The Brutal Honesty and Why It's Necessary in Arts
July 19th 2019
Silent Gun Feeding the Soul's Landscape / 2018 / 170 x 50(h)
Being a Finn, honesty and the deeper more interesting form of it, brutal honesty is something we know well. If you ask how a day was for a random Finn, they might bluntly blurt out that it was a terrible, miserable day full of adversities, given that it was. For us it’s difficult to claim otherwise and against the reality, because we’d be lying. And lying is something we do not execute very well, nor understand the value in it. If we lie, it shows. Inevitably this fact makes us great lie detectors as well. (On a side note: Not claiming that a day for a Finn normally is terrible, since we're after all the happiest people on the planet. At least according to some reports).
And I’m a big fan of the latter. Admitting that it's not always so easy in practice, and even knowing that brutal honesty is essential for being a painter. Yet, the older I get the more I’ve learned to appreciate the fun side of it. To me brutal honesty seems like an inverted form of trust and respect, while it can actually help us develop more meaningful relationships and get rid of superficiality in all dealings in life. However, sometimes (very often actually) there's a point in not disclosing information or revealing your hand of cards. Along with increasing trust, it makes more sense to stop withholding information for the benefit of all parties concerned. Like in any battlefield, it's crucial to know exactly when and how to feint and when to start running for the hills.
The interesting point when interviewing Finns about the subject of honesty is, that sometimes being untruthful to a Finn, can blow us off completely. While in many other cultures deceiving and being untruthful in daily encounters is a form of respect toward the other party and an acceptable means of self-protection. In Finland it’s the other way around. Intriguing isn’t it?
And in parallel, why did our tribe of Finns evolve to be like this, valuing honesty as of the highest of all traits. Some studies say that our indigenous tribe of Finns is going extinct in 200 years. Thus wondering if the brutal honesty that we value so much, is also going to vanish along with our people. Is it in our genes or is it something we were handed over later in our upbringing?
Honest art in different eras of history
The first humans on earth recorded their daily lives and thoughts into rocks in caves where they’d survive for the later humans to ponder upon. The oldest, somewhat more ’abstract cave paintings’ have been proven to be as old as 40.000 years and the more figurative ones go back around 35.000 years. Without hesitation one might conclude that these Paleolithic images were some of the most honest art there is to date. The modern society with it’s rules and regulations has altered the arts, leaving it up to art professionals (and I don't mean artists themselves) to decide whether art is honest and ’good’ or not. And if we are not satisfied in finding an impartial answer from the pros, at least we have the public sales records?
So, what has brutal honesty to do with arts and why is it necessary to witness it in any arts we encounter? Abstract expressionism shifted the modern art field and completely cornered the old mind set, because it challenged the way we perceive viewpoint, composition and substance. Before abstract art, it was seemingly easier to understand paintings, because they were referrals to images from the conscious and figures we can relate to, such as humans, landscapes, historical events and items of everyday life. It was thus facile to be questioning the first abstract painters' motives in an era, where simplified images were not a norm but an exception.
Abstract art depicting the spiritual state of a society
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was one of the first artists to see (and document) artistic expression as an indicator of the ’level’ of spirituality in different eras of human history. Nietzsche (1844-1900) also discovered that when other parts of society fail, ”Arts remain as a means to see the state of the human spirituality." In certain moments in history (especially under great pressure i.e. wars) we are more likely to shift the observing abilities into ourselves and what lies deep within. These philosophical findings were farsighted in understanding the patterns in artistic expression and overall human behavior, depending on which ’type’ of times were at hand: to either highlight or depict spirituality and at times indulge in superficial topics. When we start looking at all art in history, from this vantage point, it is easier also to see which values were prevailing at different periods. An easy example is artist Andy Warhol, whose transparent- and honestly commercial works and remarks echoed the changing times. There was a trend to either praise the modern culture or to fight against the new ’values’. To me personally, it looks like the 1980’s commercialism changed completely the field and shattered art into all levels of spirituality, whether it was intentionally artificial and underlining or the manifesting type of criticizing human actions. In between depicting these values, there’s always been the need for many abstract artists to just simplify and express core emotions. For me personally, painting is the combination of looking at human behavior from different viewpoints and after an internal battle, the inner- and outer worlds and values merge into a piece on canvas. Like mentioned before, art at best is a form of therapy which can help balance not only the emotions but also the rational mind, as the purpose is to grow and learn eternally.
Given that honest art is as close it can get to comprising the soul of the maker along with comprehending the state of the human nature in any given era, it’s still subjective. Whether the maker or the viewer is the one analyzing it, any theories referring to a certain piece are only observances from a rearview mirror. At best we can assess the deprivation of spirituality on a superficial level, maybe dissect it and write a witty little theory about it. Will we learn from our past through art's 'hidden truths' and change our behavior for better times for all? Improbable. History will repeat itself and the cycle unlikely shifts, because we are only human. This is why healthy cynicism, a cousin of brutal honesty, would greatly help in knowing ourselves better. The sad truth is, that neither of these cousins are very popular in most societies on this planet (well except maybe in Finland and even that country is not perfect). And yet again, I’m referring to the importance of teaching emotional intelligence at schools. Simply because this is the field to support families with children, even if they have the best of circumstances.
Before it’s possible to practice brutal honesty or healthy cynicism (let alone pass these mindsets on to generations) we should first learn not to require anything from anyone but ourselves. Thus we cannot expect people to owe us something or anything for that matter. There are no favors, gifts, truths, love, or even care that we can ever demand to receive, even honesty. The only party that can hold us accountable for their well being is our children (when they are still children). We as adults are responsible in raising them to be mentally strong and independent individuals with a lot of empathy toward other beings. That’s where our liabilities stop.
In this context, the field of Arts as a separate entity is not important to mankind. But it might serve a purpose in coping with the brutal truths of life on this planet and reassuring that it's possible to live a good life. How about teaching emotional intelligence in parallel to learning to express ourselves truthfully, when we are at our most vulnerable stage? And that is of course, when we are children.