Defending Plato's Renunciation of Art
This is in reference to a 2011 lecture entitled “Plato’s Philosophy of Art”, given by Dr. James Grant of the University of London, Birkbeck. An audio recording of the lecture can be found at the bottom.
Today, Plato is probably known best for his work Republic, an outline of a highly idealistic and just city-state. Many remember bits and pieces from their Intro to Philosophy classes, but a criticism that is generally brushed over in discussion of the Republic is Plato’s flat-out renunciation of art. A prerequisite in understanding Plato’s position is realizing the role that art, and specifically poetry, played in Greek culture.
Poetry in the time of Plato played a similar role to the Bible in early American culture. Sections were recited at schools, in homes, and children were expected to memorize various passages for later recitation. Much like the Bible, these poems formed early moral backbones in young Greeks and were very much responsible for the development of certain cultural norms. It wasn’t so much a problem for Plato that art had such a grip on the cultural norms and moral fibers of a society, but rather that the artists themselves had no understanding of what they were representing, and thus inspired corrupt and destructive morals. In the eyes of Plato, the artist or poet was typically not the ideal moral character in any society, and thus should not have been in charge of dictating moral grounds or developing cultural norms. A second complaint Plato had about the role of the artist was that even if they were generally a moral and civilized human being, they were falsely representing reality through their art, something which Plato very much opposed to and which undermined a central theory in Platonism. More
Most would agree that the most important of our basic senses is sight. Without it, many basic forms of communication fall apart, the vibrance of the world around us dulls, and our understanding and ability to sense the complexity of the physical world diminishes. Without the ability to see, it would logically be impossible to portray our surroundings artistically in a coherent and visually realistic manner...
A Portrait of Perception
Many a scientist has noted in the light of recent discovery that what has been scientifically elucidated has often been artistically intuited even hundreds of years before. Many phenomena of psychology or even physics have been illuminated first through the intuition and hypersensitive reflection of art. Illusions within the visual arts that modify perception of space and movement understand the psychology of perception without being themselves a science. Looking at a painting, one may begin to question why and how the painting gives us a sense of light or space. Neuroscientists at the University of Leicester are putting this principle to use in a scientific study, teaming up with a well-known international artist whose pieces specialize in manipulating human percepts. They hope to work with him towards a greater understanding of how the mind apprehends visual stimuli.
The neuroscientist, Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, attained renowned status after discovering a particular type of neuron that fired in an ‘abstract’ manner to pictures of different individuals, allowing for some predictive value of whom the person was looking at from a data of their neuronal firing. Fascinated with human perception, he teamed up with well-known Argentinean artist Mariano Molina to study the mind’s perception of art, particularly in juxtaposition to its perception of regular photos and individuals. Molina will spend five months working in the lab, learning about how perception works from a scientific viewpoint. In turn, Quiroga will get a look at perception through an artist’s frame.
Molina has discovered that many of his pieces of art intuit unconscious principles of perception that science had previously identified. Consider one of Molina’s paintings: “The Center of Gaze.” Staring into it, one’s eyes are immediately drawn to the center. Center? How do I know that’s the center? At least, that would be the afterthought of one with a normal sense of perception. Upon further study, conscious reflection dwells on the “how” behind what the eye has intuited. This process that an individual feels within herself, the ex post facto rationalization of a quick and thoughtless, yet insightful, perception is akin to the methodology of the project itself.
Molina will complete a dozen pieces of art within a five month period, helping to draw insight into perceptual processes intuited by the artist. Molina believes that his artistic ability will also benefit from the scientific understanding of perception. Scheduled to begin in November, the project is hoped to bring scientific knowledge as well as an enriched appreciation for art, and encourage communication between the sciences and the arts that is of mutual benefit.
How Do We Perceive Art? Artist in Residence to Work Alongside Neuroscience Research Lab -Univ. Leicester