Fiction: a space between truth and lies

Pablo Picasso once said that “we all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth – at least the truth that is given us to understand.” In our Talk of the Week, Mac Barnett unravels this mysterious quote to show us a place that is home to art, fiction – and wonder.

Being an award-winning children’s novelist, Barnett knows how to tell a story. In a whimiscal manner, at TED2014 he talked about his motivation to utilize art as a doorway to wonder and why the surreal, imaginative world that is childhood is the proof that there actually is a space in between truth and lies.

fictitious (sur)reality

Barnett’s quest, that eventually led him to become executive director of a nonprofit writing center for kids, started out at summer camp. When talking to children, he would often make up stories about himself and his life. He soon became a famous figure among the kids – and realised that the children loved his stories, because in some way, they were in fact real.

What Barnett is referring to is a process known as “poetic faith”. It means that, even though we know that fictitious characters or events aren’t real, we still have real feelings about them. That’s the reason why people go to Dublin and see everything that happened in Ulysses – even though none of it ever happened – or visit Sherlock Holmes apartment in 221b Baker Street – which actually never existed.

willing suspension of disbelief

In this respect, Barnett underlines that kids are the ideal readers of literary fiction – and what adults can learn from them about imagination and the so-called willing suspension of disbelief. “I want fiction to escape and get out into the real world. I want a book to be a secret door, that opens up and let’s the stories out into reality,” he concludes.

In his famous quote, Picasso continues saying that “the artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” Engaging in this art, this fiction and poetic faith can add another facette to our lifes. Childhood is surreal, full of imagination and wonder, but these characteristics are often lost among adults. If you want to know how to return to this sphere between truth and lies, listen to Mac Barnett’s wonderful TED talk.


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