Terry from Derry: Seeing is Believing
By Terry Boyle
Some people think of art as a mirror that reflects who we are, warts and all. However, since the emergence of photoshop, we can now doctor our reality and we can no longer believe everything we see.
Reality has become a matter of perspective. It is highly subjective and allows us to blind ourselves to what we choose to edit out. Contrary to this need for self-satisfaction, true art, in its many various forms, is inherently subversive and challenges us. The best art confronts our innate desire to blind ourselves to the truth by forcing us to come to terms with our denial of what is blatantly obvious.
A good example of the subversive nature of art is J.M Synge’s play, The Well of Saints. Mary and Martin, a blind married couple, are happily living with their belief that they are the most beautiful of people.
In a strange turn of events, a holy man arrives in their village and is enticed by the villagers to perform a miracle. Of course, restoring sight to the blind couple is deemed by all to be a great sign and wonder.
Having never seen each other, Martin, when receives his sight, mistakenly rushes to a beautiful young woman that he believes to be Mary. The mistaken identity is witnessed by Mary who is undergoing her own reality check. Martin is not the handsome man she thought him to be.
With eyes wide open, they are forced to see the cruel pettiness of those around them. Village life will never be the same for Mary and Martin, who are now keenly aware of their surroundings.
As their despair begins to climax, blindness, once again, descends on them. So, that when the saint returns, the couple are brought out to be healed for a second time, only this time they less than enthusiastic about receiving their sight back. They disrupt the service and refuse to be healed. Eventually, they are alienated from the village. In their exile they find that they are content with the gift of blindness.
The human tendency to blind itself against unpleasant realities is superbly captured in Synge’s work. Rather than face the truth, we romanticize, create mythologies, and avoid what lies in front of us.
My mother used to say, ‘love is blind, and marriage is an eye-opener’. We never want to marry our ideals. To do so, those same ideals would lose their charm. Instead, we prefer to keep the illusion alive while blinding ourselves to our own deceptiveness.
Art, in our day, has an important role to play. We live in a country where a significant power broker is blinded by his own ego. In his unseeing world, everything that threatens his blind reality is quashed with empty rhetoric.
To those of us who daily witness his ignorance and incredible small-mindedness, we wonder at those who have blinded themselves to his lies. It may be, as Synge suggests, that human nature is incapable of facing its true condition, but there are those, the artists among us, who see what we choose to avoid seeing. It is their job to find ways to restore our sight.
The artist must rouse and discomfort us. It is the artist who must perform the task of disillusioning us of our blind obedience to dominant ideologies that foster corruption and injustice. Indeed, there are many artists, modern day prophets, who force us to see the dystopia we are creating for ourselves when we deny the consequences of climate change, radicalized dissident groups through our political bullying, and refuse to accept responsibility for our actions.
The nightmare they present to us is fast becoming a reality. It is no longer something in the future to be feared. No, when the blinkers are off we will have to reckon with the fact that we are already living in a dystopia of our own making.
The warnings of Orwell’s 1984 are now realized. Big brother, disinformation, and domination by political elites are the Frankenstein’s monster we have created. We made this scenario happen. It did not simply evolve on its own.
We watched it develop as our democracy was undermined by politicians who cared more about their ego than their constituents. It was us who ignored the warnings of scientists and continued to pollute our planet.
The future of our world is irrevocably changed because of us and those who come after us will see for themselves that we are the culprits. They will look back on our blind ignorance and wonder why we didn’t see it coming.
Mary and Martin cannot live with seeing life as it is since it stops them believing in the fantasy they have created for themselves. The world is not as we blindly wish it to be. We are on the edge of a major catastrophe pretending that if we shut our eyes it will go away but it won’t. No matter how much play down the actions of our greed, the results of our exploitation of natural resources, destruction of the planet’s gift to us…the air we breathe, we continue to refuse to see the harm we are doing.