Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone



Now that increasing numbers of people are stuck at home and sheltering in place, I figured I’d do a little series. Every weekday for the duration of this intense period, I’ll post a short definition of some term in/related to aesthetics and philosophy of art. Let’s see how this goes! See them all here.

This week is another grab bag of important terms and phrases. Yay!

Terms of Art #38:


Marcel Marceau, master of mimesis [source]

Pronunciation: mai*-MEE-sis (or mih*-MEE-sis)
*mai = the word “my”; mih = the initial sound in “milk”, “middle”, “miss”

Definition: Mimesis (adj. “mimetic”) basically means imitation. (It is not a coincidence that the words strongly resemble each other.)

It was super important to ancient Greek philosophers, and continues to be important in art criticism since.

It sometimes means just imitation of things. For example, a realistic drawing of your dog is mimetic in a way that an abstract, highly stylized version is not mimetic.

Other times, it means an imitation that isn’t quite perfect. As in, it retains some degree of unreality – you know it’s not the real deal. A realistic drawing of your dog is like this (it’s a drawing; it’s not your actual dog, duh!). But if you transcribed an actual dialogue that you and your friends had, that might be a copy rather than mimesis.

You might think that hyperreal art interrogates the relationship between copying and mimesis. (← That’s the kind of sentence about mimesis you might see in the wild.)


hyperrealist sculpture by Ron Mueck: Mask II (2001–02) [source]

Related terms:
(1) mime, mimic, mimicry, imitation, … – all of these words are etymologically related to mimesis, so just chew on that
(2) Also related: meme…! But we’ll talk about that tomorrow.

For now, enjoy this (it’s only 6 minutes – watch till the end!):


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