The Classical Concept of Art[1]


...[T]he general theory of art in Greek philosophy was subordinate to their theory of manufacture....The theory was based on the twin ideas of function and technique. The competent artisan must of necessity know the 'good' which is the end or object of his [or her] craft (i.e., shoes in the case of the cobbler, health in the case of the physician, statues in the case of the sculptor). ...Plato emphasized the idea of specialization. Each artisan is a specialist in the 'good' of his [or her] particular craft. it was the task of the philosopher-statesman -- the supreme 'artist' -- to evaluate these several 'goods' of the particular crafts according to their usefulness in a planned society. [35, 37]

Plato had difficulty in fitting those artisans whom we would now call 'artists' into this scheme both because they did not easily accord with his idea of specialization and because the social value of the 'ends' of their particular crafts was not clear to him. A cobbler is an expert in the making of real shoes, a carpenter in tables and chairs. But a painter produces imitations or unreal copies of shoes, chairs, tables, and all visible things, without being an expert in anything. If you assume that the value of any manufacture is its usefulness, then the usefulness of a painted shoe is less than that of a real shoe. So too the poets described anything and everything, having expert knowledge of nothing. It was largely on this ground that Plato was unable to reconcile himself to the use of the poets for instruction in the education of the young and regarded their works as inferior to technical and scientific handbooks. [37]

The Greek word techne (from which we derive 'technique') denoted a skill or craft. But it was thought of not merely as manual skill cultivated in accordance with nonspecifiable rules of workshop tradition; it was regarded rather as a branch of knowledge, a form of practical science. For the Greeks were alive to the desirability of converting inherited techniques into systems of rules and methods which could be communicated and taught.... In the classical statement, therefore, Aristotle defines techne (translated 'art') as 'a capacity to make or do something with a correct understanding of the principle involved'. In the order of knowledg