The reading for Thursday, September 26th is “What is Art” by Tolstoy.
Reply to this post with your comments and questions! Groups 1 and 3 are in the lead this week, so please do write in early.
In “What is Art?”, Leo Tolstoy makes a strong argument that to define art “correctly”, one must consider it as “one of the conditions of human life”. He disagrees with existing definitions of art as something that manifests beauty and offers pleasure. Instead, he defines art (although stating that no exact objective definition of art exists) as communication between the creator behind the artwork and the recipient of the art that eventually unites people through a common understanding of the artwork. One important aspect to the recipient’s part is the capacity to receive feelings and thoughts from the author and pass them on to others. Tolstoy notes that without this, “men would be like wild beasts, or like Kasper Hauser”. What does he means in this statement? Why would lacking this specific ability make us like wild beasts and/or the laconic Kasper Hauser?
Tolstoy elaborates on the union facet to his definition of art. A work of art according to him is not art if no feelings are evoked and more profound, a feeling of spiritual union with the author and those “infected by it”. This spiritual union is happens when the recipient viewing the artwork no longer sees the work as done by the artist but rather sees the work as if the work is his own (the recipient’s). This is what real art is by Tolstoy’s definition one that “destroys in the consciousness of the recipient the separation between himself and the artist, and not that alone, but also between himself and all whose minds receive this work of art”. Do you think such relationship/communion can be achieved when we look at a work of art? Has this happened to you before?
Tolstoy also mentions that there are definite signs to distinguish real art from counterfeit art. He lists three conditions that make an artwork real or “infectious” which are first the degree of individuality of the feeling being transmitted, second, the clarity of the feeling being transmitted, and lastly the amount of sincerity in the artwork. Tolstoy states that an artwork that lacks one of these conditions or if the author’s “peculiarity of feeling” is “unintelligibly expressed” is a counterfeit. According to his definition of counterfeit art, counterfeit art is incapable of evoking feelings in the recipient. How do you agree with this view? Do you Tolstoy is being too extreme to categorize an artwork as counterfeit if the feeling of the author is “unintelligibly expressed”?
Tolstoy notes that without this, “men would be like wild beasts, or like Kasper Hauser”. What does he means in this statement? Why would lacking this specific ability make us like wild beasts and/or the laconic Kasper Hauser?
Tolstoy is saying that if we do not have the ability to give information to others, be it by speech or art, or if we were incapable of receiving information, as in not understanding intonation or seeing the purpose of color, we would become no better than wild beasts. If mankind lacked these abilities, we would not be connected as a species. Man is, as much as it pains me to say, inherently selfish; he only looks out for his own well-being, survival, and comfort. However, because we are able to communicate and receive emotions from others, we feel that we cannot be purely self-centered. It is this communication and empathy that allows the human race to work together towards common goals and not stay in the state of nature with wild beasts.
According to his definition of counterfeit art, counterfeit art is incapable of evoking feelings in the recipient. How do you agree with this view? Do you Tolstoy is being too extreme to categorize an artwork as counterfeit if the feeling of the author is “unintelligibly expressed”?
Tolstoy does not that counterfeit art cannot evoke emotion, he is saying that the emotion that counterfeit art produces is not the purpose of art. Because we have forgotten, or never knew, the meaning of art, we have dubbed art as “an activity producing pleasure.” Society today sees art something for enjoyment and not the purpose of communication. “There are people who, having forgotten what the action of real art is, expect some else from art, and that therefore such people may mistake for this aesthetic feeling the feeling of diversion and a certain excitement which they receive from counterfeits of art.” This counterfeit art is one that is not sincere in the feelings it portrays; it exist only because there is, or was, a demand for it. If the creator of the art were sincere in the feelings he put into the art, it would not be “unintelligibly expressed.” It is this sincerity of the artist that fuels art, his need to create something to show others how he feels. If his sincerity is present then clearness and uniqueness would flow naturally and the artist would create a work of art.
1. In refuting how art has previously been defined, Tolstoy argues that definitions of art are formed around that which has already been accepted as such. He states that “no matter what insanities appear in art, when once they find acceptance among the upper class of our society a theory is quickly invented to explain them and sanction them….” Do you agree/disagree that this phenomena is true? Why might this occur?Are there any exceptions to this phenomena?
2. Tolstoy says that, “in spite of the mountains of books written about art, no definition of art has been constructed.” He argues that this is due to the emphasis of art as that which creates beauty, and not on how it is a method of transferring emotions.What do you believe has inhibited man from accurately defining art?
3. Tolstoy then goes on to provide his own definition of art as “one of the means of intercourse between man and man.” He asserts that art is that which transmits one man’s emotions to another man and gives various example to support his claim. Is Tolstoy’s definition better than those he deems inaccurate? Does Tolstoy come closer to defining art?
Tolstoy argues that art should be seen as a form of communication and not as an object of beauty. He states that it is wrong for something to be considered art only after the upper class of our society accepts them, however, this phenomenon is true. This might occur because art has a connotation of elitism and education ,and what these people view as art work, is accepted as works of art. This phenomenon occurred in the Barnes’ collection. When Barnes started collecting many paintings from impressionists and modernist masters, not many people paid attention to it and disregarded artists in his collection. However, later many art critics started to realize its importance and even though it was still the same art work its value and importance in the art culture increased tremendously because the upper class accepted it as art.
Although art, to some extent, can be defined as a transfer of emotions from the creator of the artwork to the observer, it is not the full definition of art. He states that art must evoke the same feeling in the creator and the observer and must bring them as one, which seems to be too extreme. Tolstoy does give various examples to support his claim however, his definition of not is not better than those he deems inaccurate. He states “however poetic, realistic, striking, or interesting, a work may be, it is not a work of art if it does not evoke that feeling of joy and spiritual union with another(the authors) and with others”, but this statement is not true as different people can have different reactions to art work. Just because each and every viewer did not feel the same emotion as the creator of the art work does not make it not art. Although he has some valid arguments he did not get closer to defining art.
1. Tolstoy explains that art is “founded on beauty…[and] pleases a certain class of people.” All aesthetics are judged subjectively, therefore certain kinds of art find their niche with certain kinds of people. As Tolstoy mentions, “There is no objective definition of beauty,” and that beauty may please “without exciting desire”, or as Williams has described as sublimity. Do you think that this subjectivity diminishes the holistic beauty of any piece of art?
2. “Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious Idea of beauty or God; …but is a means of union among men joining them together in the same feelings…of individuals and of humanity.” In a way Tolstoy is arguing that there is no extraneous, cosmic force that allows humans to create art. Art is human. Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
3. Along with mentioning culture, Tolstoy uniquely brings up the art of language, or “verbal art”. He also notes that “art like speech is a means of communication and therefore of progress, that is, of the movement of humanity forward towards perfection.” Does the art of language contribute any further to the aesthetics of what we think of as art in general, or is it its own specific category? Is the art of language separate from, say, the art of cello playing?
1. Taking into consideration the time period in which Leo Tolstoy lived and the political movements that occurred during that time, would you still agree with his assertions towards the nature of art and how one experiences art? In “What is Art?”, Tolstoy expressed a utilitarian explanation of how one “will come to understand the meaning of art”; it is when we cease to consider deriving pleasure as the objective of a work of art that we can understand art. In no means is this a personal attack on Tolstoy, for he is merely a product of his time, just as we all are when it comes time to criticize in attempts to find purity and goodness in the world. Now, bear with me, Tolstoy embraced the school of thought that art at that time was corrupt and decadent, but haven’t it always been that way? Even today, with the massive industry of museums and art collector seeing each purchase as an investment, art has always been corrupt and taken advantage of. When the purpose of art become monetary, the art work is no longer pure and good, rather, it’s luring power is exploited. However, does that mean when an artist is paid for their art, and by them accepting it, that the transaction in and of itself degrades the value of that piece of art work? But most great novelist and composers sold their work, does that devalue great creation like the works of Shakespeare and Beethoven? But then you have artists like Van Gogh, who only sold one painting in his life. Tolstoy, like all other great philosophers, novelists, artists, scientists, and individuals who contemplate reasons and meanings behind our actions and reactions, is merely doing the very thing that makes us human; for we are the only being that interprets itself and, without that impulse, we would be living very meaningless lives. The above statements were pitched for the purpose of stirring disagreements and conflict, I for one am terrible at writing coherent thoughts and would like for someone to clarify for me many of the questions that I have mentioned regarding the value of art in relation to its economic value.
I know I have made a few very controversial statements, and I hope to fire up a lively discussion. Feel FREE to DISAGREE!
When Tolstoy regarded the art of his time as perverse, he was referring to the “art” that was produced art in hopes of gaining recognition from peers or in pursuit of contentment at having produced something beautiful. These self-proclaimed artists had no intention of transmitting any feeling or emotion. I do not believe that in today’s world, paying for art devalues it; making a profit and expression one’s emotions are not mutually exclusive. Of course, when money becomes the sole reason behind art, it loses its value, but selling one’s work does not mean that it was produced for only that purpose.
1. Tolstoy states that to considered art, a piece of work must “infect” other people. He claims that there must be some kind of reaction to what the creator has made, whether the effect is intended or not. Do you agree with this statement? Must a piece of work have some kind of effect on you to be considered art, whether the effect was intended or not?
2. Tolstoy wonders what would become of humanity without art. He theorizes that people would be savage in comparison to modern day people. What do you think would happen to people without art? Would people be unable to understand each other and therefore be unable to sympathize/empathize with each other?
3. Tolstoy claims that what makes a work of art truly beautiful is that it can be understood by anybody of any language or race as opposed to language. Is this true? Can art be understood by anybody or are there some restrictions?
1. I agree with Tolstoy in the sense that art must “infect” its audience in order for it to be considered art. For if one doesn’t see any meaning in a painting, how can one regard it as anything more than a nice picture on a wall? The whole point of art is expression and communication of said expression. If there is no expression, then what is the point?
2. I think that the only way a world without art would be possible is in a totalitarian state in which the government censors everything and prohibits deviation from the state’s doctrine. If a possible digression in thought can cost someone’s life, like in Orwell’s 1984 the beginnings of Soviet Russia, the people will be too scared to express themselves. Otherwise, I think that art is unavoidable, as people need outlets for their emotions. I don’t think that people would be unable to relate to each other in a world without, but I imagine that everyone would be very tightly wound and nervous as to make sure that no accidental inappropriate expression would be betrayed.
3. I don’t believe that a work must be truly beautiful in order to be understood by all, but I do think that an artist has truly accomplished art if he can communicate the basic human emotions across cultural barriers for all to understand.
Tolstoy states that to considered art, a piece of work must “infect” other people. He claims that there must be some kind of reaction to what the creator has made, whether the effect is intended or not. Do you agree with this statement? Must a piece of work have some kind of effect on you to be considered art, whether the effect was intended or not?
I agree with this statement to a certain extent. The statement cannot be used in a general manner since every individual has their own personality and set of emotions. One piece of “art” may affect one person in one way and another person in a completely different way. So in that sense art cannot be defined or restricted by personal emotions as emotions may vary. Now if the effect, whether intended or not, can be anything then yes the statement is very much valid. Personally I believe that art should evoke some sort of emotion in you if the emotion(s) come from deep understanding of the work. Unfortunately people nowadays do not stop to contemplate and understand a piece of work at a museum or anywhere in their daily environment. As our discussions pointed out, people seem to go to museums for the sake of it and fail to realize and live out the real purpose of museums. Museums are supposed to be a place in which people can come and find the deeper meanings and emotions beneath the “surface” of the painting.
Tolstoy wonders what would become of humanity without art. He theorizes that people would be savage in comparison to modern day people. What do you think would happen to people without art? Would people be unable to understand each other and therefore be unable to sympathize/empathize with each other?
I do not believe that a world without art would really exist unless the situation like what Evgenia described is taking place. Art can be found if an individual wants it to be found. If simple street art or a flower evokes emotion then why can’t it be art? If such a world really did exist I do not believe everyone would just go mad. I think humans would just lose the ability to perceive anything with their senses and they would be unable to enjoy life and appreciate it. If humans really came down to such a pitiful state of mind they are not humans, just mindless beings. We would not be able to sympathize or empathize with each other as we would lack emotions and individuality. Those of necessary components in understanding other people.
1. Yes, I do agree that art should “infect” people in a certain way, but that the emotional intent from the creator of the piece should play a role in how the piece of art is perceived. There are always going to be individuals that do not take away the same feeling that was implied, but according to Tolstoy, the verbal communication that goes on between those individuals is also seen as defining art.
I believe that knowing the intent of a certain piece of art does help in how I view it, only because the emotion that the artist felt influences how I feel. But at the same time, my feelings are my own feelings. For example, if there is a piece of music that a composer wrote with a lamenting intent, but for some reason I find it joyful, that is my own opinion, even if I knew the intended emotion.
3. Art can be understood by everybody, no matter what race, class, or language. Tolstoy explains how the upper class has established an “art-canon,” which seems to make excuses for any anomalies that occur in art, making it nearly impossible for anyone outside that “circle” (i.e the lower classes) to understand. The upper class has distorted the meaning so that art is “merely [for] our pleasure” instead of being an entire emotional experience in itself.
Tolstoy argues that “people who consider the aim of art to be pleasure cannot realize its true meaning and purpose.” However, in the typical art museum, most people seem to do the very thing that Tolstoy did not want people to do. In your opinion, is there a lack of true appreciation of art today as defined by Tolstoy? If so, what are we doing wrong as a society, and how do we go about fixing this problem?
Tolstoy emphasizes that art is an expression of one’s feelings, emotions, and ideas. However, many of us like to classify “art” and architecture from different styles, using terms like Gothic, Neo-classical, Art-Deco, etc. Does this categorization make art lose its quality as a conduit of expression and individuality, as defined by Tolstoy?
1) Tolstoy’s view of art and its purpose seemed to be very centered on the experience of the audience instead of the experience of the artist behind the work: “Every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship both with him who produced or is producing the art, and with all those who, simultaneously, previously, or subsequently, receive the same artistic impression.” This definition seems just as weak as that of the pleasure theory (that is, that the aim of art is to please and to be beautiful). It isn’t efficient enough to label a piece as “true art” or a “counterfeit” based on how people react to it. Sure, I agree that art is indeed a form of communication and expression that has the ability to bring the audience closer to the artist and closer to one another, but this cannot be a deciding factor on whether something is considered art or not. Note, also, that Tolstoy says that a true piece of art binds only the audience members who receive “the same artistic impression” from a piece—this I find quite ridiculous being that it isn’t always the case that the same two people will look at a piece of artwork the same. Most people look on with eyes that are subjective due to different personal experiences and knowledge, which may affect the way that they interpret a piece of artwork. This means that interpretations can vary amongst audience members based on knowledge and experience. It is certainly not true that there is a lack of appreciation of art today, either. It can be said that nowadays humans are exposed to a large amount of art everyday, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it makes humans any less appreciative of art, although this also is dependent on the individual. Museums are cultural institutions that can serve both good and bad functions in the art world. Some may say that the large amount of art that we are exposed to (especially in an urban setting) makes us more sensitive to art and others may disagree.
2) Art needn’t be such a restricting category, in my opinion. It can be a reflection of the culture of a particular society and not necessarily a reflection of the artist’s feelings. For example, the architect who built Gothic structures was not expressing any type of emotion, but instead was following a popular style of architecture in the culture of that time, utilizing his/her skills to create a structure that followed a cultural style. This strikes down the notion that individuality is as vital in art as Tolstoy said it was in his chapter, for this example of the architect who designed gothic structures was in a joined architectural movement with other architects of his or her time in the same culture. The same can be said about Italian Renaissance artists and artists of the time of impressionism, these were collective artistic experiences that followed similar models and weren’t necessarily individualistic.
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