aristotle: on aesthetics

The following excerpt was completed for an Aesthetics course while working toward my Bachelor’s Degree. I believe this project is from 2016. I love looking back through essays and college papers!

Aristotle actualizes that poetry, and other art forms, are not imitations in their whole form (Aristotle 41). He recognizes that there are qualities within the nature of the constituent parts which differ from other of the same type, of species, of arts (i.e., other poems) (41). Aristotle contends that while the arts may be similar and imitative in some ways, they vary in kind, object, and/or how they are imitated (41). Repeated use of color, form, rhythm, language, and harmony are inevitable during composition; but, the composer’s usage of these are what comprises the main differences (41). Poets write prose in metres; flute-players combine rhythm and harmony; dancers employ rhythm alone (41). Each is a separate entity, consisting of its own qualities.

The imitator’s objects—lyrical song, poem, painting, etc—are diversified through the imitator’s own attitudes, perceptions, emotions, experiences, and other diversities of human character (Aristotle 42). Sometimes the audience is able to relate to the qualities embedded in the work; other times, “the agents represented must be either above our own level or goodness, or beneath it” (42). Therefore, one cannot insist that all arts are purely imitative of others, as they each engender unique qualities which are infused into the product by its maker.

A comedic play is a different representation than that of a tragedy, as Aristotle notes, “a third difference in these arts is in the manner in which each kind of object is represented” (42). When the means and the kind of object are the same in the imitation, there are bound to be differences in how the object is executed. For example, Homer utilizes both narration and acting as an assumed character in his works (42). In contrast, some may utilize only narration, or some may act the story out and utilize dramatics (42).

Aristotle says that imitation is an innate feature of human beings, as humans first learn through imitation (42). While some works of imitation demonstrate another’s suffering or devastation, people “delight to view the most realistic representations” of their experiences through art (42). As a person views the imitations, whether poetry, paintings, a play, or whatever other works, he learns something and gathers meaning (42). Part of the pleasure in viewing “imitations” is the initial observation of how the imitator executed it, improved on it, or utilized colors, for example (43). Similarly, poetry is broken up into various kinds, based on the types of men presenting it, as Comedy regards those who are “ridiculous” or “ugly” and tragedy regards those with a more serious tone by which actions and life are imitated (42).

Aristotle goes on to explain the six parts, another factor differentiating one from the other, as “they differ also in their constituents, some being common to both and others peculiar to Tragedy” (Aristotle 44). The main elements of Tragedy, Comedy and Epic poetry, then, are spectacle, character, fable, diction, melody and thought (44). Each formative element lends itself to the story, while some cannot exist without the other.

Plot, an essential element, consists of a beginning, middle, and end—undoubtedly an imitation of all plot layouts (Aristotle 45). Plot cannot be avoided, since “one imitation is always of one thing, so in poetry the story, as an imitation of action, must represent one action, a complete whole, with its several incidents so closely connected that the transposal or withdrawal of any one of them will disjoin and dislocate the whole” (46).  In other words, a story is not a story without a plot, a song is not a song without melody, and a plot is not a plot without action.

Further, each plot consists of certain parts essential to the type of story. Aristotle says that the story, the actions, arise out of the plot’s structure (46). Peripety and Discovery show action; Suffering defines the action (47). These are known to be “formative elements in the whole” which are the parts of Tragedy (47). In addition, each tragedy consists of a Prologue, Episode, Exode, Parode and Stasimon (47). Therefore, to invoke a tragic experience consisting of pity and fear of the audience, a “poet has to produce it by a work of imitation,” as the poet acknowledges the “right way” according to his audiences’ desires (48). Put simply: there is a “certain kind of plot required for tragedy”, just as certain elements are required for song or painting (49).

Finally, Aristotle says there are certain necessary and probable elements which must be utilized to portray without ambiguity. A painter aiming to paint a man’s portrait will need to include common features of a face (i.e., eyes, nose, mouth) and another painter’s portrait will likely include these same elements. This is imitative, yes, but essential if one is to successfully portray a specific thing such as an “angry man” or a sense of sorrow in a play.

Works Cited

Aristotle. “Poetics.” Aesthetics: A Comprehensive Anthology edited by Steven Cahn & Aaron Meskin. Blackwell Publishing, 2008, pp. 41-50.