Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Ecstasy of Truth

The German filmmaker Werner Herzog, in recent interview, talked about the role of factual reality in filmmaking. He had this to say about the liberties he takes with facts in some of his documentaries:

"If we are paying attention about facts, we end up as accountants. If you find out that yes, here or there, a fact has been modified or been imagined, it will be a triumph of accountants to tell me so. But we are into illumination for the sake of a deeper truth, for an ecstasy of truth, for something we can experience once in a while in great literature and great cinema."

This statement applies equally to art. A still life is not simply an even rendering of a group of objects any more than a shopping list is a piece of literature. Take for example the difference between these two "realist" paintings:

The top still life by Stephen Gjertson is an impressive piece, definitely what we would call realist art. There is no denying the artist's ability to reproduce what he sees onto a flat surface. Everything is clearly represented and experienced to the same degree, which, quite frankly, is a little boring and not representative of we we experience the world around us. In the long run this painting leaves me a little cold.
The second painting by David Leffel is a much more powerful work. It is accurate and abstract at the same time. There are artistic decisions which have been made. He has modified and interpreted reality into a work of art that speaks about how we see and experience reality. This is a painting to be dreamed into and lived with.

We painters need to find our special way to an ecstasy of truth.

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