How to Make Sense of the Dionysian and the Apollonian in Art

By Steven J. Miller ; Updated September 15, 2017
Zeus was the father of Apollo and Dionysus.

Making sense of the difference between the contrasting concepts of Apollonian and Dionysian desires in art provides a greater appreciation of art. Drawn from Greek mythology, the concepts are based on the the two sons of Zeus: Apollo, the god of the sun; and Dionysus, the god of drink, personal enjoyment and intoxication. These concepts are philosophical and do not rely on strict empirical evidence.

Decide whether the artwork denotes rational, carefully calculated expressions. The Apollonian in art lends itself to rational and rigid thinking. There is a substantial degree of clarity, form and logic in Apollonian artwork. It highlights the artist’s analytical abilities at the expense of abstract, uncertain shapes. Leonardo Da Vinci's work is a prime example of Apollonian art.

Evaluate the art for abstract expressions, nonrealistic forms and unusual methods of distorting reality. These qualities are typical of Dionysian art. Dionysian artists create expansive and mythical scenarios that blur the line between realities and impose a sense of fun, enjoyment and celebration. Pablo Picasso's work exemplifies the Dionysian in art.

Determine whether the art provides examples of both types of artwork. Art does not always fall into a single category of expression. Many artists combine the two. Use your analytical abilities to identify the Apollonian and Dionysian elements that commonly exist in a single work of art.

About the Author

Steven Miller graduated with a master's degree in 2010. He writes for several companies including Lowe's and IBM. He also works with local schools to create community gardens and learn environmentally responsible gardening. An avid gardener for 15 years, his experience includes organic gardening, ornamental plants and do-it-yourself home projects.