Personal Reflections on ‘In Plato’s Cave’ Series

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The piece of art that I visited is called In Plato’s Cave, which was done by Robert Motherwell, and can be found in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In fact, the painting I saw is only one from a series of paintings all with the same name. Motherwell lived from 1915-1991 and painted In Plato’s Cave in 1973. The connection to this course is direct and hard to miss: In Plato’s Cave is a reference to his Allegory of the Cave.

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One reason I chose this painting has to do with my ethnic background. My paternal grandfather is fully Greek which makes me 25%, so my family usually has some bias toward anything Greek. Because of this I have always been interested in ancient Greek philosophy, so a painting depicting Plato’s Allegory of the Cave seemed to be the best choice to write about. Another reason I chose this was that there weren’t many other works that had strong connections to our course material. With a limited selection of works to choose from, In Plato’s Cave made the most sense overall.

In Plato’s Cave is abstract and consists of only black and shades of gray, which is representative of the “reality” that the prisoners experience in the cave. After looking at this painting I realized something about the cave. Aside from the true reality, that is, where everything is physically located, reality for the prisoners is completely subjective. With inadequate light to see properly, it is possible that everyone sees something different and interprets the shadows in a different way. This then proves that observations can’t be used as empirical evidence without the correct context of the observations, as these can differ between people. Because of this, prisoners who have lived in the cave for their entire lives are still unable to identify reality.

While many superficial comparisons can be made between the Allegory of the Cave and In Plato’s Cave, a deeper understanding of their connection can arise due to the abstract nature of the painting. It seems that, for most people, abstract art creates more questions than other art forms, and many people even question why it’s considered art at all. With so much variety and apparent randomness, many people can’t help but wonder what went through the artist’s mind when making their work. Coincidentally, the message from Allegory of the Cave is to ask questions. Plato encourages free thinking and skepticism by demonstrating that these qualities are necessary for the prisoners to determine reality. Some more similarities between the painting and other works from our course include their criticisms and intentions for an audience reaction. Abstract art often faces the criticism of being too progressive, and the same could be said about many authors we’ve read. Additionally, both artists and authors in these scenarios make unconventional work that is meant to invoke an audience reaction.

One key aspect important to both literature and art is symbolism. In this case, abstract art is being used for symbolism of the Allegory of the Cave, which has plenty of symbolism itself. The cave is representative of many things, including ignorance, since the prisoners of the cave accept what they see without question. This ignorance is exemplified by the darkness which consumes the cave because the prisoners are unable to know the physical objects that cause the shadows, which means they think the shadows are the true forms of the objects. These shadows are representative of a superficial truth; an illusion the cave dwellers see. The light, both inside and outside of the cave, symbolizes knowledge as it allows people to see the true forms of objects. Symbolism isn’t only used to make comparisons between objects and ideas, as it is also used to teach the audience about the implications of perception.

In conclusion, there were multiple reasons why I chose to analyze In Plato’s Cave. One is that there weren’t many art works that directly connected to our course work and another is my ethnic background. Upon analysis of the painting, I realized that reality in the cave is subjective. Robert Motherwell painted his interpretation of the cave and everybody would do the same thing in their own way. With limited movement and changing light inputs, prisoners may see the same thing but think differently. There are a multitude of similarities between In Plato’s Cave and Allegory of the Cave. Both encourage asking questions, seek audience reaction, and face the same criticisms. Finally, there is an immense amount of symbolism found in the painting, but especially in the allegory. The cave, the light, and the shadows, are all symbolic of ignorance, knowledge, and false truth, respectively, and this symbolism is used to educate readers about perception.

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Personal Reflections on 'In Plato’s Cave' Series. (2019, Feb 10). Retrieved from