Plato’s Understanding of Philosophy of ArtJune 27, 2021
What is the place of art in Plato’s ideal state? In both “The State” and “The Laws”, Plato argued that art is subordinate to the state’s good. That is, if art has to be censored for the improvement and reformation of the state, it will be censored.
Plato advocated art that imitated ideal realities, not photographic imitation of the senses and individual experiences. In “The Feast” he said that all beautiful things have a share in the idea of beauty.
Plato’s attack on art is due to the fact that art often presents images and depictions that arouse misleading ideas in the audience. In other words, if people only knew these images and descriptions, they would have adopted the distorted and distorted state of everything from what it actually is. A watercolor painting of the Empire State Building, or a film that offers only a rough approximation of the physical reality of the building, these are so far from the reality they want to describe that they fail as works of art.
“The State” also reveals Plato’s notorious criticism of the visual and imitative arts. These arts are just an exchange of images, not reality. The examples imitated by the artist are not the reality itself, but its shadow. According to Plato, the objects that a painter imitates are already the shadow of the shadow, the imitation of the imitation. In other words, the painter imitates the imitation of the idea, not the idea. On the other hand, words are an even more serious source of illusion. A person skilled in the use of words, especially in speaking or in the art of expression, whether written or spoken, can easily deceive his audience; may lead away from truth and reality.
Intermediate Note: In the X. Book of the State, Plato explained in detail what he found wrong about painting and poetry. In both types, the artist is ignorant of the true nature of the subject of art. The reaction of art advocates is that one can be ignorant and, for example, a wonderful poet at the same time. According to Plato’s example, ignorance about medicine and being considered a specialist doctor are contradictory; whereas Homer’s ignorance shows that one can be a poet without being educated or knowledgeable.
In earlier dialogues, Socrates argues that poets lack wisdom, but he also concedes that “they say many beautiful things.” But in the time of the “State,” it seems that very little remained of the beautiful in poetry or any other branch of the fine arts. In the “State”, Plato’s “ideal state”, most of the poetry and other fine arts will be censored and erased from the historical scene.
Poetic imitation cannot be an imitation of the true nature and qualities of something, as it can be done without resorting to truths.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook