I have always been interested in various philosophical approaches to the theory of art. Are artists ‘divinely inspired’ or is there merely rational intention underlying their work? Or is all art in a postmodern world, merely a re synthesis and reinterpretation of what has previously occurred?
On the other hand, is it that each era fits into one of these theories of art and the theory was true at that time? I have also been interested in the Platonic Dialogue and the development of classical theories of art from the divine inspiration model to a more rationalists Aristotelian approach.
That is why I decided to create a Platonic Dialogue where amongst others Aristotle and Plato get together to discuss these theories and concepts of art. What I will attempt to do is to have each of them explain their theory of art by reference to some of the great artworks throughout the ages. There are a number of challenges involved in this. I need to deal with these huge classical theoretical templates but make them somehow relevant and contemporary.
To satisfy the classicists, I will attempt to write the dialogue especially between Plato and Aristotle in a manner consistent with the original Platonic Dialogues and in somewhat archaic language. The dialogue will be set in the Realm of Forms, thereby alluding to Plato’s famous theory suggesting a place of perfection, some type of heaven.
To satisfy a more contemporary audience this Realm of Forms will be in part, and perhaps ironically, set and disseminated via the Internet and the use of Facebook. Here I am playing with the idea that everyone’s ideal perception of themselves and indeed the perfect ‘them’ exists only on Facebook, not in reality. As such the Internet and Facebook is my contemporary Realm of Forms. Each character in the dialogue will have a profile on Facebook. I will make Plato the main protagonist, only fitting since he himself always paid homage to Socrates and never appeared as a character in his dialogues. Plato’s profile page will include a virtual gallery of the various artworks that will be discussed, predominantly sculpture, and paintings. Each other character will also have a profile page. They will friend each other on Facebook and the dialogue will take place on the Facebook platform by way of comments between the protagonists.
In this way the dialogue will be disseminated amongst the tutorial group and any other students or interested persons generally. They can friend any or all the characters and will be encouraged and able to join in the dialogue discussion if they so choose.
I have carefully selected a number of artworks which represent almost archetypally eras or movements in Art in order to facilitate the discussion. Firstly, the great philosophers contemplate the ‘Venus de Milo’. This is one of the most well known pieces of classical sculpture. It embodies the Greek ideal of perfect proportion beyond mere imitation of nature. The Greeks would create un natural sometimes anatomically incorrect figures to demonstrate their idea of perfection. The statue conforms to perfect mathematical measurements and ideal proportions. What makes this interesting is that on the one hand it fits into the Platonic schema that perfections exists, physically and ontologically in a separate realm and as such it is permissible to ‘enhance’ the human form in order to demonstrate this perfection. As such nature can be ‘ignored’ or merely used as a reference point for the artist whose role is to grapple with perfection. Also, the mathematical aspects which determine proportions, have their roots in Platonic thinking – it is Plato who evidences the existence of the realm of Forms by reference to the mathematical and geometrical idea of a perfect isosceles triangle. Conversely, the intentionality of the sculpture detracts from the Platonic/Socratic position about artists being almost unconsciously ‘Divinely inspired’, so this sits squarely with the Aristotelian rationalist intentional approach. The Greeks had no separate concept of the “unconscious” so elements of what they refer to as divine inspiration can be interchanged with the modern concept of the ‘unconscious’.
The second half of my platonic dialogue will focus on artworks from the postmodern era such as Hamilton’s collage Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? In the journal article Postmodernism, Patricia Waugh contends: “Postmodernism defines itself against platonic objective idealism in which truth resides in a transcendent sphere of ideal forms (Knellwolf & Norris; 2011; p.297). Perfection for a postmodernist would not reside in a metaphysical domain, but rather in its aesthetic quality.
Roland Barthes in the article That Old Thing, Art… would argue that Hamilton’s Pop Artwork desymbolizes everyday objects, stripping them from meaning and metaphor. Everyday objects and things are not considered imperfect copies, mimicking the real Platonic ‘Forms’. Instead, they are valued as mere fact, void of any depth.
One of the central themes and ideas of the dialogue is based on the Greek word Ikanopeisis which literally translates to ‘I Make Poetry’ or ‘I Create’, but is the Ancient Greek word for Satisfaction. The central idea being that for a person to achieve satisfaction he/she must be creative in some way. The word Ikanopeisis is central to one of the greatest philosphical misunderstandings in all of Western culture. When the Aristolelean texts of the Nicomachean ethics was translated back from the Arabic after having being lost to the West in the Middle Ages the word Ikanopeisis was some would say, in error translated as: Happiness. As a result of this mistranslation, the entire course of Western philosophical and cultural development was changed. We in the West have been in pursuit of Happiness as ourlife goal ever since. This in some ways can be seen as the route of our Capitalist, consumerist, egocentric culture which we have today. The original idea was one about Satisfaction and fitness. Each person according to Aristotle is to find what they are best at or best suited to and then concentrate on that activity. The activity could be commercial, intellectual or physical and ties into the Artistotelian edict that ‘life rewards action’. Aristotle describes the Cobbler as a person whose best talent is to make shoes but this person is satisfied with his works if that the best he can do. In the West we have taken this further to say that that is what creates his happiness. The Platonic position is more mysterious. More metaphysical. Art is divinely inspired by the Gods. It is almost a transidential state which occurs outside of rationality and without intention and knowledge. The only knowledge perhaps is the idea of perfection which the artists vainly attempts to replicate.
After an initial exchange between the two great classicist, I will introduce a cast of lesser known philosophers and thinkers such as Walter Benjamin, Huyssen, Jacques Derrida and/or Roland Barthes In order to thrash out some of the more contemporary ideas about the Theory of Art.