Plato and Aristotle on Art by Chris Hall

Raphael da Urbino,  The School of Athens  (detail showing Plato and Aristotle), 1509 - 1511

Raphael da Urbino, The School of Athens (detail showing Plato and Aristotle), 1509 - 1511

Plato is not a big fan of art, and his works, particularly The Republic, are rife with complaints against it.  Plato thought all art was an imperfect imitation of nature, and that our perceptions of nature (remember that we are in Plato's cave, viewing the shadows of what is real on the wall) was already skewed and imperfect.  This makes art twice removed from perfection.  He did respect, however, the power art has in shaping people's thoughts and feelings, but he takes this respect to a dark place when he suggests that art should be regulated and censored by the wisest members of society, a ruling class of Philosopher Kings.  And what if these “wisest members of society” become corrupt?  And who decides who is the “wisest.”  Plato is in dangerous territory, and I can not follow him there.  I may distrust the masses, but I distrust the government and authority figures even more.  

Now, let's contrast Plato's perception of art with that of his student, the liberal Aristotle.  Aristotle thought art had the power to improve upon nature.  Aristotle also admired art's ability to persuade.  He thinks that art has the ability to convey universal truths, and that it can help us better understand our purpose and predicament.  If performed masterfully, Aristotle thought art could be a tool useful for inspiring people, for enlightening them on the consequences of foolish behavior, and that it could foster moral growth and the improvement of society.   No where in his writings does Aristotle promote censorship. 

Like Plato, I do believe that the wrong kind of art can be harmful for society, just as good art can be a benefit.   Because of the fallibility and subjectivity of human nature and aesthetic tastes, however, I can not ever support censorship.  And when used by the state, censorship can be an abusive tool for repression of political and personal freedom.  For these reasons, I will follow Aristotle's approach.

Preamble To My Exhibition At The Arts Exchange by Chris Hall

My second grade class was held in a trailer, and on the first day of class I did not understand that we were allowed to leave and go to the main building, should we have to go to the bathroom.  Consequently, I shit my pants.  An artist takes risks, they seek to inspire, change, and transform.  They seek deeper truths (about both themselves and the world) and then they seek to share these truths (which may not always be pleasant) with others in the world at large.  Self censorship is never part of the equation.  The notion of creating artwork, of tailoring a show to an audience's tastes, beholden to them as in a client-patron relationship, is sickening to me.  That kind of compromise of vision is the domain of the professional interior decorator, and I am not a performing monkey.  So tonight I will maintain my integrity and the nobility of both my mission and craft by presenting to you the contents of my work, pure and undiluted.  Tonight I choose to confront the audience with the absurdities I've observed and imagined possible in this world, the world we now live in.  To do this properly, it might be necessary to ruffle a few feathers and to make a few people uncomfortable, to confront them and their small hypocrisies, namely by assaulting their “good  tastes,” by exposing them to an artwork with a more scatological or sexual bent then they may be accustomed to.  But the work is meant to be playful, meant to be humorous, and is meant to draw people in, not to repel.  I want to invite people into this strange world that I see, the world which we share together.  So, please, if you find yourself offended, I ask that you reconsider, to not be so uptight, and to "keep calm . . . during anal leakage."  Remember, God created the grotesqueness of the platypus, and the lustfulness of the goat with as much love as he created the classical beauty and gracefulness of the swan.  So, with all things being equal, I invite you to come inside and to join me in my laughter.  Let us celebrate together!  

Christopher Hall