Mimesis (/mˈmsəs/; Ancient Greek: μίμησις (mīmēsis), from μιμεῖσθαι (mīmeisthai), “to imitate,” …) … carries a wide range of meanings, which include imitation, representation, mimicry, imitatio, receptivity, nonsensuous similarity, the act of resembling, the act of expression, and the presentation of the self.

In ancient Greece, mimesis was an idea that governed the creation of works of art, in particular, with correspondence to the physical world understood as a model for beauty, truth, and the good. Plato contrasted mimesis, or imitation, with diegesis, or narrative (Wikipedia).

Cutting to the chase, mimesis or the mimetic response as applied to the act of drawing is a kind of copying.  It is about drawing pictures that “look like” what is being pictured.

For example, a portrait “ought” to look like the person being portrayed: see Archibald Prize for an extended history of contest to this requirement, dating from William Dobell’s portrait of Joshua Smith through to current debates about whether a portrait is really a portrait when it’s “merely” been “copied” from a photograph rather than the result of a sitting (or several sittings) with the person whose portrait is being painted.

Similarly, a landscape painting “ought” to look like the scene before the artist’s eyes: but how and what does the artist actually “see”? We only need to  recall how the early British settler-artists in the 19th century could only “see” the Australian landscape as if it was a very large English country estate, ie they translated their homesickness for the rolling hills of Somerset and Kent into a bastardised version of their romantic English bucolic idyll.

Debate about how we translate what we see into images and words is as old as ancient Greece: Aristotle argued for “real” while Plato argued for the “ideal” (Bill Platz, 2332QCA lecture, 1 March 2016).

For a contemporaneous perspective on the question of “what do we see?”, click on this hyperlink: 6 Photographers Shot the Same Person and the Results are Astonishing While this short clip is a promo-clip for Canon, its core message is still valid: ie., most of us (perhaps all of us) carry assumptions about what a person “really looks like” when we are given certain (even if untrue) information about that person.

So, moving now from theory into practice …what does mimetic skill actually mean? or require?

Mimesis