Friday, May 22, 2009

Thomas Cromwell on The Tudors: "Surely All Art is a Lie"

The Tudors third season wraps up this Sunday on Showtime - I had the pleasure of seeing the final episode in this short season On Demand (and I can tell you Catherine Howard is young, saucy, and naked) - but I wanted to say a few words here about the impressive media savvy displayed by Thomas Cromwell in the next to last episode (3.7).

You may recall, last season, that I praised Cromwell's keen understanding of the relationship of the printer and the monarch, a theme which I explored in my nonfiction book, The Soft Edge.

Last week, Cromwell caught my attention again with a remark he makes to the painter Holbein, who wants to clarify that Cromwell wants Holbein to create a flattering portrait of Anne of Cleves, whatever she may really look like. "Surely all art is a lie," Cromwell sagely replies. And indeed, as I also explore in The Soft Edge, and teach my students in "Intro to Communication and Media Studies" regarding symbols and signals, a painted portrait is an entirely human concoction (or symbol), and thus in principle a subjective or inevitably deceptive depiction of reality, in contrast to a photograph, which although it can deceive, has an intrinsic connection to the real world (light bouncing off the world onto the photographic plate, etc), and thus has an irreducible element of truth (a signal).

Good for Cromwell and the writers and producers of The Tudors for saying that - and in fewer words than I just did.

As for Cromwell ... well, you surely know his history, and I'll miss him.

Meanwhile, whatever Anne of Cleves may have looked like, I certainly found Joss Stone, who portrayed her, attractive enough. But I guess acting, too, is an art...

See also The Tudors, Season 3: Hard History and Sweet Flesh

5-min podcast review of The Tudors

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