Copenhagen currently hosts two interesting exhibitions of paintings by Gauguin and Lautrec. Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) were contemporaries who used different techniques to paint marvelous pictures of two different societies.
The first painted the primitive inhabitants of Polynesia while the second painted the sophisticated Parisians in the late 19th century. Their different styles can be appreciated in the following two paintings.
While Lautrec choose to depict the theater and brothel-going Parisian bourgeoisie drawn in bizarre drawings to give us a sarcastic view of his epoch, Gauguin has drawn the native Polynesian girls in a favored way to make them look much prettier than they really were.
In fact both gave us distorted views of reality. Have they lied to us? Yes and no.
They would have lied if their intent was to give us a realistic representation of those two different societies. However, as they simply wanted to criticize the vanity of the Parisians and the simplicity of the Polynesians they did so in a truthful and beautiful way.
Moreover, despite using simple colors and drawings, they also demonstrate that they dominated the drawing and painting techniques often only associated with the realist painting school. This is in contrast to most of the modern artists currently shown at the Copenhagen Modern Art Museum who do not need to know how to draw or to paint.
To sum up, art in general, and painting in particular, are aimed at arousing our aesthetic emotions in relation to humankind and nature; and this can be done using realism or abstraction with recourse to friendly or vicious approaches. Technique in itself may also generate admiration but it is not essential for the aesthetic arousal of bad and good emotions. Neither is the pursuit of beauty the sole purpose of art. However, the happiness of humankind is better served by an abundance of beauty and good sentiments.