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What Is Art?

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During the decades of his world fame as sage & preacher as well as author of War & Peace & Anna Karenina, Tolstoy wrote prolifically in a series of essays & polemics on issues of morality, social justice & religion. These culminated in What is Art?, published in 1898. Although Tolstoy perceived the question of art to be a religious one, he considered &a During the decades of his world fame as sage & preacher as well as author of War & Peace & Anna Karenina, Tolstoy wrote prolifically in a series of essays & polemics on issues of morality, social justice & religion. These culminated in What is Art?, published in 1898. Although Tolstoy perceived the question of art to be a religious one, he considered & rejected the idea that art reveals & reinvents through beauty. The works of Dante, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Baudelaire & even his own novels are condemned in the course of Tolstoy's impassioned & iconoclastic redefinition of art as a force for good, for the improvement of humankind.


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During the decades of his world fame as sage & preacher as well as author of War & Peace & Anna Karenina, Tolstoy wrote prolifically in a series of essays & polemics on issues of morality, social justice & religion. These culminated in What is Art?, published in 1898. Although Tolstoy perceived the question of art to be a religious one, he considered &a During the decades of his world fame as sage & preacher as well as author of War & Peace & Anna Karenina, Tolstoy wrote prolifically in a series of essays & polemics on issues of morality, social justice & religion. These culminated in What is Art?, published in 1898. Although Tolstoy perceived the question of art to be a religious one, he considered & rejected the idea that art reveals & reinvents through beauty. The works of Dante, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Baudelaire & even his own novels are condemned in the course of Tolstoy's impassioned & iconoclastic redefinition of art as a force for good, for the improvement of humankind.

30 review for What Is Art?

  1. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Russell

    Unlike many works of aesthetics which tend to be overly abstract and dense, using technical terms from philosophy and a layering of sophisticated concepts, Leo Tolstoy’s book is clear-cut, employing language and ideas anybody interested in the subject can understand. Tolstoy is passionate about art and art's place within human experience. For many years, he tells us, he has been observing art and reading about art. And what he sees and reads is not pretty. For instance, he goes to a rehearsal of opera: "All is sto Unlike many works of aesthetics which tend to be overly abstract and dense, using technical terms from philosophy and a layering of sophisticated concepts, Leo Tolstoy’s book is clear-cut, employing language and ideas anybody interested in the subject can understand. Tolstoy is passionate about art and art's place within human experience. For many years, he tells us, he has been observing art and reading about art. And what he sees and reads is not pretty. For instance, he goes to a rehearsal of opera: "All is stopped, and the director, turning to the orchestra, attacks the French horn, scolding him in the rudest of terms, as cabmen abuse each other, for taking the wrong note." Seen through Tolstoy's eyes, the entire production is a ridiculous, grotesque, overblown extravagance. We can imagine Tolstoy shaking his head when he observes, "It would be difficult to find a more repulsive sight." Tolstoy presents a detailed sampling of what philosophers and aestheticians have written about art and beauty throughout history, particularly since the eighteenth century, when aesthetics became a subject unto itself. The theories range from art being an expression of divine truth to art being a titillation of the senses of seeing, hearing, feeling and even tasting and smelling. Tolstoy notes toward the end of his study, "Therefore, however strange it may seem to say so, in spite of the mountains of books written about art, no exact definition of art has been constructed. And the reason for this is that the conception of art has been based on the conception of beauty." According to Tolstoy, we must investigate a better way to view art than linking art with beauty. Further on, Tolstoy gives us an example of a young art gallery-goer being baffled at the painting of the various modern schools of art, impressionism, post-impressionism and the like. Tolstoy empathizes with the gallery-goer and knows most other ordinary folk share this same reaction, as when he states: "the majority of people who are in sympathy with me, do not understand the productions of the new art, simply because there is nothing in it to understand, and because it is bad art." Why is this the case in the modern world? Tolstoy lays the blame on the artistic and spiritual fragmentation of a society divided by class, "As soon as ever the art of the upper classes separated itself from universal art, a conviction arose that art may be art and yet be incomprehensible to the masses." Tolstoy views the modern institutionalization of art with its professional artists and art critics supported by the upper class as the prime culprit responsible for a plethora of artworks that are degrading, meaningless and fake. He writes: "Becoming ever poorer and poorer in subject-matter, and more and more unintelligible in form, the art of the upper classes, in its latest productions, has even lost all the characteristics of art, and has been replaced by imitations of art." To compound the problem, Tolstoy tells us schools teaching art take mankind away from what is true in art, "To produce such counterfeits, definite rules or recipes exist in each branch of art." We come to see, with Tolstoy as our guide, how aspiring artists are given these counterfeits as models to follow and imitate; things have gone so far that creating art is reduced to "acquiring the knack." Anybody who is familiar with the way in which writing is taught in today's colleges and universities will see how exactly right Tolstoy is on this point - students are given a collection of essays written by modern writers in which to model their own writing. Tolstoy provides more examples of false, muddled, insincere, bad art. His description of an opera by Richard Wagner is laugh out loud funny. We read: "This gnome, still opening his mouth in the same strange way, long continued to sing or shout." Tolstoy hated going to the theater to see an opera or ballet. He predicts art forms like opera or ballet could never and will never be appreciated and enjoyed by the common person. Actually, on this point, he was off by a mile. Turns out, people who attend ballet nowadays can't get enough of productions like The Nutcracker. And talking about being off by a mile, Tolstoy judged Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as bad art since the work cannot be viewed as religious art nor does it unite people in one feeling; rather, he said, the fifth symphony is, "long, confused, artificial". Goodness! Most everyday Joe work-a-day type people who are concert-goers would be thrilled if Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was on the program. What else is bad art? Tolstoy writes: "In painting we must similarly place in the class of bad art all the Church, patriotic, and exclusive pictures." Well then, what does Tolstoy regard as good art? In a word, art that has three qualities: 1) clarity, 2) sincerity, and 3) individuality (as opposed to copying other art). And, in the author’s view, in order to be considered good art, the work must create authentic religious feelings and engender the brotherhood of man. As examples of good art, Tolstoy cites Dickens, Hugo, Dostoevsky and the painter Millet. You might not agree with Tolstoy on every point, but that is no reason to pass over a careful study of his views. After all, he is one of the world's great writers and knew a thing or two about art.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    Что такое искусство? = Chto takoye iskusstvo?= What Is Art?, Leo Tolstoy What is Art? is a book by Leo Tolstoy. It was completed in Russian in 1897 but first published in English due to difficulties with the Russian censors. Tolstoy cites the time, effort, public funds, and public respect spent on art and artists as well as the imprecision of general opinions on art as reason for writing the book. In his words, "it is difficult to say what is meant by art, and especially what is good, useful art Что такое искусство? = Chto takoye iskusstvo?= What Is Art?, Leo Tolstoy What is Art? is a book by Leo Tolstoy. It was completed in Russian in 1897 but first published in English due to difficulties with the Russian censors. Tolstoy cites the time, effort, public funds, and public respect spent on art and artists as well as the imprecision of general opinions on art as reason for writing the book. In his words, "it is difficult to say what is meant by art, and especially what is good, useful art, art for the sake of which we might condone such sacrifices as are being offered at its shrine". تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و دوم ماه ژوئن سال 1976 میلادی عنوان: هنر چیست؟؛ نویسنده: لئو تولستوی؛ مترجم: کاوه دهگان؛ تهران، امیرکبیر، چاپ دوم 1345، در 278 ص؛ چاپ سوم 1350؛ چاپ چهارم 1352؛ چاپ پنجم 1355؛ چاپ ششم 1356؛ چاپ هفتم 1364؛ موضوع: در باره چیستی هنر - سده 19 م رومن رولان: تولستوی در این کتاب، همه ی بساط وامانده ی دنیای کهن را، به دور میریزد. پایان نقل. تولستوی هنر را از هنر جعلی جدا می‌کند. هنر باید یک ارتباط احساسی مشخص، بین هنرمند و مخاطب ایجاد کند: «طوری‌که مخاطب را تحت تأثیر قرار دهد. بنابراین هنر واقعی باید ظرفیت لازم برای متحد کردن مردم از طریق ارتباط را داشته باشد». ایشان باور داشتند که درک هنر شامل هرگونه فعالیت انسانی می‌شود. هنرمند به وسیله ی نشانه‌ هایی که از خود بروز داده، و احساساتی را که پیشتر آزموده، هنرش را نمایش می‌دهد. تولستوی برای این ادعا مثالی می‌زند: «پسرکی که احساس ترس را پس از ربو شدن با یک گرگ، تجربه کرده، از تجربه‌ ی خویش، برای تحت تأثیر قرار دادن دیگران، برای درک احساسی که او تجربه کرده‌، استفاده می‌کند. این مثال بسیار خوبی از کار هنر است. این هنر، به خاطر داشتن عنصر ارتباط، یک هنر خوب است، زیرا روشن، آشکار، و صادقانه‌ است، و حتی هنری فوق العاده‌ است، زیرا بر یک احساس (احساس ترس) متمرکز شده‌ است». ا. شربیانی

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Richey

    I’m so conflicted with Tolstoy. I agree with him about half the time, and the other half, I just wish he’d stop being so damn Puritanical. I don’t disagree with Tolstoy’s basic thesis, that art is defined by the following features: a person (the artist) feels a certain emotion, and captures that emotion in his work (a book, poem, concert, whatever) so that the viewer is infected with that same emotion. That works for me. I agree also with Tolstoy that emotional resonance is more important than t I’m so conflicted with Tolstoy. I agree with him about half the time, and the other half, I just wish he’d stop being so damn Puritanical. I don’t disagree with Tolstoy’s basic thesis, that art is defined by the following features: a person (the artist) feels a certain emotion, and captures that emotion in his work (a book, poem, concert, whatever) so that the viewer is infected with that same emotion. That works for me. I agree also with Tolstoy that emotional resonance is more important than the superficial beauty of a work. Substance over style. I disagree with Tolstoy not so much in his definition of what art is, but rather, what good art is. For Tolstoy, the only good art is that which depicts a good emotion, and the only good emotions are those which express the most evolved religious consciousness of the time. And, for Tolstoy, that was a Christian sentiment. (He wasn’t devout enough to say that it was the sentiment of the Christian church; in fact, he says the opposite: that the current art of the church is devoid of emotion, and therefore bad art.) And that Christian sentiment can be classified as two types: that which addresses the brotherhood of all mankind, and that which encourages our submission to God. Again, this is where I disagree, and where most people who enjoy the arts would disagree. Because, if you follow Tolstoy’s mandates, we dismiss the plays of Shakespeare, the philosophy of Nietzsche, the later works of Beethoven, and so on. Basically, things Tolstoy finds out of line with his view of the world. He rules that because he feels no feelings of brotherhood from these artists, they must not be artists. Even Tolstoy’s own works, save for two late short stories about God, are denounced as bad art. He also, in another of his should-have-been-repressed epilogues, denounces modern science, saying that science should only focus on figuring out how to stop wars and other problems of daily life, and not bother with bourgeois pastimes like vaccinations and chemistry and the like. So, basically, everything Tolstoy uses to define the worthiness of certain works of art I disagree with, but his comments on the nature of art, on its creation, commercialization, the worthlessness of art schools, and so on, I found realistic and insightful. I think Tolstoy was quite smart, and did see and address real problems; he was just held back by an antiquated and immobile set of morals that seem completely based on a fantasy, not his real background.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    Good works of art to Tolstoy: the works of Victor Hugo, the novels of Charles Dickens, some of the tales of Gogol and Pushkin, the writings of Maupassant, the comedies of Molière (whom Tolstoy refers to as "the most excellent artist of modern times," according to this translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky), the writings of Dostoevsky, Schiller's Robbers, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Adam Bede by George Eliot, Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, a handful of paintings by little known Good works of art to Tolstoy: the works of Victor Hugo, the novels of Charles Dickens, some of the tales of Gogol and Pushkin, the writings of Maupassant, the comedies of Molière (whom Tolstoy refers to as "the most excellent artist of modern times," according to this translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky), the writings of Dostoevsky, Schiller's Robbers, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Adam Bede by George Eliot, Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, a handful of paintings by little known artists, folk music, and a few compositions by musicians such as Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Beethoven, Bach and Chopin, in addition to two of his own lesser known short stories ("God Sees the Truth" and "Prisoner of the Caucasus") and the stories of the Bible and the tales about the Buddha. Bad works of "art" to Tolstoy (many of which he does not consider art at all -- more on this below): the works of Dante, the writings of Shakespeare, most of his own literary works (including his two masterpieces, War and Peace and Anna Karenina), most of the work of Beethoven, the writings of Goethe, the art of the French symbolists (especially Verlaine and Baudelaire), many of the later works of Pushkin, the writings of Oscar Wilde, the works of Michelangelo, the paintings of artists like Monet, and perhaps more than any other, the work of Richard Wagner. Oh, but wait, his disdain for Nietzsche may be greatest yet. So, what does Tolstoy consider "art" and what does he consider "good art"? First, and perhaps most importantly, Tolstoy begins by rejecting the common argument by modern writers on the subject of aesthetics that the main purpose of art is to create works of beauty. He argues that many people think they know what art is, but when pressed we find that their definitions of art are based on taken for granted assumptions and they, in fact, are little able to defend their claims of what constitutes art. Contrary to the mainstream view, Tolstoy argues instead that art is something much broader than many so-called 'experts' in aesthetics would have us believe (including not just great paintings and novels, but short stories, sketches, jokes, lullabies, decor, etc.), and it begins whenever one creates something that expresses some feeling that the artist has based on his or her own experience (including his/her dreams, fears, wishes or aspirations). But this alone does not constitute "art." In addition to this, the artist's expression of his feeling must be "infectious," which is to say that by being exposed to this work of art others (and the working majority in particular) must be affected by the artist's creation, for it speaks to some universal Truth. This is what, to Tolstoy constitutes art, and good art is that which speaks of a universal brotherhood, drawing on a Christian ethic (the same type of feeling that eases the unrest of some of Tolstoy's autobiographic characters like Pierre Bezukhov in War and Peace and Levin in Anna Karenina, the same type of feeling that infects Natasha in War and Peace when she hears traditional Russian folk music and decides to give up harp lessons in favor of the guitar), for art throughout history, he explains, is really an expression of religious consciousness. The art of the modern era, Tolstoy argues, has been intercepted by the nonbelievers of the upper-classes and by godless men led by Nietzsche, who create art (what he refers to as "counterfeit art" as opposed to genuine art) that claims to invent new styles, to promote some sort of beauty, etc., but which is really inaccessible to the great masses, who all the while toil in the service of this art. As evidence (questionable indeed) he points to his own inability to understand the works of the French symbolists or the operatic works of Wagner versus how moved he is (and as others he knows have been) by Russian folk songs and stories by common, unknown Russian working men. For works to be "good art" Tolstoy argues they must "always be understood by everyone," and it matters little if the work is "moral" or "immoral," so long as it is understandable and so long as the content is such that feelings of the artist are communicated to and correspond with the feelings of the audience. In terms of social class Tolstoy raises several compelling points, and this is where I think the great strength of this controversial work lies (in addition to the advancements he makes to the theory of art and the role of aesthetics in art theory), namely that the upper classes have created somewhat of a stranglehold on "art." The upper-classes use their money to finance works of art (and science too) which they agree with, or that infects them (though often which has the opposite effect on the majority, which has not only a difficult time understanding these works, but feeling them, for the experiences communicated are not universal but are often restricted to society's ruling class, who feel that they have important and diverse feelings, but who really only have three "insignificant and uncomplicated feelings: the feelings of pride, sexual lust, and the tedium of living"). Tolstoy argues that for works to be good art they must be infectious not only for those in a certain class of society, but for the working majority, regardless of social class, religion, etc. I wondered as I read this what Tolstoy would make of many of the writers, painters and musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries. What would he think, for instance, of the democratic art of cinema? Or of popular music like rock and roll? The blues? It led me to hours of fun mental games wondering what Tolstoy would make of certain writers. One can imagine that he would reject most of the major visual artists of this period (including the Dadaists and Surrealists, the Cubists, the Abstract Expressionists, etc.), as well as the vast majority of Modernist writers (no art for art's sake for this fellow), the works of Postmodernists, etc. I wonder if he would consider Steinbeck a great artist. It seems plausible. What about the neorealist filmmakers? The blues and folk artists of today? Tolstoy's argument that genuine art is art that must be done for the purpose of the communication of authentic feelings, and not be done for monetary gain, makes consideration of what might be considered genuine art under his theory a bit more complicated. Genuine art should strive to be art that is unadorned, in no need of bells and whistles to communicate its essential Truth: Terrible as it may be to say it, what has happened to the art of our circle and time is the same as happens with a woman who sells her feminine attractions, destined for motherhood, for the pleasure of those who are tempted by such pleasures. The art of our time and circle has become a harlot. And this comparison holds true in the smallest details. It is, in the same way, not limited in time, is always fancy in dress, is always for sale; it is just as alluring and pernicious. The genuine work of art can manifest itself in an artist's soul only rarely, as a fruit of all his previous life, just as a child is conceived by its mother. Counterfeit art is produced by artisans and craftsmen continually, as long as there are consumers. Genuine art has no need for dressing up, like the wife of a loving husband. Counterfeit art, like a prostitute, must always be decked out. The cause of the appearance of genuine art is an inner need to express a stored-up feeling, as love is the cause of sexual conception for a mother. The cause of counterfeit art is mercenary, just as with prostitution. The consequence of true art is the introduction of a new feeling into everyday life, as the consequence of a wife's love is the birth of a new person into life. The consequence of counterfeit art is the corruption of man, the insatiability of pleasures, the weakness of man's spiritual force. This is what people of our time and circle must understand in order to get rid of the filthy stream of this depraved, lascivious art that is drowning us. This hilarious, lengthy excerpt is admittedly very cringe-inducing from a feminist perspective, but it sums up (with a few gaps) Tolstoy's view of modern art and also gives readers a general sense of the idea that art must take to be considered genuine and good art in accordance with his theory. Prophetic in many ways (such as in the final chapter where Tolstoy argues that sociology, really, should be the main focus of science, as science's main concern should, like art, be with improving the lots of humankind -- and animalkind for that matter --, but in which he argues that modern science instead will soon lead us to a state in which most of our food is produced in laboratories and in which the fleeting interests of the upper classes will be given scientific priority), Tolstoy's work is not without faults. Aside from being very antifeminist at times (forgivable in the sense that he was a product of his age), the work while broadening the understanding of what constitutes art on the one hand, narrows it on the other. The essay also downplays the audience's role in interpreting works of art, audience subjectivity being a major concern among media and literary theorists in more recent years (and I'm thinking particularly here of the newer works by theorists like Stuart Hall and Terry Eagleton). While Tolstoy criticizes those like Nietzsche for his disdain of the masses, Tolstoy less conspicuously (and I think unintentionally) shows a disdain for any (outside of the upper class circle) who are affected by the works of the artists he criticizes so harshly. And then, of course, the merits of the theory itself are debatable. I don't necessarily know that beauty, so very subjective, should be the sole determinant of whether or not something is considered art. But I also don't know that the infectiousness of a feeling is what makes a work art either. And contrary to Virginia Woolf's claim that women writers, in order to have the same chance at artistic success as men, need a certain amount of money and a room of their own (though I find her arguments faulty in the sense that she makes this argument considering gender while ignoring the effects of social class), Tolstoy argues that money is a corrupting force and that the artist of the future will create works of art whenever the feeling takes him/her, but will not earn a living through art, but rather through "some kind of labour." I side here more with Woolf, for without a little money, and thereby a little free time, it can be very difficult for one to find the means to create -- unless of course, as Marx argues in Volume 3 of Capital, pay should increase at the same time as working hours decrease. But Tolstoy opposes this insomuch as he feels more luxuries could corrupt the working people, just as luxuries have corrupted the upper classes of society. In addition to reading this work I recently watched the Orson Welles film essay F for Fake which deals with art forgery, and so I have been giving considerable thought to the topic recently (and this has also called to mind other art documentaries, such as Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? and Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop. It took Tolstoy 15 years and much thought to organize his ideas which are presented in this work. It was a lofty undertaking and maybe he would have revised his ideas had he lived in this century. I don't know. It's a very interesting read, very representative of the turn in Tolstoy's writings after he had rejected his ambitions as a writer of fiction, and it asks a great many more questions than it answers. I don't know that I would call it "essential" Tolstoy, but I would suggest it as a must-read for any interested in the topic of art and aesthetics. So what is art? For me, it's subjective, and it includes much more than the guardians of the gates to the art world would have us believe. But is art only that which is beautiful? Only that which expresses the religious consciousness of the age? Only that which communicates feelings or some Truth of truths to others? Who's to say? Tolstoy's work, even if it has its flaws, filled in some gaps in existing theories on art. And it spurs readers to think critically about something we often take-for-granted: Art.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Will

    "But if the majority do not understand, they must be given an explanation, the knowledge necessary for understanding. But it turns out that this knowledge does not exist, that the works cannot be explained, and therefore those who say that the majority do not understand good works of art give no explanations, but say that in order to understand one must read, look at, or listen to the same work over and over again. But this is not to explain, it is to make accustomed. And one can get accustomed "But if the majority do not understand, they must be given an explanation, the knowledge necessary for understanding. But it turns out that this knowledge does not exist, that the works cannot be explained, and therefore those who say that the majority do not understand good works of art give no explanations, but say that in order to understand one must read, look at, or listen to the same work over and over again. But this is not to explain, it is to make accustomed. And one can get accustomed to anything, even the worst."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Rogers

    I recently read this book on holiday in Austria. Fascinating! I am a Fine Art student attending Falmouth University Cornwall, going into my final year, and a devout follower of Jesus. Throughout the course of my degree I have constantly struggled to reconcile my beliefs, with fine art. Most of the time art seemed pretty pointless to me, it seemed completely self-indulgent, and a total waste of my time along with everybody else's - when considering the state of this wor I recently read this book on holiday in Austria. Fascinating! I am a Fine Art student attending Falmouth University Cornwall, going into my final year, and a devout follower of Jesus. Throughout the course of my degree I have constantly struggled to reconcile my beliefs, with fine art. Most of the time art seemed pretty pointless to me, it seemed completely self-indulgent, and a total waste of my time along with everybody else's - when considering the state of this world and the majority of it's inhabitants. I am so glad to have found such a friend in Tolstoy. I almost completely agree with everything covered in the book, and share his discontent with vague, vein, modern art. I, however, believe in people's freedom, to manufacture art regardless of it's "goodness", even still I wish that more and more creative people would be willing to endeavour to stand outside of Western individualism, pleasure, and art for arts sake; and begin to explore art that is oriented towards the progression and unification of mankind and our God; encompassing all realms of our salvation: physical, emotional, spiritual, political, economic, and social. I am confident that I will not pursue a career in the arts (as we know it) after my degree, as I am keen to throw myself into the direct service of the poor; but rather I desire that art runs through my life and we will meet along the way when we may. This kind of art excites me. This art that means so much more than beauty or pleasure. Why are we so afraid of it?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    Art is an infection of feeling and experience. Despite the title and author, this is a down to earth layman's discussion on the definition of art. You don't need to have any particular passion for the arts to enjoy this book. It's more about art's impact on societal issues. You will never go to a museum or art gallery and see things the same afterwards.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Luisa

    Having never read Tolstoi before, this seemed like an interesting start since knowing his perspective about art in general would make me understand his own work better, especially his novels. This being said, I was clearly not ready for this book. The amount of research I had to do in order to understand his ideas about some writers, musicians, painters, sculptures, etc. (or at least know who he was talking about) was, at times, overwhelming, which made me fall behind on schedule to finish Having never read Tolstoi before, this seemed like an interesting start since knowing his perspective about art in general would make me understand his own work better, especially his novels. This being said, I was clearly not ready for this book. The amount of research I had to do in order to understand his ideas about some writers, musicians, painters, sculptures, etc. (or at least know who he was talking about) was, at times, overwhelming, which made me fall behind on schedule to finish the book. Another negative aspect about it is the way he explains what he thinks about the topic: what he states is clearly biased by the time-frame he lived in, which was extremely different from the 21st century and that's maybe the reason why I didn't empathize with some of his arguments. Even though I am giving this book only 3 stars, it is still a very interesting reading since it not only shows Tolstoi's perspective about a very important topic, but also educates the reader about more artists of his time. I would say it is still worth it to read this book if you are interested in knowing more about art.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sunny

    brillant and very challenging to what our conventional view of art is. Tolstoys main point is that the art that we see today (and in his time also) is on the whole very immitative and not true art. for him true is is when the artist feels something and wants to convey that through his work so that the person viewing it "feels" what the artist felt also. there are lots of other very challenging views in here which are very thought provoking. Some of my favourite bits: "But among these works of va brillant and very challenging to what our conventional view of art is. Tolstoys main point is that the art that we see today (and in his time also) is on the whole very immitative and not true art. for him true is is when the artist feels something and wants to convey that through his work so that the person viewing it "feels" what the artist felt also. there are lots of other very challenging views in here which are very thought provoking. Some of my favourite bits: "But among these works of various kinds of art there is one in a hundred thousand which is not simply a little better than the others, but differs from all the rest in the way a diamond differs from glass." "In painting, such are all falsely religious and patriotic pictures, as well as pictures representing the amusements and delight s of exclusive, wealthy and idle living; and such are all so-called symbolic paintings, in which the very meaning of the symbol is accessible only to persons of a certain circle; and, chiefly, all paintings of sensual objects, all that outrageous female nudity which fills all exhibitions and galleries. To the same kind belongs almost all concert and operatic music of our time, beginning with Beethoven — Schumann, Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner — the content of which is accessible only to people who have cultivated in themselves a morbid nervous excitability aroused by this artificial and exceptionally complex music." "People say it is terrible and pitiful to look at little acrobats putting their legs behind their necks, but it is no less pitiful to look at ten-year-old children giving concerts, and still more so to see ten-year-old children who know by heart the exceptions of Latin grammar . . . But it is not only that these people are crippled physically and mentally — they are also crippled morally, becoming incapable of anything that is really necessary for people." "No situation is more harmful for artistic productivity than the situation of complete security and luxury in which artists usually live in our society. The artist of the future will live the ordinary life of a human being, earning his living by some kind of labor. "

  10. 4 out of 5

    Todd

    Tolstoy's work in aesthetics, What is Art? deals with two main issues: (1) Is there a moral justification for the lives, money, and resources spent in the artworld, and (2) What is the nature of art? Tolstoy claims that the nature of genuine art is to transfer feelings from the artist to others, thereby uniting the artist and audience; thus, art is a means of communion. And Tolstoy argues that there is no justification for most of what passes as art in the contemporary world. Most of it, he says, is Tolstoy's work in aesthetics, What is Art? deals with two main issues: (1) Is there a moral justification for the lives, money, and resources spent in the artworld, and (2) What is the nature of art? Tolstoy claims that the nature of genuine art is to transfer feelings from the artist to others, thereby uniting the artist and audience; thus, art is a means of communion. And Tolstoy argues that there is no justification for most of what passes as art in the contemporary world. Most of it, he says, is for the sake of the rich, the idle, the elite. It is thus decadent "counterfeit art". It seeks to impress rather than to join ordinary people in their common good. Tolstoy infamously repudiates most of the art that has considered to be great throughout history (including his own War and Peace and Anna Karenina), and he calls for art that connects with ordinary people and which supports the religious conception of the age, which he takes to be the brotherhood of all people. Although What is Art? has many faults, it is much more valuable than many critics claim. I highly recommend it, for it stimulates one to think about the artworld in a new, helpful way.

  11. 5 out of 5

    David Withun

    -

  12. 4 out of 5

    Fraser Kinnear

    The tl;dr Q: What is art? A: "To call up in oneself a feeling once experienced and, having called it up, to convey it by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, images expressed in words, so that others experience the same feeling - in this consists the activity of art. Ar is that human activity which consists in one man's consciously conveying to others, by certain external signs, the feelings he has experienced, and in others being infected by those feelings and also experiencing The tl;dr Q: What is art? A: "To call up in oneself a feeling once experienced and, having called it up, to convey it by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, images expressed in words, so that others experience the same feeling - in this consists the activity of art. Ar is that human activity which consists in one man's consciously conveying to others, by certain external signs, the feelings he has experienced, and in others being infected by those feelings and also experiencing them."p.39-40) It seems like the definition of art to Tolstoy is pretty obvious, and he devotes pretty much the whole book to not building to this definition, but instead stating it and then spending the rest of the book explaining why everything else (other definitions as well as art that doesn't conform to his definition) is so bad. Tolstoy decided to write this book in response to a bloating and degrading of art in world. He saw a separation of values between the wealthy upper class (the "leisure class") and everyone else. According to old Count T., the wealthy upper class of Europe stopped believing in Christianity, and converted the Church into a mechanism of control that could sustain their economic position. Then, the resulting materialistic values drove a demand for lesser art (p.44-48,147). This lesser art had some common traits: -it's intellectual focus made it obscure and unrelatable (p.63-65), -it espoused values only held by the wealthy minirities, like "honor, patriotism, and amorousness") (p.57) This was summed up well -it is focused on amusement, which runs the risk of becoming boring and therefore has to be transformed into a new form to sustain interest (p.71-72) Tolstoy goes through reams of examples, not only of art but the bad philosophy that is trying to define art in such a way that includes this bad art. A lot of this is really funny - Tolstoy is a sassy bitch sometimes, and takes a lot of holy cows to task, such as the ancient Greeks ("small, half-savage, slave-owning people two thousand years ago" p.51) and later Beethoven ("...he is growing deaf, he cannot hear and is beginning to write totally contrived, unfinished and therefore often meaningless, musically incomprehensible works."). He devotes an entire chapter to shitting on Wagner (p.101-112). Late in the book, Tolstoy proposes what he believes the purpose of art is: And just as in the evolution of knowledge- that is, the forcing out and supplanting o fmistaken and unnecessary knowledge by truer and more necessary knowledge - so the evolution of feelings takes place by means of art, replacing lower feelings, less kind and less needed for the good of humanity, by kinder felings, more needed for that good. This is the purpose of art. And therefore art is better in its content in so far as it turns this purpose better, and is worse in so far as it fulfils it less. (p.123-124). Tolstoy's other important point is connecting art with the spiritual, which he calls "Christian" art. Art, all art, has in itself the property of uniting people... But non-Christain art, by uniting certain people with each other, thereby separates them from otehr people, so that this partial union often serves not only as a source not only of disunity but of hostility towards other people. Such as all patriotic art, with its hymns, poems, monuents; such is all Church art - that is, the art of particular cults, with its icons, statues, processions, services, churches; such is military art; such is all refined art, essentially depraved, accessible only to people who oppress others, people of the idle, wealthy classes." (p. 129). It's ironic that, by calling this universal art "Christian", Tolstoy automatically segregates it from the majority of the world's population (which isn't Christian). And while this feels like a persuasive point to make, I don't know how or where it's possible. What example of art anywhere has this power of uniting everyone? Perhaps it's the time that we live in, but even within my own country, I have trouble picking out art that hasn't been colored by our culture in some way to separate people. I suppose that just speaks to how poisonous and segregated I feel our culture is today. I'm not sure where I land with this book in terms of agreement, but it sure was interesting, and still feels relevant today.

  13. 4 out of 5

    James Klagge

    Not an engaging book--more like a diatribe by an Old Testament prophet. Tolstoy here is an old depressed curmudgeon heaping scorn on all the "art" that we hold dear. It was written toward the end of his life, after he had rejected much of his own great work, and here added to that a wholesale rejection of the pillars of Western culture (pp. 96-97)--Greek tragedians, Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, Bach, Beethoven (he singles out the 9th for detailed discussion, and hates the late quartets), Wagner ( Not an engaging book--more like a diatribe by an Old Testament prophet. Tolstoy here is an old depressed curmudgeon heaping scorn on all the "art" that we hold dear. It was written toward the end of his life, after he had rejected much of his own great work, and here added to that a wholesale rejection of the pillars of Western culture (pp. 96-97)--Greek tragedians, Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, Bach, Beethoven (he singles out the 9th for detailed discussion, and hates the late quartets), Wagner (he singles out the Ring Cycle, pp. 103-112), but virtually all music, Michelangelo (especially the Last Judgment), Goethe, etc. Wow! He begins by trying to answer "What is Art?" He considers a number of suggestions, including approximations to some ideal form, and what produces pleasure. He definitely severs art from the attempt to create beauty. His own answer is not any sort of characterization of how people use the term (since he believes our modern aesthetic senses are mostly thoroughly perverted--in fact, he seriously compares art as we know it to prostitution, p. 150). Instead he claims that (pp. 39-40) art is what expresses feelings the artist has experienced and which infects others with those feelings and gets them to experience them. He repeats this formulation with slight variations numerous times--indeed there is a lot of repetition in the book. Real art expresses feelings that are universal, not limited to a certain culture or class. Oddly, he thinks that religious feelings are prime candidates for this, and he in fact says often that Christianity is the source of these religious feelings, because it aims for universal application. But he does NOT mean the established church, but the deeper ideas behind it. He certainly has latched onto something--experiences that broadly move people. (On p. 37 he calls art a "means of communion among people.") But then he defines that as art, and dismisses everything else that might have claimed that label. A crucial point for Tolstoy is that art is universally understood (pp. 79-83). Therefore he dismisses any elitist art that only those with finer sensibilities can get. He heaps ridicule on this approach, and thinks most all that goes under the label of art is an enormous waste. He sometimes says a bit about what IS art by his lights, and it is a mundane lot of things that include (p. 41) lullabies, jokes, home decor, utensils, ceremonies, solemn processions, traditional folk tales and folk songs. As to whether anything traditionally thought of as art remains, he mentions a few things (p. 132), such as Hugo's Les Mis, Dostoevsky's House of the Dead, some Dickens. As for his own work, in a footnote he mentions only two of his Twenty Three Tales ("God Sees the Truth, but Waits" and "Prisoner of the Caucasus"). Toward the end Tolstoy blames the deterioration of art on the deterioration of science. And he has a similarly implausible account of science--the study of what will benefit human life. So "science" becomes a practical enterprise which leaves no room for theoretical concerns that would not pertain to the common man. In a way, this book is a bit like Plato's Republic, with its rejection of nearly all art, and its endorsement of a kind of social engineering. The last comparison that occurred to me was that Tolstoy sounds like a precursor to Wendell Berry. Not a particularly enjoyable read--but interesting for its single-mindedness, and its dedication to following out an idea to its bitter end. And it does feel bitter. I read the book b/c Wittgenstein discusses the issue of whether people understand his work and he mentions Tolstoy. I figured out that this book by Tolstoy is likely what he was referring to, with Tolstoy's insistence that a real work of art must be understood by all. If Wittgenstein was referring to this work, it raises interesting issues for thinking about Wittgenstein further. There is also the connection that "art" would seem to be a perfect illustration of Wittgenstein's point that we can't generally give an essential definition of a term, but can rest content with tracing the resemblances that its various uses have. Tolstoy takes a more Socratic view that there must be an essential definition, and a more Platonic view that a definition can run contrary to what people might have supposed (like Plato's definition of Justice). (Cf. p. 34) Finally, Wittgenstein expressed a special fondness for Tolstoy's Twenty Three Tales.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Peter Landau

    You think you’re an artist? You’re no artist, punk! That’s what Leo Tolstoy says in his essay WHAT IS ART? He dismisses everyone from Dante, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Baudelaire, Wagner to even some of his own writings as counterfeit. For Tolstoy art is twofold, an expression of divine devotion and brotherly love. It is not overly complex or striving for beauty, but a simple and pure emotion of the artist that has never been shared before. For Tolstoy only that of God can be infinite You think you’re an artist? You’re no artist, punk! That’s what Leo Tolstoy says in his essay WHAT IS ART? He dismisses everyone from Dante, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Baudelaire, Wagner to even some of his own writings as counterfeit. For Tolstoy art is twofold, an expression of divine devotion and brotherly love. It is not overly complex or striving for beauty, but a simple and pure emotion of the artist that has never been shared before. For Tolstoy only that of God can be infinitely new. Though his God is Christian, it isn’t often aligned with what he considers so-called religious works of the church. He dismisses all you charlatans! Only the poor working peasants know art, not the upper classes who have co-opted art and corrupted it with their perverted ways. Tolstoy reads like a nut, both Christian mystic and communist sympathizer, with a narrow definition of art that he champions as a moral imperative. Your stinking false art isn’t only bad, it’s dangerous. It’s polluting society. It’s even corrupting science, which he sees as connected to art as heart is to lungs. Both must serve the good of the person, not some esoteric navel-gazing. What a bummer. I like bad art.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Thiên Nguyễn

    As very frequently met with, great artists could be terrible critics. Tolstoy thought a creative artist is bound to be a critic, and tried to do both, and failed disastrously. Soon after his criticism went ripe, his creative mind got rotten. Creative artists, leave criticism alone! But especially critics, leave creating alone!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    Just read it. If you come up with a better definition than old Leo's, let me know.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    I'm gonna break from tradition and actually write about what i liked rather than just trying (and failing) to express how, where, and why i was amused while reading & thinking about this book. First of all, i was very amused at many points. Tolstoy's ideas about art amuse me when he gets all, "This is Good and that is Bad." Cracks me up, but i also feel like i understand why he felt that way. And i appreciate his ideals. I can't imagine anybody else would ever make this I'm gonna break from tradition and actually write about what i liked rather than just trying (and failing) to express how, where, and why i was amused while reading & thinking about this book. First of all, i was very amused at many points. Tolstoy's ideas about art amuse me when he gets all, "This is Good and that is Bad." Cracks me up, but i also feel like i understand why he felt that way. And i appreciate his ideals. I can't imagine anybody else would ever make this comparison, but David Sklansky and Tolstoy have a lot in common. And Sklansky's DUCY? has a lot in common with What Is Art? (in addition to both titles being questions). They're both egotists, but i attribute that to both being true geniuses (note: Tolstoy's > Sklansky's). They're both ridiculously opinionated. Perhaps it's a function of egotistical genius? Both books ostensibly are about a topic/idea that the author says is more important than himself, but nothing is more evident in the work than the author, his ideas, his beliefs, his feelings, his prejudices, his quirkiness. ("All geniuses are alike; every idiot is idiotic in his own way"?!) I was edified by his concept of art without being able to grasp exactly what he meant. He spent a lot of time explaining how the prevailing and older definitions were unhealthy, wrong, incomprehensible (one of his favorite words, i think), or vapid. But his definition fails to get fully outside of his own head (soul) and into mine. I'll never be able to apply T's definition and know how he would've assessed it. The example that kept going through my head was The Third Policeman, which is one of my newest All Time Favorite Books. I can't imagine Tolstoy thinking it's not just a waste of words and paper and people's time, but then when he describes the effect of a great work of art on the recipient of that art as being akin to feeling you KNOW the artist and FEEL the artist acutely ... that's EXACTLY what i loved so much about Flann O'Brien's book! How to reconcile this? Well, here's how i boil it down. When T writes about bad art (i.e., that which isn't really art but that some people call art for lack of understanding T's definition of true art), i can read that as "art that isn't the greatest, that doesn't rise to the highest heights of artistic achievement." When he writes about Good Art (or true art), i can read that to mean his very favorite works of art, the stuff that moved him with what felt like personal perfection, the stuff he wishes in his wildest fantasies he could've produced personally. Bottom line is that Tolstoy doesn't want us (Humanity) to waste any time on anything that's less than the greatest but he refuses to understand that the reception of art is not as universal as his system claims it is (or should be). OK, enough of that sincerity and straightforwardness ... let's get to me trying to be witty with even less content about the book i read. Even as a former adherent of Art For Art's Sake, i gobbled up T's deconstruction of that aesthetic. I don't agree with every assault against it, but he managed to show me the Badness/Wrongness of the elitism i once openly defended as being Good/Right. The Big T, if he were still alive and a friend of mine, would hate me for saying this, but ... this book was interesting and pleasing. (those who've read it will get the gist of that comment) To clear the air, i did write in a previous review something like "i'll probably never read lit crit ever again" and now here i've gone and read Harold Bloom and this little tome, too. Sue me! I'm an addict or something. I don't agree with Tolstoy's underlying and overarching theses but i like the goal of this work: encourage people to be more Human and less Subhuman in everything they do. Tolstoy's personal assessment of how to achieve that honorable and lofty goal was (evidently) to eschew corporal satisfaction. Don't eat meat. Don't have sex. And labor physically, strenuously, rigorously. Along the way, he developed his particular definition of Art. THE CONCLUSION is all about "science" but, to paraphrase Inigo Montoya (the oft besotted swordsman of The Princess Bride), "I do not think that word means what Tolstoy thinks it means." He seems to think Science's purpose is to determine "how people should live in order to fulfil their destiny." Put slightly differently a few paragraphs later, "the proper activity of genuine science is not the study of something we have accidentally become interested in {OK, good enough; nobody's really gonna dispute that}, but of how human life should be arranged—the questions of religion, morality, social life, without resolving which all our knowledge of nature is harmful and worthless." Hmmm ... now you got me wanting to write a book about how goofy you were, T. Big T feels that Good Science begets Good Art and that Good Art will lead people forward toward its inexorable goal of perfection. Allow me a slight tangent. I think that T did not agree with Darwin's dangerous idea. And the ideas in his CONCLUSION about science (especially the quote in this para) seem to confirm that he truly believes a frequent misinterpretation about natural selection, namely that Nature somehow has a "purpose" or a "goal" toward which the evolution of species is heading. A couple great quotes I had an inkling of being able to start a story withAnd so, as a result of the unbelief and the exclusive life of the upper classes, the art of these classes became impoverished in content and was all reduced to the conveying of the feelings of vanity, the tedium of living and, above all, sexual lust. (p.63)Is there a funnier sentence in the history of nonfiction than the one with which he concludes his epic 4-page summary of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen?...incomplete as {my retelling} may be, it is certain to be incomparably better than the impression one gets from reading the four booklets in which {the opera} has been published. (p. 176)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Javier

    This is a fascinating and iconoclastic reinterpretation of the meaning of art by Tolstoy. In this work, the world-renowned novelist disavows much of his own artistic work, and much of what passes for art. Tolstoy criticizes the understanding of art as merely the expression of beauty (or pleasure). Indeed, he redefines art as cultural expressions motivated by a given emotion which lead their audiences to feel the same or similarly to the artist conceiving of the work. For Tolstoy in this work, ar This is a fascinating and iconoclastic reinterpretation of the meaning of art by Tolstoy. In this work, the world-renowned novelist disavows much of his own artistic work, and much of what passes for art. Tolstoy criticizes the understanding of art as merely the expression of beauty (or pleasure). Indeed, he redefines art as cultural expressions motivated by a given emotion which lead their audiences to feel the same or similarly to the artist conceiving of the work. For Tolstoy in this work, art serves the purpose of uniting humanity into a loving collectivity. His puritanism is showing in his rejection of the (Greek) standard of beauty for art, as in his sexual austerity, but his overall argument is certainly inseparable from his advocacy of Christian anarchism. In this sense, the ideal of art "bec[omes] not the grandeur of a pharoah or a Roman emperor, not the beauty of a Greek or the wealth of Phoenicia, but humility, chastity, compassion, [and] love" (p. 128).

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brantley Vosler

    I really enjoyed reading this but it's so wildly negative it was hard to handle. I suppose that doesn't mean he is wrong about it though. Much of what he critiqued I agreed with. If someone who didn't write War and Peace and Anna Karenina said what was in this book I would not take it seriously. But... He did... so - I took it seriously. I need a good challenge now and again and ole Leo does not hold back when it comes to challenging the status quo on art making.

  20. 5 out of 5

    emil

    that’s it. i don’t know how to rate it. i hate it so much but it’s so funny to read how much of a stupid cuck Tolstoy is that it’s entertaining in its own right. five star entertainment and one star content. congrats Lev T

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kennedy Ifeh

    What is Art by Leo Tolstoy presents Tolstoy’s views on the question of what a good work of art should entail. The book attacks the foundation of modern art. It gives flesh to my own critical impressions about contemporary literature, which has become synonymous with poetry, style, beauty and all sort of nonsense. True to Tolstoy, the book starts with details of his own experience. He attends a rehearsal of one of the ordinary new operas of his days. He recounts that the event made no What is Art by Leo Tolstoy presents Tolstoy’s views on the question of what a good work of art should entail. The book attacks the foundation of modern art. It gives flesh to my own critical impressions about contemporary literature, which has become synonymous with poetry, style, beauty and all sort of nonsense. True to Tolstoy, the book starts with details of his own experience. He attends a rehearsal of one of the ordinary new operas of his days. He recounts that the event made no impression in him. He goes ahead to cite philosophical definition of arts by renown writers and philosophers of the 19th century. After which he carefully filters off any definition that tend to link art with beauty, pleasure and metaphysics. He draws a straight line, aligning the truth in all the researched definitions, to arrive at his own definition of art: “To call up in oneself a feeling once experienced and, having called it up, to convey it by means of movements, lines, colours, sounds, images expressed in words, so that others experience the same feelings.” He goes further to draw a historical link to prove that humanity started getting it wrong from the times of ancient Greek (Aristotle, Socrates etc), when good is mistaken for beauty. From this premise, Tolstoy begins to attack the work of contemporary artist, which are full of prose, adultery, sexual lust, pride, etc. ‘Counterfeit art is like a prostitute, who must be decked out.’ Contemporary work of art is often judged good because it is 1. Poetic 2. Realistic 3. Effectual 4. Interesting etc. He goes ahead to cite some poems which are apparently incomprehensible. Tolstoy opines that it is the infectiousness of good art that distinguishes the good from the bad art. To him, art is all about the communion of souls, fostering unity of mankind, uniting men in love and brotherhood. In this context, he praised the work of Homer, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, George Elliot and Dostoyevsky (House of the Dead). He took a swipe at Shakespeare, Pushkin, Marx, Beethoven, Dante, Plato etc. He calls on the effort of everyone, who wish to live a good life, to be directed towards destroying bad arts. ‘Good art is the spiritual organ of human life, and it cannot be destroyed.’ In Tolstoy’s opinion, a work of art is either good according to the measure of religious consciousness that it contains. To the extent that it can destroy the separation between the feelings of the artist and receiver. ‘The stronger the infection, the better the art is art, regardless of its content. The concluding chapter of the book links art to science. The reason for this link, as explained by Tolstoy is that, ‘true science introduces into human consciousness the truths and the knowledge which are regarded as most important by the people of a certain period and society.’ With this definition, Tolstoy took a swipe at modern science. The bases of his criticism are premised on the fact that the plethora of problems that modern science occupies itself to solve is not necessary. In Tolstoy’s view, the things which are necessary are within and around us. Scientist only needs to look within to focus on the fundamental problems that affect mankind, to understand the basics of true science. He maintains that a perverted perception of art is the cause of a perverted application of science. I agree with almost everything Tolstoy says in this book. My only alteration would be in substituting the word ‘Christian consciousnesses’ with the word ‘moral consciousnesses’, as the bases of art. In contemporary times, one need not look too far to see the contradictions of modern literature, for example. Reading through stories which are awarded annually by prestigious awards these days, one cannot agree less with Tolstoy. Modern literature is perverted, incomprehensible and above all, immoral.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Pavel

    - What has started as a religious and folk art, turned into art for rich estates. Art for rich people is what gives them some sort of pleasure (different kinds of beauty) - Religious art was pushed aside and all money, critics, art schools were concentrated in art for rich estates. - True art has to express some feeling that was experienced by an artist him/herself, while art for rich estates demands beauty and grace, each time more and more sophisticated. - That art for rich esta - What has started as a religious and folk art, turned into art for rich estates. Art for rich people is what gives them some sort of pleasure (different kinds of beauty) - Religious art was pushed aside and all money, critics, art schools were concentrated in art for rich estates. - True art has to express some feeling that was experienced by an artist him/herself, while art for rich estates demands beauty and grace, each time more and more sophisticated. - That art for rich estates, which nowdays is treated as only art, has no connection with true folk's art, it is known only by insignificant number of people and in reality is a fake art. - It corrupts ordinary people severely when they are touched by that fake art. - Since number of people who understand art of rich estates is so insignificant, it has no meaning at all, despite what is being attributed to it. Those elitists who claim art to be a privilege for Nitcshian' superhumans, are more sincere then those who say that art has some positive impact on people in general. - As a result modern art describes only vanity, melancholy and lust . - Art for those rich estates is only amusement, something to kill tons of free time those people have and hide their laziness and idleness. - Any amusement tends to get old at some point so those people are always looking for new kinds of amusement. In the end they reached a place where there were no new kinds, so they declare there's nothing more to create and started to look for new forms of amusement instead of kinds. Someone takes some unusual form, renews it with porno details, which weren't allowed before and art lovers declare such inventor a great writer. - At the same time there's no reason to abuse such inventor: even if we don't like what he's doing and do like what has been doing before and we will start to criticize him from the hights of Leonardo, Bach or someone else, we will only look from previous art positions, which are still obscure for majority of people. - Art becomes obscure or even ceases to be an art when it has one goal - to entertain rich estates. The problem is that it is very hard goal: those people are world-weary and it is impossible to create even lowest kind of art without some kind of inner ability. That's why people who produce such art have to create new ways to make something that at least looks like art. Those ways are: borrowing, imitation, amaziness and amusement. - Talented people are no rarity at all. There's nothing special about them. For Tolstoy to be a true artist man has to have the highest level of outlook for his time, has to experience some feeling and has to have potential and desire to express that feeling and also a talent to do it. - What really happens is that a young man creates something, driven by his feeling, his work becomes well-known and critics are saying that his work is not bad but it isn't on the same level as Dante or Beethoven or Raphael and the artist starts to imitate those who were held up as an example. His work will be very poor now, mainly it will be fake art. - Main feature of a great art is a contagion, when recipient gets some feeling from an artist. That can happen when artist's feeling was very special, very clear and very sincere. - Tolstoy treats his own books as a bad kind of art, for the rich people.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Katy

    I read this because it was mentioned in the end notes for Anna Karenina. This book summarizes fifteen years of Tolstoy's pondering the questions, "What is Art?" "What is the current state of artistic expression in Western Culture?" and "What should art be?" First question: What is Art? The book begins with Tolstoy summarizing the philosophical discussions and attempts at definition up to that time. He finds that the idea of "beauty" has derailed the discussion, and dismisses beauty as me I read this because it was mentioned in the end notes for Anna Karenina. This book summarizes fifteen years of Tolstoy's pondering the questions, "What is Art?" "What is the current state of artistic expression in Western Culture?" and "What should art be?" First question: What is Art? The book begins with Tolstoy summarizing the philosophical discussions and attempts at definition up to that time. He finds that the idea of "beauty" has derailed the discussion, and dismisses beauty as mere pleasure. To Tolstoy, art is "that human activity which consists in one man's conveying to others, through certain external signs, the feelings he has experience, and in others being infected by those feelings and also experiencing them." Second question: What is the current state of art in Western culture? Tolstoy says that it is in a very bad state, indeed. The vast majority of art since the late middle ages, he says, has been produced by the ruling classes for the primary purpose of inducing pleasure in an ever more exclusive audience. "Art" has become a commodity, and the producers of art - both the creators and those who labour behind the scenes to bring about production - serve no good end other than to amuse a corrupt, idle class of elite consumers. This is probably the most interesting part of the book, in which Tolstoy gives numerous examples of degenerate "art" that was lauded by the educated elite, explaining in great detail all the ways in which such art is false and perverted. There is a very amusing description of his attending a performance of the second night of Wagner's Ring Cycle. He then explains the harmful effects such art has on its audience. Third question: What should art be? Art should express the religious consciousness of our time, which he says is a "true Christianity" of man's increasing unity and love for one another. Art should either express man's relationship to God (and, therefor, their brother man), or it should express virtuous emotions common to all men. Such art must also be comprehensible to all people, of every class, creed, and nation. Tolstoy ends the book discussing what he predicts the art of the future will be: Christian, egalitarian, spontaneous, and not produced by professional artists but rather by ordinary labourers, as they feel inspired to do so. I greatly enjoyed reading this book, and was "with" Tolstoy for a good portion of the book. His arguments on the falseness of art and the bad effects it has on culture seemed convincing to me. However, by the time he was describing what art needs to be, he'd lost me. It sounds as if art in his ideal future will be folk songs and virtuous ballads, with a bit of ornamented craft here and there. That sounds awfully dull, but then I may be a hopelessly depraved, over-educated pervert.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Aya

    The first time I read Tolstoy I wanted to throw up. We have a collection of his "Short Fictions" and there were a few passages about women that made me feel uniquely uncomfortable. There's a lot of anxious power behind his words (reading him in the original must feel like falling down a staircase) This is an extremely well written book at times but also, ridiculous. The vivisection of Wagner and Beethoven leave us..miffed. Yes at times he is right (should Wagner be included in the canon? I am no The first time I read Tolstoy I wanted to throw up. We have a collection of his "Short Fictions" and there were a few passages about women that made me feel uniquely uncomfortable. There's a lot of anxious power behind his words (reading him in the original must feel like falling down a staircase) This is an extremely well written book at times but also, ridiculous. The vivisection of Wagner and Beethoven leave us..miffed. Yes at times he is right (should Wagner be included in the canon? I am not always sure) about the dismissive nature of the label 'great literature' 'great art' and even 'art' but, living as we do in the 21st century I think we can easily dismiss his hopes for a popular culture. There is nothing wrong with the examination of What is Art? What is it, after all? But Tolstoy makes a few mis-steps in his decision to find something moral and sentimental and evocative artistic. My mother, for example, is often moral, sentimental and evocative--but she doesn't deserve to be called art. (She is 'artful' and I think this is an interesting argument he doesn't fully explore) And of course, the emotional surges that the writing rises and falls with lay open a larger, perhaps more interesting issue, of the artist's separation from art. How can creators view the rest of creation? Their own creation? And there is a distinct alienation here, I think, between the writer and the forms he has known. There is a reliance upon the Christian faith but an absence of true spiritual connection to it. Compare the writing of "Mere Christianity" or "The Problem of Pain" to this. That, to me then, is interesting. If artists, as creators, are driven into a more complex relationship with reality but also with God, because of their own imaginative and authorial forces? (Coledridge linked imagination to 'to infinite I am who am' and Blake supports a thorough examination of reality through narrative structure...I think there's something interesting at work here, where Tolstoy seems to only see darkness)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    So, an old guy walks into a theatre while a company rehearses an opera, and starts to form an idea about how much the art's world consumes people's lives, to such humiliating results, and he spends the next fifteen years writing about how bad false art is, while suggesting the true art is something akin to true Christianity. One key element that is missing is that people have as much passion for their art, and such passion may not be a bad thing. I was only sorta persuaded by his many arguments, So, an old guy walks into a theatre while a company rehearses an opera, and starts to form an idea about how much the art's world consumes people's lives, to such humiliating results, and he spends the next fifteen years writing about how bad false art is, while suggesting the true art is something akin to true Christianity. One key element that is missing is that people have as much passion for their art, and such passion may not be a bad thing. I was only sorta persuaded by his many arguments, but was mostly reading it to see Tolstoy tackle other big-name artists full on (as the backcover blurb suggested, Shakespeare was one of the main targets, but only briefly discussed); Wagner and Beethoven get a working over, in slightly-mocking discriptions of their greatest works. Dickens, thankfully, is spared, probably for his depictions of all walks of life, rather than the wealthy idle layabouts most artist pander to. Wonder what Tolstoy would have thought of movies, the eighth art, still in its infancy when he wrote his diatribe? On the one hand, they are just as elitist as any other form of art mentioned, yet they are much more accessible than the galleries and concert halls of 19th century. Suppose the fussy old man lived long enough to catch a Buster Keaton or an Sergei Eisenstein film would any of his opinions changed? And if it did, what would he think of today current Oscar winners or blockbusters - probably us slipping back in the bad habits he had so much to write about in this work of art criticism.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Cassie

    It raised some interesting points, but it is a little outdated, and Tolstoy's increasingly impassioned views upon Christianity tend to cloud the last few chapters on what art should be; he is shamelessly unimpressed with art depicting any "voluptuous" or "erotic" scenes, seeing lust as a vice to be rallied against, his staunch stand against this means any art depicting the naked figure is written off as counterfeit art. Just one example of his personal beliefs clouding the universal view of how, It raised some interesting points, but it is a little outdated, and Tolstoy's increasingly impassioned views upon Christianity tend to cloud the last few chapters on what art should be; he is shamelessly unimpressed with art depicting any "voluptuous" or "erotic" scenes, seeing lust as a vice to be rallied against, his staunch stand against this means any art depicting the naked figure is written off as counterfeit art. Just one example of his personal beliefs clouding the universal view of how, why and what art is. The chapter dissecting the wrongs of one of Wagner's operas (he really has a passionate hatred towards this man) is a little tedious and I have to admit I skim read the pages concerning it. However I thought the conclusion, where he raises the issue of morality in science and suggests the two (art and science) go hand in hand, was very thoughtful and insightful. Science & Art both have a duty to man that can often be forgotten about, or buried under the lure of profit and exploitation. Overall Tolstoy reaches a conclusion that, although outdated and now perhaps a little defunct or irrelevant in places, does lots to shape the way we now view and appreciate art. A lot of what he has to say about the "upper classes" enjoying frivolous and over expensive, extortionate "art" with no real meaning to it, is a very relevant read for today in relation to the modern art market.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    Honestly, this felt like one big eloquent bitch-rant by our brah Tolstoy. I say that and it sounds cheap, but dear lord, the section where he goes off on Wagner's operas - and basically says that any drug trip would be better is... a lot of angry artist. Anyway, Tolstoy's big conclusion in this book is that most so-called art is just crap imitation and the only art that matters be works that promote real (positive - non-elitist, peaceful catholic with a little "c" brotherhood inducing) feeling. Honestly, this felt like one big eloquent bitch-rant by our brah Tolstoy. I say that and it sounds cheap, but dear lord, the section where he goes off on Wagner's operas - and basically says that any drug trip would be better is... a lot of angry artist. Anyway, Tolstoy's big conclusion in this book is that most so-called art is just crap imitation and the only art that matters be works that promote real (positive - non-elitist, peaceful catholic with a little "c" brotherhood inducing) feeling. I actually don't have a problem with what he identifies as art. I think he's right about real feelings being transmitted into something shareable. I just think the category is a little too narrow. Also, he needs to stop comparing false art to prostitutes. A prostitute doesn't sell herself to "gain" in place of maternity but to f---ing survive in a patriarchal society that gives her limited options. But yeah, Tolstoy doesn't have a lot of room for trauma or suppressed desires or rich people. Oh, and he's almost Maoinist in his belief that peasants are all really nice innocent people. The best. Anyway, I learned stuff here, and I went back and forth between being "oh you are out-hipstering the hipsters!" to being legitimately impressed by some of his arguments to then being like, "and now you're prigging like a super prude." Which is all to say, interesting. Hah.

  28. 4 out of 5

    John

    WHAT IS ART? starts out all nice and reasonable, so it's a bit of a surprise just how bizarre it gets in later chapters. Tolstoy took an awful long time to write this, and it sort of feels as though he went senile about halfway through. Perhaps needless to say, Tolstoy is an incredibly tough critic to please. Almost nothing passes muster with him, and, being an insufferable grump, he certainly wouldn't have been the type of guy I'd have liked to catch a movie with. Another problem with the book WHAT IS ART? starts out all nice and reasonable, so it's a bit of a surprise just how bizarre it gets in later chapters. Tolstoy took an awful long time to write this, and it sort of feels as though he went senile about halfway through. Perhaps needless to say, Tolstoy is an incredibly tough critic to please. Almost nothing passes muster with him, and, being an insufferable grump, he certainly wouldn't have been the type of guy I'd have liked to catch a movie with. Another problem with the book is that Tolstoy's nonfiction writing is usually so repetitive and poorly structured. This was a big problem with THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS WITHIN YOU, and it's a big problem here, as well. The guy really could have used a good editor. Anyway, WHAT IS ART? posits a few good ideas, but most of it just feels like nonsensical rambling because Tolstoy makes very few allowances for artistic subjectivity in regard to personal taste. As with so many critics, whatever moves him personally is regarded as art, and whatever doesn't, isn't. The basis for his incredibly strict definition of "good" art is founded upon both his rabid political (socialist) and religious (Christian) values, so there's something here to annoy just about everyone.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    I can't remember another instance when I disagreed so frequently with an author's argumentation in support of a premise with which I thoroughly agreed. Tolstoy's answer to his tract's title's question -- Art is ephemeral liberation from the self ("thinking of the key, each confirms his prison" says Eliot towards the end of the piece that was a key, for me at least), it's communion, something like a brief transmission from the interior, a window opening into the heart of what it feels like to b I can't remember another instance when I disagreed so frequently with an author's argumentation in support of a premise with which I thoroughly agreed. Tolstoy's answer to his tract's title's question -- Art is ephemeral liberation from the self ("thinking of the key, each confirms his prison" says Eliot towards the end of the piece that was a key, for me at least), it's communion, something like a brief transmission from the interior, a window opening into the heart of what it feels like to be alive -- is correct, I think; and his articulation of what it isn't -- beauty, diversion, cultivation, entertainment, fun -- is equally correct, but I think most readers in 2010 will find it difficult to take him seriously when he wants to dismiss nearly all of the in his estimation quasi-art of his time (including his own novels!) except for about half of Dickens, most of Hugo, and Dostoevsky (all). Anyway, it makes sense that Wallace seems to have liked this, and I certainly enjoyed the wrathful assault on Wagner.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Abdulrahman

    Magnificent book of wisdom by Tolstoy that took him around 15 years to write and gather material for and present it in less than 200 pages. He starts by explaining the prevailing theories of art in his time and drives on them and from them the concepts of Art at the various times according to the various philosophers and aestheticians. Going from the wide to the narrow in approach he tackles, what is art, how did it develop and why, what it is meant by "beauty" and what is the purpose Magnificent book of wisdom by Tolstoy that took him around 15 years to write and gather material for and present it in less than 200 pages. He starts by explaining the prevailing theories of art in his time and drives on them and from them the concepts of Art at the various times according to the various philosophers and aestheticians. Going from the wide to the narrow in approach he tackles, what is art, how did it develop and why, what it is meant by "beauty" and what is the purpose of art and what do philosophers say on that. And then it dives into the good art and the bad art. What caused the existence of such good and bad arts and how to get rid of the bad art as he says. Wonderful Wonderful read for the interested, only sometimes you feel the repetition at some parts and the elongation of speech, which is usual of a man in Tolstoy's level and status..

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