The Artist . . . Must Drive To the Heart of Every Answer and Expose the Question the Answer Hides

James Baldwin? Salim Muwakkil? Leonard Shlain? Jeff Baysa? Edgar H. Sorrells-Adewale? Tom Barone? Alva Noë? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The commonly accepted answers to questions are sometimes flawed. Deeper and more truthful discoveries are concealed by shallow and misleading explanations. A germane assertion about the objective of art has been attributed to the prominent author and social critic James Baldwin:

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been occluded by the answers.

Often the word “hidden” appears in the statement instead of “occluded”. I have been unable to find a solid citation for either statement. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The 1962 collection “Creative America” included a piece by James Baldwin titled “The Creative Process”. Baldwin discussed the mindset and intentions of an artist within a society. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Society must accept some things as real; but he must always know that the visible reality hides a deeper one, and that all our action and all our achievement rests on things unseen. A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and he must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven. One cannot possibly build a school, teach a child, or drive a car without taking some things for granted. The artist cannot and must not take anything for granted, but must drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question the answer hides.

QI conjectures that the statement under analysis evolved from the final sentence highlighted above. It is possible that Baldwin penned more than one version of this thought, but QI has not yet discovered a closer match to the target statement.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1962 Copyright, Creative America by John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry S, Truman et al, Chapter: The Creative Process by James Baldwin, Start Page 17, Quote Page 18 and 19, Published for the National Cultural Center by The Ridge Press, New York. (Verified with scans)