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What Is Art? (Penguin Classics) Paperback – January 1, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0140446425 ISBN-10: 0140446427 Edition: New Ed

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Russian

About the Author

Count Leo Tolstoy was born on September 9, 1828, in Yasnaya Polyana, Russia. Orphaned at nine, he was brought up by an elderly aunt and educated by French tutors until he matriculated at Kazan University in 1844. In 1847, he gave up his studies and, after several aimless years, volunteered for military duty in the army, serving as a junior officer in the Crimean War before retiring in 1857. In 1862, Tolstoy married Sophie Behrs, a marriage that was to become, for him, bitterly unhappy. His diary, started in 1847, was used for self-study and self-criticism; it served as the source from which he drew much of the material that appeared not only in his great novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), but also in his shorter works. Seeking religious justification for his life, Tolstoy evolved a new Christianity based upon his own interpretation of the Gospels. Yasnaya Polyana became a mecca for his many converts At the age of eighty-two, while away from home, the writer suffered a break down in his health in Astapovo, Riazan, and he died there on November 20, 1910.
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have produced acclaimed translations of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, and Bulgakov. Their translation of The Brothers Karamazov won the 1991 PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize. They are married and live in Paris, France.
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have produced acclaimed translations of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, and Bulgakov. Their translation of The Brothers Karamazov won the 1991 PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize. They are married and live in Paris, France.
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (January 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140446427
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140446425
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

There was a lot of interesting information.
Debbye Elledge
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.
Glenn Russell
It's a book that I wish more people would read, and would read sympathetically.
Richard C.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By LORAINE WELLMAN on March 8, 2011
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I'm surprised that nobody (so far) has commented on the physical aspects of this book, Because the original is so old - written in 1899 after sixteen years of thought-it is now a rare book This then, is printed using a patented Print on Demand technology. It is printed using a robot that turns and photographs each page. Since the book has been re-typeset, page numbers change and there is no index or table of contents. Also, there are a number of typos. However, none of this really matters as far as the actual content of the thought is concerned and the typos are not too distracting.
"What Is Art"is an interesting read with many aspects applicable to today. For example, in discussing the definition of "beauty", Tolstoy observes, "As is always the case, the more cloudy and confused the conception conveyed by a word, with the more aplomb and self-assurance do people use that word, pretending what is understood by it is so simple and clear that it is not worth while even to discuss what it actually means." Along with gems of insights, Tolstoy betrays his own prejudices as he is against nudity ("female nakedness"), even referring to a ballet as a "lewd performance". He dislikes Wagner, all of Beethoven's later works and the whole Impressionist movement - which, of course, was new back then. However, he is also against realism, "When we appraise a work according to its realism, we only show that we are talking, not of a work of art, but of its counterfeit". He also dislikes art schools- but not art education in public schools-, critics, art about art, and the idea of grants to artists. He believed that artists should earn their living in the real world, so as not to lose a connection to regular life.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Wences gigi814@aol.com on August 20, 1998
Format: Paperback
then perhaps you ought to read this book by one of the greatest writers ever. Tolstoy was a man of vast knowledge and he displays that here with his meticulous study of beauty and what it means, which leads him to his own definition of Art. Art, he says, is whenever you, the artist, has transmitted his/her feelings to a universal audience. Clearness, simplicity, brevity, and comprehension are qualities of a work of art. Surprisingly, most people disregard this book while at the same time they put all his other books on a higher pedastal than the author himself does by his own definition! You tell me...but I think Tolstoy was on to something...
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55 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Igor Otshelnik on February 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
Do you have thoughts like "well, maybe it's just me... They say Monet is great, but perhaps I just don't understand it..." I say, maybe it's your own gut that tells you what is the true art and what is not!
This work by Tolstoy is a summary of his 15 year spiritual journey and research of art and what it's all about. And who is the author! A genius himself! In this piece he tells us in plain language that the whole art of his century (with a few exceptions) is a product of a rotten class of people, a select few, whose main concerns were far from being common with the feelings of any normal human being. "Art, nowadays, is for pleasure, not for bringing moral values in the form of genuine feelings to a reader". This is basically the general idea of the work. At first, you feel dumbfounded reading this, but after a few pages, his statements start to make sense. Only a true moral feeling expressed in the right form, not necessarily beautiful, but understandible and to the point, is a true piece of art.
Now, let's go back and think for minute: do I really like Sheakspeare or is it the literary criticism the makes me feel that I am not a fully cultured person unless I acknowledge Sheakspeare as the greatest of all, or at least one of the greatest writers (playwrights) ever? Even if I think that he was too verbose and vague to begin with? That sometimes you read him and whole paragraphs go by without you fully understanding what he's talking about? Mind you, he wrote for the theater, which means characters' sentences need to be pretty concise and clear, so that the audience could follow them. Anyway, Tolstoy will help you understand this problem.
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19 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
Tolstoy unleashes an intellectual argument as only he can as he provides a classical insight into the definition of art. Filled with lashings against Church Christianity and praise for true Chrisitanity, and more lashings against universal art that is unoriginal and full of sexual erotica, Tolstoy argues that true art is reflective of the religious consciousness of the age and is measured by its degree of infectuousness to the consumer. It is valued by having particularity, clarity, and sincerity of feeling from the artist. Keep in mind this was written at the end of his life in the 19th century. Tolstoy also argues that governmental endowments given to art that only satisifes the sensual desires of the upper class is a great abuse of the millions of common people that work hard but will never even see the art, art that was produced at incredible expense using their money. In summary, Tolstoy offers a timeless definition of art.
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