On Forms and Ideas and How Your Art Sucks: Plato’s The Republic Book X

The Art Institute of Chicago’s real life recreation of Van Gogh’s painting of his bedroom in Arles, France.

The blog prompt we are exploring today has to do with Plato’s expressions of forms and ideas. The gist of this expression is that forms reveal ideas and in turn ideas create reality. Plato also expressed that only forms are the creation of the divine and cannot be created by a person, however a person – lets call them the artificer – can draw on the divine essence of the form by way of the idea. The artificer then can materialize the idea into reality as we humans can sense it.

To demonstrate this transcending mode of becoming from the divine form to reality Plato uses the examples of beds and tables. Plato said “there are beds and tables in the world” and then he said that “there are only two ideas or forms of them –one the idea of a bed, the other of a table.” With this latter proposition, Plato is differentiating a physical object – in our case a table or bed – from the idea or form of the physical object. What? Insert mental constipation here.

What Plato is trying to demonstrate is material reality is based in “accordance with the idea”. The idea is based on form, which is absolute truth – which is also of the Divine or godly. Also, this is a one-way street as Plato goes on to state: “no artificer makes the ideas themselves: how could he?” Because the artificer is of a material reality, the artificer can never come up with the idea only the because the Divine can do so. The artificer can only demonstrate the idea’s mode of bringing a thing into material reality and since the artificer is following the Divine form’s idea, he or she is partially, in a transcendental way, responsible for bringing truth to reality. The bed or table appearance is true because of this artificer.

However, there is one type of person whom Plato thinks is full of shenanigans and baseless ungodly imitation: the Artist. Hater’s gonna hate. The Artist only demonstrates untruthful appearances, via imitation, is what Plato states. The aspect of appearance only, be it in a painting or poem for example is so far from true form, or divine, it is in discordance with the idea of form and therefore is untruthful and deceptive. Plato then says because of this presentation of deception by the Artist understanding and knowledge fall short of truth.

In Plato’s opinion the Artist has no idea or complete understanding of the true nature of what they present therefore “he will no more have true opinion than he will have knowledge about the goodness or badness of his imitations”. Plato feared that this presentation the Artist is pushing will rub off on Joe or Jane Public, and not for the better.

So what are we to think about this? Is this a fair assessment of what the Artist presents? I will say no, this is not a fair assessment of what the Artist presents.

Art is an instrumental abstract presence of ideas. Plato says the divine form’s idea, which is absolute truth, can only be followed in accordance by the artificer to create something real. However, Plato never thought about something the artificer most likely would have done possibly before during, during and/or after following the accords of the idea and this is to ponder. The act of pondering an idea is to play with the abstract aspects of the idea itself. The real world is dynamic, not all things go as planned. Lets say the artificer must make a bed and it has to be metal. The artificer taps into the abstracts of the idea and plays with it; will the bed be gold, will it be silver, will it have a headboard or not.

Likewise the Artist, being of the same material reality as the Artificer, has the same access to mental abstracts. Unless the Artist has a debilitating mental condition that prevents him or her from thought the absolute truth’s form-idea will be just as accessible as it is to the Artificer because they are both human beings.

The Artist may not follow through with the bringing forth of a material object form but they do play within the transitional pondering of bringing that object forth into reality. The Artist plays on the interplaying cusp of the abstract and the real but the underlying ‘idea’ is still divine, it does not make the Artists ‘imitation’ any less true. This is the point where we drop the mic. Exit stage left.


3 thoughts on “On Forms and Ideas and How Your Art Sucks: Plato’s The Republic Book X

  1. Good development of analysis, well presented elements, a perfect realistic approach! I must compliment the meta humor here. It’s always refreshing to read something that is not too ” formal” per say.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. great read, especially your thoughts on how Plato did not take into account the actions of the artist ” before during, during and/or after following the accords of the idea”. And as always your style of writing is on point!


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