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Plato and the Censure of Art Essay Sample

Plato and the Censure of Art Pages
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Plato when imagined his ideal state, he asserts that societies have a structure where in everything has its place. To maintain order, every factor of life, from people to production to ideas must be subordinated to the good of the state. As such, if art needs to be censured for the betterment of the State, it should be. Plato presents a logical argument of the arts, specifically painting and poetry, and comes to the conclusion that art should be censored.

The reasoning behind Plato’s call to censor the arts starts off with the explanation that art is mimetic, and thus twice removed from the truth. Although he once wrote that art imitated Ideal reality, rather than a direct imitation of it, he attacks art in that it often presents images that encourage false ideas to the viewer. For example, an impressionist style painting of a flower will fail as a work of art because it is so far from the reality the subject actually is. If these images were the only depiction of that flower that people had seen, it would give them a false sense of what was being depicted. Because art is twice a representation of a truth, it appeals to the irrational part of our brain and therefore can corrupt character by influencing undesirable emotions and should indeed be censored.

Plato uses the example of tables and couches, to decide how art is removed from the truth. He starts with a the form, a divine idea of the table, created in nature and made by the…God of Tables and Couches I guess. Then we have a man-made form, a table created by a human craftsmen. Finally Plato suggests a representation of that from, a painting created by an artist. The Divine Form is considered the true form of a table or couch or any item. The painting then becomes a copy of a copy, twice removed from the original. Artists , in Plato’s view, have no actual grasp on the original true form. They are imitators of other’s creations and the representation itself a mere phantasm. Artists are copying copies of which they have no great knowledge.

The exception to this, in Plato’s opinion, are poets. Representational poetry is only once removed from the truth because there are no manufactured forms for ideas. A representational poet is “concerned with the petulant and varied side of our characters, because it’s easy to represent.” It can be said that their works appeal to the unreasonable part of human nature because that is what the poet presents in their writing and that is what people perceive. Artists appeal to our irrational sides because those ideas can be altered at their discretion and poets can appeal to our less reasonable emotions.

A relationship is created between the person viewing art or reading poetry and the art itself. the relationship is itself twice removed from the truth so we receive is a false sense of truth which predictably can deform any person’s character for the worse. Plato concludes that art needs to be censored because nothing good can be gained from it and it will corrupt the people’s moral values. Plato would get along great in North Korea.

For my, part I disagree with Plato’s view. If we stare at a piece of art on wall and feel nothing, why bother having the art as opposed to just the wall itself? I may not “like” art as such, but I understand society’s need for it. Art can indeed inflict undesirable emotions, but that is part of the experience. Take for example violence depicted in artworks as an example, since my father- in-law sees nothing wrong with letting my three year old watch Tarantino films. (“Kill Bill” is empowering for girls”.) It is crucial for a person to be able to distinguish between what is reality and what is mimesis in art. Violent art works often get criticized for promoting a violence or accused of influencing people to imitate what they see, but doesn’t happen if one can distinguish between reality and representation. We will all experience some form of violence around us at one time or another. I have been mugged, my daughter witnessed a hit-and-run. Why censor such a subject if it is part of the way of life?

I do agree that impressionable people (three year olds) can fall victim to the false truth presented in art. This is exactly why the Motion Picture Association of America’s film-rating system exists. When that fails (father-in-law) there needs to be a discussion about what they saw. After viewing Kill Bill, I talked to my daughter about what she saw, about special effects verses what would actually happened. Since we have already lost a pet, she has a base understanding of death and that it’s permanent. My parents did not censor anything from me on the theory that I would discover it on my own. I distinctly recall watching Jaws at about a six, just before our vacation to California.

Plato saw no importance in the role of art in the Republic and claimed that art can negatively affect people’s character because it is essentially a false depiction of truth. Therefore art should be censored. While I can understand how Plato came to say it is a false representation of truth, I believe art, be it visual, written or auditory, plays a huge role in society. Art not only serves as an outlet for expressing, in an abstract or mimetic manner, it provides a stepping off point for understanding those negative feelings.

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