We have art

We have art in order not to die from the truth.

Friedrich Nietzsche

h/t Keeping the Season

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26 comments on “We have art

  1. Jeff says:

    A thought-provoking quote, indeed. My take is that we have Art (instead of art) in a capitalist economy, because the natural creativity and imagination of the human animal has been harnessed to create commodities for sale. In traditional societies, art was not Art; instead, art was one of many ways to reproduce the belief system of the society in question. So I would turn Nietszche’s quote around: we have Art in order not to see the truth. Unless, of course, we link Art and capitalism and recognize that Art is not art. Under capitalism, Art produces baubles of every price point for sale – it rarely says anything about belief systems. Another way of understanding Nietszche is to capitalize the word “art” in the quote. It then makes sense: we have Art in order not to die from the truth. Yes, much better! I like it!

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    • Eumaeus says:

      anybody can define a word for themself, especially a word like ‘art’. Jeff says what he thinks ‘art’ was in traditional societies. But what are ‘traditional societies’.
      before we started making those pregnant women figurines. what was art then? yes, this is an important question.

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      • Bill says:

        Eumaeus. I thought of your poem when I saw the quote. Truth, it seems to me, is every bit as difficult to define as art.

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      • Eumaeus says:

        Yes, many times art has sustained me when I would die from the truth, especially when I was a teen, but even now – it can be my sustenance.

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    • Bill says:

      I understand Nietszche’s point to be that in the absence of art the futility and pointlessness of existence (as he understood it) would be so despairing that we might as well just die and get it over with. I don’t think he’d be much fun at cocktail parties. But the observation that art makes the ugliness of “truth” more bearable is, I think, a good one.

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  2. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, I’m not a real deep thinker and not really a person that sees art as a necessity in my life. My beauty and art would be immersing myself into the art called nature. The magnificent balance and graphic beauty can’t be matched in any other media. Pictures can be taken, videos can be made but nothing can take the place of actually being in the art. Paintings or pictures are limited in the sensual. Nature has smells attached to the beauty and the feel of the warm sun on a spring day.

    Have a great truthful art day.

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    • Bill says:

      I also prefer natural beauty to man-made art. I think Nietzsche has mistakenly set art in opposition to truth, but he probably means “art” in broad enough way to include anything that distracts us from the cold hard facts that he calls “truth.” I like the quote because I think it touches upon the immense importance of art (or beauty).

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  3. Great art captures the essence that lies behind truth? My two cents on this Day of the Dead. The skeletons are dancing. BTW and a little off subject: I went in a Safeway yesterday to buy a toothbrush and when I was walking back to the truck I glanced at the receipt. It said, “Your cashier today was Jesus.” Now, I know that Hispanic families sometimes name their boys Jesus. But stillโ€ฆ I was tempted to walk back in the sore and see if he glowed. ๐Ÿ™‚ โ€“Curt

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    • Meant store there, not sore.

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    • Bill says:

      Right. He supposes that art and truth are two entirely different things. I’d argue instead that art is at least a reflection of truth (while admitting that both can be slippery to define).

      Your experience at the store reminds me of a picture I saw recently, Someone had taken those coke cans with names on them and created a manger scene using cans with “Jesus,” “Mary” and “Joseph” and “Angel” printed on them. Clever. Good to enough to keep us from dying from the truth? Well maybe not quite that good, but good enough to bring a smile.

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      • I agree, Bill. Can’t say I am an expert. I’m not. But I have spent a lot of time in many of the world’s great art museums. I always feel honored to be there. โ€“Curt

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  4. avwalters says:

    I’ve always thought that you can only truly tell the truth in fiction. Anything else and you risk the sight of Medusa’s head.

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  5. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    After reading a tiny sliver about Friedrich Nietzsche (Wikipedia), I’d very much like to know at which part of his life this was written; as context would seem to be imperative to understanding his intent.
    Perhaps, in his view, art is the expression of human creativity – whatever form it may take – and acts as a counter balance to the ugliness of life as a whole.
    If, to be artful is to use one’s skills to create, I would say that anyone can do so. There is beauty in Art, in Architecture, in Nature, in the ability to See things differently and show them to others; in the growth of a single leaf or an entire Garden.
    There is pride in Making: Creation through Carpentry, Animal Husbandry, Smithing; Producing Food from the ground to the table; the Smell of freshly washed laundry, the Print upon the Page…

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    • Jeff says:

      Maybe this will help:

      โ€œGod is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?โ€

      This is a snippet from this website.

      Here is the original quote, translated into English:

      It is unworthy of a philosopher to say: the good and the beautiful are one; if he goes on to add, “also the true,” one ought to thrash him. Truth is ugly: we possess art lest we perish of the truth. โ€” Spring-Summer 1888 16[40].

      It appeared in Nietszche’s notebook for the Spring-Summer of 1888.

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    • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

      My brain’s been picking away at this all afternoon…
      There is also the art of healing, the art of composing music, the art of making someone laugh…
      The Alvin Maker Series, by Orson Scott Card, was one of the many stories that we, my son and I, read together daily when he was young. In it, an alternative reality to our time, everyone had a “knack”. Everyone had something that was their forte, their strong suit and I believe that this is just as true with our reality as that of Alvin Maker.
      Is it not possible that this is the “art” that Nietzsche refers to that “keeps us from the truth”? “The truth” that, for every second that passes, we are one second closer to our death?
      Carpe diem, seize each moment; for good, for Making, for Living…

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      • Bill says:

        I’m glad it gave you some food for thought today. It’s been rattling around in my head all day too.

        I understand him to be saying that the brutal realities of life are so despairing that without art to make them more bearable we might as well just go ahead and die. Art in that sense is a distraction, or medication. While I share the view that art (broadly defined) enriches and illuminates life and truth, I wouldn’t equate life with truth nor would I set art in opposition to either life or truth. As I see it, they’re all woven together.

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    • Bill says:

      Deb. Yes, I think you nailed it.

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    • Jeff says:

      The Wikipedia discussion of Nietzsche’s nihilism should help you to understand the quote.

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  6. shoreacres says:

    I’ll see your Nietzsche and raise you a Faulkner: “Poets are almost always wrong about facts. That’s because they are not really interested in facts: only in truth.”

    After all, it’s truth that sets us free. Or so some say. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Bill says:

      Good one. I’ll see your Faulkner and raise you a David Byrne: “Facts just twist the truth around.” ๐Ÿ™‚

      A.V.’s comment about fiction and now yours about poetry call to mind a quote from Wendell Berry that you will appreciate. He says that an essayist is just a writer who tells the truth.

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  7. ain"t for city gals says:

    Maybe I have had a somewhat of a charmed life or maybe I am missing the whole point but I just don’t think life is unbearable and truth is ugly. We make our own truth and that is what people don’t want to admit to…..

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  8. farmerkhaiti says:

    OMG this is a great quote to get me motivated for a long stalled winter art revival! thank you!!! Are you an artist as well as a writer?

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