Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Nehemas, Art and Friendship

In many ways philosopher Andrew Nehemas agrees with Aristotle on the fundamentals of friendship. But he vehemently disagrees with the notion of virtue-based friendship, as he believes no human can be truly virtuous, thus meriting a virtue-based friendship impossible. Instead, he believes that a good, close friendship is more important to a virtuous one. He even argues that virtue can, at times, impede on friendships. In a similar vein, Nehemas claims that friendship can be “double-faced” – both good for us but at times also unhealthy.

Furthermore, he agrees that similarity and difference-based friendships do exist, but asserts that a balance is required for the friendship to sustain or grow. Nehemas argues that if our friend is exactly like us and is 100% predictable, that it would quickly become unbearable. Similarly, experiencing a lack of similarity 100% of the time would be equally untolerable, and would fast create a lack of shared foundation in a difference-based friendship.

On a separate note, Nehemas writes that the separation of art from the realms of friendship or virtue is incorrect and unhelpful, stating that many artistic mediums are inherently imbued with values of friendship. Art also plays a pivotal role in the beginning of many friendships, as many people meet or become closer due to shared interests or opinions on music, television, film, literature and visual art.

Nehemas states that friendship, and thus art, is “a commitment to the future, a sense that there is more to know here, and a promise that what I still don’t know will be worth learning.” In many ways, I believe that the art form of music combines many friendship values and practices. In deciding to make music with another person, one must admit an initial attraction to the other and an intention of relational longevity. Like friendship, a person’s relationship to music is both preferential (on the basis of desire) and partial (a component of a whole).

The act of music-making itself requires great compassion, communication, mutual desire, and cohesion: many of the most crucial elements of friendship. Additionally, music can be seen as as a mode of communication that transcends language, borders, and politics. In creating music with another person, one must open themselves to a mutually-beneficial relationship that not only serves all parties involved, but uplifts them and pushes them to grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Making music with someone who is a stranger could make them a friend, and making music with a friend can make the friendship stronger.

In listening to music, there are many opportunities to connect. Music at its core longs for you to join in: in dance, in song, or in laughter. It begs you to share its fruit with others and appreciate the sounds of symbiosis and collaboration.

Nehemas also writes about the ways in which friendship is difficult to describe in the same way that something of great beauty is. While it may seem obvious to one person, the partial and preferential nature of friendship may make it difficult for others to see. Similar to a movingly gorgeous work of art or a beautiful piece of music, sometimes words do not capture the emotions espoused in a loving friendship. All you can do is experience it yourself in order to understand.

In terms of expansion, I think there is even potential for Nehemas’s values of friendship to be applied to creative fields, as creative fields can be used in order to foster new friendships or bolster existing ones. Working symbiotically, there is great power in utilizing creative practices as a means of engaging in friendship and community-building. We can also more critically analyze the ways in which creative practices promote friendship, and whether their interpretations are realistic.

In regard to music, friendship’s role is under-discussed, while film/television offer a dramatized and sometimes philosophically-lacking approach to friendship. While relatable in overarching themes, many media representations of friendship are overly-dramatic, egocentric, and driven by consumerism and capitalism. It is my sincerest hope that we continue to offer a critical analyzation of media representations of friendship, encouraging depictions of generous, compassionate, and mutually-beneficial platonic relationships.

Overall, friendship has many applications and its values can be seen across an incredibly broad array of disciplines. That being said, I believe we underestimate the power of media, and thus the power of accurate/relatable media representations. To remain critical of unfulfilling depictions of friendship is to honor the nature of friendship itself. Through music, dance, visual art, or film, friendship is present and crucial, waiting to be seen and heard, waiting to be shared.


I affirm that I have adhered to the Honor Code on this assignment.

Nehamas, Alexander (2016). On Friendship. Basic Books.

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