how do I get it out, he or she is denying doxa; and without the objectivity of doxa the aim of creating true art must invariably fail.

            If doxa/aletheia is seen as reality/imagination then we also see how art is making what we can imagine become manifest in the exterior world, for reality is the exterior and our imagination can only ever be sure of its authenticity if that outside world doxa approves of its validity. But the task of art is not to say that this monster I see is real – as something that exists in the material – but rather it is a statement that we can all believe that it could exist. Here we see the conditional nature of art: this is not reality, but it could be. This is why the honesty of Magritte’s “This is not a pipe” is so comic. We all know that it is not a real pipe yet the admission is so obvious that we take it for granted and even lose consciousness of it until the artist Magritte throws it in our face. We look at his painting, see the representation of a pipe and then are told that it is not a pipe which we gradually realise is true, that it is a mere representation. But it is not the revelation here which is comic, but the absolutely pedantic statement that Magritte throws at us: “This is not reality, but it could be.” Yet this seemingly, over-pedantically absurd statement is also deeply profound. It is describing in one simple image, commentated with one simple statement, not only the essence of all art but the very essence of all human perception of reality, for the real representation is actually being projected onto the screen that everything you ever perceive is projected onto – in your mind. rene-magritte-the-false-mirror

            The aletheia in Magritte’s painting is the truthful disclosure of the lie. Perhaps it is the most revolutionary comment that one could make about art and human perception – that the truth rendered real is a lie, and yet it is a necessary illusion. The reason why we turn to art in some form or other over and over again is that this lying/truth is a fundamental part of the human condition. Not a paradox but another continuous dialectic between our two realities – interior/exterior; subjective/objective; real/imaginary; rational/irrational.

Heidegger makes the comment that disclosure is a concealing,[1] a revealing and concealing of truth at the same time. Art does this, but the spectator is always aware of the trick whenever he or she is able to appreciate that what is being contemplated is a work of art. Magritte’s over-statement is funny because no-one (with apologies to Duchamp and his urinal) had made it before. The truth is a lie, but we would prefer even the falsification of it than to ignore it. In art we see the reflection of something that we know but cannot really pin down ourselves. What surprises us in art is the fact that someone has been able to create a reflection of something which we had sensed but hadn’t been able to put our finger on before. It is not the thing that we know or imagine  internally but it seems like a good attempt at recreating it in the external of the doxa. Art is a sharing of the internal – either as presentation of what we all intuitively sense, or as a revelation of something we have never sensed before. In this way art as a presentation can be an epiphany for the observer.

The “moving” capacity that art has, is buried in the completion of a communicative cycle. When art moves us, it resonates in us. The original disclosure of the internal has now become submerged and recognised in the internal of the observer. It has become intersubjective. And so we come to a definition of art as that which creates intersubjectivity, in an albeit imperfect way, that communicates truth in a likewise imperfect way.


[1] Martin Heidegger, “On the Essence of Truth,” in Basic Writings, p. 136

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