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Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910)

Related: author - 1800s literature - realism in literature - Russian literature - world literature

Novels: Anna Karenina (1877)

"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." --Anna Karenina.

Contemporaries: Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs - Gustave Moreau - Arnold Böcklin - Eadweard Muybridge - Paul Gustave Doré - Édouard Manet - Johannes Brahms - Félicien Rops


Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910) was a Russian novelist, philosopher, Christian anarchist, pacifist, educational reformer, vegetarian, moral thinker and an influential member of the Tolstoy family. Tolstoy is widely regarded as one of the greatest of all novelists, particularly noted for his masterpieces War and Peace and Anna Karenina; in their scope, breadth and realistic depiction of Russian life, the two books stand at the peak of realistic fiction. As a moral philosopher he was notable for his ideas on nonviolent resistance through his work The Kingdom of God is Within You, which in turn influenced such twentieth-century figures as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Tolstoy [Aug 2006]

What Is Art? (1897) - Leo Tolstoy

What Is Art? (1897) - Leo Tolstoy [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

What Is Art? (1897) is a nonfictional essay by Leo Tolstoy in which he argues against numerous aesthetic theories which define art in terms of the good, truth, and especially beauty. In Tolstoy's opinion, art at the time was corrupt and decadent, and artists had been misled.

What is Art? develops the aesthetical theories that bloomed at the end of the eighteenth century and during the nineteenth century, thus criticizing the realistic position (held since Plato that regarded imitative position as the highest value) and the shallow, existing link between art and pleasure. Tolstoy addition to previously existing theories that stressed the emotional importance pivots on the value of communication-as-infection; which leads him to reject bad or counterfeit art since those are harmful to society inasmuch it damages the people's ability to separate good art from bad art.

Tolstoy detaches art from non-art (or counterfeit art); art must create a specific emotional link between artist and audience, one that "infects" the viewer. Thus, real art requires the capacity to unite people via communication (clearness and genuineness are therefore crucial values). This aesthetic conception led Tolstoy to widen the criteria of what exactly a work of art is; he believed that the concept art embraces any human activity in which one emitter, by means of external signs, transmits previously experienced feelings. Tolstoy exemplifies this: a boy that has experienced fear after an encounter with a wolf and later relates that experience, infecting the hearers and compelling them to feel what he had experienced—that is a perfect example of a work art.

The good art vs. bad art issue unfolds into two directions, one is the conception that the stronger the infection, the better is the art. The other leads Tolstoy to the examination of whether that emotional link corresponds with the religion of the time. Good art, he claims, fosters those feelings that fit with the particular religion, while bad art inhibits such feelings. The problem Tolstoy sees is that the upper class has entirely lost its religion, and thus clings to the art that was good according to another religion. To cite one example, ancient Greek art extolled virtues of strength, masculinity, and heroism according to the values derived from its mythology. However, since Christianity does not embrace these values (and in some sense values the opposite, the meek and humble), Tolstoy believes that it is unfitting for people in his society to continue to embrace the Greek tradition of art.

Among other artists, he specifically condemns Wagner and Beethoven as examples of overly cerebral artists, who lack real emotion. Furthermore, the Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven), cannot claim to be able to "infect" their audience—as it pretends—with the feeling of unity and therefore cannot be considered good art. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_Art%3F [Aug 2005]

see also: 1897 - art - aesthetics

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