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Art Imitates Life Or Is It The Other Way Around?


Oscar Wilde wrote an essay in 1889 called “The Decay of Lying” which refutes Aristotle’s mimesis - the basic theoretical principle in the creation of art. Wilde writes and explains in his essay that “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” Whereas Aristotle would argue that “Art not only imitates nature, but also completes its deficiencies.” It really depends how you look at art and life but let us consider who made these statements. One is a Poet and the other is a Philosopher.


The Philosopher And Poet


Philosophy is often mistaken for poetry because the message is usually profound or I like to say figuratively “deep”. A Philosophers thought process is much more academic, they want to understand how and why people do certain things. A Poet does not concern themselves with that as much. A Poet is more interested in creating an image in the readers mind through description that results in some kind of emotion.


At the risk of dating myself, I am reminded of a music video back in the 80’s. At the time a flashy video for a song was the trend for musicians. The video for the song “Take On Me” had everyone at school talking about how “cool” it was going in and out of live video to sketch animation. It was brilliant at the time and now it is a meme on the internet for my kids and this generation. In retrospect that video would have been a great conversation starter for teachers in the classrooms about whether art imitates life or does life imitate art. The video depicted how art and real life is separate worlds from one another or are they?


The Power Of Art


I tend to lean towards Oscar Wildes theory as I get older and it probably has to do with having more experience in life. He believes that life imitates art. When you look at artwork that says something interesting to you - something you have not seen or experienced before then you can be influenced by it. Art can very well influence your decisions or perspective on an issue therefore directing you on certain paths or thoughts in life. Hence you are imitating the art or would at least like the outcome to be similar.


When I was younger I thought that art imitates life was the most accurate. It is easier to understand if you don’t go past that point but Aristotle complicated the phrase by adding “… also completes its deficiencies.” By adding that description I think the difference is a very fine line between the mimesis. Aristotle is describing that art is basically mimicking what we have seen or experienced in the real world but in the same breath he is saying artists can creatively put their twist on how it should be represented. That brings on the question “Is art really imitating life?”


Are you a Poet or a Philosopher?

Animated GIF - The song ”Take On Me" originally released in 1984 by the band “A-Ha”