Truth with respect to art

I recently read an article where the author was attempting to analyze the question, “What is Truth?” and then draw a comparison to truth in design, specifically web design.  While I think art and design have nothing to do with truth, much less web design having anything to do with truth, I have decided to tackle a similar comparison.  The difference is, I will draw conclusions which I hope will display just how different the two subjects are.

“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate asked this question almost 2000 years ago. At the time, he had no inkling of the infamy which was to follow these words through the millennia. He asked the question as a jaded cynic—he had no interest in knowing the truth. In fact, his question is of a rhetorical nature, implying simply that there is no truth. And yet, in asking this question he hit the very crux of the human condition. Our view of truth is the Rosetta Stone for how we interpret life, relationships, ethics, vocation, and even design. It’s the foundation of our worldview. Without a firm grasp on the popular views of truth we encounter, we will find ourselves in situations where our speech is lost in translation. Remember, when we talk about truth here, we are talking about the whole ball of wax. We’re asking, What is reality? What is right and what is wrong? What really happened in history? What is real? The question extends out to every area of existence and has enormous implications for the future of our work in web design. In order to clear the haze, we’ll start by looking at some popular views of truth and then we’ll move on to the historical Christian view of truth and why it conforms to reality as no other view does.

Reading the above passage from the aforementioned article, I am baffled at how such a profound subject of philosophy can even be remotely compared the world of web design.  The author seems to be quite full of not only himself and his abilities, but also the importance of what he does.  So let us analyze the very same subject as he did, but from a slightly different angle.

What is truth?

What is truth?

First, let us reference the old trusty wikipedia, and see what it thinks about truth:

The meaning of the word truth extends from honesty, good faith, and sincerity in general, to agreement with fact or reality in particular.[1] The term has no single definition about which the majority of professional philosophers and scholars agree. Various theories of truth continue to be debated. There are differing claims on such questions as what constitutes truth; how to define and identify truth; the roles that revealed and acquired knowledge play; and whether truth is subjective, relative, objective, or absolute. This article introduces the various perspectives and claims, both today and throughout history.

Obviously, the meaning of truth is based on ones perception of reality, and it is entirely subjective, which in turn means, we cannot define it.  This can be illustrated by asking a simple question:

“True or False: The sky is blue”

Most people would of course say true, that is of course unless you are colorblind.  The fact that the sky is blue is a commonly accepted truth.  However, it is entirely subjective since color in itself is something which is difficult to define.  The color of something depends upon how a certain type of light reflects off of something which in turn is interpreted by the type of optic sensors the viewer is equipped with.  So, is the sky blue?  To me it is.  Which means to me, the answer true to the above question, is a truth, in from the perspective of my reality.

How do some other philosophers interpret truth?

Truth is the conformity of the intellect to the things. – Aristotle

Which implies that something is true when it agrees with the intellect of the observer.  My sky is blue.

the dichotomy between ‘absolute = perfect’ and ‘relative = imperfect’ has been superseded in all fields of scientific thought, where “it is generally recognized that there is no absolute truth but nevertheless that there are objectively valid laws and principles”.

In that respect, “a scientifically or rationally valid statement means that the power of reason is applied to all the available data of observation without any of them being suppressed or falsified for the sake of a desired result”. The history of science is “a history of inadequate and incomplete statements, and every new insight makes possible the recognition of the inadequacies of previous propositions and offers a springboard for creating a more adequate formulation.”
As a result “the history of thought is the history of an ever-increasing approximation to the truth. Scientific knowledge is not absolute but optimal; it contains the optimum of truth attainable in a given historical period.” Fromm furthermore notes that “different cultures have emphasized various aspects of the truth” and that increasing interaction between cultures allows for these aspects to reconcile and integrate, increasing further the approximation to the truth.

Erich Fromm

I can quote philosophers all day long and we will see many different viewpoints.  The overwhelming point is that nothing can really ever be true.  However, for the sake of sanity in the modern world methods have been developed on how to create commonly accepted rules on truths and fallacies.

What is art?

I have had this discussion at length on an old message forum I used to frequent, which is no longer in existence.  We basically drew the conclusion that art, like truth, is also impossible to define on a large scale.  As such we have drawn a common set of accepted things that are widely considered art, and things which are not.

Personally, I feel art is anything which can be considered creative.  While creative is also very difficult to define, I would limit the word creative to meaning something which came into existence by the hand of an intelligent life form.  While nature is beautiful, I do not consider a flower, art.  I do not consider a painting made by a chimpanzee, art.  Nature did not create the flower to be beautiful, it has a purpose.  The chimp did not have a vision or goal in his painting, he was merely given a paintbrush and mimicked the movements he had seen through observation in order to splatter paint onto a canvas.

When I take something which only exists in my mind and imagination and turn it into something tangiable, I have created art.  Art need not be appreciated or accepted as art in order for it to be.  This very article is a piece of artwork in my eyes.

Again, however, in modern society a commonly accepted definition has been formed around what is art, for simplicity of understanding or acceptance.  The best definition of what is considered art in the modern world which I can find is:

Art is form and content.

“Art is form and content” means: All art consists of these two things.

Form means (1) the elements of art, (2) the principles of design and (3) the actual, physical materials that the artist has used. Form, in this context, is concrete and fairly easily described – no matter which piece of art is under scrutiny.

(from about.com)

What is web design?

So given the two above abstracts, what is web design.  I believe web design is not truth, but it is art.  Every web page on the earth, be it a site totally dedicated to being artistic and creative, and being defined as its creator as such; or a site which was purpose built, like a skyscraper, to perform a specific function. The only difference is that the former is probably more widely considered art, while the latter is not.  The latter however, not being considered a beautiful piece of artwork to the common lover of Van Gogh, it may well be considered a brilliant piece of artwork by a very well versed programmer.  The very software I am using to write this blog uses the slogan “Code is Poetry”, if poetry is an art form, then it is obvious at least a few people on this earth consider programming an art form.

How do we compare them?

I think the simple answer is, we don’t.  Comparing art and/or web design to the subject of truth just seems counter-intuitive as I do not see the correlation.  Art, Design, Truth, they are all subjective, nearly un-defineable constructs.  For a designer to feel he or she is working toward the truth in some way via their work in design just seems pompous.

I particularly enjoyed the closing quote of the article which prompted me to write this:

The Irony of Pontius Pilate’s question about truth is that the truth was standing right in front of him—Christ. In this system of truth established by Christ, the future of design is hopeful. In fact, it’s the only system that provides any lasting hope for design. It allows for a set of real governing laws of design without diminishing the legitimacy or importance of diversity within design. It gives us a system that we can actually live out. Now, we the designers get to decide which path web design will follow in the coming generations. And I for one will continue to spread the good news of God’s revelation of truth and how it shapes design. If you want to read more about the Christian worldview and how it relates to web design, go to the Worldview Center page.

Christ?  Perhaps I am just too jaded on the subject of religion, but how does one thing have anything to do with the other?  The truth is Christ, and as such the future of design is hopeful?  What am I missing?

Here are my closing remarks, which I hope are quite better then his.  Truth is a subjective construct, something is true when you feel it is true.  Within the bounds of modern society, something is true when the majority thinks it is true, and as such we have formed commonly accepted definitions for such things.  Art, is the same.  Design, the same.  We cannot define them.  Can art be used to illustrate the truth, of course it can.  Can art be used to convey an idea the artist feels is true, of course it can.  The most important question is, though, can art exist in the absence of truth, and I also feel the answer to this question is yes.  Art relies not upon truth to exist.  Art has little to do with truth.  Art is created from within us, truths are observed from outside of us.

2 thoughts on “Truth with respect to art

  1. Truth is the conformity of the intellect to the things. – Aristotle

    “Which implies that something is true when it agrees with the intellect of the observer. My sky is blue.”

    Actually, Aristotle was saying the opposite. He was saying that something is true when the intellect (whether as thought or statement) conforms to the reality of outside things.

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