Commonplaces: Mimesis, Beauty and Chastity


Commonplaces come from commonplace books which were popular and used for studying in The Middle Ages and the Renaissance. They were collections of excerpts from different books organized and arranged in some way.

The fragments I’ve chosen here present different views on art. There are quotes from Plato, Oscar Wilde, Ai Weiwei, Lars von Trier´s Dogma 95, and Andy Goldsworthy.

Mimesis, basic theoretical principle in the creation of art. The word is Greek and means “imitation” (though in the sense of “re-presentation” rather than of “copying”). Plato and Aristotle spoke of mimesis as the re-presentation of nature.

Which is the art of painting designed to be—an imitation of things as they are, or as they appear—of appearance or of reality?

Of appearance.

Then the imitator, I said, is a long way off the truth, and can do all things because he lightly touches on small part of them, and that part an image.

Plato The Republic, iBooks, Translated by Benjamin Jowett

Art never expresses anything but itself. It has an independent life, just as Thought has, and develops purely on its own lines. It is not necessarily realistic in an age of realism, nor spiritual in an age of faith. So far from being the creation of its time, it is usually in direct opposition to it, and the only history that it preserves for us is the history of its own progress.

Oscar Wilde The Decay of Lying: An Observation, The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde,

Golgotha Press, 2011

Artists are not beauticians. They are not obliged to provide services to anyone, they do not need to create pleasing scenery. Art is a type of game–you either play the game or you pass.

Ai Weiwei’s BlogArchitecture and Space, Posted on January 13, 2006

Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the Arts that have influenced us. To look at thing is very different from seeing a thing. One does not see anything until one sees its beauty.

Oscar Wilde The Decay of Lying: An Observation, The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde,

Golgotha Press, 2011

Objects are essentially objects. But the objects we see are never essentially the objects themselves; what we see is merely what we see.

 Ai Weiwei’s BlogArchitecture and Space, Posted on January 13, 2006

Art finds her own perfection within and not outside of, herself. She is not to be judged by any external standard of resemblance. She is a veil, rather than a mirror.


Oscar Wilde The Decay of Lying: An Observation, The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde,

Golgotha Press, 2011

While I was reading about mimesis, art as a representation of nature and life that imitates art I came across a designer Fabrizio Gilardino who founded a collective of politicaly conscious graphic designers, Socialist Designers. They work according to a set of rules inspired by Lars von Trier’s Dogme 95.

Dogme 95 was an avant-garde filmmaking movement started by the Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. The traditional values of story, acting, and theme were the focal points of The Vow of Chastity: Dogme Manifesto.

Two points from The Vow of Chastity: Dogme Manifesto and Andy Goldsworthy’s views on his work.

1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where the prop is to be found).

I have become aware of how nature is in a state of change and how that change is the key to understanding. I want my art to be sensitive and alert to changes in material, season and weather.

A rock is not independent of its surroundings. The way it sits tells how it came to be there. The energy and space around a rock are as important as the energy and space within. The weather – rain, sun, snow, hail, mist, calm – is that external space made visible. When I touch a rock, I am touching and working the space around it. In an effort to understand why that rock is there and where it is going, I do not take it away from the area in which I found it.

5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.

Click to access the_vow_of_chastity.pdf

My approach to photography is kept simple, almost routine. All work, good and bad, is documented. I use standard film, a standard lens and no filters. Each work grows, strays, decays—integral parts of a cycle which the photograph shows at its height, marking the moment when the work is most alive. There is an intensity about a work at its peak that I hope is expressed in the image. Process and decay are implicit.

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