Truth and Function
A little more on yesterday’s post on the question of art, fact and truth.
I attended a lecture at Cal Tech led by one of their history professors. (I don’t recall his name – was it Professor Rosenstone? Alas, my notes are packed away. Ignore this lapse of mine, and just be awed that I dropped the name Cal Tech.)
His discussion was on movies – specifically movies based on historical events. As one whose career was in the fact side of the equation, one expected that he would be a stickler for facts in entertainment.
He wasn’t. He did warn of the dangers in supplanting history with entertainment, but he also encouraged artistic license, expressly for the benefit of history.
His argument centered on function: the function of the history book, to record fact; and the function of art, to record essence. Only when both are available – the historical record and the art works – do we have a complete picture of a moment in history.
Let me be clear – he wasn’t advocating twisting facts to the loss of truth; that would be lying. But he was in favor of using artistic license to get at a truth that goes beyond mere knowledge.
I think I get that.
History can only record facts; yet human experience, life itself, can not be contained by facts. So we need more than a list of facts to establish a full reality.
A list of my measurable attributes – height, weight, test scores, census data – would only give you an inkling of who I am.
Start telling stories about me, and we begin to get a fuller picture.
Tell the stories well enough, and you will know me better than just by your intellect.
One may think they understand how small pox was treated in the 1780’s by reading a medical description of the procedure.
But I guarantee, look into Laura Linney’s eyes as she portrays Abigail Adams watching her daughter be sliced by a knife, the pox virus smeared into the wound… Now one begins to really understand what the process meant.
I recall when Taproot Theatre performed TERRA NOVA, the true story of Robert Scott’s tragic bid to discover the South Pole. At intermission during one performance, several patrons complained that we were running the air conditioning too high.
The a/c wasn’t on.
To study Scott’s Antarctic journey is one thing; to feel the biting cold is even more.
Just my thoughts,