It’s a big and complicated question. In the red corner stands Aristotle who says “…art partly completes what nature cannot bring to a finish, and partly imitates her.” In the blue corner is Oscar Wilde who says in The Decay of Lying that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”. It’s like the famous question “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” There isn’t really a solid answer but it’s interesting to think about.
Art imitating life.
There are lots of examples of art imitating life. Have you seen this iconic picture before?
On October 1895, the Granville–Paris Express entered Gare Montparnasse above the speed limit and the brakes failed. This is the result. It crashed through the buffers, ploughed its way along the station concourse and broke through the wall landing on the street below. Thankfully only one person was killed. The scene from the film Hugo draws direct inspiration to this crash (The Montparnasse derailment) with the engine ending in the same position.
Another example. Spiderman is responsible for Ankle Tracking Monitors. Let me explain, in a Spiderman Comic published in 1977, the web head is trapped by one of his villains called Kingpin in an electrical radar device (we would call it a tracker). You can see why this would be a problem for the wall crawler he can’t go home or go to his allies because the Kingpin will know their location and he can’t attack one of the Kingpin’s bases because he will be seen him coming. Needless to say, Spiderman escaped this tracker after a while and things return to normal. The idea was picked up by Jack Love, who was a judge. He told his friend Michael Goss, a computer programmer and within four years, twenty one states in America were using a similar device to monitor offenders.
Let’s look at the other side of the argument.
Life imitating art.
Historical figures and events can be turned into art. The iconic portrait of King Henry VIII is life (King Henry) being turned into art (the portrait). Biographies are another good example. The person writes about their experiences and memories and turns it into an art form.
The following examples are more… eerie.
The Wreck of the Titan was published in 1898 and tells the story of a passenger ship called the Titan sinking after hitting an iceberg. The novella was published years before HMS Titanic was even thought of but when the Titanic sank the circumstances were familiar. Aside from having similar names both ships were deemed “unsinkable” and were the biggest of their time. Both ships were carrying too few life boats and couldn’t evacuate half their passengers and both ships were struck by icebergs on their starboard sides near midnight in the month of April, 400 nautical miles from Newfoundland, in the North Atlantic whilst traveling at very similar speeds. 2200 passengers died on the Titanic, 2500 fictional passengers on the Titan.
Sticking with the nautical theme has anyone ever read The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe? Spoiler alert if you haven’t read it: one scene takes place on a strickened whaling ship which contains four crewmen. They decided to eat their cabin boy Richard Parker (No relation to Peter Parker who we have just discussed). It isn’t one of Poe’s most famous works and he was quoted as saying it was a “very silly book” but it was apparently based from true events although we’re not entirely sure what. It is known that it wasn’t based of the event of the Mignonette a stricken whaling ship containing four crew members who thought it best to eat their cabin boy named Richard Parker. That took place in 1884 whereas Poe wrote his novel in 1838. If only young Richard had read that book before choosing a life at sea…
So does life imitate art or does art imitate life? I’m not one to argue with either Aristotle or Wilde but I honestly can’t decide.
What do you think?