Pablo Picasso (1942) Tête de taureau(Bull's Head). Bicycle seat and handlebars. Musée Picasso, Paris

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... I would like to know if anyone has ever seen a natural work of art. Nature and art, being two different things, cannot be the same thing. Through art we express our conception of what nature is not.
— Picasso approved this statement made in Spanish to Marius de Zayas, before it was translated and published as Picasso Speaks in The Arts. New York, May 1923.


CLASS ACTIVITY: PICASSO'S LIE AND
COLERIDGE'S WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF

At its finest art has the potential to enrapture, awe, inspire, educate and otherwise transports the beholder to another place or state of being. 

Begin this session as a whole class presentation/discussion. Ask a student volunteer to read the Picasso quote. Then call on some students to comment on Picasso's iconic Bull's Head sculpture.  Push the class to really think about this. The following provocation questions may or may not be needed:

  • Is it a Bull's Head?
  • Is it an old bicycle seat welded to some junk handlebars?
  • Can you ride it?
  • Did making it require art training or fine motor skill?
  • Could any of us make it just as well?
  • Is it beautiful or otherwise aesthetically interesting?
  • How much money would it make at auction if it were sold today?
  • What would an indigenous person from the rainforest have to say about i?
  • Is it a case of the map not being the territory, or just some strange, new kind of territory?
  • Is it original? Does that matter?

Next, jump into the following:

1. Call on a student who has not said much to read out this Coleridge quote.
2. Next move straight into the Shakespeare video which includes the line, "We are such stuff as dreams are made of."
3. Follow this with a student reading of the Hilary Mantel quote which compares the novel as a form of representation with theatre and film.
4. Finally read the Tolkein quote which talks about the importance of internal consistency and logical coherence in an invented world. 

 ...a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith. 
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Biographia Literaria. 1817, Chapter XIV.
The novelist has some advantages. His stage sets are built out of black marks on
white paper. On the page, a cast of a hundred is as cheap as a cast of two. For the stage, the adaptor must reduce the personnel, for practical as well as artistic reasons. Cut down the number of characters and you must adapt the story, reorganize events so that one person stands in for another. It takes skill to manage that shift so you are still telling the truth – though not the literal truth…

The screenwriter knows his director can populate a city, or whistle up a mob using computer-generated imagery. The playwright’s mob is too meagre to be scary. His
battle scene suffers because he only has four combatants and some clattery shields.

It’s tough if your story ends in a battle. But then, look at the climax of Richard III. No one forgets Richard yelling out his big offer: ‘My kingdom for a horse.’ But no-one is going to bring him a horse, because the real and chilling end to his story has already happened in the tent on the eve of battle, when the souls of the dead gather to tell him that the game’s up.
— Hilary Mantel: Adaptation. Reith Lecture. BBC Radio 4: July 7, 2017.
Director Peter Jackson on the set of Lord of the Rings. Photo: MGM

Director Peter Jackson on the set of Lord of the Rings.
Pho
to: MGM

The story-maker... makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed.
— J. R. R. Tolkein (1939) On Fairy-Stories.

CONVERSATIONS IN TRIOS

Arrange students in trios. Ensure that as many groups as possible include at least one participant who has chosen a HL Art subject as part of their IB Diploma. Provide every student with a copy of the quotes and the Knowledge Questions for reference. Allow three minutes silent reading time before the trios come together for their conversations. 

After 10 full minutes of conversation. A spokesperson from reach group will report back and some more lively conversation should ensue; albeit less intimately, as a whole class. 

Remind students that a good conversation should take on a life of its own. There should be good listening, and a willingness to respond and build upon (or counter) what was just said. It is not just waiting for your own turn to speak.  


WARM uP QUESTION

  • What is "breaking the 4th wall" in the theatre? How does this notion relate to "Shakespearean asides" and "mockumentaries"? 


KNOWLEDGE QUESTIONS

  • If everything Shakespeare wrote was a lie—every word is fiction after all—how is it possible that he is able to evoke profound truth about the human predicament?
     
  • To what extent does it make sense to talk about Truth in the arts?
     
  • In order to understand the past what are the relative merits of historical fiction and academic history?

Printable Pdf. of the quotes and the questions.