Plato and Aristotle's Definition of Art

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Two and a half centuries ago in the Mediterranean, the definition of art was not synonymous with the term as we know it. It encompassed painting, sculpting, poetry, and all what he still recognize as art, as well as craftwork, carpentry and similar occupations. Plato was the first to address the nature of art seriously, and did so quite emphatically. Considering it unimportant and even dangerous, he denounced it. His student, Aristotle, who handled the same subject next, held incompatible and sometimes opposing views on the matter. Their views were greatly influenced by their metaphysical beliefs, as were most philosophical theories at the time. In investigating the two philosophers’ conceptions, Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone will be the subject on which they’ll be examined critically.

In order to grasp Aristotle’s views on art it is important to look at his metaphysics first. However, since his metaphysics are essentially a response to the theories of his teacher, it is central to our examinations to familiarize ourselves with Plato’s understanding of the universe. Plato believed that in our reality all existing objects are mere imitations (mimesis) of perfect objects that exist in some nonphysical abstract realm. This ideology, which can be felt in all of Plato’s opus, reveals several important problems with the nature of art. In opposition to Plato, Aristotle’s metaphysics were much more grounded in the physical world. For him, the notion of ‘form’ was present in all of matter and the dissimilarity between it and the actual material that constituted an object was merely an intellectual one. This bears a relation to art since, for both, Plato and Aristotle, art is an imitation. However, the two philosophers interpret the nature...

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...uld have banned, instead of recommend music and stories for the young in the Republic. Plato was more wary of art’s seductive shadow potential than the was aware of its positive potential. Therefore, Plato would most likely have advocated that Antigone only be played in front of an audience well in control of its faculties and prone to little or no emotional reactions.

As has been illustrated, both Plato and Aristotle had compelling arguments and influential ideas about the nature and purpose of art. If Aristotle would most certainly applaud Antigone, then Plato would be far more reserved. One cannot deny that their theories made complete sense in their historical contexts, even though they might not hold up as well in this day and age. Without a doubt, their works have been instrumental in laying down the framework of the philosophy of art for future generations.

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