Fact is Stranger than Fiction


Beginnings, 10 x 10″ acrylic

“The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.”

– Tom Clancy

Here is one of the great paradoxes in life.

Most people would agree that art (I think of art as a form of fiction) has to make some sense – if it’s totally random, it crosses the line from art to something else. The artist must have some intention, even if it is obscure to them and others. You make choices about design, color, value, etc in ways that make some sense to you.

Even art that seems random is probably not created randomly. Ask the artist – they weren’t just splashing paint around with their eyes closed (now,  I don’t want to hear from all of you painters who do just that!). You have to have an extraordinarily broad definition of art to include something that makes no sense at all.

Reality, on the other hand, can sometimes be quite random or without apparent sense. Or at least it is so complex as to defy any attempt to make sense of it. And we accept this. Not to say that there are not things in reality that have exquisite design and make total sense. Just that we do not reality to the same “standard” as we do fiction.

In some way, the artist is always trying to make sense of something, whether it be reality or their imagination. The degree to which they are successful at this at least partially defines the success of their art.

5 responses to “Fact is Stranger than Fiction

  1. Beautiful painting again, Bob. I love this series, so mysterious. Great combination of different elements and great contrasts.

    I am not sure that I agree here, although the quote, in a first moment, sounds wonderful to me, and so deep, and certainly a great theme to think about.

    But you say yourself that the sense of art might not always be apparent, neither to themselves not to others. And I believe it is exactly the same with reality. I think it makes always sense, at least in the same way as art, but even more. It is just not apparent or evident to us because we are part of this reality and being inside of it, we can’t judge what makes sense.
    And even worse: concerning reality, we have no chance to know what makes sense, and we don’t even know what “sense” means on that level.

    But i agree that whatever we do in life, art or something else, we all try to make sense of it. Sense according the laws of what we believe to be reality, though.. because it is the only system we have.
    I would even say that the sense is to copy reality, in a broad sense of “copy”…

  2. Miki and Martha

    I guess what I meant to distinguish between was what sense a work of art might make (it’s meaning) vs the intention behind each decision we make while painting it. I agree with Martha that, particularly with non-objective painting, that the painting itself does not need to make sense, but interestingly enough I think that each decision the artist makes seems to make sense to them at the time.

    Sort of a micro vs macro issue – at the micro level it all seems to make sense at the moment, but at the macro level (the finished piece) there may be little or no sense to be made of it.

    Miki, I agree that I suspect defining the term “sense” is a prerequisite for this discussion and could probably fill a philosophical tome or two.

    I hope you all realize I say these things simply to get us to think about them and share some of those thoughts – I don’t have any real answers in most cases!

  3. Yes, Bob, for sure we would be sitting here for days if we fully explored this. It did make me think — a lot — but I couldn’t come up with a way to write it in a comment.


    Yes, life doesn’t make sense, so that’s why we have religion . . . so does that mean religion is like fiction?

    Or the comparisons between visual art and literary fiction. I thought, for example, that if we want more viewers — as a novelist wants more readers — we have to make some conventional sense. But then I had to ask myself if I could resign myself to just producing conventional but beautiful and technically-impressive paintings.

    So I went and got another cup of coffee instead.


  4. Martha

    Ah, yes – the age old question of appealing to an audience vs not. I guess it’s a matter of balance – finding just enough conventional sense to appeal to some (maybe even yourself) but not so much that making sense is all that is going on.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s