- Series: Penguin Classics
- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised 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: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 32 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #203,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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What Is Art? (Penguin Classics) Revised ed. Edition
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Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Russian
From the Back Cover
During the decades of his world fame as sage and preacher as well as author of War and Peace and Anna Karenin, Tolstoy wrote prolifically in a series of essays and polemics on issues of morality, social justice and religion. These culminated in What is Art?, published in 1898. Although Tolstoy perceived the question of art to be a religious one, he considered and rejected the idea that art reveals and reinvents through beauty. The works of Dante, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Baudelaire and even his own novels are condemned in the course of Tolstoy's impassioned and iconoclastic redefinition of art as a force for good, for the progress and improvement of mankind. In his illuminating preface Richard Pevear considers What is Art? in relation to the problems of faith and doubt, and the spiritual anguish and fear of death which preoccupied Tolstoy in the last decades of his life.
Top customer reviews
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As a reading experience, this book is very successful as a display of powerful writing. Tolstoy bears his heart and his point of view. I do not find his argument consistent or consistently convincing. This is great writing, but intended for a limited audience. It not intended as a pleasurable reading. Your experience of this book will vary depending on your need to be in agreement with an author and your ability to appreciate writing even if the conclusions proposed are ones with which you cannot fully agree.
Much of what Tolstoy writes reads like a garrulous old man complaining about "modern art". Once you realize that he is complaining about the likes of Beethoven, Richard Wagner, all of ballet, every art school and almost every novelist, you begin to realize that every generational change in art has produced the same arguments against trends then occurring in art. Further, Tolstoy is in favor of a communist, religious world such that no one has the chance to live in comfort. Everyone must be directly engaged in the daily struggle to survive and art cannot come from anyone who is not living a life of such struggle. In passing note that Tolstoy had lived the life of a rich, titled, dissipated Russian noble, before promoting a mystic Christian communism.
He has a number of unbending absolutes. Art cannot be created in more than one media. Opera is a combination of poetry and music and therefore cannot be art. Any training in the craftsmanship needed to produce art is destructive of art because it promotes imitation. Imitation is always the opposite of art. All art must be a unique expression.
When Tolstoy speaks to the absolute necessity of art to further religion he is not as absolute. He accepts that religious beliefs change over time and culture. Therefore the artist cannot be expected to be ahead of these changes. But many religions, including modern Christian beliefs are corrupted and depend on imitative and false art. Further, to be art, people from all cultures have to be able to appreciate the intended message of the artist.
Rather than a point for point discussion of all that Tolstoy has written I shall summarize with a few points.
I had bought this book hoping to get ideas about how to better appreciate the work of, in particular the work of a great writer. This book was not written to my purposes. I find enough with which to agree that I cannot dismiss all of what the great man has written. The art to which Tolstoy would have us limit our attention would be simplistic, short, and often maudlin and only from the so called primitive crafts of untrained artisans. There is no respect for the large scale, complex or ambitious person with an inspiration beyond making some simple country dance or fireside story. Many will cheer the end of all forms of artistic pretense or snobbery. Ultimately I think his vision is for a narrow and repetitive world of religiously dominated and controlled, false art.
"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. For this, he conveniently overlooks the fact that his inheritance of vast tracts of land worked by peasants enabled him to pursue his own career. He has great hopes for the role of art creating brotherhood among man. "Art should cause violence to be set aside".Tolstoy's main point is that art is real art if the artist was sincere in his feelings about the subject and that viewers were then "infected" with the feeling. "The chief peculiarity of this feeling is that the receiver of a true artistic impression is so united to the artist that he feels as if the work were his own and not some one elses- as if what it expresses were just what he had been longing to express". This brings us to deeper thinking about just what it is that we are trying to convey in works of art. For any artist who likes to think about conveying feeling, I would also recommend a more modern outlook on this subject- Creative Authenticity by Ian Roberts- 16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen your Artistic Vision
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the book his answers will show how to recognize real art, how respond to what...Read more