Theories of Art

Theories of the nature, functions, and effects of art

Mimetic theories: art as imitation or representation of nature

"mimes"

a basic theoretical principle in the creation of art. The word is Greek and means "imitation" (though in the sense of "re-presentation" rather than of "copying"). Plato and Aristotle spoke of mimesis as the re-presentation of nature. According to Plato, all artistic creation is a form of imitation: that which really exists (in the "world of ideas") is a type created by God; the concrete things man perceives in his existence are shadowy representations of this ideal type. Therefore, the painter, the tragedian, and the musician are imitators of an imitation, twice removed from the truth. Aristotle, speaking of tragedy, stressed the point that it was an "imitation of an action"--that of a man falling from a higher to a lower estate. Shakespeare, in Hamlet's speech to the actors, referred to the purpose of playing as being " . . . to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature." Thus, an artist, by skillfully selecting and presenting his material, may purposefully seek to "imitate" the action of life.

Procedural classes: classes involving formal criteria, such as

Expressive theories: art viewed as a representation or manifestation of the inner state of the artist

Formalist theories: the work of art viewed as an organic unity; i.e., a self-contained, self-justifying entity

Processional theories: the making of works of art because the creative process is an inherently self-contained, self-justifying process.

Aestheticism: late 19th century European movement based on the idea that art exists for the sake of its beauty alone.

The movement began in reaction to prevailing utilitarian social philosophies and to what was perceived as the ugliness and philistinism of the industrial age. Its philosophical foundations were laid in the 18th century by Immanuel Kant, who postulated the autonomy of aesthetic standards from morality, utility, or pleasure. This idea was amplified by J.W. von Goethe, J.L. Tieck, and others in Germany and by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas Carlyle in England. The movement was popularized in France by Madame de Staël, Théophile Gautier, and the philosopher Victor Cousin, who coined the phrase l'art pour l'art ("art for art's sake") in 1818.

In England, the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, from 1848, had sown the seeds of Aestheticism, and the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, and Algernon Charles Swinburne exemplified it in expressing a yearning for ideal beauty through conscious medievalism. The attitudes of the movement were also represented in the writings of Oscar Wilde and Walter Pater and the illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley in the periodical The Yellow Book. The painter James McNeill Whistler raised the movement's ideal of the cultivation of refined sensibility to perhaps its highest point.

Contemporary critics of Aestheticism included William Morris and John Ruskin and, in Russia, Leo Tolstoy, who questioned the value of art divorced from morality. Yet the movement focused attention on the formal aesthetics of art and contributed to the art criticism of Roger Fry and Bernard Berenson. It was unparochial in its affinities with the French Symbolist movement, fostered the Arts and Crafts Movement, and sponsored Art Nouveau, with its decisive impact on 20th-century art.

Organic Unity: : in literature, a structural principle, first discussed by Plato (in Phaedrus, Gorgias, and The Republic) and later described and defined by Aristotle. The principle calls for internally consistent thematic and dramatic development, analogous to biological growth, which is the recurrent, guiding metaphor throughout Aristotle's writings. According to the principles, the action of a narrative or drama must be presented as "a complete whole, with its several incidents so closely connected that the transposal or withdrawal of any one of them will disjoin and dislocate the whole." The principle is opposed to the concept of literary genres--standard and conventionalized forms that art must be fitted into. It assumes that art grows from a germ and seeks its own form and that the artist should not interfere with its natural growth by adding ornament, wit, love interest, or some other conventionally expected element.

Pragmatism: Art exists to serve a function and is conceptualized in terms of its effects on its audience, and in terms of the purposes it is design to accomplish such as the creation of specific shared experiences.

Pragmatic theories: art conceptualized in terms of its effects on its audience, to accomplish purposes such as the creation of specific shared experiences.


Anagrams of Org || Top of Retiary Site || Anagrams of Retiary

[Note: Please don't email me critiques of the above. It is just a quick dirty not-very-well-organized-or-researched introduction/overview. It is not meant to be a definitive discussion in any way, and is very much in need of being done over properly when/if "spare time" permits. - Laurie]

© 1998 Laurie Spiegel