Plato’s views on art

As part of my attempts to stay sane whilst writing my Masters thesis on the critical examination of fashion as an art form and establish its relationship to the catwalk today, I have decided to upload some of my notes onto the blog. This is the first instalment of what could develop into a literature review. I hope you don’t imminently hate it!

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Plato had a love-hate relationship with the arts. He must have had some love for the arts, because he talks about them often, and his remarks show that he paid close attention to what he saw and heard. He was also a fine literary stylist and a great story-teller; in fact he is said to have been a poet before he encountered Socrates and became a philosopher. Some of his dialogues are real literary masterpieces. On the other hand, he found the arts threatening.

▽ Plato’s views on art

Plato defined art as imitation: it looks like the real thing, but isn’t the real thing. He believed that art was of minimal practical used, and was ready to rid society of artists in his view of an ideal society. It is important to mention that art offered was nothing else in Athens during his time.

No one can deny that art does consist of imitations, or capturing appearances (Danto, 2013), but this has widely changed. During the 18th century, it seemed like imitation disappeared and aesthetics were invented or discovered. From then on, the thought was that art contributed beauty, hence gave pleasure to those with taste (Danto, 2013). Beauty, pleasure and taste were attractive qualities from a societal point of view.

Plato’s view could easily be rejected after the influx of non-imitational art. In his book What art is, Danto (2013) would argue that if some art is imitation and some art is not, neither terms belong to the definition of the word art, as art can only be defined by a word only if it applies to every existing work of art. 

Plato’s definition of art was not dismissed until 1905-7 when the Fauves and the Cubists sprung onto the scene. Looking at more recent artists, one could move away from Plato’s imitation art, as well as the idea that art had to be beautiful.

Marcel Duchamp eradicated beauty in 1915 with his cubist sculptures and Andy Warhol, Pop Art, Minimalism and conceptual art in the 60s made art that wasn’t exactly imitation, but more conceptual. In the 70s, sculpture and photography shifted the centre of artistic awareness and everything was then feasible. This approach to art meant that art has become indefinable, with the inevitable proposition anything cannot be art. 

▽ What to remember

  • Art is imitation
  • A premise that the artist is divinely inspired
  • Art is powerful, and therefore dangerous because of the emotional intensity it holds.
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