Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Fake honesty in art

Yesterday's post by Matt Cheney over at the Lit Blog Co-op cracked me up. In it he recounts judging a poetry contest at the private high school where he's employed. When the subject of "honesty" in the submitted works was brought up, Cheney blurted, "I detest honesty!"

Right there with you, Mr. Cheney. My eyes glaze over when people gush about "honesty" as if that single quality defines Good Art. So I sent up a little cheer when you went on:

"Art is about shaping things, it's about craft and deliberation, skill and surprise. It's not a therapy session. I'm so tired of poets who say, 'Here is my heart on a platter -- eat it, for it is a poem, and should be savored, because it is honest!' Such people should be tossed out windows and mocked viciously!"
Why are so many people eager to believe that more "honesty" makes for better art? The purpose of art is self-expression and communication, but why does it appear that an artist must reveal every ugly, shocking, or mundane truth of his existence in order for his work to be taken seriously? When we award extra points for "honesty", artists are encouraged to dig deeper for—and possibly even manufacture—even more ugly, shocking, or mundane elements to toss into their creations, until the art becomes so purposely "original" and "real" as to be unoriginal and fake.

Contrived genuineness is a lie. And I feel better, having got that off my chest this morning.


lindaruth said...

Maybe instead of honesty we should strive for authenticity. We can be authentic -- consistent, truthful, genuine -- without dredging up everything in our past and putting it on display for the world.

Brenda Coulter said...