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The Platonic Three Step

June 4, 2013

I have lived my life mostly in my mind trying to put things in an order that makes sense. There is certainly truth in the axiom that the more you know the more you realise you know nothing. Most people I know spend little time musing on that kind of reasoning or if they do, look for, and find, answers in religion. Naturally, I have not found an order that even remotely makes sense, but it is not for of a lack of trying. I have tried photography, painting and drawing, never quite getting it right. Words come closest, but the devil is in the details as I am dyslexic as hell and writing is about as comfortable as talking with pebbles in my mouth. I have written art criticism for over forty years and people seem to like my work.

So it is like this in Platonic terms: art is two steps away from idea; you or God, choose one, has the idea (or the concept as Aristotle calls it); the thing is the manifestation of the idea and art is the imitation of thing. If all of that is true, then art criticism is one step further from the Godhead. Classic example: God’s concept of a table (Should he care about tables is another question); the table that is made by a carpenter; the artist’s image of the table; and, finally, the critic says that drawing of the table, ‘isn’t that good’. It looks like I am far removed the idea and any answer to my quest of an understanding of the meaning of it all. No wonder critics are held in such low esteem.

I still think that there is some hope in looking at stuff, art and its subjects which includes just about anything, and trying to figure it out. To that end, I have decided that I must sit down and write something every day if only to keep my fingers loose. There is art in everything so there are always things to write. Once I decided to draw everything within the 360 degree view of my studio easel including my hand drawing a drawing and a drawing of my drawing tools. It was an exercise in tedium, but a couple of the drawings were pretty good. I try to take a self portrait every day which is easy now with a digital camera and these, plus past self portrait drawings and paintings give a picture of me growing older. Some of these images scare the hell out me because most of the time I have no idea how I look to the rest of the world and these pictures show me the awful truth.

Back to the idea of mimesis and my old buddy Plato. One doesn’t need to understand an idea, according to Plato, to come up with an imitation of it and such an imitation, it appears, is a dangerous thing as it misleads children and fools, which in the eyes of most philosophers would include most of us. Artists often complain that critics, much less the public, do not understand their ideas which follows the old chestnut: those that can do and those that can’t teach or, in this case, criticize; me, being the perfect fellow, both taught and continue to criticize. I would still like to think myself as an artist as well, but there is less than universal agreement on that assessment of my many talents.

Things do get better in later philosophy; even Aristotle thinks that artists can improve on nature by fudging truth. Trim a few pounds off the model, give her great hair and there you go, one of the Three Graces and Paris has a hard time making his choice. Truth might suffer with this take on moral philosophy, but everybody is happier. Certainly criticism does better with Aristotle as we critics can say the image could have been better if only the artist had not been such a hack.

Many would say that there is a problem with me using two really, really dead white Greek guys as my philosophic model, but to point out the obvious, the problems of art and art criticism go back to even before I went to university. There is a thread of Post-modern philosophy and criticism that believes that art exist only as examples for theory–no literature, only text and, one assumes, no great painting, only images. This is great for philosophy, but not so hot for art in particular if artists believe the philosophers.

Astaire-RogersSo, I am older and I am still dancing and, in this case, the three step, a dance of my own invention. Put your little foot out, your little foot in and then you twirl about and, whatever you do, avoid the Grim Reaper as he make a lousy partner. Frankly, given a choice I would rather be Fred Astaire than any philosopher I can think of at the moment and he did have Ginger Rodgers as a partner. One could do worse.

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