Friday, November 19, 2010

Philosophy of Art 1.1: Quiz #1 revealed

In my last post, I closed with a quiz.

Jon and Mark quickly answered that this uber-craftsperson who can create everything that grows and lives, and heaven and earth, and the gods and everything in Hades is...


But before we get to that concept in the Platonic Dialogue, we get an amazing image of a person holding a mirror up to the world. Here's Plato from The Republic:

"Perhaps the quickest way of all [i.e. to make the whole of reality] would be to take a mirror, and turn it round in every direction. You will not be long in making the sun and the heavenly bodies, nor in making the earth, nor in making yourself, and every other living thing, and all inanimate objects, and plants, and everything that we mentioned just now."

I love this image: me, the writer, turning slowly with a nice big mirror in my hands, arms outstretched, a penetrating stare, and a sheen of sweat on my brow (think Sally Field in Norma Rae). "Look! World! I present yourselves to you!"

Clearly, the idea that art is like a mirror of reality has been around a long time--at least since around 380 BCE.

But before you get all high and mighty, you writers out there reading this--I'm the creator of the world! I rule all I see! I destroy, I make live! I am a god(dess) among mere mortals!--yeah, before you go there with your spunky, I-am-a-writer dance: read on. Plato didn't think that only good art is like a mirror, he thought that all art is like a mirror, and because of that? All art is bad art.

Wait--all art is bad art?

Yup, Scribblerati and all fans of fiction: it is all BAD! Because it's only an imitation. But that's not the worst of it; not only is art fake, art can only ever be a fake representation of a shadowy, unreal world: it's double-fake. The real world is made up only of ideas (of couches and tables and...). The physical, not-so-real world contains physical couches and tables which are couches and tables because they conform closely enough to the ideal of couches and tables (the ideas of them). They are like shadows of the real thing. So not only do artists create fake couches when we draw or describe them in words, we create a fake of a fake. A double-fake. I'm a double-fake faker!

Last quote and it's a doozy. Hang it near your work space all you artists, for a wee dose of humility:

"The art of imitation is the inferior mistress of an inferior friend and the parent of an inferior progeny."

This double-fake faker is signing off. If you need me, I'll be snuggling with my cruddy, misbegotten child of a novel, bemoaning my crummy, defective nature.


Jon said...


Qlaudie said...

For my part, I'm lounging sexily on my fake couch, drinking a very real Sazarac (the first cocktail ever created, and frankly, it tastes mighty real to me), and listening to my husband pluck out some jazz on the piano... not his own, so an imitation of a fake reality, at best... and yet? And yet? *sigh* PERFECTION. Oh, to live in this un-reality. Bliss, at worse. Bring it on, Philosophers!

Mark Teats said...

Lisa, you are wise, therefore I must accept what you have written here. BUT as an Art major and someone who loves all art, even this:
or this
(Shawn, note the unicorn) I continue on with my happy artist/writer's dance. I can't help myself.

Lisa said...

great links, Mark
I'll be using them in my philosophy of art class this winter.

Note guys and gals that I never said I *agreed* with Plato....

Shawn Enderlin said...

So, if making a couch creates a fake couch (because it's only a shadow of THE COUCH) and if writing about that fake couch is a fakey fake couch, then what about something fake that I've made up that has no basis in reality? Like an illiana tree, or a Saurian?

Seems to me like those would be perfectly perfect.