There’s a curious contradiction in the classical ideal of art. On the one hand classical artists sought to celebrate the eternal, the unchanging. Their aim was to create works that would live forever. They made sculptures of gods and goddesses and ideal heroes because these individuals were immortal. On the other hand these same artists copied from nature, and nature is always changing. There is nothing fixed or immortal in nature. That’s why you may have heard the joke, “If you don’t like the weather, stick around. It’ll change.” That’s a joke people make in [fill in literally anywhere in the universe except southern California].
Of course the idea may have been to improve on nature, to capture a moment and prevent it from changing, to freeze it, since absolute zero is the one state in which nothing changes.
The desire to copy nature is why Plato, in The Republic, argued that artists have no place in a perfect society, that they are in fact dangerous. Because artists copy nature, he argued, and because the nature they see is merely a shadow of the true nature, they move us farther away from the ideal.
Anyway watching the changing weather got me thinking about that and how much I hated Plato’s view of artists when I first read it when I was young. And now that I’m older, more mature, now that I’ve read more and thought more and have more experience of the world, well, I can honestly say I hate his view of artists even more.
I can honestly say I love your views more and more, Chris.
And I always appreciate the views offered by your comments.
We’re at the point where art is more perfect and ideal than society. I wonder what Plato would think now.
If I interpret The Republic correctly Plato thought back then that artists were a threat because art offers a false ideal and that only philosophers were fit to lead because they were more in touch with the real ideal, which seems pretty misguided to me. The line between philosophy and art is blurry, if not completely nonexistent, and if art offers an ideal then it gives us something to strive for.
Actually, art has always been more ideal than the society it’s meant to reflect…