Does Art imitate Life…or does Life imitate Art?

Have you ever pondered this before?  Perhaps the seemingly obvious conclusion is that, of course, Art imitates Life!  How else could it be?  How could Life imitate Art?

This is actually an age-old question that has been the muse of philosophers and writers for many centuries, even back to Aristotle! It might fall into the category of the classic question,

“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

What do YOU think?

Life Imitating Art?

Art imitates Reality, posited Aristotle.  Reality is present and art imitates it. However, not everyone holds the same viewpoint as the esteemed philosopher.  “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life”, said the Irish poet, playwright and astute observer of life, Oscar Wilde. He reasoned that art makes us notice things about life that we would otherwise not notice. And so after noticing life in art, we find it more and more in our consciousness, and we see it more in life.  Art informs us and helps us understand life and how we see it. Therefore, life imitates art.

In his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying that, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”, from the fact that the self-conscious aim of Life is to find expression, and that Art offers it certain beautiful forms through which it may realize that energy”.

What is found in life and nature is not what is really there, but is that which artists have taught people to find there, through art. As in an example posited by Wilde, although there has been fog in London for centuries, one notices the beauty and wonder of the fog because “poets and painters have taught the loveliness of such effects…They did not exist till Art had invented them.”

In George Bernard Shaw‘s preface to Three Plays he wrote, “I have noticed that when a certain type of feature appears in painting and is admired as beautiful, it presently becomes common in nature.  Shaw, however, disagreed with Wilde on some points. He considered most attempts by life to imitate art to be reprehensible, in part because the art that people generally chose to imitate was idealistic and romanticized.

The idea is that our perception of life is changed by art, so that nature sometimes seems to imitate paintings we have seen before, giving us the emotions we felt when looking at those paintings. When that happens, life seems to imitate art.

As Wilde puts it in The Decay of Lying, “things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the arts that have influenced us.”

What do you think—does your art imitate life?  Or does life imitate the art that you create?