Browsing Tag: Aristotle

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    Book: The Aesthetics of Mimesis: Ancient Texts and Modern Problems, by Stephen Halliwell

    March 15, 2021

    In my work in progress on Lascaux, Altamira and Chauvet it has not been easy to find a word with which to talk about the various representations of these painted caves. But, I was recently reminded of the word mimesis since it is one of the earliest art historical terms, and, as I learned from this erudite book, mimesis is best thought of as a familial framework of ideas, through which we might sometimes speak of imitation and copying, sometimes of representation or description, and sometimes of expression and interpretation.

    Plato’s ideas around mimesis, frequently thought of as a monolithic dismissal of poetry, are themselves shown to be complex here, and he allows for a way of rendering the real world, through poetry or painting, that is, in itself, not degenerate at all, but, rather, ethical and good. Later Aristotle took up this term mimesis and gave it a twofold definition: encompassing external reality and internal logic – the Greek tragedy, for instance, should offer a true sense of the world and an audience response governed by the artwork’s structure

    In the first two parts of The Aesthetics of Mimesis, Halliwell explodes this dusty academic term and offers a dazzling array of the varied thinking of the ancient world. From its beginnings, poetry, and by extension painting, was understood to deal in hypothetical yet emotive realities. As long we have recorded notions about art, art could be said to simulate the world, as much as to reflect it. Whereas Plato famously thought of poetry as a potential negative influence, he also looked for correctness, mental benefits and pleasurable qualities in the sphere of art. Plato did not equate mimesis to verisimilitude; instead he looked for the ‘what’, ‘how, and ‘what for’ of form and beauty: these questions remain relevant to any 21st attempt to write art criticism. He wasn’t convinced by visual illusion, so mimesis has in fact never been about simply mirroring external realities; confounding what I had assumed to be the case. Aristotle later saw the work, whether written or painted, as both a performance and an intention. (Mimesis is, of course, applicable to acting, human learning, and music.) He was to argue that likeness need not be literal minded and so I hope to show by these examples, of which there are many in the book, just how complex and lively the debates of Ancient Greece remain today.

    Having said that, mimesis is not what it used to be. Leonardo da Vinci criticises fidelity to appearances. The Romantics gave up all attempts to depict the world out there and made expressive pictures and poems about the inner life, and for the Moderns there was no going back to the aim of mirroring nature. But that had never been the primary aim of mimesis, after all. We now live in what has been called a post-mimetic era. And yet the impact of both romanticism and modernism is show in these pages to have been more gradual and inconsistent than you might imagine. In the third and final part of his book, Professor Halliwell shows that, although Plato and Aristotle had the most to say about mimesis, the idea did not spring up with their arrival, and nor did it vanish with the passing of neo-Platonism.

    Perhaps most interesting is the encounter between mimesis and a thinker frequently engaged with on this blog. Derrida is oft said to unsettle the foundations of Western civilisation by destabilising, among other of his tenets, Plato’s conception of truth in poetry/painting. But this idea can be destabilised in turn because 1) Western thought is perhaps equally indebted to Aristotle and owes a further debt to an array of philosophers from the ancient world; and 2) Plato himself takes up a number of evolving positions in his writings about mimesis beyond the most familiar passages in The Republic. Perhaps I have got this wrong, and I invite comments which qualify this short review. I have tried to represent The Aesthetics of Mimesis, but I don’t promise to show things as they (really) are.

    This title is from Princeton University Press (2002) and read via Kindle.

    contemporary art, installation art, painting, sculpture

    Alan Magee, Return to glory (2014)

    September 10, 2014

    alan magee

    Two disks grace the gallery. One sits on the floor. One hangs on the wall. Looking closer, their outer rims can be identified as hula hoops. But there will be no gyrating here today.

    Both hoops have been measured up for a plasterboard inner, and worked over with filler to produce an artwork. So that carpentry and plastering skills more in evidence than chiselling or moulding.

    So the productive status of Return to glory is ambiguous. Is it really a work, resulting in a useful end product? Or is it a piece of menial labour? Possibly, only the market decides.

    Irish artist Magee is much concerned with these distinctions and points me in the direction of Hannah Arendt for a discussion of work, labour and action.

    Returning to the source of distinctions like this, Arendt recalls Aristotle. The Greek would have given citizenship to shepherds and painters, but not peasants or sculptors.

    In the ancient world they had contempt for the slave class, and Magee seems to play up to this, as a provocation, with his use of poor materials and trade skills.

    If his two hoops are a really a return to glory, it is therefore because one adorns the wall and might be called a painting. Whether or not it would have pleased Aristotle is a moot point.

    Unlike the wall-mounted piece, hula hoops are not usually a perfect circle. Where the hoop joins, you can usually find a stiffened flatter piece of tubing, the artist tells me.

    So the work on the floor (therefore a scupture) rests on this straight edge. The work on the wall (a painting of sorts) has been filled out with plasterboard to make a perfect circle.

    Arendt also notes that in ancient Greece, there was a feeling of arrogance among the painters. She recalls that even as late as the renaissance, sculptors were considered to be servile.

    For this reason Magee’s piece is a bold act of resistance. It is both sculpture, painting and, in stepping back from one example of each, a radical piece of curating. Nothing menial about that.

    This work was in Trade at pop up gallery Castor Projects between 29/08 and 10/09. See more by the artist on his website.