tagReviews & EssaysAppreciating Fine Art

Appreciating Fine Art


This essay is part of a series in which I compare the ideas of philosophers on the subject of Aesthetics. I'm attempting to extrapolate from their superior knowledge and writings what I believe are important points on the creation of and critique of Art, Beauty and the Soul. I hope there are some artists/scholars out there who can appreciate my works-

Because I'm sure they'll seem dry to most of you!

In Poetics, Aristotle outlines the craft of poetry; which combines rhythm, language and harmony in a way unique to its art form. Specifically, he examines the epic and tragic plays in regards to their construction, and the poet's means of imitation. He does so with great rigor, describing the ways in which a play is to be constructed and how these details most effectively affect the audience. For even though poetry arises naturally from human nature, it must be designed to entertain and give the meaning of things in a pleasurable and accurate way.

First, Aristotle says that epic poetry and tragedy differ in several ways. An epic poem is written in one kind of verse in narrative form and its length is not limited to the hours of a day. While not all parts of a tragedy are found in an epic, all parts of an epic are contained in a tragedy. Thus Aristotle goes on to express the ability of a tragedy to cleanse one's emotions by arousing pity and fear. This catharsis is as essential as poetry itself.

To most effectively facilitate this catharsis, a tragedy consists of six elements in descending importance: Fable (or plot), Characters, Diction, Thought, Spectacle and Melody. They are instruments key in the orchestrations of the Tragedian- who's burden it is to imitate action and life, happiness and misery.

The Plot's and Characters' teleos (a complex Greek work which can be destiny, or innate purpose) is to express the action of the play. Thought and Diction are interrelated, in that thoughts must be appropriate to the occasion and diction must eloquently express these thoughts. Melody and Spectacle are flashy, but essential accessories for these more meaningful components.

Plot is the life and soul of tragedy and must be constructed in a way that is beautiful and ordered; with a certain magnitude or greatness worthy of the stage. The unity of Plot arises from having one man as the subject with one action being represented through several incidences. While Plot is either simple or complex, it must contain Peripety (or change) and Discovery (which brings about this change) if it is to be successful. Furthermore, a plot should be so good that just hearing its summary evokes emotions in the listener.

This "good" quality depends on a Plot having interesting complications with an appropriate denouement. The characters involved in these complications should be good, appropriate, real and consistent. They speak with language that is clear and not mean (average) and their mental procedures align with their actions. The greatest critical objections relate to these finer points -- neither the plot nor characters should be impossible, improbable, corrupting, contradictory or against technical correctness.

In Ion, on the other hand, Plato does not portray the true artist as being preoccupied with these specificities. "For the poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is not longer in him: when he has not attained to this state, he is powerless to utter his oracles." He is "inspired and possessed" not by art (or craft) but by god, "for not by art does the poet sing, but by power divine."

Plato develops the analogy of iron rings drawn to a magnet to describe this possession. A muse attracts an artist to itself (as if they are polar opposites) and this magnetism is transmitted through the artist; who draws others unto himself in turn. These links in the artistic chain include critics, audience members, performers, chorus members and rhapsodists. This chain is made because "God takes away the minds of poets, and uses them as his ministers as he also uses diviners and holy prophets…"

Aristotle speaks in great detail of the manner in which a poet communicates his ideas, but doesn't touch on where these ideas stem from. Perhaps he considers craft itself to be the source of inspiration; or that the artist is driven by the need to affect an audience. Either way, he does not attempt to explain the "why" behind the "how". Contrarywise, Plato praises the poet's calling and seems to ignore his skill. Perhaps he considers the rules of poetry to have their source in the muses as well. He doesn't outwardly dismiss the merits of technical competency, but he definitely says that technical knowledge is required in understanding art from a knowledge point of view.

Aristotle is one of the men who is trained in art and knowledge and can, according to Plato, critique all artists in a particular field equally. He doesn't seem to demonstrate the passion and connection required of one who is drawn to a particular artist, but he does speak of the brilliance of certain playwrights' works. And while Aristotle does discuss craft rather than divine inspiration, he does give importance to emotional catharsis, which I think Plato would attribute to a poet's ability to interpret the Gods.

All in all, I am much more drawn to Plato's ring analogy- as I feel that we are all links in a divine chain. No one weak, yet some undeniably stronger.

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