Art and Truth – Part 1

With every new epoch the cultural mirror in which truth is shown changes. While for Plato and Plotinus the eternal spirit, the “One”, showed itself to sensory perception in "the Beautiful", for the Pythagoreans it revealed itself in the harmonic measure of all things conveyed by the sensory organs.

Art and Truth – Part 1

Art is the eternal romance between the beautiful and the beast. Anyone who asks the question of truth inevitably ends up with culture. It reflects the struggle, the fight for truth in art, science and religion.  The cultural mirror in which truth is shown changes. Sometimes clear and unambiguous, in all its beauty undistorted, sometimes feuilletonistic like in a distorted mirror; superficial, fearful and bored, searching for depth and meaning.

The true, the good and the beautiful

Plato was the first philosopher to develop a state utopia. He was looking for an ideal state that would enable people to develop their innermost spiritual and utopian potential. Optimal conditions for the development of body, mind and soul should make the true, the good and the beautiful “visible” in man. In his texts on this utopia he describes the ideal conditions for a healthy development of mankind.

The Good, the True and the Beautiful are the roots of the basic values of today’s cultural development, at the same time they are in their deepest essence ideas in the sense of Plato. Plato looked for ways to make a reflection of these ideas visible. In many places in his remarks he deals with the problem that man cannot grasp these ideas directly. They always remain mere ideals.

It is possible to consider culture as an expression of these three Platonic ideas. The true has its focus on science, the good in the sense of the “Alone Good” has its roots in philosophy and ethics, and the beautiful is closely related to “Art”. Paracelsus has pointed out at various points in his work that in this world something never exists one-sidedly. Everything is put together. Thus, in art the largest part is indeed the “Beautiful”, but the “True” and the “Good” are also components.

Plato’s utopian state was supposed to enable man, through his life in the depths of his own being, to perceive and implement these ideas directly. Plato describes philosophy, which thus leads to a completely new perception at this point, by saying: “The inversion of the soul from a kind of nocturnal day to the true day, that is, to that ascent that leads to being, we declare to be true philosophy.” With this sentence he finally describes his cave parable, which is still famous today. This philosophy is, in various guises, part of every cultural field.

Plato and Beauty

The “fine arts” play a special role in Plato’s state. The “Beautiful” was soul-forming. He had the idea that “everything artistic must end in the love of the beautiful.” The fine arts have a different influence on the shaping and development of the soul. In utopia, music was the most powerful instrument, as it exerts a direct influence on the soul. In music, the soul experiences the heavenly and earthly worlds interwoven without any boundaries. The visual arts and literature are to be considered here in a more differentiated way. A work of art can give the soul an impression of the absolute world of ideas. In the Renaissance period, the artist Leonardo Da Vinci wrote in his diaries: “The divine nature of the painter’s art causes his spirit to be transformed into an image of divine spirit”. If the work of art is created in this spirit, an effect always develops beyond sensory perception.

But already in the discourse of Greek philosophy the view of “the Beautiful” experiences a certain polarization. While for Plato and the philosopher Plotinus (who lived about 600 years after Plato), the eternal spirit, the “One” showed itself to sensory perception in “the Beautiful”.,for the Pythagoreans it revealed itself in the harmonic measure of all things conveyed by the sensory organs. In the development of his works of art Leonardo Da Vinci searched for the harmonious interplay of both views.

Now the beautiful, as Plato understood, can neither be directly perceived nor rationally experienced. This beauty is an ideal, a radiance that the soul perceives. It can no longer be assigned to art alone. It refers to an immediate recognition of the soul. The natural scientist recognizes beauty in mathematical or geometrical basic structures. The artist recognizes it in color, light, language and music.

If the soul wants to perceive the splendor of the Absolute, it must first have itself assumed the essence of the Absolute. It can only comprehend the spirit to which it is itself similar.  This soul is a completely original mirror in which the world of ideas appears undistorted. If we now ask about the person who carries such a soul, he can be characterized in one sentence: The simple is the seal of the true. A simplicity is required that must be achieved.

Art and Abstraction

If we take a closer look at the development of culture in the last one and a half centuries, we can call it the time period of abstraction for science and art. Biology recognized amino acids as the basic building blocks of all life, and physics recognized the smallest subatomic units, which can appear as waves or particles, as a preliminary basic structure. In art, forms dissolved into splashes of color as in Impressionism or into basic geometric structures as in Cubism. Even Plato was no stranger to the search for “simplicity” through abstraction. He defined geometrical bodies as basic structures of the cosmos, which we still know today as Platonic bodies. Here, too, it seems to prove true that the simple is the seal of the true.

In the field of technology, we are currently experiencing that people are increasingly digitalizing their lives, using a technique that has evolved from a high level of mathematical abstraction. Very few users are able to understand the basics of this technology and limit themselves to using it. In this respect the soul lives with a dark mirror, in which it does not understand everything it sees, but to which it learns to react with growing experience in its life.

Here we must now ask ourselves whether what it sees is only the “beautiful” in a distorted mirror, or whether the “ugly” really shows itself as something independently living and real. It would go beyond the scope of this article to go into this in detail. But perhaps one could dare to suggest that the “ugliness” slowly dissolves in time with the increasing abstraction or simplification and shows itself as a variation of the “beautiful”. The simple is the seal of the true. Ultimately, the Beautiful is the house in which everything can develop: the True and the Good. The Good, as Plato says, makes the True visible.

(will be continued in part 2)

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Date: April 30, 2020
Author: Heiko Haase (Germany)
Photo: Zumthie auf Wikipedia Deutsch CCO

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