Thursday, March 10

Plato condemns imitative art

I came across with this educational blog where a teacher asks the students to read an excerpt of Plato's Republic and answer one of the five questions.
The answers are very good and I did chose this one to share with you because it is a issue that is still discussed: art and representation of reality.

1. Plato criticizes art that is “imitative.” What exactly does Plato mean by “imitative” art? And why is he so critical of it? Plato believes that art is imitative because it is a representation of an object’s true form. The question and answer between Socrates and Glaucon in Plato’s Republic explains this concept with the example of a bed. God designed the ideal of a bed; He is “the author of this and of all other things” (Section I). A craftsperson will make a functional representation of this bed, the bed that humans will actually sleep on. While this crafstperson is a secondary maker of God’s original plan, the artist is accordingly a tertiary maker. The artist is removed from the forms, or “perfect ideals” (Plato’s Aesthitcs) that constitute all earlthy things. For examply, as is outlined in Plato’s Aesthitcs, the mathematical idea of a circle varies greatly from the human representation of one.
Humans cannot recreate a mathematically proportional circle, because the measurements will always be slightly off. Therefore a true circle only exists in an ideal or Godly universe, not on Earth. Accordingly, Plato’s philosophies argue that the same concept would ring true with the artist’s representation of a bed. Since even the crafsperson’s recreation of a bed is not totally accurate or Godly, an artist’s drawing, painting, or other creative expression of a bed will be even farther removed from the original divine design.
Plato was critical of imitative art because he believed that it led humans away from the real or true forms in the universe, in other words, from the ideal of God. Plato describes artists and poets in Republic; “they copy images of virtue and the like, but the truth they never reach” (Section II). Creative expression could be dangerous because it would lead humans away from focusing their attentions on the otherworldy, leading them into temptation instead of towards God.
"Mimesis", μίμησις (mīmēsis), is the Greek concept for imitation and we will see it in another post.

Update February, 11, 2013
The mimetic theory is explained at this post.


Clouds and Daffodils said...

Yesterday I was looking for a certain Auden poem and then I found this one:

No, Plata, No

I can’t imagine anything
that I would less like to be
than a disincarnate Spirit,
unable to chew or sip
or make contact with surfaces
or breathe the scents of summer
or comprehend speech and music
or gaze at what lies beyond.
No, God has placed me exactly
where I’d have chosen to be:
the sub-lunar world is such fun,
where Man is male or female
and gives Proper Names to all things.

I can, however, conceive
that the organs Nature gave Me,
my ductless glands, for instance,
slaving twenty-four hours a day
with no show of resentment
to gratify Me, their Master,
and keep Me in decent shape
(not that I give them their orders,
I wouldn’t know what to yell),
dream of another existence
than that they have known so far:
yes, it well could be that my Flesh
is praying for ‘Him’ to die,
so setting Her free to become
irresponsible Matter.

(copied from

Ana said...

I was asked yesterday "what os your favorite word?" and I said that "daffodils came to my mind now."
Guess we were telepathically reading it.
Thank you.
I really liked the poem.

Steve Bossenberger said...

I like your Plato Posts. Being a teacher of history and philosophy in the past, I am very familiar with his work. This gave me some good ideas.
Have a great weekend

Ana said...

I hope you write something about it.