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What Is Art?

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  909 ratings  ·  68 reviews
During the decades of his world fame as sage & preacher as well as author of War & Peace & Anna Karenin, Tolstoy wrote prolifically in a series of essays & polemics on issues of morality, social justice & religion. These culminated in What is Art?, published in 1898. Altho Tolstoy perceived the question of art to be a religious one, he considered & ...more
Hardcover, 252 pages
Published February 1st 2000 by Replica Books (first published 1897)
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6th out of 159 books — 52 voters
Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich HegelAesthetic Theory by Theodor W. AdornoCritique of Judgment by Immanuel KantWhat Is Art? by Leo TolstoyThe Philosophy of Art by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Aesthetics: The Philosophy of Art
4th out of 68 books — 27 voters

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Glenn Russell
Unlike many works of aesthetics which tend to be overly abstract and dense, using technical terms from philosophy and a layering of sophisticated concepts, Leo Tolstoy’s book is clear-cut, employing language and ideas anybody interested in the subject can understand.

Tolstoy is passionate about art and art's place within human experience. For many years, he tells us, he has been observing art and reading about art. And what he sees and reads is not pretty. For instance, he goes to a rehearsal of
Kevin Richey
I’m so conflicted with Tolstoy. I agree with him about half the time, and the other half, I just wish he’d stop being so damn Puritanical. I don’t disagree with Tolstoy’s basic thesis, that art is defined by the following features: a person (the artist) feels a certain emotion, and captures that emotion in his work (a book, poem, concert, whatever) so that the viewer is infected with that same emotion. That works for me. I agree also with Tolstoy that emotional resonance is more important than t ...more
Thomas Rogers
I recently read this book on holiday in Austria.


I am a Fine Art student attending Falmouth University Cornwall, going into my final year, and a devout follower of Jesus.
Throughout the course of my degree I have constantly struggled to reconcile my beliefs, with fine art.
Most of the time art seemed pretty pointless to me, it seemed completely self-indulgent, and a total waste of my time along with everybody else's - when considering the state of this world and the majority of it's in
Nov 16, 2008 Todd rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Todd by: H.O. Mounce
Tolstoy's work in aesthetics, What is Art? deals with two main issues: (1) Is there a moral justification for the lives, money, and resources spent in the artworld, and (2) What is the nature of art? Tolstoy claims that the nature of genuine art is to transfer feelings from the artist to others, thereby uniting the artist and audience; thus, art is a means of communion. And Tolstoy argues that there is no justification for most of what passes as art in the contemporary world. Most of it, he says ...more
- What has started as a religious and folk art, turned into art for rich estates. Art for rich people is what gives them some sort of pleasure (different kinds of beauty)
- Religious art was pushed aside and all money, critics, art schools were concentrated in art for rich estates.
- True art has to express some feeling that was experienced by an artist him/herself, while art for rich estates demands beauty and grace, each time more and more sophisticated.
- That art for rich estates, which nowdays
بدأ تولستوي في بحث ونقاش موضوع كتابة قبل 15 عاماً من تبلور الفكرة في شكلها النهائي وإصدار الكتاب.
أسس تولستوي فكرته حول كون الفن يجب ان يكون قريبا من البشرية قابلا للفهم ومفيدا بحيث يعطي مشاعر إيجابية للمتلقى ومؤثرا على الانسان البسيط كما هو الحال على المثقف.
لكن ما اختلف فيه مع الكتاب بانه حصر الفن بحالتين فقط، الاولى " الفن الذي ينقل الأحاسيس النابعة من الوعي الديني" وهو بذلك يحدد الدين المسيحي فقط، والثانية "الفن الذي ينقل ابسط الأحاسيس الحياتية التي يفهمها كل الناس وفي كل العالم" لكنه ربط ذلك
O que é e quais são os requisitos mínimos para que algo produzido por alguém ou pela natureza, seja um quadro, uma música, um livro, seja designado como obra de arte? Como distinguir a arte sublime da cópia ou da falsa arte? Qual o valor da arte? Respostas a estas e outras perguntas sobre Arte, que estetas e pensadores ao longo dos séculos tentaram encontrar uma solução, são abordadas numa obra de carácter ensaístico sobre um tema que «me é próximo — a arte», diz Tolstói, o autor do livro O Que ...more
Just read it. If you come up with a better definition than old Leo's, let me know.
WHAT IS ART? starts out all nice and reasonable, so it's a bit of a surprise just how bizarre it gets in later chapters. Tolstoy took an awful long time to write this, and it sort of feels as though he went senile about halfway through. Perhaps needless to say, Tolstoy is an incredibly tough critic to please. Almost nothing passes muster with him, and, being an insufferable grump, he certainly wouldn't have been the type of guy I'd have liked to catch a movie with.
Another problem with the book
The first time I read Tolstoy I wanted to throw up. We have a collection of his "Short Fictions" and there were a few passages about women that made me feel uniquely uncomfortable. There's a lot of anxious power behind his words (reading him in the original must feel like falling down a staircase) This is an extremely well written book at times but also, ridiculous. The vivisection of Wagner and Beethoven leave us..miffed. Yes at times he is right (should Wagner be included in the canon? I am no ...more
Mar 31, 2010 Jeff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: my fellow art snobs
Recommended to Jeff by: Anna Karenina
I'm gonna break from tradition and actually write about what i liked rather than just trying (and failing) to express how, where, and why i was amused while reading & thinking about this book.

First of all, i was very amused at many points. Tolstoy's ideas about art amuse me when he gets all, "This is Good and that is Bad." Cracks me up, but i also feel like i understand why he felt that way. And i appreciate his ideals.

I can't imagine anybody else would ever make this comparison, but David S
I can't remember another instance when I disagreed so frequently with an author's argumentation in support of a premise with which I thoroughly agreed.
Tolstoy's answer to his tract's title's question -- Art is ephemeral liberation from the self ("thinking of the key, each confirms his prison" says Eliot towards the end of the piece that was a key, for me at least), it's communion, something like a brief transmission from the interior, a window opening into the heart of what it feels like to be a
I liked how this book was organized, and I liked that Tolstoy gave the various definitions of art and beauty were/ these definitions have changed over the course of many years. For such a short book, I felt it had a great amount of information and was clear to understand.

Sometimes, Leo even made me chuckle with his opinions of some of the artists (poets, painters and musicians) he discussed.

Does Tolstoy definitively answer the question, What is Art? I am not going to tell you. You have
A singular work at once conservative and radical, a re-evaluation of the Western tradition that, unlike Nietzsche's rejection of the Christian origin of the modern Western culture, seeks to return to some Church-less version of 'pure' Christianity.

Despite its modest title, the book also serves as an early work of critical theory that not only puts the all-pervasive class conflict under the microscope, but also traces it to a distinctly modern malaise having its origins in the Renaissance.

The n
I've actually never read anything by Tolstoy, but I bought the book because of his reputation as a great author. Defining art is always a tricky business. I think every artist has a different reason for pursuing their line of work and a different goal they hope to accomplish with their work. I have to admit that I was generally unimpressed with Tolstoy's view of art. I was happy that he made a point of calling Wagner's Ring Cycle ridiculous. I was surprised when he dismissed the ancient Greeks ( ...more
Keith crawford
Definitely one of the most in depth books i've read about art and the task of defining it. Tolstoy has a very strict discernment of what is art and what is not art. Its kinda funny that im criticizing his work though because in the book he explains that critics are one of the three conditions that contribute to counterfeit art. So with that being said, it was awesome!
Kennedy Ifeh
What is Art by Leo Tolstoy presents Tolstoy’s views on the question of what a good work of art should entail. The book attacks the foundation of modern art. It gives flesh to my own critical impressions about contemporary literature, which has become synonymous with poetry, style, beauty and all sort of nonsense.

True to Tolstoy, the book starts with details of his own experience. He attends a rehearsal of one of the ordinary new operas of his days. He recounts that the event made no impression i
Ann M
A communist, yet still bourgeois view of artists as egocentric and parasitic. He raises good questions, such as how to recognize art, but seems to think that the inability to answer them is the fault of art and artists. I did like his definition of art as spiritual union. But what does that say about people who love reality TV?
. اتخيل نفسي وأنا طفل واقف أمام نافذة تكثُف عليها البخار و تولستوي يمسح بكمّ قميصه على الزجاج حتى أستطيع أن أرى من خلاله مايراه هو بوضوح.

اقرأوه يارفاق. أمّا أنا فقد وصلني إحساس ما أشعر بأني أعرفه جيداً داخلي عن الفن من قبل أن أتعلم القراءة.

* يوجد نسخة إلكترونية من الكتاب، لكن اعتقد أنها ناقصة بعض الصفحات عند النهاية.
Mark B.
Read this way back in the day as an undergraduate for a seminar on Contemporary Art Issues. It indeed had an impact on forming my perception of art as an infection of feelings from artist to audience. 20 years later, it's probably worth a re-read...
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Aug 29, 2008 Joshua Nomen-Mutatio rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who feel that their intellectual horizons need narrowing
Apparently art isn't art unless it's glorifying Christianity. His definition of art could have only been rendered more narrow if he claimed that portraits of Jesus himself are exclusively what constitutes "Art".
En el ensayo en sí hay un puñado de sucintas ideas con potencial que podrían extraerse y desarrollarse aparte (el “contagio” artístico, la crítica al afán de originalidad y a las castas artísticas,…), pero a medida que se avanza en la lectura se aprecia claramente que estas divagaciones son circunloquios y que la idea raíz que Tolstói pretende difundir es que el Arte Verdadero o Universal sólo es posible si este se vive a través de la Fe (cristiana), donde el creador y el espectador deben poseer ...more
A groundbreaking and revolutionary book for my worldview.
Aug 29, 2010 LeAnne marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
I didn't get very far in this. Should come back to it.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Veysel Doğan
and well book by tolstoy
Charli B-
Jun 10, 2012 Charli B- rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who want to define their vision of art.
Recommended to Charli by: Nobody
Art. What is art, after all. I have wondered about art and considered everything made: art. I find it difficult to just know what is and isn't art. What makes 'good' art and what makes 'bad' art? I've never did find a conclusion to that... It just was, all the time and this book, even if I had a lot of difficulties with it, made me think about it. I didn't get to an actual conclusion at the end of the book, but that doesn't make this a bad book or it doesn't say this book isn't art itself. I'm s ...more
brillant and very challenging to what our conventional view of art is. Tolstoys main point is that the art that we see today (and in his time also) is on the whole very immitative and not true art. for him true is is when the artist feels something and wants to convey taht through his work so that the person viewing it "feels" what the artist felt also. there are lots of other very challenging views in here which are very though provoking. some of my favourite bits:

"But among these works of var
Burcu Göl
Tolstoy edebi gücü ve akıcı anlatımıyla "Sanat nedir?" sorusunu,tarihsel,toplumsal,estetik ve dini yönleriyle ve fazla da teorik ve sıkıcı bir dile kaçmadan anlatıyor. Sanat algısının zamanla ve toplumla nasıl değiştiğini çok net ve akılcı bir şekilde ortaya koyuyor. Her şeye" sanat" demememiz gerektiğini ve aslında sanat diye adlandırılan şeylerin çoğunun bir benzetme, kopyalama ve aldatmaca olduğunu ayrıntılı ve örneklemelerle açıklıyor. Ayrıca sanatın ulaşılması, anlaşılması zor, ve yüce bir ...more
I read this because it was mentioned in the end notes for Anna Karenina.

This book summarizes fifteen years of Tolstoy's pondering the questions, "What is Art?" "What is the current state of artistic expression in Western Culture?" and "What should art be?"

First question: What is Art?
The book begins with Tolstoy summarizing the philosophical discussions and attempts at definition up to that time. He finds that the idea of "beauty" has derailed the discussion, and dismisses beauty as mere pleasu
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Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (Russian: Лев Николаевич Толстой; commonly Leo Tolstoy in Anglophone countries) was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. His two most famous works, the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, are acknowledged as two of the greatest novels of all time and a pinnacle of realist fiction. Many consider To ...more
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“The business of art lies just in this, -- to make that understood and felt which, in the form of an argument, might be incomprehensible and inaccessible.” 80 likes
“Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man's emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.” 16 likes
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