A new beginning: Plato and proportion

I have had a delightful time interacting with people far and near when I began posting about expressivist theory that I have decided to make a new beginning. Amongst other things, I’m going to use this forum to clarify my own ideas about aesthetics in a more systematic and historical fashion.

This means that we have to begin where we always begin: Plato. In The Statesmen, Plato makes the argument that the “great” and the “small” cannot simply be defined relationally. It is necessary to have a “mean” of some sort for art to exist. Without the mean, there is not a real possibility of measure. He even goes so far as to say, “if there are arts, there is a standard of measure, and if there is a standard of measure, there are arts; but if either is wanting, there is neither.” Obviously, we are in the area of the Greek ideals of beauty defined by proper proportion.

Our ideas of beauty and even proportion have changed much since the time of Plato. What strikes me as most relevant is how artists still largely function under the same conceptions. That is, I don’t know of anyone doing creative work that is not constantly obsessed with proportion. Composers are constantly saying things like, “The secondary theme is not weighty enough to balance the poignancy of the first theme.” Painter friends say, “I wanted this specific pigment of red in this spot to balance out the blue.” Even in our criticism, we largely consider a work of art successful or not depending on the proportionality. Think of movies where a critic says, “The director moved to quickly through the development to give us any emotional attachment to the characters which lead to a climax that was less than satisfying because the underlying structure was not strong enough to carry the emotional weight the director was trying to communicate.” I once had a theory teacher who hated Tchaikovsky’s 1st piano concerto with a passion. His argument: the modulation happens too soon at the beginning without enough preparation. That is, he felt it was out of proportion.

The big question is, is there another framework aside from proportionality that allows us to evaluate art works in such a comprehensive fashion? This becomes especially relevant in the 20th century when so many artists challenged traditional ideas of proportionality as a measure of beauty. For me, I’m thinking about the proportionality of this blog entry. I think it’s long enough.