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In book X of The Republic, one can see many previously discussed issues coming back to fulfillment. Art, which played a role in earlier cities, is brought up again and evaluated in depth. The question of whether art is good for the city arises and many arguments are made for the artificiality and potential danger art would bring to a city if introduced and not properly controlled. There is also a quarrel between the importance of art versus that of philosophy and a debate over their level of necessity and significance in the city.
Socrates and Glaucon discuss whether or not a painter can be considered a craftsman and come to the quick conclusion that he falls short of meeting the requirements. It is here that the artist is first likened to an imitator. When describing the painter, Socrates says, “He would most sensibly be addressed as an imitator of that of which these others are craftsmen (10.597e)”. The painter is not a craftsman because he does not understand the nature of what he is painting. He can neither become nor create his subject; he can only imitate it.
This notion is demonstrated in the portrait of a shoemaker. The painter gathers his colors and materials and attempts to implement the complete essence of the shoemaker onto his canvas. He can consider how the shoemaker performs his craft and even imagine himself in the shoemaker’s position and conclude that he understands the subject. However, what the painter has done is not real, he cannot “lay hold of the truth (10.601a)”. There is no harm in what the painter has just painted; the danger lies in what he believes he can do.
A poetic man is said to be just as misinformed as the painter. He is compared to a man who is skilled in rhetoric and can easily persuade people into thinking he is knowledgeable on subjects he does not understand and proficient in skills he has not mastered. He speaks eloquently, passionately and with the utmost confidence. This man is essentially tricking his audience like a magician at a show. In this same way, the poet “uses names and phrases to color each of the arts (10.601a)” filling those who read the poem with grandeur and improbable ideas. The poem itself is not harmful, but the mixing of poetic fantasy with what the readers have already learned to be true, can be destructive.
There is a subtle connection to the Allegory of the Cave when the artist is referred to as, “the maker of the phantom (10.601b)”. One can equate the artist to those who cast the shadows of false images on the walls of the cave, deceiving those who have been taken as prisoner. The role of art in the cave can begin to distinguish the philosopher from the artist. When a philosopher is lead out of the cave and shown the light, he is sent back into the cave to explain to the others what he has saw. He no longer believes in the false images he has previously been shown over and over; he now knows the truth and has undergone “the turning of a soul around from a day that is like night to the true day (7.521c)”. Because a philosopher is a lover of wisdom, he embraces the true state of nature and the “ascent to what is (7.521c)”.
If the artist were to be brought out of the cave into the light, he would most definitely reject the truth he is being shown. Not only would he not understand it, he would not want to understand it. He would immediately beg to be brought back into the cave and return to what he is comfortable with. He would speak nothing of what he had been shown and continue to watch the shadows and fully immerse himself back into falsities. The artist wishes to remain in a state of child-like ignorance and never turn around. He will choose to keep his head and neck bound, and only see what is before him. The artist’s reaction to the light would be the same as if he were “stripped of colors and music (10.601b)”. His face would “resemble the faces of the boys who are youthful but not fair in what happens to their looks when the bloom has forsaken them (10.601b)”. This is because the artist is gain-loving, he does not have the desire to know like the philosopher does.
These two very different reactions to the same situation reinforces Socrates’ claim of the great inequality between the philosopher and the artist, “For the honor and the benefit coming from the two are hardly equal (10.599b)”. In book IX of The Republic, a three-fold division of desires is proposed. The first level contains the learners, or the wisdom-lovers. This group is deemed the finest judges and represents the philosophers. The second level holds the spirited, or the victory-lovers, and the third level includes those who desire love and money. The bottom level is known as the gain-lovers and represents the artists. Socrates maintains that artists and philosophers are hardly equal due to the large degree in which their desires are divided. This is reiterated by the superiority of the wisdom-lovers, “But the kind of pleasure connected with the vision of what is cannot be tasted by anyone except the lover of wisdom (9.582c)”. Philosophers can come to know and understand what is; artists can only imitate what they think something is.
Continuing with the level of division between philosophers and artists, Socrates believes that there is also a three-part separation between each individual thing, “For each thing there are these three arts- one that will use, one that will make, one that will imitate (10.601d)”. Philosophers are a vital part of a city because they use their knowledge to, “seek for an understanding endowed by nature with measure and charm, one whose nature grows by itself in such a way as to make it easily led to the idea of each thing that is (6.486d)”. For in a successful city, practical activity requires theoretical knowledge.
Artists are at best an extraneous part of a city. They imitate things by fixating on the conventional; the artist “knows nothing worth mentioning about what he imitates (10.602b)”. For in a successful city, the only necessity for art is the need to control it. It is true that the artist is entertaining and if successful in his imitation, he can bring lovely things to the city. His intentions are usually good and his purpose, although most irrelevant, is typically quite harmless. However, art’s ability to “gratify the soul’s foolish part (605b)” can be very dangerous if too publicized and uninhibited.

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