Feb
09
2009

What is meant by “Life Imitates Art”?

Life Imitates Art (photo by chascow - CC-BY)

Life Imitates Art (photo by chascow - CC-BY)

The curious notion of life imitating art was expressed by Oscar Wilde as “Life imitates art, more than art imitates life“. It’s a turnaround from the usual situation in which the artist creates art inspired by the life and world around them. When life imitates art, reality reflects what had previously been expressed in art (or literature, drama, etc).

Pedestrian examples of life imitating art are commonplace. The author JK Rowling only needs to write a few books, and before you know it there is an upsurge in the number of new humans being named Hermione. Barack Obama’s election to the presidency was preceded by at least six movies that depicted dark-skinned presidents of the United States. And many times a slogan from an advertising campaign or a catch-phrase from a movie has caught on in the real world. D’oh!

The most eclectic and fun examples of life imitating art are surely those which have arisen from the quirky geek comic strip xkcd.

In one example, the girl in the comic says “It’s rule 34 of the internet: if you can imagine it, there’s porn of it”. The guy disagrees, saying that there are no women playing electric guitar in the shower. A month later, there were plenty.

In the second example, the comic depicts a complex way to derive a pair of latitude/longitude co-ordinates from the opening level of the Dow stock index. Soon, xkcd groupies were using their GPS devices to meet up at these randomly-generated locations, despite the problems that could arise when the locations were across a country border, in the ocean, or on private property guarded by an angry rancher with firearms.

Geohashing wasn’t xkcd’s first use of geographical co-ordinates. A previous strip had included some co-ordinates and a date, and a closing comment that “wanting something doesn’t make it real“. But of course it did make it real, and when the appointed date arrived dozens of fans found their way to the co-ordinates for a spontaneous happening.

The best, in my opinion, was when the comic featured characters gluing chess pieces to a board so that they could be photographed playing chess on a roller coaster. And here is the life that imitated the art.

The saying “Life Imitates Art” can also be found in a stronger form: “Truth is stranger than fiction“, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

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