- 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: 31 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #215,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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What Is Art? (Penguin Classics) Revised ed. Edition
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"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
The writing is clear and crisp: most of the time you can exactly make out what he is saying. This sounds basic but when you are trying to confer multi-layered emotional/philosophical/informational content it is extremely difficult. Every big time philosopher has wholes and areas of confusion, even in their major works - while this happens in What is Art?, a couple times, you never feel as though you have lost the thread. This is, I assume, because the translators and Tolstoy's readability.
The text itself is a bit dated, so certain issues develop when you try to place this in modern context (for instance the question of authorship, his long ramblings on God) - but even still it has a lot to show us. Basically:
Art is a matter of public interest because the upper class is the audience of it. The upper classes have yoked all of these artisans and artists- causing them to suffer. art is conveying emotion using predefined stuff for an audience. Good Art is christian art, not the Church the sentiment. Art has been replaced by counterfeit art, and so people don't even know what art is. This is institutionalized by Art critics, art professionals and art schools.
There are three things I don't like about this book:
1. They translated it in such a way that you have to flip to the notes in the back a lot if you want to understand everything. (Aside from the appendix). So for instance he has a whole chapter on French Poetry (all the poetry is in the original french) - so you read a little bit of Tolstoy, flip to the back to read the translation, read a bit of Tolstoy, flip to the back... Its ridiculous - translate the poems.
2. Tolstoy doesn't completely agree with me. And occasionally rants about Christianity and our relation to god. He also makes these embarrassing points that make me blush for him. (For instance, he talks about artists needing to basically be proletarians.... "Lord Tolstoy, could you please explain?")
3. There is, basically, a literature review of Western Aesthetics that is unreadable. Tolstoy, meant for it to be unreadable - but it is awful to read little one paragraph summaries of Kant's philosophy and it's relation to aesthetics.
It's a decent read - but don't expect Tolstoy to tell you anything you want to hear.
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the book his answers will show how to recognize real art, how respond to what...Read more