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Plato and Aristotle, for example, were both concerned with the question whether art could embody and communicate thruth and knowledge. In the early 18th century, empiricist philosophers such as Hutcheson and Hume were primarly concerned with the standards and logic of our judgements of taste and beauty.

The real impetus to the idea of aesthetics as a distinctive branch of philosophy occured in the work of Baumgarten and Kant. For each came to regard aesthetic consciousness as a significant and unitary element of human existence.

PHIL Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art

Kant argued in the Critique of Judgement, aesthetic judgement provids the essential focus for connecting the theorical and practical aspects of our nature. It can thus reconcile the worlds of nature and freedom. The artist proceeds by imitation but also what copy is the sensible thing is to say an already imperfect reproduction of the Idea. Instead of approaching the truth, it increases the distance that separates her. The latter is used in scientific discourse and is to apply concepts universal prior to singular objects. But a science of art is possible in that art is a production of the spirit Geist , it is not unlike the individual consciousness.

The primary subject of art is not nature but the artist himself, the depths of his soul, emotions, etc..

10 Best Art Philosophy Books

Alain critique this view by stating that the imagination is an illusion and that nothing is given, in the human psyche, an emotional disorder. Thus, to train and protect ideal citizens for an ideal society, the arts must be strictly controlled. 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.

Plato saw the changing physical world as a poor, decaying copy of a perfect, rational, eternal, and changeless original.


The beauty of a flower, or a sunset, a piece of music or a love affair, is an imperfect copy of Beauty Itself. In this world of changing appearances, while you might catch a glimpse of that ravishing perfection, it will always fade. The same goes for other Essences, like Justice. Anyone knows that Real Justice is too much to hope for in this corrupt world.

The best you can find is a rough approximation. To take a third example, the most carefully drawn circle turns out to be irregular if you inspect it closely enough. It is not possible to draw a Real Circle, but only an imperfect physical copy or instance of one.

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If you have ever striven to acheive an ideal, you may have have some sympathy with this part of Plato's philosophy. Other philosophers have called them Universals. Many particular things can have the form of a circle, or of justice, or beauty. For Plato, these Forms are perfect Ideals, but they are also more real than physical objects. He called them "the Really Real". The world of the 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 are stuck in the muck of the physical world. So the best human life is one that strives to understand and to imitate the Forms as closely as possible. That life is the life of the mind, the life of the Philosopher literally, the lover of wisdom. Self control, especially control of the passions, is essential to the soul that wants to avoid the temptations of sensuality, greed, and ambition, and move on to the Ideal World in the next life.

Plato had two theories of art. One may be found in his dialogue The Republic , and seems to be the theory that Plato himself believed.


According to this theory, since art imitates physical things, which in turn imitate 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. Plato's other theory is hinted at in his shorter dialogue Ion , and in his exquisitely crafted 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.

Here are some features of the two theories:. Art is imitation This is a feature of both of Plato's theories. Of course he was not the first or the last person to think that art imitates reality. The idea was still very strong in the Renaissance, when Vasari, in his Lives of the Painters , said that "painting is just the imitation of all the living things of nature with their colors and designs just as they are in nature. Most people still think that a picture must be a picture of something, and that an artist is someone who can make a picture that "looks just like the real thing".

It wasn't until late in the nineteenth century that the idea of art as imitation began to fade from western aesthetics, to be replaced by theories about art as expression, art as communication, art as pure form, art as whatever elicits an "aesthetic" response, and a number of other theories. So art is imitation. But what does it imitate? Here is where Plato's two theories come in. In the Republic , Plato says that art imitates the objects and events of ordinary life. In other words, a work of art is a copy of a copy of a Form.

It is even more of an illusion than is ordinary experience. On this theory, works of art are at best entertainment, and at worst a dangerous delusion.

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A moment's thought will suggest a way of building a more art-friendly theory out of Plato's philosophy. What if the artist is somehow able to make a truer copy of the Forms than our ordinary experience offers? This theory actually appears in Plato's short early dialogue, the Ion. Socrates is questioning a poet named Ion, who recites Homer's poetry brilliantly but is no good at reciting anything else. Socrates is puzzled by this; it seems to him that if Ion has an art, or skill, of reciting poetry he should be able to apply his skilled knowledge to other poets as well.

He concludes that Ion doesn't really possess skilled knowledge. Rather, when he recites Homer, he must be inspired by a god. The Ion drips with sarcasm. Plato didn't take the "art by divine inspiration" theory very seriously.

Aesthetics: Crash Course Philosophy #31

But many ancient, medieval, and modern artists and aestheticians have found it irresistible. After all, aren't artists often inspired? Doesn't their creative genius often produce wonderfully surprising results, about which the artist will say, "I don't know how I did that?

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The view of the artist as inspired revealer of ideal essences fits well with the spirit of Plato's Symposium , a dialogue full of speeches in praise of Love, in which Socrates gives a compelling picture of the ascent from sexual love, to the aesthetic appreciation of beautiful bodies, to the love of beautiful souls, and finally to the the contemplation of the ideal Form of Beauty itself.

The same spirit fills much classic Greek art. Late classical sculpture presents gods and heroes as ideal bodies, built in perfect proportions, and filled with a cool repose, as if they inhabited a perfect and changeless divine world. The classical ideal of the artist as capturing an essence has continued to exert great power, from the Renaissance rediscovery of the Greek canons of proportion to the twentieth century sculptures of Constantin Brancusi , the paintings of Piet Mondrian , and the color theories of Vasily Kandinsky and the Blue Rider der Blaue Reiter group. The idea of the artist as divinely inspired, or even possessed, has also persisted to the present day.

Some of our most common art vocabulary derives from this idea. For example, the word "music" derives from the Greek Muses, the demigods who inspired an artist's work. The notion of "genius" is originally the same; your genius was your personal daimon or inspiring spirit. There are countless paintings from the Renaissance which depict a genius of this sort, or an inspiring muse; and there are some which combine the ideas of inspiration and imitation, showing an artist or musician contemplating a divine ideal, and producing art as a result.

Distinguishing characteristics

An example, which may appear a bit differently to modern eyes than to Renaissance ones, is Titian's "Venus and Music" Venere, Amore e Organista. The idea of genius was strong in the Romantic period, and has certainly not gone away since that time! Problems with the imitation theory. In either of its two versions, as imitations of the world or imitation of an ideal, the imitation theory has problems.