Catharsis


‘Using his ideas about the fictional status of art, Aristotle made a particular study of the emotions aroused by tragic drama. This formed the basis for his theory of “catharsis”. Aristotle perceived how tragic drama draws on the audience’s feeling of pity and fear – it was common for Athenian spectators to weep openly at stage performances.

[Aristotle]
“These feelings are aroused particularly when the hero suffers a significant reversal of fortunes such as when Oedipus, in Sophocles’ drama Oedipus Rex, discovers that Jocasta, his wife, is in fact his mother. The tragedy is compounded by the fact that the messenger who reveals Oedipus’ true identity initially came to deliver joyous news.”

Catharsis is the feeling of sympathy aroused in the audience for Oedipus in this tragic moment of reversal. Aristotle argued that the fictional status of the play creates a sense of distance between the spectator and the tragic hero, and that because of this it is possible to enjoy tragedy and take aesthetic pleasure in it.’

– Kul-Want. C. (2012) Aesthetics London, United Kingdom: Icon Books p. 21-22

The Happening of Truth


‘Heidegger believed that art was an alternative way of discovering the truth about the world and Nature.

[Heidegger]
“Art is the happening of Truth. It discloses Being without making it into a classifiable entity.”

In his essay “The Origin of the Work of Art” (1935). Heidegger turned to a painting of shoes by Van Gogh to explicate his point about art as “the happening of truth”:

“A pair of peasant shoes and nothing more. And yet – From the dark opening of the worn insides of the shoes the toilsome tread of the worker stares forth … In the shoes vibrates the silent call of the earth, its quiet gift of the ripening grain and its unexplained self-refusal in the fallow desolation of the wintry field.”

Heidegger’s argument is that Van Gogh’s painting re-creates the lived context of the peasant’s life. Because the painting achieves this, Heidegger concludes:

[Heidegger]
“Van Gogh’s painting is the disclosure of what the equipment, the pair of peasant shoes, is in Truth.”

Heidegger’s reading of Van Gogh’s painting is part of the tradition of hermeneutics, in which the work of art is seen as a clue or symptom for a wider sense of reality.’

– Kul-Want. C. (2012) Aesthetics London, United Kingdom: Icon Books p. 98-100

Deception is Truth, Truth Deception


‘The postmodernist critique of Plato was anticipated in classical times in a celebrated story told by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) in his Natural History. Pliny described a competition between the painters Zeuxis and Parrhasios during the 5th century BC. Zeuxis painted a bunch of grapes so lifelike that they attracted the birds.

[Parrhasios] “But I triumphed over him by painting a veil so deceptive that Zeuxis turned to me and said…”

[Zeuxis] “Well, and now draw aside the veil and show what you have painted behind it.”

[Pliny the Elder] “Whereas Zeuxis fooled the birds, Parrhasios deceived his fellow human beings.”

Plato always maintained that truth and falsity are opposed. This idea is perpetuated in confusion arising from Zeuxis’ painting. But Parrhasios contradicts this notion by revealing that deception is the truth, and vice versa. The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan was particularly fond of this story, and quoted it in his seminars during the 1960s and 70s.’

– Kul-Want. C. (2012) Aesthetics London, United Kingdom: Icon Books p. 15