Plato and Aristotle on Art as Imitation (Mimesis)


Plato, Republic

Art is imitation, and thatís bad.


Problems with imitation:

      Epistemological: An imitation is at three removes from the reality or truth of something (example of bed).

      Theological: Poets and other artists represent the gods in inappropriate ways.

      Moral and Psychological: A good imitation can undermine the stability of even the best humans by making us feel sad, depressed, and sorrowful about life itself.



Aristotle, Poetics

Art is imitation, and thatís all right, even good.


      Imitation is natural to humans from childhood.

      Imitation is how children learn, and we all learn from imitations.

      Tragedy can be a form of education that provides moral insight and fosters emotional growth.

      Tragedy is the imitation (mimesis) of certain kinds of people and actions.

      Good tragedies must have certain sorts of people and plots. (Good people experience a reversal of fortune due to some failing or hamartia.)

      A successful tragedy produces a katharsis in the audience.

      Katharsis = purification through pity and fear.