Oscar Wilde once said that life imitates art more than art imitates life.
During a recent trip to Florence I had an epiphany. A moment when I felt like I could slip between the gaps in the fabric of reality.
I had stumbled into a wine bar and a spectacle of great theatre was unfolding around me.
The bar hadn’t been easy to find. Down a small side street, drenched in the shadow of the Medici Chapel, the entrance was concealed by a flourishing market. Now inside, perched upon a stack of old wine crates (because there was no real seating to speak of), I cradled a class of Chianti, accessing the scene.
The bar, I suspected, had been there for some time. Old bottles of wine, wearing dusty jackets, occupied shelves that stretched floor to ceiling. A weary clock long since retired, sat gallantly upon the counter top. Old corks had been stuffed into a cove for no apparent purpose and today’s menu was dashed across a chalk board, making a poor job of selling the delectable ingredients that languished behind the deli counter.
The place was haunting, animated and antique.
A great riot erupted from a gaggle of elderly locals to my right. ‘Today is a good day’ said Francesco, gesturing dramatically. ‘He is a Jew’ pointing at his companion. ‘Today is a good day, because he is a Jew and he doesn’t have to pay.’
The Jew took this as a cue to step away from the party and make himself comfortable at my make-shift table without invitation. He was exquisitely dressed, every inch of him elegantly tailored from the soles of his shoes to the tip of his hypnotic nose.
He told me a story of how he’d moved to Italy from Israel as a young man and had been visiting this bar, daily, ever since. He was now in his eighties. He told me how the bar and the people in it were his anchor, how Florence had altered over the years and how he was more in love with this city today than any other day.
Then he waved over a sultry man who reluctantly introduced himself as the Director of a stage show down the street that tells tourists tales of Florence’s lavish history.
Perhaps it was the wine, but as I walked away I couldn’t help but wonder if the encounter was real.
It sparked the outline for a story based around a bar that appeared to be authentic, but was in-fact a piece of living performance art, with the Director, so cleverly, concealed within the cast.
I imagined him and the actors coming to ‘work’ each day and choreographing an experience that left tourists like me with lasting memories, only to go home to their wives and very different lives. Yet as the years pass by, the lines that differentiate reality and real life begin to distort, bringing disorder, chaos and contemplation as the artists are forced to question; what is the relationship between life and art?
It made me wonder how often writers become so absorbed in their craft that they begin to embody their characters, how many authors write about themselves or from their own experiences and if books have predicted things that have happened in real life.
My curiosity drove me to unearth these titillating, entertaining and intriguing cases of life imitating art (or vice versa).
Authors that went on to mimic their characters
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle does a ‘Sherlock Holmes’
As it transpires, long after the creation of Holmes, Doyle played a pivotal role in proving the innocence of two men when he acted as an off-the-books detective, unraveling a case which had sentenced a man to death which lead to the conviction being overturned.
King vs King
Stephen King wrote himself into his eight-volume fantasy saga, Dark Towers. In the sixth book, Song of Susannah, King introduces himself as an author who is writing about gunslinger Roland’s road to the titular destination. Here, the Crimson King makes repeated attempts to kill King (the writer) in an effort to stop the story from continuing, including staging a car accident in 1999. King was seriously injured when a van hit him later that same year!
Writers who have lived their manuscripts
George Orwell lived in slums to get first hand experience and insight for Down and Out in Paris and London.
Hunter. S Thompson became BFF’s with the Hell’s Angels for Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.
Bill Broyles got himself stranded on an isolated island to see what it would take to survive when he was screenwriting for the movie Cast Away.
Authors who’ve predicted the future
Jonathan Swift envisioned two moons for Mars in Gulliver’s Travels in 1735, which was discovered to be true in 1877.
Jules Verne wrote about electric submarines in 1870 in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 90 years before they were invented.
Edward Bellamy introduced us to the concept of credit cards in 1888 in Looking Backwards. It was 1950 before credit cards came onto the market.
H.G. Wells hinted at not only the atomic bomb, but also voicemail in The World Set Free and Men Like Gods respectively in 1923/24. Both became a reality.
Finally, John Brunner foresaw on-demand TV, Satellite TV, Laser Printers, Electric Cars, The EU, Decriminalisation of Marijuana, vilification of the tobacco industry and the downfall of Detroit all in one novel, Stand on Zanzibar, ahead of their actual existence.
Artists that travelled without leaving home
Belgian cartoonist Hergé created Tintin in 1929 and together they travel the globe without one of them ever leaving the comfort of home. Throughout the series of books, TinTin visits far flung destinations that are portrayed in detail with great accuracy, yet Hergé barely left Belgium. In the early years it’s thought Hergé identified with the young TinTin and his impressive knowledge of other countries came as a result of meticulous research which brought his destinations to life.
The truth is there will always be in intimate relationship between life and art. After all, life itself is a creative act. Why wouldn’t there be a rhythm to these things that may not always be visible. In one sense you could say we channel our ideas, our visions and our creativity without knowing where the inspiration comes from, yet the impact it has on life as we know it can be phenomenal.
But art can move and inspire us too. So does life imitate art or does art imitate life?
At first glance it would be easy to cast it off as an insolvable chicken and egg situation, but the answer is actually quite simple. It’s both. Life and art are intrinsically interconnected. They were bound together from the very beginning.
Creative thinking will always be the source of something special that propels the world forwards and it’s unavoidable that the product of that thinking should cycle back and impact us in unforeseen ways.