The Arts as Illumination of Truth: Preaching to the Unconverted (but not on religion)


It seems a natural urge to look for meaning…it’s a commonly held view amongst scientists, artists and religious people that enchantment comes naturally to us – the interest in meaning comes from imagination.  Curiosity makes us scientists, believers, artists, actors…  I’d go so far as to say it’s dangerous to not be curious and to question, because it means you are not open to other people and other ideas.  Art is not just about us and pure entertainment, it is a social tool to embracing others.  Art is about all of us, whoever we are.

Some art illuminates real life – some art in doing this, gives people a voice – because in real life some voices are crushed.  Harvey Fierstein, writer of the book La Cage Aux Folles on which the musical is based, says:  ‘Let’s be clear about this.  The characters in La Cage Aux Folles are living their lives out loud and having a wonderful time.  They are respected in their community.  That is still not the case for many people today, and there are still politicians and religious leaders who make a living out of preaching hellfire on this, and as long as that is the case, La Cage has a role to play in the world.’

Douglas Hodge as Albin in La Cage Aux Folles singing 'I Am What I Am'

The singer-songwriter Don McLean refers to himself as a ‘reporter’ as he writes his songs.  There are so many singer-songwriters, composers, writers, artists, who do seem to have this quality – I’ve mentioned some of them in previous articles.  Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Coope Boyes and Simpson and Ralph McTell I would add to this.  They offer a commentary on life….sometimes a way in to thoughts that we would otherwise not consider – like La Cage – yes it’s a feel-good, wonderful musical but it is more importantly about identity and being proud of who you are.

Likewise, fiction in novels is a way in round the back perhaps…we don’t always get at truth or honesty via the obvious way: ‘There’s this idea that autobiography is more truthful than fiction but I believe the opposite can be the case.  In fiction, you are constructing a truth, whereas in memoir you are trying to find one.  And sometimes the thing most in the way of that truth is yourself.’  (John Burnside)

See the quote from Oscar Wilde on the ‘About’ page on this blog…

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