tarkovsky + plato

As I study for an upcoming animation class, I’ve been fascinated by the history of human ideas about vision and light. Especially interesting is the common connection between images “inside our eyes” and those in dreams. Contemporary science doesn’t seem to make a link between these things at all– relegating them neatly into the categories of optics and psychology.


Str. We know that we and all the other animals, and fire, and water, and their kindred elements, out of which natural elements are formed, are one and all the very offspring and creations of God, do we not?

Theaet. Yes.

Str. And corresponding to each and all of these there are images, not the things themselves, which are also made by superhuman skill.

T. What are they?

Str. The appearances in dreams, and those that arise by day and are said to be spontaneous—a shadow when a dark object interrupts the firelight, or when twofold light, from the objects themselves and from outside, meets on smooth and bright surfaces and causes upon our senses an effect the reverse of our ordinary sight, thus producing an image.

T. Yes, these are two works of divine creation, the thing itself and the corresponding image in each case.

Str. And how about our own art? Shall we not say that we make a house by the art of building, and by the art of painting make another house, a sort of man-made dream produced for those who are awake?

T. Certainly.

Str. And in the same way, we say, all the other works of our creative activity also are twofold and go in pairs—the thing itself, produced by the art that created real things, and the image, produced by the image-making art.

[excerpted from Plato’s Sophist]

Andrei Tarkovsky stills… from Stalker and Mirror:

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“What matters to me is that the feeling excited by my films should be universal. An artistic image is capable of arousing identical feelings in viewers, while the thoughts that come later may be very different. If you start to search for a meaning during the film you will miss everything that happens. The ideal viewer is someone who watches a film like a traveler watching the country he is passing through: because the effect of an artistic image is an extra-mental type of communication. There are some artists who attach symbolic meaning to their images, but that is not possible for me. Zen poets have a good way of dealing with this: they work to eliminate any possibility of interpretation, an in the process a parallel arises between the real world and what the artist creates in his work.

“What then is the purpose of this activity? It seems to me that the purpose of art is to prepare the human soul for the perception of good. The soul opens up under the influence of an artistic image, and it is for this reason that we say it helps us to communicate—but it is communication in the highest sense of the word. I could not imagine a work of art that would prompt a person to do something bad…Perhaps you have noticed that the more pointless people’s tears during a film, the more profound the reason for these tears. I am not talking about sentimentality, but about how art can reach to the depths of the human soul and leave man defenseless against good.”

(“Against Interpretation: An Interview with Andrei Tarkovsky “, Framework, no. 14, 1981, Reprinted in Andrei Tarkovsky Interviews, ed. John Gianvito, University of Mississippi Press, Jackson, Mississippi, 2006, p.68-69)


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