On Plato – a follow-up to Art & Money Can, and Do, Touch

Still more on the quote that inspired this earlier post… What’s bugging me about it is Plato.

If I’m remembering what I learned in my Art & Philosophy course (a long time ago), Plato believed that the highest reality was the idea. For instance, the idea of “chair” was its most real form. A physical chair that one could sit on was once removed from reality as it was a single representation of the idea of chair (which includes all possible types of chairs). A painting of a chair was twice removed from reality as it was a representation of a representation. In Plato’s thinking, that painting has the least value because it is the least real.

If Hickey, like Plato, believes the idea is the most real – and therefore valuable – then of course the inherent worth of an object isn’t a question that troubles him. Perception, faith, “it’s all in the eye of the beholder” – that’s fine, because it’s the idea that matters most.

I, on the other hand, have always found this philosophy to be, well – a better word escapes me at the moment – silly. I thought it was silly in college and I still think so today.

I’m a craftsperson. Physicality and function are very important elements of my work. Being able to experience an object through multiple senses, to come to understand and appreciate it through its use, to develop a shared story with it over time – these are the things that are valuable to me as an artist.

I love the world of ideas – I really do. But ideas aren’t valuable until they are manifested some way that is useful. Embodiment matters.

As I understand it, the distinction in Greek philosophy between the idea and the object, the mental and the physical – and the belief that the physical world is inferior, a mere shadow of the realm of ideas that is the true reality – even led to the persistent misinterpretation of Christian theology that separates the body and the spirit, and places the spirit above the body. But as humans we are by our very nature embodied. Ideas and objects, mental and physical, spirit and body – they do not exist separately for us. And human meaning comes from the intersection of the intangible and the tangible.

I’ve the impression that Hickey is offering reassurance in suggesting that art and money don’t touch – that the distances and separation he describes are a good thing. But the more I think about his philosophy, the more it makes me sad.

Being the embodied creatures we are, we are SO much better off when we touch, and when we allow the elements of our lives to touch each other. Feeling connected to our work, our families, our communities, to the natural world, to something greater than ourselves spiritually, and so on seems to be crucial to our well-being. We have a deep need to feel whole. And I just don’t see how placing the elements of our work and our lives in different universes helps us feel whole – as artists or businesspeople or human beings. Again, I say it’s all too hygienic.

Touching can be messy. Life is messy. Living in connected ways requires us to get our hands dirty from time to time. As Anne Lamott reminds us in Bird by Bird, “…messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here – and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”


1 Response to “On Plato – a follow-up to Art & Money Can, and Do, Touch”

  1. 1 Consistent Persistence « How THW Gets In Gear Trackback on February 11, 2008 at 10:15 am

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Third Hand Works

from overwhelmed to ready for anything | organization and time management for people in their "right" minds | administrative guidance for independent creative professionals [more info]



© 2008 Cairene MacDonald, Third Hand Works. All Rights Reserved.

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