Are Artists Liars?Share
Humans are natural-born storytellers, so lying is in our blood. Ian Leslie considers how this comes out in our art.
SHORTLY before his death, Marlon Brando was working on a series of instructional videos about acting, to be called “Lying for a Living”. On the surviving footage, Brando can be seen dispensing gnomic advice on his craft to a group of enthusiastic, if somewhat bemused, Hollywood stars, including Leonardo Di Caprio and Sean Penn. Brando also recruited random people from the Los Angeles street and persuaded them to improvise (the footage is said to include a memorable scene featuring two dwarves and a giant Samoan). “If you can lie, you can act,” Brando told Jod Kaftan, a writer for Rolling Stone and one of the few people to have viewed the footage. “Are you good at lying?” asked Kaftan. “Jesus,” said Brando, “I’m fabulous at it.”
Brando was not the first person to note that the line between an artist and a liar is a fine one. If art is a kind of lying, then lying is a form of art, albeit of a lower order—as Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain have observed. Both liars and artists refuse to accept the tyranny of reality. Both carefully craft stories that are worthy of belief—a skill requiring intellectual sophistication, emotional sensitivity and physical self-control (liars are writers and performers of their own work). Such parallels are hardly coincidental, as I discovered while researching my book on lying. Indeed, lying and artistic storytelling spring from a common neurological root—one that is exposed in the cases of psychiatric patients who suffer from a particular kind of impairment.