Facing the Truth

Today, 3rd September 2011, I went toPallant House Art Gallery’s Open Day. This was an ‘artist’s date’ to use Julia Cameron’s term. Having reached the end of the first draft of my novel for the MA, my inspirational well was bone-dry.

I needed to make the most of it, so I took my time and explored David Jones’ Xtension exhibition and other artists’ work. The thing which struck me was the unashamed truthfulness of the best artworks. In ‘Icarus in Brighton’ there are beautiful nymphs or goddesses, the pier, the fallen young man – and a coke can. This ‘outsider artist’ showed what he saw in his mind’s eye.

I compared the ships of the naive artist Alfred Wallis with the other works of the St Ives artists represented in the collection.For me, his work has an unselfconscious strength. He wasn’t looking over his shoulder, wondering what critics might think. He created. That’s all.

I coughed up my £2.50 and went to see the Frida Kahlo & Diego Riviera Exhibition. I loved how Frida painted her own moustache with the same care as the lace round her neckline. She showed faces with warts, scabs, pouts and unplucked eyebrows.

Her husband said it all:

‘She tears open her heart and her chest to tell the biological truth about what she feels.’

As a writer, I aspire to such honesty, such ‘telling it as it is’. I think of Rembrandt’s later portraits – who would not aim for such truthfulness of compassion?

So that is my justification for observing closely a family drama played out in a cafe. I noted down the expressions, the phrases and the actions in order to convey emotions truthfully as I see them. I shamelessly dissected what was going on, remaining uninvolved and dispassionate ( I recall Kahlo trained to be a doctor). The point of such apparently callous behaviour is to get at the truth.

Squeamishness in a surgeon is something to be overcome – and I think it is also in a writer.

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