Plato I Plato is one of the world's best known and most widely read and studied philosophers. He was the student of Socrates and the teacher of Aristotle, and he wrote in the middle of the fourth century B.C.E. in ancient Greece. Though influenced primarily by Socrates, to the extent that Socrates is usually the main character in many of Platos writings, he was also influenced by Heraclitus, Parmenides (theory of Forms), and the Pythagoreans.
Plato II There are varying degrees of controversy over which of Platos works are authentic, and in what order they were written, due to their antiquity and the manner of their preservation through time. Nonetheless, his earliest works are generally regarded as the most reliable of the ancient sources on Socrates, and the character Socrates that we know through these writings is considered to be one of the greatest of the ancient philosophers.
Plato III Platos middle to later works, including his most famous work, the Republic, are generally regarded as providing Platos own philosophy, where the main character in effect speaks for Plato himself. These works blend ethics, political philosophy, moral psychology, epistemology, and metaphysics into an interconnected and systematic philosophy. It is most of all from Plato that we get the theory of Forms, according to which the world we know through the senses is only an imitation of the pure, eternal, and unchanging world of the Forms. Plato's works also contain the origins of the familiar complaint that the arts work by inflaming the passions, and are mere illusions
Plato V Plato's influence on western culture generally is a very strong one, and this includes a strong influence on the arts, and on theories of art. In the case of the arts and aesthetic theory that influence is mostly indirect, and is best understood if one knows a little bit about his philosophy.
Philosophy The changing physical world is a poor, decaying copy of a perfect, rational, eternal, and changeless original. The beauty of a flower is an imperfect imitation of Beauty itself. Other essences such as Justice is impossible in the real world. A geometrical shape such as a Circle is a mathematical ideal.
PLATOS FORMS I According to Plato, things which fall under a common name, like chair, or table, bed, must have something in common By virtue of which they are called by that name. This something in common is the essence of that kind of thing, which Plato calls the form oridea of that thing. Today, Platos forms or ideas are more commonly called universals, and it is the nature of a universal that it can have instances. Thus, there can be any number of instances of chairs, tables, or beds, and that which all chairs, for instance, share is the essence of chair or chairness.
Platos Forms II Beauty, Justice, and the Circle are all examples of Forms or Ideas. Forms or universals are perfect ideals but they are also more real than physical objects. The world of Forms is rational and unchanging; the world of physical appearances is changeable and irrational, and only has reality to the extent that it succeeds in imitating the Forms. The mind or soul belongs to the ideal world; the body and its passions to the physical world. The best human life is one that strives to imitate the Forms as closely as possible. That life is the life of the mind, the life of the philosopher
PLATOS FORMS III A form or universal can be apprehended by the mind, but not by the senses. In apprehending the form of something, the mind is acquainted with the reality of that thing, and knows the truth about it. Thus it is the mind which knows, not the senses, and this is the beginning of rationalism in philosophy. Each concept named by a word such as bed has its own single form or universal.
PLATOS FORMS VI For Plato, the forms are more real than the copies of them in the world of space and time. Plato: The forms in nature are due to God, whether from choice or necessity. Here nature does not refer to the world of space-time, but to the world of forms, which is an abstract, spaceless, timeless reality.
Platos Forms V Only one form of each thing is possible, since, if two forms of something like a bed existed, they would each have bedness in common, and so there would be a third form which each shared. This third form would seem to be the real or ideal form which the other forms have in common. However, the first and third form would also have bedness in common, and so there would be a fourth form shared by the first and third form. But then the form shared by the third and fourth form would have bedness in common, and so a fifth form would be needed to account for the bedness shared as indicated. This generates an infinite regress of forms, not a single form, and because God knew this would result, he/she created a single bed which is the form of bed.
THE INFINITE REGRESS OF FORMS Bed 2Bed 1 Bed 3 Bed 4 Bed 5 Bed 6 Bed 1 and bed 2 have bed 3 in common. Bed 2 and bed 3 have bed 4 in common. Bed 3 and bed 4 have bed 5 in common. Bed 4 and bed 5 have bed 6 in common, and so on, ad infinitum. 2 1 2 3 3 4 4 5
ART AND THE FORMS I A carpenter makes a bed for use in accordance with the form or idea of bed. A carpenters bed is a copy of the form or idea of bed. He does not make the form itself. Plato calls an instance of a form or universal an imitation of that form in being a copy of the original. Hence a three-dimensional bed in space- time is an imitation of the form of bed in the abstract reality of Platos world of forms.
ART AND THE FORMS II If a bed made by a carpenter is an imitation, then a painting of a bed is an imitation of an imitation. Platos view is the origination of the view of art as imitation, and of the artist as imitator. God is the maker of the form of bed, the bed of the carpenter is a three-dimensional copy of this form, and the painter of the bed is third in line who makes a two-dimensional copy of the carpenters copy.
BEDS Vincent Van Goghs painting of his bed, excerpted from his painting Bedroom at Arles, 1888. For Plato, a painting of a bed represents an imitation of an imitation. A carpenters bed. For Plato, such a bed is an imitation of the form bed. THE FORM BED
PAINTING IS APPEARANCE, NOT REALITY Plato says that you may look at a bed from different points of view, obliquely or directly or from any other point of view, and the bed will appear different, but there is no difference in reality. All external world objects are seen, and must be represented, in perspective, or from a particular point of view. However, the mind grasps the form of the bed from no point of view, and we grasp that a bed is an instance of the form of bed no matter from what angle it is viewed. This is what Plato means by saying that there is no difference in reality. Thus painting can only give appearance, not reality. For Plato, philosophy acquaints us with reality, not art.
ART AND THE FORMS III For Plato, art is an imitation of an imitation – like Van Goghs bed - and hence goes in the wrong direction from truth. Art takes us away from, not closer to, the truth. For Plato, it is through philosophy that we know the truth, not art. Painting is not even an imitation of things as they are, but only as they appear. And Plato thinks that The real artist... would be interested in realities, and not in imitations. Painting gives us, not truth, but appearance. According to Plato, the arts, such as painting, are concerned with appearance, whereas philosophy is concerned with the truth. That is a main point of his allegory of the cave, in which the prisoners of the cave take shadows to be the truth when, in fact, they are only appearances.
Platos View: Art is Essentially Mimesis Art was useless: It serves no useful purpose in society. As a "Imitation of Nature" it added no knowledge. –No intellectual value- (The same value could be added by simply by holding up a mirror to the world which would be far less costly.) According his metaphysics, art is an imitation of an imitation, thus barely real at all.
Platos View: Art is Essentially Mimesis Art was potentially dangerous for several reasons : A.) Art was essentially deceptive. –The whole aim of art was to deceive. Success was achieved when the spectator mistook an imitation for reality. –Furthermore, artists were unconcerned with facts/truth. It made no difference to artists nor to the success of their works whether the images or stories they depict were real or their messages true or good.
Platos View: Art is Essentially Mimesis Art was politically dangerous, a threat to the common good. –Similar to the point made earlier (c), Plato worried that strong art which appeals to emotions stirs up negative emotions which we are trying to control. –But this is more than just a problem for the individual. For a people with a history of "mania," strong, emotion-stirring art is rightly seen as a threat to the good of state/community. –It was, therefore correctly the concern of government.
Platos View: Art is Essentially Mimesis Art was potentially dangerous for several reasons: A.) Art was essentially deceptive. B.) Art was mainly concerned with sensual pleasure. C.) Further, Art was psychologically de-stabilizing. (for the individual) D.) Art leads to immorality. E.) Art was politically dangerous. (threat to the common good)
Platos View there is an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry; of which there are many proofs, such as the saying of 'the yelping hound howling at her lord,' or of one 'mighty in the vain talk of fools,' and 'the mob of sages circumventing Zeus,' and the 'subtle thinkers who are beggars after all'; and there are innumerable other signs of ancient enmity between them. Notwithstanding this, let us assure our sweet friend and the sister arts of imitation that if she will only prove her title to exist in a well-ordered State we shall be delighted to receive her --we are very conscious of her charms; but we may not on that account betray the truth.
Platos View If her defense fails, then, my dear friend, like other persons who are enamoured of something, but put a restraint upon themselves when they think their desires are opposed to their interests, so too must we after the manner of lovers give her up, though not without a struggle. We too are inspired by that love of poetry which the education of noble States has implanted in us, and therefore we would have her appear at her best and truest; but so long as she is unable to make good her defense, this argument of ours shall be a charm to us, which we will repeat to ourselves while we listen to her strains; that we may not fall away into the childish love of her which captivates the many.
Platos View At all events we are well aware that poetry being such as we have described is not to be regarded seriously as attaining to the truth; and he who listens to her, fearing for the safety of the city which is within him, should be on his guard against her seductions and make our words his law.
Platos View Entire Republic can be seen as an argument for allowing Philosophy to do the work accorded to Poetry In Platos defense, today it is widely agreed that the arts do not produce the kind of reliable knowledge or moral wisdom that the sciences and philosophical argument produce. (And Artist still bay at Science and Philosophy) But do we beg the question against the arts by looking exclusively for propositional knowledge (see renderings of molecules). Arthur Danto reminds us, "Plato did not precisely propose that art was mimesis, but that mimetic art was pernicious."
PROBLEMS WITH PLATOS VIEW I Plato assumes that truth is the only thing that matters, and that only philosophy can give us the truth. However, it must be asked if philosophical truth and knowledge of the forms is the only kind of truth and knowledge which matter. What about, for instance, the knowledge of human nature, society, and the human condition provided by literature and drama? Could there not be some truths which can only be got through the arts rather than the sciences or philosophy? What about the possibilities of artistic creation and invention that are demonstrated by the arts themselves? Does this not give us the truth about those possibilities?
PROBLEMS WITH PLATOS VIEW II Not only does Plato fail to consider that the arts might give us a kind of truth which philosophy or science cannot, but he does not recognize that the arts might be valuable for reasons other than the truth. For instance, what about beauty and aesthetic experience? Are these not as important and valuable to us as human beings as philosophical truth? He also fails to consider that, although the truth provided by the arts may not be novel, and may perhaps be more clearly articulated by philosophy, that the artistic statement of truth may, in virtue of having an aesthetic dimension lacking in philosophy, be more culturally valuable for that reason.
PROBLEMS WITH PLATOS VIEW III Even if it were true that art does not result in, but takes us away from the truth – and we have seen reason to question this - could we not yet say that beauty can be as valuable to us as truth? Platos theory seems to make man one-dimensional - an instrument of reason - but are we not also beings capable of feeling? And are not thoughts and feelings each addressed by the arts in significant ways? Is not our need to address and reward the affective aspect of ourselves as important to what we are as being truth seekers? I think that we can view philosophy, science, and art as different but equally important aspects of culture. Platos theory of art as imitation seems too naïve and circumscribed a view of the arts to do justice to this larger cultural view.
Art as Imitation 2. The Artist as an Inspired Genius Plato had two theories of art: art as imitation, and the artist as an inspired prophet or genius. In his dialogue, the Republic, he states that art imitates physical things, which in turn imitates the Forms. Art is always a copy of a copy, and leads us even further from truth and toward illusion. For this reason, as well as because of its power to stir the emotions, art is dangerous.
The Artist as a Prophet Platos other theory is hinted at in his shorter dialogue, Ion, and his Symposium. According to this theory, the artist, perhaps by divine inspiration, makes a better copy of the True than may be found in ordinary experience, thus the artist is a kind of prophet.
The Persistence of the Two Theories in the Renaissance and the Romantic Period The idea of art as an imitation of reality was very strong in the Renaissance when Vasari, in his Lives of Painters, said that painting is just the imitation of all the living things of nature with their colours and designs just as they are in nature. Late in the 19 th century the theory of art as imitation was replaced by theories about art as expression, art as communication. Art as pure form, art as reception…etc. The idea of the artist as a prophet or an inspired genius whose art work is a unique imitation of reality was very strong in the Romantic period.
Art is Powerful and Dangerous In Platos view poetry, drama, music, painting, dance, all stir up our emotions and influence our behaviour. Thus, music and the other arts should be taught to the young in his ideal republic, provided that it should be censored to present only the good. Platos allegory of the Cave in which the arts are viewed as shadows on the walls of a cave rather than shining symbols of the true world outside reveals that he saw that art might reveal the truth, but it might also delude us by preventing a true knowledge of ourselves and the world.
GOMBRICH ON ART AND REPRODUCTION I Ernest Gombrich: There are limits to objectivity, to reproducing nature or subject matter as exactly as possible. Gombrich: The following things influence an artists attempt to reproduce something with the utmost fidelity: –The artists personality or temperament; –His or her selective preferences. The angle at which an object is pictured and from what distance will have to be determined, as will what will be emphasized and what not; –The style(s) of the artist (e.g. Picasso); –The style(s) of the period in which the artist exists (e.g. Cubism, Fauvism, Abstract Expressionism).
Cubism Fauvism Expressionism Cubism is characterised by the reduction and fragmentation of natural forms, e.g., Guernica. Fauvism is marked by the use of bold, often distorted forms and vivid colours. Expressionism emphasised subjective expression of the artists inner experiences.
EMILE ZOLA: ART IS A CORNER OF NATURE SEEN THROUGH A TEMPERAMENT. Landscape, Chaim Soutine, 1921 The Hay Wain, John Constable, 1821