Artistic Expression (Stories Book 3)

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We find nothing wrong with protesting against them; we rewrite history every few years. They are entertained, and learn about friendship or hope, from TV shows which produce indignation and agitation when their values seem wrong. We do not disagree with Plato over whether children should be exposed to the right values or not, but only over who - the government or the family - should decide what children should learn.

That brings me to my second question.

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What standards are we to use in making such decisions? The Republic claims that only philosophers know them. Such a view is impossible in a society that is democratic and pluralistic, as we believe ours to be - and the more confused we are about the answer to that question the more likely our society is to be democratic and pluralistic.

Nevertheless, we are at one with Plato in agreeing that mimesis, "when practiced from youth become[s] part of nature and settle[s] into habits of gesture, voice, and thought" d. Otherwise, we would not care what children do on Saturday morning. Plato's case, however, is much more radical than I have suggested so far.

He concludes his discussion of poetry with a central and very controversial principle:.

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Good speech,. Style expresses character in a straightforward way: moral goodness appears as grace and beauty, evil as coarseness and ugliness. He says that this is so not only in poetry but also in painting, weaving, embroidery, architecture, furniture and household utensils, even in the shape of human and animal bodies, and especially in music - that is, in the general culture to all of which, therefore, his restrictions will apply and to which not only children but adults as well exposed.

In all these practices, which include the arts, Plato would legislate the right things to depict and the right way to depict them. For that he needs a lot of people capable of creating graceful and beautiful things - that is why he does not banish the artists: on the contrary, they turn out to be essential to his project. Book X of the Republic , however, under the rubric of "mimetic poetry," does banish all of epic, tragic and comic poetry. Since we know that selected passages from epic and tragedy are used in education, Plato's proscription must amount to the elimination of all the great dramatic festivals of ancient Athens, around which much of the city's life revolved, as well as the public recitations of Homer which sometimes attracted as many as 20, people.

Although that is not to banish the whole of art, it is still a serious enough issue. Why does Plato banish these performances? We are usually given two reasons. First, because dramatic poetry is mimetic. And mimesis, according to Book X, is imitation, or representation, of sensible things and not of the intelligible Forms which are the only worthy and possible objects of real knowledge: art only gives an account of appearances, not reality.

But that can't be right. A careful look at Book X shows that Plato's argument against mimesis has a clear structure. Again and again, he shows how mimesis works in painting, and then, on the assumption that dramatic poetry too is mimetic, he shows how mimesis functions in it.

For example, he distinguishes the Form of the Couch, which is made by God, the physical couch the carpenter makes by reference to the Form, and the merely apparent couch painters make by imitating the carpenter's work. Painters, who, unlike carpenters, are imitators need to know only what couches look like, not what they are. Plato then argues that poets too are merely imitators. Therefore, just as painters touch only the appearance of what they represent, the poets, whose subject is human action and therefore human virtue, can do no more.

They address only represent the appearance of virtue, and need to know noting about it in order to imitate it successfully. But neither the fact that mimesis is ignorant nor the painters' ability to fool "children and silly people" bc into thinking that what they paint is real is enough to banish painting from the ideal city, and Plato nowhere, in this or any other part of the Republic , suggests that painting, or sculpture, will be eliminated.

Its harms, such as they are, are minor, and are easy to control. But not the harms of drama. Drama imitates human action which leads to success or failure, to pleasure or pain, to happiness or misery, virtue or vice c. No harm in this domain is minor. In any case, Plato claims, drama is inherently suited to vulgar subjects and shameful behavior: no villain, no drama.

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But a rational and quiet character, which always remains pretty well the same, is neither easy to imitate nor easy to understand once imitated, especially by a crowd consisting of all sorts of people gathered together at a theater festival, for the experience being imitated is alien to them. But drama harms everyone. Confronted with the shameful behavior in drama even "the best among us And yet that is the sort of behavior we try to avoid when we face real misfortune.

How can poetry make us admire just what we would be ashamed to be in life? Plato's explanation is that the appetitive part of our soul, which aims at immediate gratification and not with our overall good, delights in such behavior as it delights in everything that lacks measure. Since in drama we watch the sufferings of others - in fact, merely the representations of the sufferings of others - the rational part of the soul, our sense of what is good for us overall, loosens its control and, perhaps against its better judgment, allows our appetite to indulge itself.

What we fail to realize, Plato says, is that all our reactions to the theater - to sex, anger, and all the desires, pleasures, and pains that accompany action - are directly transferred to, and determine, our reactions to life, We end up acting in reality as if we lived on a stage. By taking pleasure in spectacles we make a spectacle of ourselves.

In short, dramatic poetry perverts. It "introduces a bad government in the soul of each individual citizen," with appetite ruling where reason should b , and since the soul and the city are parallel, in destroying the soul, drama destroys the city. Since conflict and evil are inherent to it, it can never exhibit grace and beauty.

That's why it is altogether intolerable. On the face of it, Plato's assumption seems absurd. Admiring Odysseus does not generally tend to make people better liars. But, again, recall that we agree with it in connection with children - that's why we exercise such care with their books and entertainment.

Although matters are in fact much more complicated, we often think that children treat representations and reality as equivalent, often unable, for example, to distinguish fictional dangers from real. Plato thinks the same is true of adults as well: their reactions to poetry and life are the same because, he believes, the representations of poetry are, superficially, exactly the same as the real things they represent. Expressing sorrow in the theater is superficially identical with - exactly the same in appearance as - expressing sorrow in life. Actors don't feel the sorrow they express, but this difference is imperceptible: it is so to speak ontological, and allows the surface behavior of both actors and real grievers to be exactly the same.

If, then, the representation of the expression of sorrow in drama produces pleasure, so eventually will its expression in life. Plato does not consider that the pleasure we feel is aimed at the representation, which is an object in its own right, and not at what it is a representation of.

Representation is, for him, transparent. It derives its features only from what it represents, an object we can see directly through it. The imitation of expressing sorrow is simply sorrow expressed, just as sorrow is expressed in life. Their only difference is the underlying, imperceptible feeling that fiction lacks and reality possesses. But imitation, as we have seen, tends to become nature. We emulate in life what we admire in the theater. A silly view, you will say.

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No one believes that any longer. Well, perhaps not, not in connection with what we know as the fine arts, although the hysteria prompted by Mapplethorpe's X Portfolio a few years ago and the brewing storm over the Brooklyn Museum's exhibition of recent British art may suggest otherwise. But leave the fine arts behind, and you will find Platonism rampant in our concern with mass entertainment, particularly television.

Television, one author has written, unwittingly repeating Plato almost word-for-word, is suited only for. We slowly evolve into the images we carry, we become what we see. The eminent critic Wayne Booth, who tried to like television and failed, concluded that. Whatever its content, the form of television is vulgar, coarse and graceless, and produces stunted people.

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The influence of TV on our society has been uniformly malign, and there is not a single social problem we face that has not been caused by or exacerbated by television [computer games and the Internet are now also part of the problem] I believe there is only one cure for the social illness television has caused: abolition. The parallels are endless. Contemporary criticism of television is identical to Plato's moral disapproval of dramatic poetry in the 4 th century B.

In that respect, most of us are still Platonists. But wait, you will say. This is television , while Plato is talking about Homer and Aeschylus - they determine the criteria of artistic quality, while most of television hardly qualifies as entertainment. Isn't there a vast difference between the fine arts on the one hand and mass culture on the other? There may be. But to the extent that there is, this objection will not work against Plato.

Because, in his time, dramatic poetry was much closer to popular culture and entertainment than we can even imagine. We dress up to go to the theater, pay a steep price, and don't dare cough. The audience for Attic drama - as many as 17, people packed in the theater of Dionysus shouted, whistled, ate, threw food and dirt at actors they did not like, were probably there for free, since Pericles may have offered farmers and eventually the rest of the citizens a subsidy to attend the plays, whose ideology was often the democratic ideology of fifth century Athens: an ideology as obnoxious to Plato as the commercial ideology and the dramatic content of contem- porary television is to its intellectual and conservative critics.

Greek drama and contemporary popular culture also resemble each other in their repetition of relatively few similar plots, which the incessant demand for new works makes absolutely necessary literally tens of thousands of plays must have been written by the various Greek dramatists: the three great tragedians alone account for over three hundred, and they had hundreds of competitors.

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Formally, they are both considered inherently realistic: we are told that women fainted when the Furies made their entrance in Aeschylus' Emenides ; TV cops are expected to wear seat belts, and Mayor Giuliani, when he was the U. Attorney, required his staff to see The Godfather in order to really understand what the Mafia was like. As long as we think that a work, a genre or a medium is inherently realistic, that it depicts the world just as it is, we are bound to believe that our reactions to the world will be determined by our reactions to its representations.

And, as a result, perhaps they will be. As works recede from the popular level, the conventions they embody become obvious, and their subjects come to be located at more abstract levels. Where Plato saw a story of blasphemy, attempted infanticide, foolishness, cruelty, murder, incest, ignorance, arrogance, suicide and self-mutilation the staples of soap opera , we see the struggle of a heroic individual against cosmic forces over which he has no control and an image of the harshness of human life: we call that story Oedipus Rex.

What would Plato have thought if he knew that you all read that play last year in Literature Humanities? Not only did he take what she was doing seriously, her freedom was what he was aiming for in his own work.

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The surging energy in his work was invigorating, undeniable and fresh. His work vibrates with unbridled creativity, curiosity and a voracious hunger for life. Sculpture finds him at play more than his painting. Maybe, because he considered himself a painter first, he was liberated to play with sculpture. His sculpture was unbound, and included wood, plaster, pebbles, metal, clay, found objects, bronze and assemblage. To put a pair of bicycle handlebars together with saddle and see that they can be a bull, a bird running along with two forks for legs, the essence of duckness or is it a goose?

Part of my job as an author and illustrator is going into schools and reading my stories to children. I also draw with them, showing them how to draw the characters in my books. They draw what they feel without compromise. Adults learn to compromise, to worry about what others think and rein themselves in.

Children just put it out there.