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Relationship Between Art And Society: Mimesis Essay, Research Paper

The relationship between art and society: Mimesis as discussed in the works of Aristotle, Plato, Horace and Longinus

The relationship between art and society in the works of Plato are based upon his idea of the world of eternal Forms. He believed that there is a world of eternal, absolute and immutable Forms (the world of the Ideal) and this is proven by the fact when man is faced with the appearance of anything in the material world, his mind is moved to a remembrance of the Idea or an absolute and immutable version of the thing he sees. It is this moment of recollection that he wonders about the contrast between the world of shadows and the world of the Ideal. It is in this moment of wondering that man struggles to reach the world of Forms through the use of reason.

Anything then that does not serve reason is the enemy of man. Given this, it is only but logical that poetry should be eradicated from society. Poetry shifts man’s focus away from reason by presenting man with imitations of objects from the concrete world. Poetry, with its focus on mimesis or imitation, has no moral value.

While Plato sees reality as a shadow of a realm of pure Ideas (which in turn is copied by art), Aristotle sees reality as a process of partially realized forms moving towards their ideal realizations. Given this idea by Aristotle, the mimetic quality of art is redefined as the duplication of the living process of nature and its need to reach its potential form. Art then for Aristotle does not become the enemy of society if the artist is loyal in the representation of the process of becoming in nature.

Horace, like Aristotle and Plato, also brings to view a theory of poetry as mimesis. He believes that a poet should imitate real life and real manners in a similarly real language of the times. This is because of his belief of the importance of the audience’s response to art. Horace focuses on the conventions that an artist must fulfill so that the expectations of the audience may be met. The audience of that time was composed of both the equites , who expected amusement from art, and the senatores , who expected beneficial lessons from art, and so the artist must know his craft and the conventions of his craft so that art may fulfill its ultimate role in society which is both to create pleasure and to instruct.

Longinus believed that great art relied on the innate greatness of the artist soul. He believed that a writer taps into to his natural ability when creating great art. This quality is what is called sublimity. This idea of sublimity proposes that naturally gifted writers have the ability to create moving thoughts and emotions that impacts on his reader. But the writer, though he has innate genius, is still dependent on society, for great writing is a honing of the great soul through the knowledge and imitation (mimesis) of previous tradition (previous tradition of writers).


David Richter, Critical Tradition.

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