I can't believe I stumbled across this nodeshell. What luck to be the first! Thank you, whomever you are who left this empty and abandoned.
This quote from Pablo Picasso lies at the very foundations of Modernism stretching forward through Cubism, Expressionism, and Absurdism to right... now!, and backward through Romanticism, neo-Classicism, and Catholicism, etc., back to the very beginnings of myth— the very first time someone at a camp fire piped up and said, "We're all sitting on the back of this really huge turtle."
This is the converse of Chekhov's only slightly earlier axiom, "Art tells the truth," which, while seemingly self-evident, was nearly as radical as Picasso's assertion when pushed to its limits by the good doctor's unflinching and unerring eye, especially in his short stories.
I originally heard this quote as, "Art is a lie...," but the specifying "the" takes the meaning of the statement much deeper: Art is not merely a lie; it is the lie, and the only lie that tells the truth. Thus, if something tells the truth and is also false, it must be art. If it tells the truth, and is also truth, then it must be something other than art, like history or journalism or science. Picasso seems to be saying that it is only by feigning-- or perhaps more charitably, bending-- reality as we perceive it, can we hope to move another person to see something new in a truly new way. Joseph Campbell offers an excellent description of what I'm trying to get at:
Creative artists... are mankind's wakeners to recollection: summoners of our outward mind to conscious contact with ourselves, not as participants in this or that morsel of history, but as spirit, in the consciousness of being. Their task, therefore, is to communicate directly from one inward world to another, in such a way that an actual shock of experience will have been rendered: not a mere statement for the information or persuasion of a brain, but an effective communication across the void of space and time from one center of consciousness to another.
Perhaps this is why some of the best actors I know are terrible liars. I think maybe somewhere deep in their artist's conscience they understand that to use their talent in the service of anything other than good drama, is like when Spider-Man uses his power for personal gain: an opened-up Lamborghini tear down the smooth paved highway to hell.