Art, The Imitation Of Life?
Plato’s theory on art from The Republic claims that art is nothing more than a copy of a copy of an ideal, thrice removed. Using a couch as an example, Plato believed that the true artist was god, who then inspired the carpenter, who then inspired the painter, “thus we have three forms of couches and three overseers of their manufacture - the painter, the carpenter, and god.” He believed that art imitates reality, that it imitates the objects and events of ordinary life, be it images of nature, or a photograph of a ballerina. He saw art is nothing more than an imitation of people, places, and things that already exist. Of course he was not the first or the last person to think that art imitates reality. In Giorgio Vasari’s book Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculpts, and Architects he is quoted as saying "painting is just the imitation of all the living things of nature with their colors and designs just as they are in nature.” However, could it be said that artists do the opposite of imitating life? Don’t they instead show us the essence of life and reveal the truths that we otherwise wouldn’t see?
Considered to be one of the most influential American Artist, Robert Rauschenberg took these objects and images of ordinary life and enhanced them. He is quoted as saying “I really feel sorry for people who think things like soap dishes or mirrors or Coke bottles are ugly because they’re surrounded by things like that all day long, and it must make them miserable.” He believed there was a gap between art and life and he wanted to show the world the possibilities that lay in-between that gap by using objects, images, and sometimes pre existing paintings we see in everyday life and turning them into something new, thus developing the Neo-Dada movement of the 1950’s. Rauschenberg paved the way for such artists as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and many others, inspiring them to take their art to a new level. He inspired artists to look outside of their paint box for new resources when it came to creating their art. Rauschenberg believed that “painting is more like the real world if it’s made out of the real world”, he found inspiration in every day object and used them in unexpected way to give us a different perspective.
But isn’t that what artists are supposed to do? Aren’t they supposed to be inspired by the world around them, and doesn’t that include nature and existing art, be it a couch, nature or another painting? Or are they simply imitating what has already been produced? Is art imitation, or is it something more?