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Life as Art, Art as Life, and Life’s Art

I recently had my first coffee bite in ages, and a trivial yet tender childhood memory of eating it with my friend flashed through my eyes. This incident resembled an event in Proust’s magnum opus “In Search of a Lost Time”, wherein the narrator while tasting tea-soaked madeleine cakes, remembers a childhood episode of eating them with his aunt. In my case, the taste and the aroma of the coffee bite triggered me to have my very own madeleine moment - an instance of life imitating art. 

Over centuries, the debate over whether “Art imitates life” or “Life imitates art” has become virtually debilitated. There lies an eternal enigma in the space between the artist and his masterpiece.

Art is often considered a beautiful compilation of real-life incidents. Plato’s Republic affirms that art is merely an expression of life in its transcendental forms. Often, poets and painters portray the simple elements of everyday life in an elixir manner. Aristotle proclaims art as an “Act of Catharsis” - an expression of inner truth. 

Yet, its converse “Life imitating art” sounds surreal, and this philosophical position of anti-mimesis was put forth by Oscar Wilde in his 1889 essay “Decay of Lying”. The philosophy of anti-mimesis was revolutionary to Victorians, in an era where sociology was in its infancy and the theories of performativity were a long way off. Wilde emphasized a profound truth about human behaviour where he argues that the way we perceive things is influenced by the forms of art we have been exposed to. Nature is also an imitation of art, a product of what we have seen through poetry or paintings.

Art and life, thrive in a metaphoric relationship. The convictions that whether “Life imitates art” or “Art imitates life” are entangled in paradox and uncertainty. Perhaps, Longfellow was right when he penned “Art is long and time is fleeting”.

Tagged in : #paradox, #life, #imitation, #art,