What Is Art According to Aristotle?

What Is Art According to Aristotle?

According to Aristotle, art is a form of expression that has the potential to be appreciated for its beauty and creativity.

He believed that art is a human construct and should not be seen as a replication of nature. Instead, he argued that art is an imitation of a higher ideal, which can be found in beauty, truth, and morality.

Aristotle's idea of art has been influential for centuries, and it continues to shape the way we think about art today. Here is what art according to Aristotle means and how it has shaped our understanding of art.

The art of imitation

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who is widely considered to be the father of modern aesthetics. According to Aristotle, art is a form of imitation. He defined imitation as the "representation of nature in the medium of human actions." In other words, he believed that artists could capture the beauty of the world around them through the use of their creative skills.

This form of imitation could take the form of painting, sculpture, poetry, drama, and other forms of creative expression. In particular, Aristotle argued that poets should strive to imitate nature to achieve the highest level of artistic excellence.

He believed that by focusing on nature and its unique characteristics, an artist can create works that are true reflections of reality.  For example, if an artist wanted to paint a portrait of a flower, they should pay close attention to its color, shape, and texture.

Likewise, if a poet wanted to write a tragedy about a family feud, they should draw inspiration from real-life events. This is because the truthfulness of art lies in its accuracy to life itself. Thus, according to Aristotle, art is ultimately a form of imitation that enables us to better understand and appreciate the world around us.

The purpose of art

Aristotle believed that art, or more specifically, imitation, serves an educational purpose. He argued that art is a form of instruction, and it should be used to teach moral and ethical lessons. He stated that the artist can "present us with a vivid realization of the better and worse elements in our moral life" and by doing so can help us to become better people.

He saw art as a way to improve society, and he believed that through art, we can gain insights into human nature and learn how to be better citizens. Aristotle also felt that art can be used to inspire admiration for beauty and virtue.

For example, an epic poem might encourage its listeners to strive for excellence in their own lives.

Additionally, Aristotle saw art as providing an outlet for emotion, allowing us to express joy and sorrow, love and hatred, fear and courage. Thus, Aristotle concluded that the purpose of art is to provide instruction, education, and inspiration in a beautiful way.

The means of expression in art

Aristotle believed that art was an imitation of life and that it should be expressed in a way that is both natural and lifelike.

He thought the best way to achieve this was through the use of language, music, painting, sculpture, and other forms of art. When it comes to language, Aristotle thought it should be used to portray reality as accurately as possible.

He also thought that rhythm and meter were important elements of literature and that they should be used to express emotions and ideas. He believed that language should be used to convey meaning rather than simply to sound pretty.

When it comes to painting and sculpture, Aristotle believed that the artist should strive for realism. He thought that art should depict characters and events in a lifelike manner and should portray the essence of the subject matter.

He also believed that the use of perspective and color was important when creating a painting or sculpture. Music was also important to Aristotle, who believed that its power lay in its ability to move and affect emotions.

He thought that music should be used to convey emotion, mood, and atmosphere and that it should be composed with a certain structure and complexity.

The subject matter of art

Aristotle believes that art should be judged by the accuracy and effectiveness of its imitation. This means that the subject matter of art should be an accurate representation of reality and that it should represent the things that exist in the world. For example, when painting a landscape, the artist should strive to capture the colors, shapes, and textures of the natural environment as accurately as possible.

Aristotle also argued that the subject matter of art should not be random or arbitrary, but rather it should be meaningful and representative of the real world. He believed that the subject matter of art should inspire awe and admiration, and should evoke emotion and thought in its viewers.

In his Poetics, Aristotle states that "The object of imitation is men in action and it is their character which is represented since it is this that determines their actions". Thus, the subject matter of art should portray characters who act in an honorable way, and who demonstrate positive qualities such as courage, temperance, wisdom, justice, and friendship.

The end or telos of art

Aristotle believed that the end or telos of art was to evoke an emotional response in the audience. He thought that this could be achieved through a combination of the artist's skill and personal experience, as well as the physical characteristics of the artwork itself.

Art was not seen by Aristotle as merely a vehicle for the transmission of ideas but instead as something that could bring about a transformation in those who experienced it.

This transformation, he thought, could take many forms, including providing pleasure, instilling admiration, and inspiring ethical action. Ultimately, Aristotle believed that art had the power to help individuals reach higher levels of understanding and insight, allowing them to live fuller and more meaningful lives.


Aristotle's views on art were shaped by his broader philosophical ideas, such as his belief in mimesis. He thought that art was an imitation of reality, and its purpose was to bring pleasure, or katharsis, to its viewers.

He also believed that art should use appropriate means of expression and focus on the appropriate subject matter. Finally, he thought that art had a telos or ultimate end-the development of character and virtue. Art, according to Aristotle, should be a tool to help us become the best versions of ourselves.

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