What is mimesis in art?

Mimesis in art is the tendency for artists to imitate, or copy, the style, technique, form, content, or any other aspect of another artist’s work. It is the idea that Erich Auerbach made popular in his book, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. The idea is that art imitates nature. All art is a representation either of nature or of other art. The representation of reality is a Platonic conception of the world in which the world we live in is simply some kind of faint imitation of the “real” world, or reality. The more that artists imitate other artists, the further removed they become from that real world.

This kind of mimesis by representation is different from what René Girard meant by mimesis in desire. Mimesis of representation means mimesis, or imitation, of external things—art, speech, mannerisms, dress, etc. Mimetic desire, the real innovation of Girard, means that what is being imitated is not any kind of superficial, external representation but desires themselves.