Finally, brothers, whatever is true (ἀληθῆ), whatever is honourable (σεμνά), whatever is just (δίκαια), whatever is pure (ἁγνά), whatever is lovely (προσφιλῆ), whatever is admirable (εὔφημα) – anything that is excellent (ἀρετὴ) or praiseworthy (ἔπαινος) – think about those things.
Now, I take truth here to mean propositional truth, even in the case of works of art, noting that the propositions inherent in a work of art may not always be precisely articulated. The truths expressed may be new and surprising, or they may be old truths that people have lost sight of. “Firefighters are brave,” for example, is something that people know to be true, but often forget until disaster strikes:
John Everett Millais, The Rescue, oil on canvas, 1855 (NGV)
The subject of this painting, incidentally, is also excellent (ἀρετὴ), praiseworthy (ἔπαινος), admirable (εὔφημα), and honourable (σεμνά).
The song “Torn” (written by Scott Cutler, Anne Preven, and Phil Thornalley, but turned into a hit by Natalie Imbruglia in 1997) expresses a truth about the ending of a relationship based on infatuation rather than love: “I'm all out of faith, this is how I feel: I'm cold and I am shamed, lying naked on the floor. Illusion never changed into something real; I'm wide awake and I can see the perfect sky is torn.” Indeed, the song's popularity was largely due to the fact that the truth of this description resonated with the song's audience, although somewhat deeper insights into human relationships could perhaps be gained from reading novels like Anna Karenina or Persuasion. Some critics have also suggested a certain artistic falsity in the song: that the pop form belies the seriousness of the lyrics, but de gustibus non est disputandum.
Snapshot of clip from Natalie Imbruglia's “Torn”
In the visual arts, Impressionism was heavily criticised in its early days. G. K. Chesterton, for example, was very distressed at the element of perceived subjectivity in Impressionist paintings. “If you were there, this is what you would have seen” didn't seem to be a sufficient truth for him, although it is difficult to believe that earlier artists painted their subject's essence or quiddity in a way that the Impressionists did not (a century later, one suspects that people simply had to learn how to look at Impressionist paintings).
Even for the following two paintings by van Gogh, it is not clear that the accompanying modern photograph is in any way more “true.” Indeed, in Café Terrace at Night, the artist has captured both the warm artificial light outside the café and the cold light of the distant stars: a combination that the human eye can see more clearly than an ordinary camera:
Vincent van Gogh, Café Terrace at Night, oil on canvas, 1888, and photograph by Rudi Schols
Vincent van Gogh, The Langlois Bridge at Arles, oil on canvas, 1888, and photograph by Rudi Schols
It it is also possible for a song or work of literature to include a statement (say, X) which is definitely false. From a Christian point of view, this would include lyrics such as “the things that you're liable to read in the Bible: it ain't necessarily so” (from the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess). However, framing techniques – placing artistic quotation marks around a statement – can transform such lines into truth (i.e. Certain people say “X”). Often this is done by having a character in a story (other than the protagonist) say the words, in a way that makes clear that the author does not endorse them. In the case of “It Ain't Necessarily So,” the words are sung by Sportin' Life, a drug dealer, and form part of a true portrayal of that character:
Reggie Whitehead singing “It Ain't Necessarily So” from Porgy and Bess (Warsaw Opera, 2008)
Reggie Whitehead's depiction of Sportin' Life has been described as “as close to Mephistopheles as is possible without horns and a tail.” In this case, that is artistic truth. It is also often artistically necessary: one can't truly depict a Frodo or an Aragorn without also having a Sauron or a Saruman.