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January 2009, Newsletter
Did You Know?

Art tradition can be seen as an independent discipline, instituting its own parameters and definition; or else art can be acknowledged by considering the circumstances it was produced in. This section is where we will be telling interesting incidents and events from the world history of art. In every newsletter, we shall be bringing in fascinating stories regarding the personal lives of the artist, their style and their background. It will enhance our understanding of art as an instrument, as well as representative of world culture, society and life. Aristotle said, “All men by nature desire to know”, so we begin our intrusions into the History of Art with our “Did you know?” section.

Why Greek philosopher, Plato did not want the arts to be part of his ideal Republic?

Illustration of Plato in School of Athens (Detail) by Raphael
Fresco Vatican City Apostolic Palace

Plato was Greek philosopher, who wrote on morality, society, politics and metaphysics and helped laying the foundation of Western philosophy. Though he himself was a fine literary stylist and a great story teller; he proposes to send the artist, poets and play writers out of his ideal republic in his masterpiece dialogue ‘The Republic’. His influence on western culture is immense and on art of his period, mostly indirect. He is said to have a love and hate relationship with arts for he realized arts to be powerful shapers of the society, and so suggested severe censorship on production of paintings and music.

His idea is one extremely interesting and thought provoking. He saw the world that human eye and mind, see and perceive as poor, decaying copy of perfect, rational, eternal order. He believed there cannot exist the real beauty in corrupt thing, that is, in the face of imperfect world; one can only strive to attain an ideal but never achieve it. Now in terms of art, he proposed that art is nothing but the copy of the things that the artist sees around. Taking this, he concluded that art is nothing but a copy of a copy, that makes it two times removed from reality and thus art has a capacity to produce dangerous disillusions. It then has a potential to give an incorrect representation of reality.

But within the lifetime of Plato, he himself and art was able to respond to Plato’s justified anxiety. Don’t we hear artist say often that they don’t know how did they come about producing something new? Or that something inspires them more than other things? It’s because art moves away from the ordinary by taking the best from everything that they saw and composing an ideal form of beauty. The Classical Greek sculptors were able to represent their gods and heroes with ideal body proportion, balanced free standing statues and naturalistic rendering of human features. It did not copy a person in living but took elements from different sources creating a perfect form.

However, there are several scholarly problems in the theory as suggested by later scholars and philosophers. But it’s intriguing to find relevance of his theory in our times. What is important to think is that art as music, painting, drama, dance, all have powerful impact on our senses. Whether a picturesque or depiction of war, arts move people powerfully. They strongly influence our behaviour, attitude and even character. This established art to be not just copy of the world around but an improvisation and imagination; it represents an emotion responding to existing reality, while holds in its essence a proposal of an ideal existence from the artist’s point of view.

Discus Thrower   Roman marble copy of Greek   Bronze by Myron   ca. 450 B.C.