I’ve been thinking about Plato’s opinion that art is dangerous because it is deceptive.  My first gut reaction was, “Of course art isn’t deceptive!”  But the more I think about it, the more I can see where Plato’s coming from.  I guess the best example would be trompe l’oeil paintings, which have deception in their title essentially.  I have seen some gorgeous trompe l’oeil paintings; they’re really quite amazing.  Somehow they’re even more realistic than reality.  They certainly look more realistic than photographs, which is a very strange idea to wrap your head around.  In that case art is deceptive.  I’m still not convinced it’s dangerous though.  Although I suppose if someone did a trompe l’oeil painting of an open door or staircase on a solid wall, like Charles Willson Peale’s The Staircase Group, if it was good enough someone could smash into the wall and hurt themselves.  I know that’s not really the danger Plato had in mind though.  Maybe I’ve just been watching too much Looney Tunes. 

            Another area of art where deception comes into play is photography.  Now with computers and Photoshop it’s very easy to be deceived by photographs.  But even in its early days photography had to deal with deception.  Since it could literally capture a moment of reality many people were unaware of its ability to deceive as well.  Some early artists tried to show this.  Bayard took a self-portrait as a drowned man.  Obviously he wasn’t actually dead.  He was trying to prove that you can’t always believe what you see.

            So I guess perhaps Plato was on to something about art being deceptive.  I think the danger of it lies in the artist’s intent.  If the artist intentionally tries to deceive, esp. for dubious reasons it can be dangerous.  However if the artist’s intention is good, and does not mean to deceive than it’s not really the artist’s fault.  Overall I think Plato was a bit too harsh on art.  But I don’t think he was entirely wrong either.  And just because art has the capability to be dangerous, doesn’t mean it has no place in society. 

The Staircase Group by Charles Willson Peale, 1795


Chnages of Time by John Haberle, 1888


Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man by Bayard, 1840