Art is a friendly deception.

Flannery Wilson
3 min readApr 22, 2018

“When philosophy first noticed art it was in connection with the possibility of deception.”

— Arthur Danto

Art is a friendly deception. It must deceive in order to succeed, and it must be friendly in order to keep its audience happy. In fiction, this deception is maintained via a storytelling contract.

The artist or storyteller must stick to the (implicit) storytelling contract, which says that the storyteller must “deceive in good faith” — in ways that I, the viewer, expect and want. My tacit acceptance of the deception enters me into the contract as well.

The art critic aims to highlight and describe deception in art.

In his chapter in The Philosophy of Deception, Alan Strudler distinguishes between better and worse forms of deception…in the context of law.

Deceiving that involves breach of trust and deceiving that involves other forms of manipulation are acceptable under very different circumstances,

says Strudler.

A breach of trust, he argues, is a form of manipulation.

But only some — not all — instances of deception involve a breach of trust. A trustworthy truth-teller is not the same as a reliable truth-teller.

Reliable truth-tellers tell the truth on a consistent basis, but, unlike the trustworthy truth-teller, not necessarily for the right reasons.

I may reliably tell the truth, for example, because someone is always holding a gun to my back.

But here I am acting only as a puppet, forced to tell the truth by a bad guy with bad intentions.

When we watch movies or read books, we depend on trustworthy non-truth-tellers to entertain us.

As long as the filmmaker maintains the deception (or non truth-telling) and the deception is not hidden from its audience, then the filmmaker remains trustworthy.

There are untrustworthy filmmakers, of course, who use lies to manipulate audiences under the pretense of truth.

The deception is only friendly — only beautiful — when it’s transparent; when the storyteller says:

Flannery Wilson

Flannery has a PhD in Comparative Literature. She teaches French, Italian, and visual media. Her book on Taiwanese cinema can be found on Amazon.