Plato asserted that when artists are making or performing art they are imitating.

Art imitates physical things (objects or events). Physical things imitate Forms (read Plato’s Theory of the Forms). Therefore art is a copy of a copy, the third remove from reality. In book X of the Republic Plato describes the metaphor of the three beds. One bed is an idea created by God. The second bed is created by a carpenter who by constructing the bed imitates God’s idea. The painter than paints the bed and by doing so he imitates the carpenter’s created bed. In this context, the artist’s bed is twice removed from the truth.

“…So the carpenter is nearer to heaven than the painter since he has at least obtained at a simple level some mathematical ideas, some exercise of reason which enables him in a disciplined way to distinguish true and false, apparent and real…” – Quote from Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals by Iris Murdoch.

For Plato, the fact that art imitates (mimesis), meant that it leads a viewer further and further away from the truth towards an illusion. This belief leads Plato to the determination that art leads to dangerous delusion.

It is interesting that the imitation concept has persisted throughout the ages. To this day people think of an artist painter only as someone who is able to replicate “the REAL thing” on his canvas.

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Also, read the related Blog posts as follows: Plato’s AcademiaPlato and Justice, Plato’s Duality, Plato’s Imitation Theory, The Republic Lead subjects, Plato’s RegimesDuality in Plato’s Republic, Plato and Art, Dystopia Connotations, Utopia Connotations, What is Utopia, Plato’s Republic, Who was Plato, Plato’s Visual Utopia book

Featured image artwork, “Imitation” – Illustration by Daniel Heller