Art Is a Lie That Makes Us Realize Truth

Pablo Picasso? Jean Cocteau? Dorothy Allison? Henry A. Murray? Peter De Vries? Albert Camus? Julie Burchill? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Art works such as novels, paintings, and sculptures embody a stylized and distorted representation of the world. Yet, deep truths can best be expressed by deviating from the straitjacket of verisimilitude. Here are four versions of a paradoxical adage:

  1. Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.
  2. Art is a lie which allows us to approach truth
  3. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth
  4. Art is the lie that reveals truth.

Different versions of this maxim have been applied to fiction, poetry, and drama. The saying has been attributed to the Spanish painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso, the French poet Jean Cocteau, and the French existentialist Albert Camus. Would you please explore this statement?

Quote Investigator: In 1923 the New York City periodical “The Arts: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine Covering All Phases of Ancient and Modern Art” interviewed Pablo Picasso. His responses in Spanish were translated into English. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies. If he only shows in his work that he has searched, and re-searched, for the way to put over his lies, he would never accomplish any thing.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Art Is a Lie That Makes Us Realize Truth

Notes:

  1. 1923 May, The Arts: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine Covering All Phases of Ancient and Modern Art, Volume 3, Number 5, Picasso Speaks: A Statement by the Artist (Note accompanying text: Picasso gave his interview to “The Arts” in Spanish, and subsequently authenticated the Spanish text which we herewith translate), Start Page 315, Quote Page 315, The Arts Publishing Corporation, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

The Stupid Person’s Idea of the Clever Person

Speaker: Julie Burchill? Elizabeth Bowen? Ezra Klein? Paul Krugman? Andrew Sullivan? Hermione Eyre? William Donaldson?

Target: Stephen Fry? Aldous Huxley? Dick Armey? Newt Gingrich?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I heard an uncomplimentary quip applied to an intellectual. Here are three versions:

  • The stupid person’s idea of a clever person
  • The dumb person’s idea of a smart person
  • The stupid person’s idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like

Would you please help me to trace this expression?

Quote Investigator: In 1936 Irish author Elizabeth Bowen published a review in the London periodical “The Spectator” of a book by Aldous Huxley. She began her piece with a pointed remark about Huxley: 1

Mr. Huxley has been the alarming young man for a long time, a sort of perpetual clever nephew who can be relied on to flutter the lunch-party.

Interestingly, Bowen employed the saying under analysis, but she did not imply that Huxley was stupid; instead, she reiterated that he was clever. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

He is at once the truly clever person and the stupid person’s idea of the clever person; he is expected to be relentless, to administer intellectual shocks.

Many others have used similar constructs, but Elizabeth Bowen’s remark is currently the earliest known instance.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Stupid Person’s Idea of the Clever Person

Notes:

  1. 1936 December 11, The Spectator, Mr. Huxley’s Essays by Elizabeth Bowen (Review of The Olive Tree and Other Essays by Aldous Huxley), Quote Page 24, London, England. (Online archive at archive.spectator.co.uk; accessed January 3, 2018)