Once on a long drive I marvelled at the colours of the autumn grass against the backdrop of a blue sky. There was a surreal glow to them, a clarity and radiance and warmth that seemed to emanate from the very light itself. Then I took off my sunglasses. The scene lost its glory. I felt cheated. What I had thought beautiful had been a lie, a filtered version of the more prosaic truth.
Years have passed and I have since gazed on many more beautiful scenes seen through rose-coloured (or merely polarised) glasses. I have often contemplated the legitimacy of “enhanced reality” and whether such beauty should be allowed within the framework of my aesthetic appreciation.
Could I really (truthfully) exclaim at the turquoise water, the shimmering fields, and the flower petals, if it was merely the result of filtered light? It seemed to me, even before the ubiquity of Photoshop et al, wrong to tweak an image to get a better picture. Surely that was not honest and honesty was important, whether in art or elsewhere.
I think I have at long last let go of my purist viewpoint. Because beauty, after all, does lie in the eye of the beholder.
In her book Still Life with Teapot Brigid Lowry ponders the place of truth in memoir writing:
“Shall I tell the truth? Line up all the facts, as tidy as a row of pins? No, for the truth is just a wire you walk along, stepping gingerly until you meet thin air, and facts are stale old things, wrinkled as dried mushrooms. Why not plump them out a little, soak them until they swell, rearrange the aunties and make my boyfriends even more handsome than they were.”
Beauty and art depends on a little deception. It is the right of the artist to choose what to show and what to hide, what to remember and what to conveniently forget. A story is created as much by what you leave out as by what you tell. If you write that the woman had a son, are you lying if you don’t mention that she had three other sons as well?
A photo is only a small frame of some greater reality, sometimes through a coloured lens. “We see through a glass darkly” and see clearer for that.
So don’t spoil a good story by insisting on the facts. Truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.