Aristotle, Poetics, 1450b

παραπλήσιον γάρ ἐστιν καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γραφικῆς:[1450β] εἰ γάρ τις ἐναλείψειε τοῖς καλλίστοις φαρμάκοις χύδην, οὐκ ἂν ὁμοίως εὐφράνειεν καὶ λευκογραφήσας εἰκόνα

It is much the same also in painting; if a man smeared a canvas with the loveliest colors at random, it would not give as much pleasure as an outline in black and white. (translation W.H. Fyfe, 1932).

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Il en est de même dans la peinture; car, si l'on peint confusément, que ce soit avec les plus belles couleurs, on n'y prendra pas autant de plaisir qu'avec une image simplement dessinée (en noir et blanc). (Traduction A. Reinach, 1921 modifiée)

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Commentary

(Following text 133)

  1. Here the comparison with painting helps to understand the Aristotelian concept of tragedy which cannot exist without a "plot-structure" (muthos). More specifically, without "muthos" (which is compared to line-drawing), tragedy would be as meaningless as a painting that is full of colours but lacks any drawing (outlines). In this comparison, "colours" are equivalent to "ethê"("charaters" or "characterisation," see comment on text 133). While Aristotle does suggest that it is possible to have tragedy without "ethê" (characters), he does not recommend it (Halliwell, 1987, pp. 93-94; Rouveret, 2014, pp. 130-131). The reason why plot is so important is because it allows the audience to relate to the play on a personal level, in the sense that people see their own experiences reflected in the play. To explain, tragedy is basically the imitation (mimesis) of actions (Poetics 2) and this "mimesis" evokes pleasure and understanding in the audience as a result of their recognition of this fact. Therefore, ultimately, one finds pleasure and understanding in the "muthos" (understood as "plot-structure" in theater or "outline drawing" in painting). The “muthos” is the main concept in tragedy as well as in any other kind of “imitative” arts, including painting. When applied, colour (or "ethê") enhances a work of art, but in the end it is not an essential part (Halliwell, 1986, pp. 24-25, pp. 62-81; pp. 163; 2002, pp. 177-206; Woodruff, 2009, pp. 615-619).

  2. The word "leukographêas" means "painting without colors" or "outline drawing" but not, as A. Reinach suggests, "monochromes" or "paintings on a white background" (Reinach, 1921, p. 44 n. 5).

  3. A similar idea is developed in text 52 (with the addition of the concept of phantasia).

  4. Since texts 133, 33, 34, 132 and 238 are pieces of the same work (by the same author), they should be read together.

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Bibliography

See bibliography for text 133.

On mimèsis, see Halliwell, S. 2002,The aesthetics of mimesis. Ancient texts and modern problems, Princeton University Pres,Princeton-Oxford.

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