Tolstoy – What is Art

Chapter 1

“Not only is enormous labor spent on this activity, but in it, as in wars, the very lives of men are sacrificed.  Hundreds of thousands of people devote their lives from childhood to learning to twirl their legs rapidly (dancers), or to touch notes and strings very rapidly (musicians), or to draw with paint and represent what they see (artists), or to turn every phrase inside out and find a rhyme to every word.  And these people, often very kind and clever, and capable of all sorts of useful labor, grow savage over their specialized and stupefying occupations, and become one-sided and self-complacent specialists, dull to all the serious phenomena of life and skilful only at rapidly twirling their legs, their tongues or their fingers.” p.10

“It is a musical tradition of great artists to be so carried away by the great business of their art that they cannot pause to consider the feelings of other artists”p.13

“art, for the sake of which the labor of millions, the lives of men, and, above all, love between man and man, are being sacrificed -this very art is becoming something more and more vague and uncertain to human perception” p. 14

Summary: Modern Artists, which now form a fortified institution, are not engaged in useful labor, but become one-sided and self-complacent specialists, skilful only at what they do, dull to the serious phenomena of life.  Artists become self-involved and aloof to other artists’ feelings.  Millions of men have made art their life work\sacrifice; this over prevalence of art is reducing the subject, art, to a vague concept.

Chapter 2

“But in this the ordinary man makes a mistake just because he is an ordinary man and not a specialist, and because he has not occupied himself with aesthetic questions.  Had he looked into these matters, he would have seen in great Renan’s book, Mark Hurele, a dissertation showing that the tailor’s work is art, and that those who do not see in the adornment of woman an affair of the highest are are very small minded and dull. ‘C’est le grand art’, says Renan. p.17 Black boxes 

“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 that what is understood by it is so simple and clear that it is not worthwhile even to discuss what it actually means.” p.20

Vibert would enjoy comments on Russian specch\culture p. 21

“I especially beg the reader not to be overcome by dullness” p. 23

Summary: Vague and confusing concepts are most often uttered with great self-assurance, as people pretend to understand that which they convey, presumably so simple and clear that it is not worthwhile to even discuss its true meaning.

Chapter 3 -self-title: Beauty

Baumgarten “Beauty is the Perfect (the Absolute) recognized through the sens; truth is the perfect perceived through reason; goodness is the perfect reached by moral will” p.25

“Thus Sulzed (1720-1777) says that only that can be considered beautiful which contains goodness.  According to this theory, the aim of the whole life of humanity is welfare in social life.  This is attained by the education of the moral feelings, to which end art should be subservient.  Beauty is that which evokes and educated this feeling” p.25

Hemsterhuis (1720-1790) “According to him, beauty is that which gives most pleasure, and that gives most pleasure which gives us the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time.  Enjoyment of the beautiful, because it gives the greatest quantity of perceptions in the shortest time is the highest notion to which man can attain.” p. 29

“The aesthetic teaching of Kant is founded as follows: Man has a knowledge of nature outside him and of himself in nature.  In nature, outside himself, he seeks for truth; in himself, he seeks for goodness.  The first is an affair of pure reason, the other of practical reason (Free will).  Besides these two means of perception, there is yet the judging capacity, which forms judgements without reasonings and produces pleasure without desire.  This capacity is the basis of aesthetic feeling.  Beauty, according to Kant, in its subjective meaning, is that which, in general and necessarily, without reasonings and without practical advantage, pleases.  In its objective meaning it is the form a suitable object, in so far as that object is perceived without any conception of its utility.” p. 29

“Fichte (1762-1814) says that perception of the beautiful proceeds from this: the world – i.e., nature – has two sides: it is the sum of our limitations and it is the sum of our free idealistic activity.  In the first aspect the world is limited, in the second aspect it is free.  In the first aspect every object is limited, distorted, compressed, confined- and we see deformity; in the second we perceive its inner completeness, vitality, regeneration – and we see beauty.  So the deformity or beauty of an object depends on the point of view of the observer.  Beauty, therefore exists, not in the world, but in the beautiful soul.  Art is the manifestation of this beautiful soul, and its aim is the education, not only of the mind -that is the business of the savant, not only of the heart-that is the affair of the moral preacher, but the whole man.  And so the characteristic of beauty lies not in anything external, but in the presence of a beautiful soul in the artists.”p.30

Scheeling (1775-1854) Parallels Buddhist\Taoist teaching of True\Knowledge, akin to Non-Dualism. “And the chief characteristic of works of art is unconscious infinity.  Art is the uniting of the objective with the subjective, of nature with reason, of the unconscious with the conscious, and therefore art is the highest means of knowledge.” p. 31

Hegel (1770-1831) “God manifests himself in nature and in art in the form of beauty.  God expresses himself in 2 ways: in the object and in the subject, in nature and in spirit.  Beauty is the shining of the Idea through Matter.  Only the soul, and what pertains to it, is truly beautiful; and therefore the beauty of nature is only the reflection of the natural beauty of the spirit – the beautiful has only a spiritual content.  But the spiritual must appear in sensuous form.  The sensuous manifestation of spirit is only appearance, and this appearance is the only reality of the beautiful.  Art is thus the production of this appearance of the Idea, and is a means, together with religions and philosophy, of bringing to consciousness and of expressing the deepest problems of humanity and the highest truths of the spirits.” p.32

Weisse (1801-1867) Adherent of Hegel “Art is the introduction of the absolute spiritual reality of beauty into external, dead, indifferent matter, and the perception of the latter, apart from the beauty brought into it, presents the negation of all existence in itself.” p. 32

Engel ” Beauty is the Idea expressing itself.  The spirit, contemplating itself, either finds itself expressed completely, and then that full expression of itself is beauty, or incompletely, and then it feels the need to alter this imperfect expression of itself and becomes creative art.”p.33

Vischer (1807-1887) “Beauty is the idea in the form of a finite phenomenon.  The idea itself is not indivisible, but forms a system of ideas which may be represented by ascending and descending lines.  The higher the idea, the more beauty it contains; but even the lowest contains beauty becaues it forms an essential link of the system.  The highest form of the idea is the personality, and therefore the highest art is that which has for its subject matter the highest personality.” p.33

Helmhottz (1821) “According to Helm, who wrote on beauty as it relates to music, beauty in musical productions is attained only by following unalterable laws.  These laws are not known to the artist, so that beauty is manifested by the artist unconsciously and cannot be subjected to analysis.” p. 35

Bergmann (1840-1887) “to define beauty objectively is impossible.  Beauty is perceived only subjectively, and therefore the problem of aesthetics is to define what pleases whom.”p. 35

Jouffroy (1796-1842) “beauty is the expression of the invisible by these natural signs which manifest it.  The visible world is the garnment by means of which we see beauty.” p. 35

Leveque “was a follower of Scheeling and Hegel.  He holds that beauty is something invisible behind nature – a force or spirit revealing itself in ordered energy” p. 35

Taine (1828-1893) “Beauty is the manifestation of the essential characteristics of any important idea more completely than it is expressed in reality.”p.37

Guyau (1854-1888) “beauty is not something exterior to the object itself-is not, as it were, a parasitic growth on it-but is itself the very blossoming forth of that on which it appears.  Art is the expression of reasonable and conscious life, evoking in us both the deepest consciousness of existence and the highest feelings and loftiest thoughts.  Art lifts man from his personal life into the universal life by means not only of participation in the same ideas and beliefs, but also by similarity in feeling.”p.37

Cherbuliez – “Beauty is not inherent in objects but is an act of our souls.  Beauty is an illusion; there is no absolute beauty.”p.37

Veron (1825-1889) “Art is the manifestation of emotions transmitted externally by a combination of lines, forms, colors, or by a succession of moments, sounds or words objected to certain rhythms.” p.38

Darwin (1809-1882) “The origin of the art of music is the call of the males to the females” p. 39

Spencer (b. 1820) “In the lower animals all the energy of life is expended in life-maintenance and race-maintenance; in man, however, there remains, after those needs are satisfied, some superfluous strength.  This excess is used in play, which passes over into art.  Play is an imitation of real activity; so is art.” p. 39

Grant Allen “We must have faith in the judgements of the finest nurtured and most discriminative men. These people form the taste of the next generation.” p. 40 (hints of colonial supremacy)

Ker “Art is the revelation and indication of freedom because it is free from the darkness and incomprehensibility of finite things.” p. 40

Chapter 4 – Bashin on th’aestheticians

“All the aesthetic definitions of beauty lead to two fundamental conceptions.  The first is that beauty is something having an independent existence (existing in itself), that it is one of the manifestations of the Absolutely Perfect, of the Idea, of the Spirit, of Will or of God; the other is that beauty is a kind of pleasure we receive which does not have personal advantage for its object.” p. 41

“In the subjective aspect, we call beauty that which supplies us with a particular kind of pleasure.  In the objective aspect, we call beauty something absolutely perfect, and we acknowledge it to be so only because we receive, from the manifestation of this absolute perfection, a certain kind of pleasure; so this objective definition is nothing but the subjective conception differently expressed. In reality both conceptions of beauty amount to one and the same thing – namely, the reception by us of a certain kind of pleasure; i.e., we call ‘beauty’ that which pleases us without evoking in us desire.” p. 43

“Art is that which makes beauty manifest, and beauty is that which pleases.” p. 44

“There is and can be no explanation of why one thing pleasures one man and displeases another, or vice versa.”p.44

“Foldeldt postulates as the basis of art a demand for the important.”p.45

“No matter what insanities appear in art, when once they find acceptable among the upper classes of our society a theory is quickly invented to explain and sanction them.”p.45

“So the theory of art founded on beauty, expounded by aesthetics, and in time professed by the public, is nothing but the setting up as good of that which has pleased and pleases us, ie, pleases a certain class of people.”p.45

“Now, if we consider the food question it will not occur to anyone to affirm that the importance of food consists in the pleasure we receive when eating it.  Everyone understands that the satisfaction of our taste cannot serve as a basis for our definition of the merits of food, and that we have therefore no right to presuppose that the dinners with cayenne peppers, Limburg cheese, alcohol, etc., to which we are accustomed and please us, form the very best human food.  And in the same way, beauty, or that which pleases us, can in no sense serve as the basis for the definition of art; nor can a series of objects which afford us pleasure serve as the model of what art should be.” p. 46

Tolstoy presents a number of aesthetic theories.  He then remarks, upon analysis, that these aesthetic definitions of beauty lead to two fundamental conceptions: 1) in the subjective aspect, beauty is a kind of pleasure we receive which does not have personal advantage for its object. 1) in the objective aspect, beauty is something having an independent existence – a manifestation of the Absolutely Perfect.  Upon the second conception, Tolstoy reflects that we acknowledge this beauty because we receive, from the manifestation of this absolute perfection, a certain kind of pleasure.   Thus, the objective conception is in reality a differently expressed form of the subjective conception.  Thus, these aestheticians reveal in fact one conception of beauty: the reception of pleasure without expressed desire.  Art becomes in this vein, that which makes beauty (pleasure) manifest. Yet Tolstoy wonders about the nature of pleasure, and concludes that there can be no objective explanation of why one thing pleases one man and displeases another.

No matter what insanities appear in art, when once they are found acceptable among the upper classes, a theory is quickly developed to explain and sanction them.  According to Tolstoy, aesthetician definitions of beauty, of that time, embodied a corpus of these  insanities; upon this statement, he stipulates that a theory of art founded on beauty expounded by the aestheticians, equates to the institutionalization, by a certain class of people, of a hierarchy of pleasures.

Analogy: Food.  The satisfaction of our taste cannot serve as a basis for our definition of the merits of food (its importance therefore does not reside in the pleasures we receive when eating it).  Extravagant foods do not form the very best of human foods; in the same way, beauty can in no sense serve as the basis for the definition of art.

Chapter 5 Toltstoy’s Definition

“Physiological evolutionary definition of Art: an activity arising even in the animal kingdom, a, springing from sexual desire and the propensity to play, and b, accompanied by a pleasurable excitement of the nervous system.  Experimental definition of Art: the external manifestation by means of lines, colors, movements, sounds or words, of emotions felt by man.” p. 48

“In order correctly to define art, it is necessary, first of all, to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure and to consider it as one of the conditions of human life.  Viewing it in this way we cannot fail to observe that art is one of the means of intercourse between man and man.” p. 49

“The peculiarity of this latter means of intercourse, distinguishing it from intercourse by means of words, consists in this, that whereas by words a man transmits his thoughts to another, by means of art he transmits his feelings.” p. 49

“To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in onself, then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling – this is the activity of art.” p. 51

“Is it a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress towards the well-being of individuals and of humanity.” p. 52

HISTORY OF FEELING

“as, thanks to man’s capacity to express thoughts by words, every man may know all that has been done for him in the realms of thought by all humanity before his day, and can in the present, thanks to this capacity to understand the thoughts of others, become a sharer in their activity and can himself hand on to his contemporaries and descendants the thoughts he has assimilated from others, as well as those which have arisen within himself; so, thanks to man’s capacity to be infected with the feelings of others by means of art, all that is being lived through by his contemporaries is accessible to him, as well as the feelings experienced by man thousands of years ago, and he has also the possibility of transmitting his own feelings to others.” p. 52

In order to correctly define art, one needs to consider it as one of the conditions of human life, and not as a means to pleasure.  From this perspective, art becomes one of the means of intercourse between man and man. “The peculiarity of this latter means of intercourse, distinguishing it from intercourse by means of words, consists in this, that whereas by words a man transmits his thoughts to another, by means of art he transmits his feelings.” “To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling – this is the activity of art.” Art joins men together in union through means of shared feelings.  Thanks to man’s capacity to be infected with the feelings of others by means of art, all that is being lived through by his contemporaries is accessible to him, as well as the feelings experienced by man thousands of years ago, and he has also the possibility of transmitting his own feelings to others.  

Chapter 6 Religion

“Humanity unceasingly moves forward from a lower, more partial and obscure understanding of life to one more general and more lucid.  And in this, as in every movement, there are leaders – those who have understood the meaning of life more clearly than others- and of these advanced men there is always one who has in his words and by his life expressed this meaning more clearly, accessibly, and strongly than others.  This man’s expression of the meaning of life, together with those superstitions, traditions and ceremonies which usually form themselves round the memory of such a man, is what is called a religion.  Religions are the exponents of the highest comprehension of life accessible to the best and foremost men at a given time in a given society – a comprehension toward which, inevitably and irresistibly, all the rest of that society must advance.  And therefore only religions have always served and still serve, as bases for the valuation of human sentiments.” p. 54

“And therefore, among all nations art which transmitted feelings considered to be good by this general religious sense was recognizes as being good and was encouraged, but art which transmitted feelings considered to be bad by this general religious conception was recognized as being bad, and was rejected.” p.55

SOCIAL CLASS ORDERING “A few of the rich and strong, like Francis of Assissi and others, accepted the Christian teaching in its full significance, even though it undermined their privileged positions.

Humanity continuously progresses towards a more general and lucid understanding of life.  In this, there are leaders, who have understood the meaning of life more clearly than others, and some leaders know how to express this meaning more clearly/strongly/accessibly, by his words and actions.  His clear expression, together with the superstitions, traditions and ceremonies which form themselves around his memory, makes for the concept of Religion.  Religions are the exponents of the highest comprehension of life accessible to the best and foremost men at a given time in a given society  – a comprehension toward which, inevitably and irresistibly, all the rest of that society must advance.  And therefore only religions have always served and still serve, as bases for the valuation of human sentiments.  Art which transmitted feelings considered to be good by this religious sense was recognized as being good, and vice versa. 

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