Descriptive and Critical Assessment of Plato’s Theory of Art
The Republic presents Plato's vision of the ideal state, covering a wide range of
topics: social, educational, psychological, moral, and philosophical. It also includes
some of Plato's most important writing on the nature of reality and the theory of
In The Republic, Plato offers his conception of the ideal state, which
achieves harmony when in accord with the individual and with the same process. The
central issue in devising an ideal state is justice, and in examining this conception
and the general structure and operation of the ideal state, Plato makes a direct
comparison and connection between the individual state and the individual citizen.
Both have a soul, and these souls are composed of three parts in each case. The sort
of class structure Plato envisions also has a three-part structure, with the rulers
at the top, followed by a class of soldiers and then the mass of citizens.
the allegory of the cave to show that most people live in a world of opinion or shadows,
prohibiting their participation in the state. Only when they come out of the cave
(i.e. leave the shadows) to participate in knowledge and ideas can individuals come
to know the truth and the good Glaucon's speech seduces Socrates for it is in itself
Glaucon has forcibly argued for the superiority of the unjust life, something truly
unjust men would never do in public. Socrates says that there is no better topic
to debate. In response to the two views of injustice and justice presented by Glaucon
and Adeimantus, he claims incompetence, but feels it would be impious to leave justice
in such doubt. The Republic sets out to define justice.
Plato’s critic of art falls
into three principle areas, those of “mimesis”, moral corruption and political threat.
However there are several key problems with this theory.
It is difficult to apply criticisms of imitation to purely abstracted arts which
are deliberately none representational both in musical and visual art forms. This
is equally true when addressing “Readymade” art forms such as Duchamp’s Fountain
or “Found Objects”, in which the craftsman’s work is utilised without any physical
alterations by the artist. In fact what would Plato’s response be to works such as
James Turrell’s “Deer Shelter” which frames they sky itself?
Moral corruption is almost always the root justification for repression, art is no
stranger to this and perhaps it is in part Plato’s continuing influence, that artists
continue to associate with the cultural imagery of deviance.
Plato equates art with seduction and depravity, equally fearing both mental and physical
pleasures, yet he seeks the ‘truth’. Where as Nietzshe argues the passage to this
‘truth’ can only be found and achieved through the embracement of Plato’s greatest
fears, through “intoxication”, “a complete forgetting of the self” and “joyful penetrating
of the whole of nature.”
Any form of growth, artistic, moral or other, is dependent on the question of how
mankind is to better itself if it does not build on what has gone before? Plato could
not counter these arguments even to his contemporaries in light of Aristotle’s evidence
Art is political and is continually linked with political movements.
However Plato fails to appreciate that it is through censorship and state totalitarianism
that art has historically achieved most political power. Plato viewed art as a political
danger because it threatened his hierarchical division of labour.
It is challenging
to support Platonian notions, when we value constitutional freedoms as paramount,
however it is easy to forget that Plato’s society was one which was constructed on
slavery and indentured service.
“The Republic” Plato. Penguin Classics
“Some Notes on Plato and Aristotle and Mimetic Theory of Art” www.fiu.edu/~hauptli/TheMimeticTheoryofArt.ppt