The Imitation Game

By Lyne Jradi

Art by the talented Vincent Van Gogh: Starry night

Have you ever visited a museum or an art gallery and gazed deeply into a painting, and thought about how familiar they are to our daily lives?  Every work of art has its own aura of estrangement and uniqueness, but even the strangest pieces come together from life itself. When we look at The Starry Night by Van Gogh, we are mesmerized by the swirling colors of dark blues and light yellows. It sucks us into a whirlpool of wonder and amazement. We can almost convince ourselves  that the  painting is actually moving, we can see the stars twinkling, and that’s the true beauty of art, it can  challenge your thoughts and the way you look at life in general. There is a bigger question, however, that has been the subject of much debate over the years, does life imitate art or does art imitate life? 

      “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”, states Oscar Wilde in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying.  On the other hand, life came before art, so it can be argued that art has to be an imitation of life. 

In Ancient Greece, the creation of works of art entailing different meanings is termed “Mimesis”. Mimesis is the origin of  the verb “to mimic”, but it’s not only related to imitation but also to representation and different ways of expression. What are some examples of art imitating life? Almost every art work that is ever created is a depiction of life, from the Mona Lisa to Claude Monet’s famous landscape works. 

Wilde, on the other hand, was an anti-mimesis advocate and argued that over time, life was beginning to imitate art.. He thinks that “things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the arts that have influenced us.” His belief was that the challenge of art revolved around the basis that artwork modifies our belief of existence. So, our enjoyment of life’s aesthetic aspects is  due to the fact we have had  an emotional response to paintings we had seen before. Basically, we’re reliving the feelings we felt when we gaze at those artworks.  

     Plato had two theories about art. One of them can be found in his book The Republic, which says that because art imitates type, art is always a copy of the copy, leading us  further from the truth, toward  illusion.  Plato believed that art  could be dangerous because it evoked strong emotions. Another theory described  artists as prophets as they make the best copies of “truth” through divine inspiration.  Thus, the idea that art is imitation was central to both theories. Plato says that art imitates the objects and events of everyday life. 

      This conclusion presents a new question, if you have never experienced anything similar in your life, can you create art that excites people? Does the beauty of the world around them  inspire the painter to pick up a brush and capture the moment? Or does the moment captured on the canvas evoke a deeper emotion when witnessing something similar in person? 

 I know that as a writer, I recreate emotions and situations I have experienced in real life. Sometimes a part of my history is reflected in my work. Other times I write the raw, unchanging truth about my trauma. I would say that art is a case of imitating life. As a reader, I can say that I empathize more with the characters because I have my own experiences that I can learn from reading something that evokes an emotional response. 

Edited by Daniella Razzouk

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