What is Art as Mimesis, and What Does It Mean?

What is Art as Mimesis, and What Does It Mean?

June 26, 2021 Off By Felso

While Aristotle is expected to establish an art theory on poesis in his Poetics, he moves from the concept of mimesis and shapes his theory of art around this concept. According to him, art exists as mimesis. For Aristotle, mimesis is not only an activity constituting the essence of art, but also an instinct unique to humans. In other words, mimesis also has a psychological basis.

“What is mimesis as mimesis?” Aristotle answers the question:

“The art of poetry, in general, seems to owe its existence to two main reasons rooted in human nature. The first of these is the instinct of imitation, which is inherent in humans; they differ from all other living things especially in their extraordinary ability to imitate, and they acquire their first knowledge through imitation. ”

According to Aristotle, mimesis is the main feature of man and a basic human instinct. Mimesis is the basis of all human creation and all human knowledge. Because human is “zoon mimetikataton” for Aristotle.

Art as Mimesis

Aristotle, who determined mimesis as a human-specific quality, put it on the basis of his thoughts on art. According to Aristotle, every knowledge and every art is a mimesis. Mimesis takes place in the arts in a certain way. The artist imitates objects using certain tools. Aristotle first distinguishes the arts in terms of the means used to imitate. Music by using the word, dance using the rhythm, figurative arts by using colors and figures.

Art as Mimesis

Secondly, the arts differ from each other in the manner of imitation. While Aristotle makes this distinction, the determinant of the imitation object is an ethical valuation. “Each of the imitations mentioned shows this difference by being different from the other in terms of imitating different (good, true, bad) actions.”

The fact that people are the object of imitation because they are good, average or below average determines the ethical aspect of art. For Aristotle, art has a moral life, a soul. It is the moral characteristic of the person who is the object of imitation that determines the ethical aspect of the art of imitation. If the person who is the object of imitation is good, imitation will also be good, that is, moral. Aristotle also morally examines the imitator (poet, writer, etc.) in terms of the object of imitation.

“Why do some poets imitate bad characters and others imitate good characters?” gives the following answer:

“The art of poetry takes two directions in accordance with the characters of the poets; for the dignified and noble poets imitate the good and noble actions of morally good and noble persons, while the promiscuous poets imitate the actions of people of low nature.”

There is no doubt that Aristotle’s identification of the ethical world with the aesthetic world is a big mistake. The reason why Aristotle fell into this error was that ‘good and beautiful’ were considered to be interconnected with a substantial bond in Greek thought at that time. Aristotle, who grew up in this value tradition, could not distinguish between ‘good and beautiful’.

See also:

Aristotle’s concept of beauty

Compiled by: Sociologist Ömer Yıldırım
Source: Atatürk University Department of Sociology Lecture Notes for Grade 1 “Introduction to Philosophy” and Grade 3 “History of Contemporary Philosophy” (Ömer YILDIRIM)