Throughout this dialogue, as well as in many of Plato's other works, the notion of artful pursuits comes up rather frequently. Essentially, an art is a skill directed towards some form of the good and intended for the benefit of those practicing and/or those on whom a particular art is practiced. In this sense for example, medicine is an art because it aims at improving the physical health of those for whom a specific treatment is prescribed, while serving alcohol is not as it creates a deceptive impression of physical health grounded in the bodily pleasure of intoxication

In Gorgias, Socrates first mentions the notion of art as part of an inquiry into the nature of rhetoric. In discussing this topic, he distinguishes between true arts (defined above) and false ones (routine/flattery) which create an incorrect impression of good by means of the pleasant (which Socrates later defines as different from—and less desirable than—the good).

This distinction becomes increasingly relevant as the dialogue progresses, since Socrates maintains that most of his contemporary Greeks and Athenians have been led astray from the path of virtue exactly because they mistake false routines of pleasure for true arts of good. Consequently, for Socrates's fellow citizens, the nature of politics, justice, power, good living and the like is based upon a fundamental conflation of true and false arts corresponding to a belief that the pleasant equals the good. The entire text considers how this confusion of art with flattery manifests itself, and as such it adds great strength to Plato's overall philosophical project of defining virtuous existence.