PRINT December 1990


Art and Politics

BOTH THE ARTIST and the politician are people who do things to be exhibited in public. To Plato, in fact, “art” and “politics” were two words for the same thing. If we no longer quite share his opinion (though some of us may agree that politics is an art), it is at least partly because we no longer despise art quite as much as he did.

Plato held art and politics in contempt not because both are exhibitionists—as far as we know, he had no objection to prostitution—but because both try to impose ideas. That must involve adapting the idea to whatever it is imposed on. To Plato, the adaptation was always a betrayal. Draw a triangle, and the sum of its angles is never exactly 180°. Impose a supposedly ideal political state on people, and somehow or other it ends up not so ideal after all. To see this proven, Plato had only to look at the idea before it was imposed, and then to compare it with

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