In his book, Plato critically evaluates overall effects of poetry on society as a whole through one of the characters. Socrates to be precise. Plato insists that thematic aspects of poetry might have an impact negatively on society: “Such poetry is likely to corrupt the mind of those of its hearers who do not have the knowledge of a drug to counteract it” (Plato, 2004, p. 297).
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On the other hand, Nochlin (1988) exposes male chauvinism and its consequences on emergence of women as great artists. According to this author, society has been manipulated to perceive women as inferior to men and this view has constantly been taken from one generation to another. Quoting John Stuart Mill, she writes: “Everything which is usual appears natural” (Nochlin, 1988, p. 149).
Evaluating their two points of view, it thus makes essence to banish all poets for the effect of their art on the social order of the city. Plato (2004) points out imitation as a major mode of transfer which the society uses to emulate poets. Once a poet writes about a particular voice in the society, people tend to quickly adopt the poet’s point of view. Successively, other society members copy from their allies and such an idea spreads far and beyond. This is clearly brought out through a conversation between Socrates and Glaucon about craftsmanship. In the course of imitation, the original intent of the poet is manipulated in all ways suitable to an individual. Socrates comments: “So, imitation is surely far removed from the truth” (Plato, 2004, p. 301).
Nochlin (1988) argues that little effort has been made to honor female scholars who have made significant contributions in various forms of art. Perhaps this is why we have few feminine artists. She does not blame men for this but rather on the earlier interpretations about female greatness. The author points out that the whole idea of feminine artists was earlier on misinterpreted to imply equality. There have been no such structures to clearly elaborate on the issue and those that tried to do so were either manipulated or turned out misinterpreted. This has led to the subsequent scarcity of female artists. Nochlin (1988) writes: “We would rather lay the blame on the initial misinterpretation of our institutional structures for the feminine woes” (p. 150). Hence just like poets, earlier current structures have significantly affected the population of feminine artist.
In the Republic, Socrates constantly refers to poets as imitators who lack originality in their work. He explains to Glaucon that most imitators seldom have sufficient knowledge of their actions. Thus, Socrates implies that most poets write about issues in the society, which they know little about since they do not live with their poems. In fact, Socrates suggests that a wise teacher will “be much more eager to be the subject of a eulogy than the author of one” (Plato, 2004, p. 302). Thus, poets instigate and propagate certain vices in society which they do not have sufficient information about such as negative vices.
A similar scenario is brought out by Nochlin (1988). In her article, she widely gives substantial recounts of social injustices as a result of male chauvinism. She highlights on the oppression of female artists under their male counterparts. However, she later points out that besides all these predicaments, no feminine artist has ever come out strongly to claim her position in the society as she states: “The fact of the matter is that there have been no supremely great women artists, as far as we know” (Nochlin, 1988, p. 151). This clearly implies that many literary pieces are done to agitate society of feminine artists’ plight yet the same feminine artists do not come out and establish themselves. Consequently, it follows that earlier feminine artists should be blamed for their lack of commitment to stand out and champion for feminine artists.
According to Plato, poets are known to command multitudes of people. Subsequently, poets selectively choose topics that will make them famous. Socrates says they write about “things about which the masses think they speak so well” (Plato, 2004, p. 302). Having established earlier that most people are easily manipulated by the poets’ literary works, it follows that a vice advocated for by a poet in his/her art will be widely taken up in society.
The same is explained by Nochlin (1988). Due to male dominance in art, a notion has been created that it takes geniuses and special people to be great artists: “Great artists are born special men, perhaps geniuses” (Nochlin, 1988, p. 152), and his greatness is also believed to be beyond feminine ability. Through literary works, the whole society has been manipulated to perceive the idea as concrete truth. Really, this is just a calculated misinterpretation by masculine artists to ward off feminine competition. Hence masculine artists ought to carry the blame for misleading the society.
More so, while Nochlin (1988) tackled gender equality, Plato (2004) elaborately dealt with extensive effects of art on society as a unit. In the Republic, masculine artists managed to convince the society into believing that indeed there can be no great feminine artist. This led to the scarce numbers of female and masculine artists. Early artists who put bad structures in place that do not support feminine artists’ growth are also to be blamed. On this note, I agree with Plato that poets should indeed be banished for their subsequent effects on the city’s social order.
Nochlin, L. (1988). Why have there been no great women artists. In Women, Art, power and other Essays (pp. 147-158). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Plato. (2004). Republic. (C., D, Reeve, Trans). Cambridge, CA: Hackett Publishing Company. (Original work published 380 BC).