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What Is Art?

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During the decades of his world fame as sage & preacher as well as author of War & Peace & Anna Karenina, 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. Although Tolstoy perceived the question of art to be a religious one, he considered & rejected the idea that art reveals & reinvents through beauty. The works of Dante, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Baudelaire & even his own novels are condemned in the course of Tolstoy's impassioned & iconoclastic redefinition of art as a force for good, for the improvement of humankind.

252 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1897

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About the author

Leo Tolstoy

6,283 books22.9k followers
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (Russian: Лев Николаевич Толстой; most appropriately used Liev Tolstoy; 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 Tolstoy to have been one of the world's greatest novelists. Tolstoy is equally known for his complicated and paradoxical persona and for his extreme moralistic and ascetic views, which he adopted after a moral crisis and spiritual awakening in the 1870s, after which he also became noted as a moral thinker and social reformer.

His literal interpretation of the ethical teachings of Jesus, centering on the Sermon on the Mount, caused him in later life to become a fervent Christian anarchist and anarcho-pacifist. His ideas on nonviolent resistance, expressed in such works as The Kingdom of God Is Within You, were to have a profound impact on such pivotal twentieth-century figures as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.7k followers
January 10, 2022
Что такое искусство? = Chto Takoye Iskusstvo? = What Is Art?, Leo Tolstoy

What is Art? is a book by Leo Tolstoy. It was completed in Russian in 1897 but first published in English due to difficulties with the Russian censors.

Tolstoy cites the time, effort, public funds, and public respect spent on art and artists as well as the imprecision of general opinions on art as reason for writing the book. In his words, "it is difficult to say what is meant by art, and especially what is good, useful art, art for the sake of which we might condone such sacrifices as are being offered at its shrine".

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و دوم ماه ژوئن سال1976میلادی

عنوان: هنر چیست؟؛ نویسنده: لئو تولستوی؛ مترجم: کاوه دهگان؛ تهران، امیرکبیر، چاپ دوم سال1345، در278ص؛ چاپ سوم سال1350؛ چاپ چهارم سال1352؛ چاپ پنجم سال1355؛ چاپ ششم سال1356؛ چاپ هفتم سال1364؛ موضوع: در باره چیستی هنر از نویسندگان روسیه - سده19م

رومن رولان: تولستوی در این کتاب، همه ی بساط وامانده ی دنیای کهن را، به دور میریزد؛ پایان نقل

تولستوی هنر را، از هنر جعلی، جدا می‌کنند؛ هنر باید، یک ارتباط احساسی مشخص، بین هنرمند، و خوانشگر ایجاد کند: (طوری‌ که خوانشگر را، تحت تأثیر قرار دهد؛ بنابراین هنر واقعی، باید ظرفیت لازم، برای متحد کردن مردم، از طریق ارتباط را، داشته باشد)؛

ایشان باور داشتند، که درک هنر، شامل هرگونه فعالیت انسانی می‌شود؛ هنرمند، به وسیله ی نشانه‌ هایی که از خود بروز داده، و احساساتی را که، پیشتر آزموده، هنر خویش را، نمایش می‌دهد؛ «تولستوی»، برای این ادعا، مثالی می‌زنند: (پسرکی که احساس ترس را، پس از روبرو شدن با یک گرگ، تجربه کرده، از تجربه‌ ی خویش، برای تحت تأثیر قرار دادن دیگران، برای درک احساسی که او تجربه کرده‌، استفاده می‌کند؛ این مثال بسیار خوبی از کار هنر است؛ این هنر، به خاطر داشتن عنصر ارتباط، یک هنر خوب است، زیرا روشن، آشکار، و صادقانه‌ است، و حتی هنری فوق العاده‌ است، زیرا بر یک احساس -احساس ترس- متمرکز شده‌ است)؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 23/11/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 19/10/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,360 reviews11.8k followers
December 12, 2021

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 opera: "All is stopped, and the director, turning to the orchestra, attacks the French horn, scolding him in the rudest of terms, as cabmen abuse each other, for taking the wrong note."

Seen through Tolstoy's eyes, the entire production is a ridiculous, grotesque, overblown extravagance. We can imagine Tolstoy shaking his head when he observes, "It would be difficult to find a more repulsive sight."

Tolstoy presents a detailed sampling of what philosophers and aestheticians have written about art and beauty throughout history, particularly since the eighteenth century, when aesthetics became a subject unto itself. The theories range from art being an expression of divine truth to art being a titillation of the senses of seeing, hearing, feeling and even tasting and smelling. Tolstoy notes toward the end of his study, "Therefore, however strange it may seem to say so, in spite of the mountains of books written about art, no exact definition of art has been constructed. And the reason for this is that the conception of art has been based on the conception of beauty." According to Tolstoy, we must investigate a better way to view art than linking art with beauty.

Further on, Tolstoy gives us an example of a young art gallery-goer being baffled at the painting of the various modern schools of art, impressionism, post-impressionism and the like. Tolstoy empathizes with the gallery-goer and knows most other ordinary folk share this same reaction, as when he states: "the majority of people who are in sympathy with me, do not understand the productions of the new art, simply because there is nothing in it to understand, and because it is bad art."

Why is this the case in the modern world? Tolstoy lays the blame on the artistic and spiritual fragmentation of a society divided by class, "As soon as ever the art of the upper classes separated itself from universal art, a conviction arose that art may be art and yet be incomprehensible to the masses."

Tolstoy views the modern institutionalization of art with its professional artists and art critics supported by the upper class as the prime culprit responsible for a plethora of artworks that are degrading, meaningless and fake. He writes: "Becoming ever poorer and poorer in subject-matter, and more and more unintelligible in form, the art of the upper classes, in its latest productions, has even lost all the characteristics of art, and has been replaced by imitations of art."

To compound the problem, Tolstoy tells us schools teaching art take mankind away from what is true in art, "To produce such counterfeits, definite rules or recipes exist in each branch of art." We come to see, with Tolstoy as our guide, how aspiring artists are given these counterfeits as models to follow and imitate; things have gone so far that creating art is reduced to "acquiring the knack." Anybody who is familiar with the way in which writing is taught in today's colleges and universities will see how exactly right Tolstoy is on this point - students are given a collection of essays written by modern writers in which to model their own writing.

Tolstoy provides more examples of false, muddled, insincere, bad art. His description of an opera by Richard Wagner is laugh out loud funny. We read: "This gnome, still opening his mouth in the same strange way, long continued to sing or shout." Tolstoy hated going to the theater to see an opera or ballet. He predicts art forms like opera or ballet could never and will never be appreciated and enjoyed by the common person.

Actually, on this point, he was off by a mile. Turns out, people who attend ballet nowadays can't get enough of productions like The Nutcracker. And talking about being off by a mile, Tolstoy judged Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as bad art since the work cannot be viewed as religious art nor does it unite people in one feeling; rather, he said, the fifth symphony is, "long, confused, artificial".

Goodness! Most everyday Joe work-a-day type people who are concert-goers would be thrilled if Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was on the program. What else is bad art? Tolstoy writes: "In painting we must similarly place in the class of bad art all the Church, patriotic, and exclusive pictures."

Well then, what does Tolstoy regard as good art? In a word, art that has three qualities: 1) clarity, 2) sincerity, and 3) individuality (as opposed to copying other art). And, in the author’s view, in order to be considered good art, the work must create authentic religious feelings and engender the brotherhood of man. As examples of good art, Tolstoy cites Dickens, Hugo, Dostoevsky and the painter Millet.

You might not agree with Tolstoy on every point, but that is no reason to pass over a careful study of his views. After all, he is one of the world's great writers and knew a thing or two about art.
Profile Image for Araz Goran.
817 reviews3,519 followers
April 9, 2017

ماهو الفن؟
مخاطرة كبيرة أن يسأل المرء هذا السؤال، ناهيك عن مناقشته وتحليله في إطار تاريخي تطوري وكذلك من خلال جوهره كمادة دسمة يقبع تحت عباءتها كمٌ هائل من التعريفات والفروع والخلافات والأهداف والأساليب المتبعة في تشكل المعنى الواضح للفن..

الفن ،الجمال، الأخلاق.. هذه المفاهيم الثلاثة لا يمكن لها أن تنفصل عن بعضها البعض تقترب من أن تكون متلازمة وتطرح من خلالها أسئلة بإستمرار حول مدى علاقة الفن بالإخلاق، وطبيعة الجمال في الفن، ودور الجمال في تكوين الفنون ونسبة إستحواذها على معنى الفن وإدراك المغزى من وراء علاقة الجمال بالفن كمفصل يتصور البعض أنه لا يمكن لها أن ينفصلا بأي حال من الأحوال، أو أصبح الجمال متماهياً في الفن لدرجة أنه أحياناً يصعب تكوين مفهوم واضح حول تداخل الجمال في دائرة الفن والعجز عن تصور ماهو الفرق بينهما، حتى الجمال نفسه له تعريفات لا حصر لها ومذاهب متعددة تفسر مفهموم الجمال وتقيمه على حسب نظرتها للمفهوم وعلى طبيعته وماهيته، خصص تولستوي الأجزاء الأولى من الكتاب بتعريف القارئ بتلك المذاهب والفلسفات التي أصلت وأتبعت مناهج عدة للوصول إلى الأصول الواضحة في الجمال ومادته وكيف يجب أن يكون وماذا يخدم، بين من يرى الجمال عبارة عن الصورة الحسية للأشياء ولا يرى فيه سوى الصور المتحركة التي تولد الجمال في الحواس، وبين الرأي القائل بجمال الأشياء في جوهرها وذاتها ويرى أن الجمال لا يمكن أن يدرك من الحس إذا لم يكن الجمال قابعاً متماهياً مع ذلك الشئ الذي نظن فيه الجمال، والذي يرى الجمال كأمر نسبي لا يمكن تحديده كحالة ثابته في الحواس والجواهر، وأخيراً اتباع النظرية التي تقول بنسبة الجمال إلى اللذة الحاصلة منه، فما كان شئ من لذة سوى كان البصر أو الشم او اللمس كان جميلاً ويستحق تلك الصفة وأما دون ذلك فلا وجود للجمال فيه مادمت اللذة فيه غائبة وقاصرة في توصيلها الى الحواس، هنا كان من الضروري أن يتداخل الجمال مع الفن في نقاط مفصلية عديدة أدت إلى تحويل الجمال الى المقياس الرئيسي بل احيانا الوحيد للفن وطغى هذا التحول في الفن وصار من المستحيل نزع أحدهما عن الآخر، إما فن معه جمال أو لا شئ .. يقول تولستوي عندما ظهر هذا المفهوم في أوروبا تحول الفن إلى آلة منتجة للجمال لا للفن، فما كان فناً في السابق يوصل الأحاسيس الى الناس العاديين بعفوية وهدوء وإتزان تحول إلى سباق يهرول فيه الجميع الى التعمق في إستدراج كل ما أتيح من جمال سواء كان أخلاقياً ام لا، الى الفن بإسم الفن نفسه، أصبح الفن وقتها لا يمثل إلا الطبقة الغنية الارستقراطية التي بلغت من الملل والتشبع إلى طلب فنٍ لا يحوى سوى المتعة والمشاهدة اللذيذة التي تكرس نفسها لإضفاء من التغيير الروتيني وجلب بعض الإثارة والدهشة لـ أولئك الأرستقراطين الخاملين.. وهنا ليس مقصد الجمال هو ذاك الذي يبعث على الاعجاب والسكينة، بل المقصود منه الجمال عن الطبقة المثقفة التي أحالت نفسها حكماً على الجمال نفسه..

هنا كما يقول تولستوي، إنقلب الفن رأساً على عقب، فبعدما كانت هي الوسيلة الأكثر نجاعة في غرز قيم الخير والمحبة والتسامح في قلوب البشر، أصبح لا يبحث سوى إثارة متلقيه سواء كان أدباً او رسماً أو موسيقى.. تحول الفن في رأي تولستوي إلى مطرقة ناعمة تدق في الأساسات الأخلاقية مفاهيم وحكم معلمو البشرية الأوائل ، الذين طالما حذروا من الفن كما يقول تولستوي ليس لأنه محرم في ذاته بل لأنهم كانوا على علم مسبق لأي مسار ستؤدي طرق الفن ومذاهبها ، المسيحيون الأوائل حرموا الفنون كالنحت والموسيقى وكذلك فعل المسلمون الأوائل والأنبياء من قبلعم، لأنهم أدركوا خطورة ماقد يؤدي به الفن من طرق الإفساد وتلويث الاذواق وتهديم الاسس الاخلاقية للإنسان..

لم يكن الفن الأول في نظر تولستوي سوى الفطرة الإنسانية السليمة المنقادة تحت لواء التجربة الدينية العميقة ممثلة في الأنبياء القدامى والحكماء والفلاسفة، ذلك الفن الذي كان يتحرك في داخل كل إنسان سواء كان مثقفاً أو غير ذلك، الفن الذي لم يكن بحاجة الى تلك الزخارف والتلميعات كي يرغم الناس على الإعجاب ��التأثر به، ذلك الفن لم يكن بحاجة الى اضفاء الرغبات الشهوانية الخاملة في داخله، أو صورة إمرأة نصف متعرية على خشبة مسرح او لوحة فاضحة، أو مشهد دموي او حروب طاحنة لا هدف لها سوى إظهار النزعة السادية في الفنان والمتلقي على حد سواء.. كان الفن بسيطاً ساحراً يؤخذ من حياة الناس بساطتها ومن تفكيرهم قصتها ومن قضاياهم سردها وحبكتها، ومن بيئتهم وصفها وتفصيلاتها، كانت تنتمي الى الانسان بوصفه الانسان لا أكثر، لا تتطلب منه أن يكون مثقفاً وفيلسوفاً كيف يفهم رواية او قصيدة او لوحة رمزية..

ذهب تولستوي أخيراً إلى أن الفن إذا إنحدر الى ذاك المستوى السحيق المتدني لم تعد الحاجة إليه ضرورية، ويفضل ان تكون الحياة خالية من الفن على يكون الفن بذلك المستوى المتدني..

ذكر أيضاً أمثلة كثيرة على رقي جوانب كثيرة من الفن، كأدب هوجو و دوستويفسكي وبعض اللوحات التي تعني حياة الانسان في صميمها وتهدف الى رفع المعاناة عنه بدلاً من تحميله أعباء جديدة تحت مسمى الفن..

كتاب رائع، لذيذ، شيق، وصريح.. يعطيك نظرة شاملة عن الفن من منبعه وحتى عهده القريب، وأظن أن الفن الحديث هو نسخة مطابقة لما ذكره تولستوي في عصره مع مزيد من التطرف والمغالاة عن عصر تولستوي.. الكتاب ليس حرباً على الفن بقدر ما هو كشف لأقنعة الحقيقة ورؤية مستقبلية للإنسان لتجنب الوقوع في فخ الفن..

Profile Image for Mohammad Ranjbari.
223 reviews144 followers
December 24, 2018
کتاب «هنر چیست؟» تولستوی یکی از بارزترین و برجسته ترین کتاب ها در حوزۀ شناخت هنر و نقد ادبی و جریان شناسی است. نویسنده در این کتاب علاوه بر بررسی هنر و ادبیات عصر خود، پیش بینی های نیز از هنر اعصار بعد از خود دارد. حقیقتی که می تواند در حین خوانش این کتاب مخاطب را آزار دهد، این است که نویسنده سعی در برجسته سازی و اتخاذ دیدگاه «نقد اخلاقی» در بررسی هنر و انواع ژانرهای آن دارد. دیدگاهی که جزو اولین دیدگاه های نقد هنر و ادبیات شناخته می شود و سابقۀ آن به افلاطون می رسد. چنین دیدگاهی هر چند درطول تاریخ حضور همیشگی داشته اما با ورود به دوران رمانتیسیسم و ما بعدِ آن، کمرنگ تر شده و در واقع به یک رویکرد کلاسیک و باستانی تبدیل شده است.
بسیاری از آثار برجستۀ ادبیات جهان را، اگر قرار بر این باشد که با این دیدگاه بررسی نماییم، مفید نبودن آن ها برای زندگی انسان، باعث مردود شدن این آثار خواهد شد، به همین خاطر تولستوی به شخصیت هایی چون بودلر و مالارمه و نوازنده های شهیری چون بتهون و واگنر و برامس و اشتراوس حمله می کند و در کل سمفونی و اپرا و نمایش و تئاتر جهان امروز را غیر مفید و غرض ورزانه می داند.

در اواخر کتاب، می توان بیزاری نویسنده را از جریان های حاضر در عصر خود حدس زد، و آرزوهایی که به شکل ترسیم نوعی اوتوپیای ادبی- هنری در ذهن وی شکل گرفته را مطالعه نمود.
با وجود همۀ این یکسو نگری ها، تولستوی کاشف بلبشو و آشفتگی مبانی و موازین هنری امروز نیز هست:
«سه موردی که بیان شد، یعنی «حرفه ای بودن هنرمندان و نقد هنری و مدارس هنری» این نتیجه را به بار آورده است که اکثریت افراد عصر ما مطلقاً از درک هنر عاجزند و ناهنجارترین محصولات هنر تقلبی را به جای هنر واقعی می پذیرند.» ص 140

تولستوی در نهایت نظریات وخود، اصلی ترین ویژگی هنر ناب و زیبا و مفید را در قابلیت تسری یافتن از هنرمند به مخاطب و خواننده و رسیدن به حسی مشترک می داند:
«کار هنر این است: آنچه را ممکن است در قالب استدلال و تعقل، نامفهوم و دور از دسترس باقی بماند، مفهوم سازد و در دسترس همۀ مردم قرار دهد. معمولاً، وقتی انسان تأثری را که حقیقتاً هنری است می گیرد، تصور می کند این حالت را قبلاً در خود احساس کرده، اما از بیان آن عاجز بوده است.» ص 115

«اگر انسانی این احساس را تجربه کند، حالت سازندۀ اثر بدو سرایت نماید، و اختلاط و اتحاد خود را با انسان های دیگر احساس کند، موضوعی که این حال را در او به وجود آورده هنر است. اگر این سرایت وجود نداشته باشد و با سازندۀ اثر و آنها که اثر را درک می کنند، اختلاطی دست ندهد، هنری وجود ندارد. مهم تر از این، نه تنها مسری بودن، علامت مشخص هنر است، بلکه میزان سرایت، تنها معیار ارزش هنر است.» ص 167

Author 18 books109 followers
March 3, 2012
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 the superficial beauty of a work. Substance over style. I disagree with Tolstoy not so much in his definition of what art is, but rather, what good art is. For Tolstoy, the only good art is that which depicts a good emotion, and the only good emotions are those which express the most evolved religious consciousness of the time. And, for Tolstoy, that was a Christian sentiment. (He wasn’t devout enough to say that it was the sentiment of the Christian church; in fact, he says the opposite: that the current art of the church is devoid of emotion, and therefore bad art.) And that Christian sentiment can be classified as two types: that which addresses the brotherhood of all mankind, and that which encourages our submission to God. Again, this is where I disagree, and where most people who enjoy the arts would disagree. Because, if you follow Tolstoy’s mandates, we dismiss the plays of Shakespeare, the philosophy of Nietzsche, the later works of Beethoven, and so on. Basically, things Tolstoy finds out of line with his view of the world. He rules that because he feels no feelings of brotherhood from these artists, they must not be artists. Even Tolstoy’s own works, save for two late short stories about God, are denounced as bad art. He also, in another of his should-have-been-repressed epilogues, denounces modern science, saying that science should only focus on figuring out how to stop wars and other problems of daily life, and not bother with bourgeois pastimes like vaccinations and chemistry and the like.

So, basically, everything Tolstoy uses to define the worthiness of certain works of art I disagree with, but his comments on the nature of art, on its creation, commercialization, the worthlessness of art schools, and so on, I found realistic and insightful. I think Tolstoy was quite smart, and did see and address real problems; he was just held back by an antiquated and immobile set of morals that seem completely based on a fantasy, not his real background.
Profile Image for Tamila.
42 reviews320 followers
November 10, 2018
بعد از خواندن این کتاب کوتاه، دید من به همه آثار هنری و مفهوم هنر عوض شد. البته دور از انتظار نبود ، همیشه بعد از خواندن کتابهای تولستوی و ویرجینیا ولف احساس میکنم دری به رویم باز شده که هیچ وقت از وجودش آگاهی نداشتم.
Profile Image for Sue K H.
355 reviews66 followers
July 29, 2021
I rate this as 5 stars even though I disagree with much of it.  This book is guaranteed to get your bristles up. Well, maybe not yours, but my bristles surely were up.   Shun Beethoven?!  Shun Don Quixote?! Shun Shakespeare?! How dare he.  I didn't agree with much of what Tolstoy said for the 1st 3/4 of this.  I'm a Christian as he is, but I felt it too preachy and offputting until the end where he really brought it home and I could more fully understand where he was coming from.  I already want to re-read this with a less defensive posture, but I only read it as a suggested precursor to Anna Karenina, and I really want to get started on that.  

By the end of this,  I understood that Tolstoy's focus had more to do with the inequity in how the upper classes transferred financial resources to certain kinds of arts and science that serve their own privileged pleasure, rather than to those that can improve the lives of everyone.  That is something I can wholeheartedly agree with, without agreeing on how to best improve the lives of everyone.  

Some of my disagreements likely have to do with the difference in our times.  In his day, for example, opera (and other art forms) were mostly only enjoyed by the upper classes, while the peasants slaved over their production.   Now you can watch an opera in a movie theater or even stream one on your computer.  However, even though the workers are overall better off today, their pay is far from those of the producers or artists, and those who spend more time working still have less time for viewing, reading, or listening to art. 

I disagree more strongly with other parts that would take too much time to go into and could easily be misinterpreted  (as I too may be misinterpreting Tolstoy).  Even though I feel Tolstoy's position is extreme through the lens of my interpretation, I can tell that he has good intentions, which allows me to leave room for the possibility that his position is more nuanced than I've understood it.  What I do love, is that this work provides a lot of food for thought and the possibility that both of us can have some errors in our philosophy without making either of us evil.  Also, it makes a difference to view his ideas in the time he wrote them rather than through the perspective of our current time.   I give this 5 stars for its ability to make me dig deeper into my own beliefs and examine whether there are some holes in mine as well as in his.  
Profile Image for محمد حمدان.
Author 2 books800 followers
September 1, 2015
ما هو الفن ؟ ليو تولستوي

هذا هو الكتاب الخامس لي مع تولستوي.. وكان لي معه قبلها؛ الحرب والسلام، أنا كارنينا، موت إيفان إيلييتش، حكم النبي محمد. قبل أن أبدأ قراءتي للكتاب كنتُ أتوقع أن يكون كتاباً للفائدة العامة لا أكثر.. ولم أتوقع أن يكون صادماً ومؤثراً لهذه الدرجة.

كان تسلسل تولستوي في الكتاب منطقياً.. فلا بد لمن يشاء أن يضع تعريفاً ما للفن أن يخوض في الأسباب التي تدعو لتعريف الفن.. ومدى أهميته.. ثم المرور على كل التعاريف التي وضعها كل من سبقوه.. ورغم موسوعية هذا الكتاب في كل ذلك إلا أنه بدا في مجال تعاريف الفن مملاً إلى حد ما..

ثم بدأ تولستوي في تفنيد هذه التعاريف شيئاً فشيئاً.. رافضاً مبدأ الفن لذاته.. ورافضاً أن يكون الجمال أو اللذة أساس الفن.. ثم يقودك إلى ما يريد أن يقوله أخيراً: الفن ليس كما يقول الميتافيزيقيون إنه ظهور أفكار ما سرية، أو جمال أو إله، وهو ليس كما يقول علماء الجمال الفيزيولوجيون، لعباً، حيث يصرف الإنسان طاقاته الزائدة، وهو ليس ظهور الإنفعالات بوساطة الإشارات الخارجية، وليس بنتاج المواد الشيقة، والأهم إنه ليس لذة، إنما هو وسيلة إختلاط بين الناس ضرورية من أجل الحياة ولصالح تطور الإنسان والإنسانية نحو الأفضل، وسيلة توحد الناس في أحاسيس واحدة.

ويرجع تولستوي فيما بعد ليقول: الفن هو وسيلة من وسيلتي ت��دم البشرية. فمن خلال الكلمة يعاشر الإنسان الآخرين فكرياً، ومن خلال نماذج الفن يعاشر الإنسان جميع الناس بأحاسيسه. وليس أناس اليوم بل وأناس الماضي والمستقبل كذلك.

ويا له من كلام بديع.. لكن تولستوي إذ يفعل ذلك ويقرر أخيراً الأهداف التي يجب أن يسعى الفن الحقيقي إليها فهو يقرر بالتالي وجود الفن المزيف.. أو الفن الرديء.. وهو يقرر بأنه منتشر للغاية في كل ما هو من حولنا.. ونجده يهاجم وبضراوة فن أناس كنتُ شخصياً لم أقرأ أي نقد لهم من قبل.. كبودلير ومالارميه وفارلان.. بل إنه لم يتوانَ عن نفي الفن عن بعض عظمائه ويقول بأن كل سونيتات بيتهوفن بعد إصابته بالصمم أنها من ضمن الفن الرديء.. وضرب مثلاً بـسونيتة 101. إن تولستوي هنا يضع الأساس الذي يميز به بين الفن الجيد، الأصيل، الحقيقي.. وذاك الفن المزيف، الرديء.. وهذا الأساس هو إما أن يتحكم الوعي الديني بالفن فيقود الفن إلى الله.. أو أن يتحدث الفن عن تلك الأحاسيس التي توحد كل الناس. وترك لنا معياراً للحكم والقياس وهو العدوى.. أنك إن شعرت بالعدوى من تلك الأحاسيس التي حاول الفنان أن يوصلها إليك..

ويذهب تولستوي إلى الأسباب ال��ي أدت لظهور هذا الفن الرديء والمزيف فيقول لأن طبقة الأغنياء هي التي حرصت على خلقه كي لا تموت ضجراً ! 

تحدث تولستوي مطولاً عن الفن الذي يحمل وعياً دينياً ثم أرجع ذلك للدين المسيحي الحقيقي وهاجم الفن الكَنَسي متهماً إياه بالزيف.

إن من أهم ما يوصله هذا الكتاب هو ضرورة تنقيح مفهومنا عن الفن من الفن التجاري.. وهو الفن الذي يكون من أجل الثمن لا من أجل القيم والأحاسيس التي تحدث عنها تولستوي. ولربما يجعلنا نتفهم قصده حين قال عن فن المستقبل: سيعيش فنان المستقبل حياة الناس العادية، وسيحصل على قوته بفضل عمل ما. وأرى أنه ليس من الضروري أن يكون الوعي الديني المق��ود هنا محصوراً بالمسيحية الحقيقية كما يقول تولستوي.. فلربما كانت الضوابط الأخلاقية كافية أو لربما نذهب بعيداً بعض الشيء ونتحدث عن كونها توصل إلى الله كما قال تولستوي بالفعل.

إنه يدعو بتحرر الفنان مادياً من فنه.. فهو لا يعتاش من ورائه وعليه لن يبتذل فقط كي ينتج ويتمكن من العيش. وهي فكرة مثيرة برأيي.

ويقول تولستوي أيضاً تأكيداً للفرق بين الفن الحقيقي والمزيف: الفن الحقيقي كالزوجة التي يحبها زوجها، لا يحتاج إلى تبرج، أما المزيف فإنه كالعاهر، يجب أن يكون متبرجاً على الدوام. وأيضاً: ويكمن سبب ظهور الفن الحقيقي في الحاجة الداخلية للتعبير عن الأحاسيس المتراكمة، كالأم التي يكمن سبب حملها الجنسي في الحب. أما سبب الفن المزيف فهو كسبب الدعارة، يكمن في الطمع والمنفعة.

إذن فالفن الحقيقي هو ثمرة شرعية لحب الزوجة.. ولا يمكن أن يكون طمعاً في المال.

وقبل ذلك.. كان تولستوي قد أنكر نكراناً عظيماً على كل أشكال الفن التي تعتمد على إثارة الشهوة الجنسية فيقول: هناك كاتب اسمه رينيه دي غورمان، يطبعون كتبه، ويعدونه موهوباً، وبغية أخذ تصور عن الكتاب الجدد قرات الكتاب المذكور "خيول ديوميدا"، إنها رواية تحكي مفصلاً عن المعاشرات الجنسية التي قام بها سيد ما مع مختلف النساء. ليس هناك صفحة واحدة خالية من وصف النزوات المتقدة. وكذلك الأمر بالنسبة لكتاب "أفروديت" لملفه بييز لوي وكتاب غيوسماس "المجهولون" الذي حصلت عليه مؤخراً، وهو على الأغلب كتاب نقدي حول الرسم. هذا هو الوضع في كل الروايات الفرنسية باستثناءات نادرة جداً. إن هذه كلها نتاجات جماعة مريضة بالهوس الشهواني. إن هؤلاء الناس، كما يبدو، متأكدين من أنه طالما تركزت حياتهم كلها، نتيجة وضعهم المريض، حول نشر الرذائل الجنسية، فإن حياة العالم كله متمركزة حول الموضوع ذاته. وكل عالم أوروبا وأميريكا الفني يقتدي بهؤلاء الناس – المهووسين جنسياً.

وكم هو صحيح هذا الكلام، وأعتقد أنه لو إطلع تولستوي على الأصناف الفنية المشابهة اليوم لشعر بالخيبة حتماً. فلم يكن الفن في المستقبل الذي كان يطمح إليه مختلفاً كثيراً عما كان في زمانه كل ما هنالك هو أنه أصبح أشد قبحاً.

تحدث تولستوي أخيراً عن فن المستقبل والشكل الذي يفترض أن يكون عليه.. وقد بدا ذلك نهاية منطقية لهذا البحث العظيم الذي أخذ منه خمسة عشر عاماً.

وكانت الخاتمة في علاقة الفن بالعلم حيث نقد تولستوي مفهوم العلم السائد لدى البشرية قائلاً: إنهم يخترعون وسائل من شأنها أن تجعل الناس في ظل ذلك التوزيع الباطل للثروات والعمل قادرين على التغذية الجيدة بوساطة الاطعمة المجهزة كيميائياً وعلى إرغام قوى الطبيعة على العمل بدلاً من أنفسهم. إن إختراع هذه الوسائل شبيه تماماً بإختراع وسائل ضخ الأوكسجين إلى رئتي إنسان محجوز في مكان مغلق مشبع بهواء فاسد في حين أنه لا يلزم لذلك الإنسان سوى الخروج من ذلك المكان المغلق. وهنا لا أملك أن أقول تعليقاً على ذلك سوى: كم كان عميق النظرة بحق !

إن قيمة هذا الكتاب لا تكمن في كون كل ما فيه صحيح، إطلاقاً.. فلا بد للمرء من أن يختلف مع بعض ما جاء فيه. لكن، ما يهم حقاً هو أنه يشير إلى شيء جوهري؛ أن الفن قد تحول حقاً إلى صنعة وهو كأي صنعة أخرى يجري صاحبها لاهثاً خلف المال.. ويفقد الصدق قيمته في هذه الصنعة تماماً. إنني أجد نفسي هنا أقرب لرأي برنارد شو في هذا الكتاب حين قال: إنه مصيدة للحمقى ! القادرين على الإنقضاض على الأخطاء الخاصة والصغيرة، متجاوزين القيم الإيجابية الهائلة التي يتضمنها الكتاب.

وقد يتركك هذا الكتاب أخيراً مع صراع ذاتي؛ الحرية في الفن، في مقابل تقدير فقط ما هو فن حقيقي وأصيل.. وهنا يتفهم تولستوي السبب الذي دعا الأوائل من المسلمين والمسيحيين بمنع الفن مطلقاً خوفاً من انتشار الفن الفاجر الذي أكد تولستوي أنه منتشر كما سبق وأشرت. لكنه في ذات الوقت يدعو المرء إلى ألا يمنعه.. فهو على أي حال ليس في وسعه أن يفعل ذلك على أي حال.. إنما عليه أن يجد طريقة لنفسه كي ينأى عنها كل ذلك الزيف والخداع والفجور والكذب الذي يدعونه فناً –المقصود هنا هو الفن المزيف أو الرديء-.

باختصار، وبرأيي الشخصي.. هذا كتاب يجب على كل مهتم بالفن قراءته. حيث أنه سيختصر عليه الكثير.
Profile Image for Ben.
824 reviews49 followers
May 25, 2015
Good works of art to Tolstoy: the works of Victor Hugo, the novels of Charles Dickens, some of the tales of Gogol and Pushkin, the writings of Maupassant, the comedies of Molière (whom Tolstoy refers to as "the most excellent artist of modern times," according to this translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky), the writings of Dostoevsky, Schiller's Robbers, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Adam Bede by George Eliot, Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, a handful of paintings by little known artists, folk music, and a few compositions by musicians such as Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Beethoven, Bach and Chopin, in addition to two of his own lesser known short stories ("God Sees the Truth" and "Prisoner of the Caucasus") and the stories of the Bible and the tales about the Buddha.

Bad works of "art" to Tolstoy (many of which he does not consider art at all -- more on this below): the works of Dante, the writings of Shakespeare, most of his own literary works (including his two masterpieces, War and Peace and Anna Karenina), most of the work of Beethoven, the writings of Goethe, the art of the French symbolists (especially Verlaine and Baudelaire), many of the later works of Pushkin, the writings of Oscar Wilde, the works of Michelangelo, the paintings of artists like Monet, and perhaps more than any other, the work of Richard Wagner. Oh, but wait, his disdain for Nietzsche may be greatest yet.

So, what does Tolstoy consider "art" and what does he consider "good art"? First, and perhaps most importantly, Tolstoy begins by rejecting the common argument by modern writers on the subject of aesthetics that the main purpose of art is to create works of beauty. He argues that many people think they know what art is, but when pressed we find that their definitions of art are based on taken for granted assumptions and they, in fact, are little able to defend their claims of what constitutes art. Contrary to the mainstream view, Tolstoy argues instead that art is something much broader than many so-called 'experts' in aesthetics would have us believe (including not just great paintings and novels, but short stories, sketches, jokes, lullabies, decor, etc.), and it begins whenever one creates something that expresses some feeling that the artist has based on his or her own experience (including his/her dreams, fears, wishes or aspirations). But this alone does not constitute "art." In addition to this, the artist's expression of his feeling must be "infectious," which is to say that by being exposed to this work of art others (and the working majority in particular) must be affected by the artist's creation, for it speaks to some universal Truth.

This is what, to Tolstoy constitutes art, and good art is that which speaks of a universal brotherhood, drawing on a Christian ethic (the same type of feeling that eases the unrest of some of Tolstoy's autobiographic characters like Pierre Bezukhov in War and Peace and Levin in Anna Karenina, the same type of feeling that infects Natasha in War and Peace when she hears traditional Russian folk music and decides to give up harp lessons in favor of the guitar), for art throughout history, he explains, is really an expression of religious consciousness. The art of the modern era, Tolstoy argues, has been intercepted by the nonbelievers of the upper-classes and by godless men led by Nietzsche, who create art (what he refers to as "counterfeit art" as opposed to genuine art) that claims to invent new styles, to promote some sort of beauty, etc., but which is really inaccessible to the great masses, who all the while toil in the service of this art.

As evidence (questionable indeed) he points to his own inability to understand the works of the French symbolists or the operatic works of Wagner versus how moved he is (and as others he knows have been) by Russian folk songs and stories by common, unknown Russian working men. For works to be "good art" Tolstoy argues they must "always be understood by everyone," and it matters little if the work is "moral" or "immoral," so long as it is understandable and so long as the content is such that feelings of the artist are communicated to and correspond with the feelings of the audience.

In terms of social class Tolstoy raises several compelling points, and this is where I think the great strength of this controversial work lies (in addition to the advancements he makes to the theory of art and the role of aesthetics in art theory), namely that the upper classes have created somewhat of a stranglehold on "art." The upper-classes use their money to finance works of art (and science too) which they agree with, or that infects them (though often which has the opposite effect on the majority, which has not only a difficult time understanding these works, but feeling them, for the experiences communicated are not universal but are often restricted to society's ruling class, who feel that they have important and diverse feelings, but who really only have three "insignificant and uncomplicated feelings: the feelings of pride, sexual lust, and the tedium of living"). Tolstoy argues that for works to be good art they must be infectious not only for those in a certain class of society, but for the working majority, regardless of social class, religion, etc.

I wondered as I read this what Tolstoy would make of many of the writers, painters and musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries. What would he think, for instance, of the democratic art of cinema? Or of popular music like rock and roll? The blues? It led me to hours of fun mental games wondering what Tolstoy would make of certain writers. One can imagine that he would reject most of the major visual artists of this period (including the Dadaists and Surrealists, the Cubists, the Abstract Expressionists, etc.), as well as the vast majority of Modernist writers (no art for art's sake for this fellow), the works of Postmodernists, etc. I wonder if he would consider Steinbeck a great artist. It seems plausible. What about the neorealist filmmakers? The blues and folk artists of today?

Tolstoy's argument that genuine art is art that must be done for the purpose of the communication of authentic feelings, and not be done for monetary gain, makes consideration of what might be considered genuine art under his theory a bit more complicated. Genuine art should strive to be art that is unadorned, in no need of bells and whistles to communicate its essential Truth:

Terrible as it may be to say it, what has happened to the art of our circle and time is the same as happens with a woman who sells her feminine attractions, destined for motherhood, for the pleasure of those who are tempted by such pleasures.

The art of our time and circle has become a harlot. And this comparison holds true in the smallest details. It is, in the same way, not limited in time, is always fancy in dress, is always for sale; it is just as alluring and pernicious.

The genuine work of art can manifest itself in an artist's soul only rarely, as a fruit of all his previous life, just as a child is conceived by its mother. Counterfeit art is produced by artisans and craftsmen continually, as long as there are consumers.

Genuine art has no need for dressing up, like the wife of a loving husband. Counterfeit art, like a prostitute, must always be decked out.

The cause of the appearance of genuine art is an inner need to express a stored-up feeling, as love is the cause of sexual conception for a mother. The cause of counterfeit art is mercenary, just as with prostitution.

The consequence of true art is the introduction of a new feeling into everyday life, as the consequence of a wife's love is the birth of a new person into life. The consequence of counterfeit art is the corruption of man, the insatiability of pleasures, the weakness of man's spiritual force.

This is what people of our time and circle must understand in order to get rid of the filthy stream of this depraved, lascivious art that is drowning us.

This hilarious, lengthy excerpt is admittedly very cringe-inducing from a feminist perspective, but it sums up (with a few gaps) Tolstoy's view of modern art and also gives readers a general sense of the idea that art must take to be considered genuine and good art in accordance with his theory.

Prophetic in many ways (such as in the final chapter where Tolstoy argues that sociology, really, should be the main focus of science, as science's main concern should, like art, be with improving the lots of humankind -- and animalkind for that matter --, but in which he argues that modern science instead will soon lead us to a state in which most of our food is produced in laboratories and in which the fleeting interests of the upper classes will be given scientific priority), Tolstoy's work is not without faults.

Aside from being very antifeminist at times (forgivable in the sense that he was a product of his age), the work while broadening the understanding of what constitutes art on the one hand, narrows it on the other. The essay also downplays the audience's role in interpreting works of art, audience subjectivity being a major concern among media and literary theorists in more recent years (and I'm thinking particularly here of the newer works by theorists like Stuart Hall and Terry Eagleton). While Tolstoy criticizes those like Nietzsche for his disdain of the masses, Tolstoy less conspicuously (and I think unintentionally) shows a disdain for any (outside of the upper class circle) who are affected by the works of the artists he criticizes so harshly. And then, of course, the merits of the theory itself are debatable. I don't necessarily know that beauty, so very subjective, should be the sole determinant of whether or not something is considered art. But I also don't know that the infectiousness of a feeling is what makes a work art either. And contrary to Virginia Woolf's claim that women writers, in order to have the same chance at artistic success as men, need a certain amount of money and a room of their own (though I find her arguments faulty in the sense that she makes this argument considering gender while ignoring the effects of social class), Tolstoy argues that money is a corrupting force and that the artist of the future will create works of art whenever the feeling takes him/her, but will not earn a living through art, but rather through "some kind of labour." I side here more with Woolf, for without a little money, and thereby a little free time, it can be very difficult for one to find the means to create -- unless of course, as Marx argues in Volume 3 of Capital, pay should increase at the same time as working hours decrease. But Tolstoy opposes this insomuch as he feels more luxuries could corrupt the working people, just as luxuries have corrupted the upper classes of society.

In addition to reading this work I recently watched the Orson Welles film essay F for Fake which deals with art forgery, and so I have been giving considerable thought to the topic recently (and this has also called to mind other art documentaries, such as Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? and Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop. It took Tolstoy 15 years and much thought to organize his ideas which are presented in this work. It was a lofty undertaking and maybe he would have revised his ideas had he lived in this century. I don't know. It's a very interesting read, very representative of the turn in Tolstoy's writings after he had rejected his ambitions as a writer of fiction, and it asks a great many more questions than it answers. I don't know that I would call it "essential" Tolstoy, but I would suggest it as a must-read for any interested in the topic of art and aesthetics.

So what is art? For me, it's subjective, and it includes much more than the guardians of the gates to the art world would have us believe. But is art only that which is beautiful? Only that which expresses the religious consciousness of the age? Only that which communicates feelings or some Truth of truths to others? Who's to say? Tolstoy's work, even if it has its flaws, filled in some gaps in existing theories on art. And it spurs readers to think critically about something we often take-for-granted: Art.
Profile Image for Nahed.E.
597 reviews1,525 followers
March 15, 2022

أجمل ما في الكتاب أنه يتعدي الكتابة الأدبية الحرة، ليدخل ضمن الكتابات الفلسفية المميزة، وهذا ما يجذبني لتولستوي عادة اكثر من انجذابي لرواياته الشهيرة .. فدائما احب أن اقرأ كتاباته الفلسفية، وحواره العميق عن الحياة والأدب والفلسفة، وطبعا اعترافاته التي لا تخلو ايضا من الفكر الفلسفي المشبع بالأدب،

تولستوي بالنسبة لي يرتقي لكبار الفلاسفة كأسلوب أو كفكر .. ولا ينبغي اعتباره هنا اديبا فقط، خاصة وان اجمل فكرة يعالجها الكتاب كيف أن الفن الجميل بسيط .. وكيف أن البساطة هي أهم معاييره، فالأمر ليس بالكثرة ولا المبالغة، بل علي العكس، فكثرة المجهود والمبالغة المادية والفنية في العمل تعيق وصول فكرته الي المشاهد او المستمع .. وربما يضيع المعني مع كثرة التفاصيل والضوضاء ... وهنا لن يصبح الفن فنا، بل سيصبح شبيها بالف��، وهذه فكرة فلسفية اصيلة في فلسفة الفن والجمال ~~
17 reviews1 follower
May 10, 2020
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 inhabitants.

I am so glad to have found such a friend in Tolstoy.

I almost completely agree with everything covered in the book, and share his discontent with vague, vein, modern art. I, however, believe in people's freedom, to manufacture art regardless of it's "goodness", even still I wish that more and more creative people would be willing to endeavour to stand outside of Western individualism, pleasure, and art for arts sake; and begin to explore art that is oriented towards the progression and unification of mankind and our God; encompassing all realms of our salvation: physical, emotional, spiritual, political, economic, and social.

I am confident that I will not pursue a career in the arts (as we know it) after my degree, as I am keen to throw myself into the direct service of the poor; but rather I desire that art runs through my life and we will meet along the way when we may.

This kind of art excites me. This art that means so much more than beauty or pleasure. Why are we so afraid of it?

Profile Image for Will.
272 reviews65 followers
June 23, 2017
"But if the majority do not understand, they must be given an explanation, the knowledge necessary for understanding. But it turns out that this knowledge does not exist, that the works cannot be explained, and therefore those who say that the majority do not understand good works of art give no explanations, but say that in order to understand one must read, look at, or listen to the same work over and over again. But this is not to explain, it is to make accustomed. And one can get accustomed to anything, even the worst."
Profile Image for Ryan.
47 reviews3 followers
January 3, 2018
Art is an infection of feeling and experience. Despite the title and author, this is a down to earth layman's discussion on the definition of art. You don't need to have any particular passion for the arts to enjoy this book. It's more about art's impact on societal issues. You will never go to a museum or art gallery and see things the same afterwards.
Profile Image for هالةْ أمين.
758 reviews425 followers
January 16, 2015

كتاب استغرق من صاحبه خمسة عشر عاما من البحث والدراسة والتقصي حتى يكتب ويجيب عن هذا السؤال بإلمام تام وبصورة تنم عن شبه رضا عما كتب وألف
لهو جدير بأن يكون كتابا جيدًا وجدير بأن ينال التقييم العالي

من الصعب أن أوجز أهم محاور الكتاب وأن أجيب عن سؤاله ماهو الفن في أسطرٍ قليلة
لكن يكفيك أن تعلم مدى إخلاص هذا الرجل اتجاه قضيته التي تبناها ومدى حبه لما يعمل

لقد اضطر أن يثقف ويعلم نفسه على مدى تلك السنين فيما يتعلق بأمور الفن من موسيقى وغناء ورسم ونحت وتمثيل وتأليف
حتى يدرك جميع الوجوه وجميع المدارس ويلم أقصى إلمام ممكن لكي يكتب عن علمٍ ودارية بعيد عن التأويل والتجني والنقد الذي يقوم عن غير أسس واضحة أو علم

أضف إلى هذا تميزه بالفكر المعتدل وتفانيه اتجاه قضايا وطنه وشعبه

رغم شمولية سؤال ماهو الفن واعتبار ٢٦٥ صفحة قليلة في حقه
إلا أن تولستوي عندما يكتب فهو لا يخص مؤلفاته بفئة معينة بل يريد أن تصل رسالته إلى الجميع من عامة الناس وخاصتهم

سأورد لكم بعض الاقتباسات علها تكون دافعا حتى نقتني هذا الكتاب وبالأخص من قبل تلك الفئات التي برزت في مجتمعنا مؤخرا ممن اتخذوا الكتابة والتأليف هواية
غافلين عن مدى أهمية هذا النوع من الفن وأهمية الرسائل التي تصل عن طريقه

الحقيقة هي المعرفة الكاملة بوساطة العقل، وأما الخير فهو المعرفة الكاملة بوساطة الإرادة الأخلاقية.

تسير البشرية دون توقف من ادراك الحياة الأدنى والأكثر ذاتية والأقل وضوحًا، إلى الإدراك الأسمى والأكثر عمومية والأكثر وضوحًا، والأديان هي مرشد ذلك الإدراك العالي للحياة.

الخير هو هدف حياتنا الأبدي والسامي، وبغض النظر عن فهمنا للخير فإن حياتنا ماهي سوى الطموح نحو الخير يعني نحو الله. الخير هو ذلك الشيء الذي لم يحدده أحد لكنه يحدد كل الأشياء الباقية.

إذا بدا لنا أنه لا وجود للوعي الديني في المجتمع، فإن ذلك لايبدو لنا بسبب عدم وجود هذا الوعي الديني فعلا، إنما بسبب عدم رغبتنا في مشاهدته والإعتراف به. ونحن لا نرغب في مشاهدته غالبًا لأنه يفضح غير المتفقة معه.

إن رسالة الفن في زمننا تكمن في نقل الحقيقة من مجال العقل إلى مجال الأحاسيس الحقيقية التي تفيد بأن خير الناس ينحصر في وحدتهم وفي تثبيت المملكة الإلهية أقصد مملكة الحب التي تبدو لنا جميعًا بأنها أسمى هدف لحياة البشرية
إن مهمة الفن هي تحقيق وحدة الناس الأخوية.
Profile Image for Kendall Davis.
232 reviews22 followers
October 28, 2020
Fascinating, compelling, and powerfully written. I think I may disagree deeply with Tolstoy, but I am challenged by and respect his contribution to this conversation in this volume.
Profile Image for Tami Zaabi.
166 reviews282 followers
December 25, 2016

ما هو الفن
قد نعتقد أنه سؤال بسيط ولكن الإجابة عليه معقدّة للغاية . لو فكّر كل شخص بالإجابة عليه فعلاً، لحصلنا على ملايين التعريفات؛ لأن كل شخص يملك نظرته الخاصة في الحياة، يعيش وفقاً لقوانين محددّة ينتمي إليه، يتبناها أو رُبما يضعها بنفسه، بالتالي ستكون له رؤية خاصة يرى من خلالها الفن .

في هذا الكتاب، سنلقي الضوء على إجابة تولستوي على سؤالنا المحيّر، والذي يُخبرنا فيه أنّه على الرغم من كثرة الكُتب والمقالات التي صدرت في محاولة منح الفن تعريفاً مناسباً، جميعها فشلت، وأنّه لا يوجد منذ ظهر الفن وإلى اليوم تعريف شامل ومحدد المعالم بالإمكان إعتماده كـ تعريف رسمي للفن
في بادىء الأمر كانت المشكلة في ربط الفن بالجمال وإتباع قاعدة أن الشيء الجميل يعتبر فناً والعمل الذي لا يعكس جمالاً لا يعتبر فن، وهنا يرى تولستوي -وأتفق معه كلياً- بأنّه يجب فصل الفن عن الجمال ومحاولة تعريف الفن بناء على الفن وحده؛ولكن هل من الممكن فعل ذلك؟

إن فصل الفن عن الجمال أمر معقول، فـ المضمون يجب أن يطغى على النمط أو الشكل الخارجي للعمل الفني، لكن في هذه الحالة سيرتبط الفن بمقومّات أخرى كـ الأخلاق والوعي الديني، حتى تولستوي نفسه يعبر عن الفن الجيد بأنّه الفن النابع عن وعي ديني وأخلاقي والذي قد يوصل إلى الله أو يوحّد البشرية جمعاء، حتى أنّه يرى أن هدف الفن الأساسي هو الوحدة ونشر الأخوية بين البشر .

إذن ما هي النظرية السائدة التي يرفضها تولستوي؟
فكرة أن ينشأ الفن من الجمال أو أن يعكس الجمال . تولستوي يرى أنها نظرية خاطئة .

بالتالي ما هي نظريته البديلة ؟
الفن يجب أن ينشأ من الدوافع الدينية والقيم الأخلاقية التي تنبع من أعماق الإنسان .

بالمعنى: إن رفضنا النظرية الأولى واتفقنا مع تولستوي واتخذنا النظرية الأخرى أن الفن نابع من أعماق الفنان الذي تحركه دوافعه الدينية والأخلاقية، ألا يجب أن يتحلى أيضاً بالجمال الروحي حتى ينتج عمل فني جيد وراقي ؟! بالتالي من الصعب جداً أن ننبذ نظرية الجمال والفن ونعتمد كلياً على نظرية الفن والأخلاق، أنا أرى أنّه بالإمكان دمج النظرتين واتخاذ مسار يجمع الفن بالجمال والأخلاق .

يذكر بعدها تولستوي أمثلة عن الفن المعاصر -��ي تلك الفترة- وعلى ما يبدو بأنّه كان من الصعب أن يستوعب الشخص أو أن يفهم ذلك الفن، لأنه وببساطة لم يكن فناً أو عالأقل كان فناً سيئاً، والسبب وراء ذلك كما يرى تولستوي هو ظهور الطبقيّة، وكل ما كان يخدم الفن في تلك الفترة كان في الأصل لخدمة الطبقة العليا . وهنا يطرح تساؤل مهم : هل يوجد مبرر أخلاقي يسمح بتضييع حياة الناس وصرف كل هذه الأموال والموارد لإنتاج فن مثل هذا الفن الذي يعتبره فناً زائفا؟ وبالطبع ستكون الإجابة بـ لا . وفي الأمثلة التي ذكرها نجد ما يشبهها اليوم في وقتنا الحالي ما نسميه بـ "الفن التجاري" الفن الذي لا يحمل أي رسالة أو هدف أو قيمة سوى صرف المال وال��وارد واليد العاملة لإنتاجه وبعدها حصد الملايين من وراءه، وقد نتساءل جميعا حينما نرى شيئا مماثلا "هل فعلاً أضعت وقتي على هذا" ، "هل من الممكن أن ينتج أحدهم عملاً بهذا الشكل" وفي النهاية هذا التساؤل يوصلنا لنقطة معينة حول الفن وهي : أن كل ما نشعر به ويصلنا بالإمكان اعتباره فناً وغير ذلك يعتبر فناً سيئاً ؛ وهل يعتبر هذا صحيحاً فعلاً ؟! ربما .. لكن هنا أعود لنقطة "ما لا يعجبك، يعجب غيرك" إذن بالإمكان إرجاع السبب للذوق .

ما هي طبيعة الفن عند تولستوي ؟
طبيعة الفن هي الأطروحة الأساسية في هذا الكتاب، ويرى تولستوي أن طبيعة الفن ببساطة هي نقل مشاعر الفنان إلى الآخرين، بمعنى أن الشخص يشعر بمشاعر معينة، تتمثل في عمل (قصيدة، رواية، لوحة، معزوفة موسيقية .. الخ)، يتلقاها الآخرين فيشعرون بشعور الفنان من خلال عمله فتتوحد مشاعرهم مع مشاعره . ليس مهم هنا أن يكون العمل جميل أو غير جميل بقدر ما يكون صادق ويؤثر في الآخرين . ومن هذه النقطة يقدم لنا تولستوي دليلاً مبسطاً نتعرف من خلاله على الفن الجيد وهو أن يتسم بميزات معينة: الصدق، الفردية والوضوح.

بعدها يشير إلى نقاط مهمة ساهمت ولا زالت تساهم بطريقة سلبية جداً في صناعة الفن، كـ المدارس الفنية، يرى تولستوي أن المدارس الفنية غير جديرة وحتماً غير ضرورية لأن الفن لا يُعلّم، ويقتصر تعليم الفن على المدارس فقط بحيث يتعرف الشخص على مختلف الفنون وإن استشعر بأنّه يستطيع صناعة عملاً فنياً بإمكانه أن يعمل عليه لوحده، في هذه النقطة أتفق مع تولستوي لأن النقطة منطقية جداً، على سبيل المثال يقضي شخص 5 أو 6 سنوات في قراءة وتعلم طريقة كتابة كاتب مشهور، وبعدها يبدأ بكتابة كُتبه الخاصة، من الطبيعي جداً أن تتشابه كتاباته مع كُتب الكاتب الذي قضى سنوات في دراسه طرقه وتشبيهاته وأسلوبه .. بالتالي المدارس الفنية من الممكن أن تعدم مواهب حقيقة بجعلها تكرر أعمالاً ناجحة أخرى .

في أجزاء أخرى من الكتاب، ينقد تولستوي أعمالاً فنية كبيرة وتشكل جزء مهم في تاريخ الفن، كـأعمال بتهوفن بعد إصابته بالصمم ويصفها من ضمن الفن السيء، وكـ أشعار بودلير وفارلان وغيرهم، ويستخدم الحجج والمبررات بمهاجمة هذه الأعمال بطريقة شرسة جداً، وهنا لا أتفق معه وليس بخصوص فنان معين ولكن بشكل عام في الطريقة التي يحاول فيها تحديد الجدارة في العمل الفني، بحيث تميل أكثر للتعبير عن ذوقه الشخصي . لا أكثر .

هذا الكتاب الذي استغرق من صاحبة 15 سنة من التحقيق والتقصي والبحث، من الصعب استيعابه بشكل كلي أو محاولة تلخيصه، أكتب وأشعر بأنني أتحدث عن مليون فكرة وأن الفقرات غير مترابطة ببعضها، على كل حال أعتقد أن المغزى من الكتاب ليس أن تتفق معه في كل ما جاء به ولكن أن تتفق معه في جوهر الفن وطبيعته وأن لا تنخدع بالفن الزائف الذي أصبح صنعة يتداولها الجميع، بالإضافة لذلك الكتاب سلس وواضح، ومن المهم قراءته حيث يمنحك نظرة أخرى للفن من زاوية أكثر اعتدالاً .

Profile Image for خُزامَى.
127 reviews47 followers
November 15, 2015
اﻵن أستطيع تسمية تولستوي "نبي" بحق...، هذا الإنسان يكتب للجميع، واثق بأنه يكتب حقيقة مشاعره..تردد في الكتابة خمسة عشر عاما..ﻷنه لم يتم كل المعاني التي في عقله و روحه، من الصفحة اﻷولى بل السطر اﻷول تعلم أنه مليء باﻹنسانية، يضع نفسه مكان العامل و رئيس العمل و مكان المتلقي و مكان الفنان..اﻷجمل أنه ما ترك شيء في مجالات الفن في أهم اﻷزمنة إلا ما تحدث عنه، و عن فنانو و كتاب كل مجال، و تحدث برأي العامة و رأيه بكل صدق و نظر بمقياس الجمال و ﻷهم و أصدق محلليه، أيضا اقتباسات لبعض النصوص. .و مقارنتها ﻹظهار الفن الرديء و الجيد..و في كل مرة يكرر لقد شوهنا الفن..و تشوهت دواخلنا، لدرجة لم نفرق بينهما ...اﻹحساس و فهمنا للفن تكرر عشرات المرات..الفن الذي يصل الجمهور و يضحكه و يبكيه و يحركه كما يحرك الفنان أمامهم هو الفن البديع. الذي يفهمه الجميع، الطفل و النساء المزارع و الشيخ...أما ما تتخذه تلك الفئات مثل "الطبقات الغنية" و تمثله بأنه فن لا يفهمه غيرهم..هذا ليس فن فهو خال من المشاعر و اﻷحاسيس و الفهم، غامض ..جاف من الجمال و الحب.

تولستوي ذكر قصة قصيرة :غناء فلاحات ترحيبا بابنته القادمة، و بنفس الليلة استمع لمعزوفة بيتهوفن في منزله و الفرق أنه شعر بغنائهم يتغلغل في أعماقه و يحركه ليبتسم و يرقص أما المعزوفة قليل من فهمها ...على الرغم من روعتها..لكن الناس أصبحت تهتم و تسمع و تقرأ لما يستمع له اﻷغلبية و ما يصرخ به الشارع من المشاهير.أيضا.. ذكر عدة أسماء شهيرة في الرسم، الموسيقى و الفلسفة و الشعر و اﻷدب..و أعطى رأيه لغموض ما يفعلوه و استفزازه للشهرة الواسعة لهم ..
كنت أود كتابة شيء أعمق و أعرض من هذا النص عن دهشتي لهذا الكم الهائل من الصدق و العاطفة التي تمطر القارئ في كل صفحة ..لكن تراكم الكلمات و قراءتي المتقطعة تناثر الكلام و لم أتوفق . .
قال الفنان ستاسوف ف.ف. :"ماهو الفن بمثابة اكتشاف أمريكا بالنسبة إلى الفن "

و في رسالته لتولستوي:"الكونت ليف نيقولايفيتش، منذ أن صدر كتابكم، و أنا أدرسه بغيرة، و لا أكف عن الافتتان به، كله تقريبا، أعتقد أنه دشن عهدا جديدا في الفن، ﻷنه يؤدي بعمق و قوة غير طبيعيين مهمة الكتب الفنية في زمننا، تبيان و عرض تلك الكمية الهائلة من اﻵراء الباطلة و اﻷفكار المزيفة التي تراكمت لقرون عديدة على الفن، و التي كانت تقيده أحيانا بأصفاد ثقيلة، تبيانها و عرضها على مرأى الجميع، و اليوم إذ قررت أن أطبع أرائي حول هذا الموضوع أعتبر نفسي سعيدا ﻷنك سمحت لي بأن أهديك عملي"
Profile Image for الخنساء.
319 reviews701 followers
November 18, 2015
تحدث تولستوي عن الفن والأخلاق رابطاً فيما بين الفن والأخلاق.
أيضا علق كثيراً على فترة معينة في تاريخ أوروبا احتكرت فيها الطبقات الغنية الفن، وهو مستاء من ذلك وكثيراً ماكرر نقده لذلك في مواضع متعددة من الكتاب، بالنسبة لتولستوي فالفن والدين مرتبطين، ويجب إخضاع الفن للدين ليتم اخراج فنون عظيمة، الدين يجيب على الأسئلة المتعلقة بالغاية من الحياة وغيرها من الأسئلة الوجودية، فيهذب الإحساس ويربيه ويخضعه لغايات كبرى، بالتالي يولد القدرة على انتاج فن عظيم، أما بالنسبة للطبقات العليا الغنية فتولستوي يحكم على تدينها بالزيف والشكليات، وبالتالي فالفن الناتج من سيطرتهم على الفن ومجالاته هو فن غير حقيقي، ومصطنع، ولا ينقل الأحاسيس والمشاعر، ولا يتم تقديره بناءً على قدرته على إظهار المشاعر، إنما يكون معيار تقدير الفن هو المتع الشخصية ومخاطبته للغرائز، ويشير لمسئوليتهم في نشر العري في الفن كنتيجة لذلك، وفنهم كذلك استعراض للمهارات والقدرات، التي يبالغ تولستوي في التحقير من شأنها في صناعة الفن، محدداً الإحساس وحده معياراً لتثمين الفنون، محدداً فيما بعد أن الأحاسيس هي فقط المعترف بها، في مبالغة منه في تحديد المعايير!
يفرق مابين فن الطبقات الغنية، والفن الشعبي الذي يرى أن الكثيرين نظرا لفساد ذائقتهم، نتيجة لعوامل أهمها تراجع الدين لدى المجتمع الأوروبي، فهم يعجزون كثيراً عن تقدير الفنون الشعبية، وتقييمها، وأخذها على محمل الجد، وادراك عظمة انتاجها، وتأثرهم بآراء النقاد الذي استلمهم بالنقد والسخرية أيضا، فيبدون إعجابهم بأعمال لا يفهمونها ولا تخاطب في أنفسهم شيئا، حتى يواكبوا آراء النقاد الذي يزعمون أنهم أكثر فهماً وعمقاً وتقديراً للفن من غيرهم! ويتجاهل الفن الشعبي الموصل للمشاعر والأحاسيس بصدق ومباشرة.
لغته في الكتاب ساخرة، حادة وغاضبة في مواضع، يبالغ في مواضع، لكنه كتاب ممتع، مستفز للغاية لكن بشكل لذيذ سواء اتفقت معه، أو اختلفت معه، بقيت مستمتعة بكتابه، استفزازه جذاب وليس منفراً، عندما أتفق معه في موضع، اختلف معه بسرعة نتيجة للاثباتات والأدلة التي يحاول اقتطاعها من سياقها، ليثبت بها صحة فكرته، في نقطة تحديده للإحساس وحده معياراً لتثمين الفنون، شدد كثيراً حول هذه النقطة وسخف وتجاهل بقية المعايير، خصوصا المهارة والحرفية! ثم تولى بعدها تحديد هذه الأحاسيس والمشاعر وتقييدها كذلك، من يعرف نكتة أبو راشد وأبو صالح الشهيرة حول مناطق الدين الصحيح في العالم وتحديد من هم أهله، سيتذكر تولستوي في هذه النقطة :)
Profile Image for Asmae.
91 reviews48 followers
August 28, 2016
بدلا من الحصول على الطعام من الزراعة و تربية المواشي يمكن الحصول عليه في المختبرات بالوسائل الكيميائية و العمل الإنساني سيستبدل كلية بقوى الطبيعة المستعملة.
لن يأكل الإنسان كما يفعل الآن البيضة التي تبيضها دجاجته أو الخبز من قمح حقله أو التفاح من تلك الشجرة التي اعتنى بها و سقاها سنوات عديدة و التي أيعنت و أثمرت أمام عينيه إنما سيأكل طعاما لذيذا مغذيا مستحضرا في المختبرات.
و لن يكون الإنسان بحاجة إلى العمل لهذا فإن كل الناس سيكونون في وضع يسمح لهم بالإستسلام لذلك الخمول الذي استسلمت له الآن الطبقات الغنية الحاكمة.
لا شيء كهذه المثل تبين مدى انحراف العلم عن طريقه الحقيقي.
غير أن التغذية بالخبز و الخضار و الثمار التي زرعها الإنسان ورعاها بجهده في الحقل هي أكثر أنواع التغذية طيبة و عافية أنها تغذية طبيعية و سهلة و العمل من أجل تمرين العضلات هو شرط ضروري من شروط الحياة مثلة مثل تأكسد الدم بواسطة التنفس.
إنهم يخترعون وسائل من شأنها أن تجعل الناس في ظل ذلك التوزيع الباطل للثروات والعمل قادرين على التغذية الجيدة بواسطة الأطعمة المجهزة كيميائيا ..
إن اختراع هذه الوسائل شبيه باختراع وسائل ضخ الأكسجين إلى رئتي إنسان محجوز في مكان مغلق مشبع بهواء فاسد في حين أنه لا يلزم لذلك الإنسان إلا الخروج من ذلك المكان المغلق.
Profile Image for Luisa.
11 reviews42 followers
April 24, 2018
Having never read Tolstoi before, this seemed like an interesting start since knowing his perspective about art in general would make me understand his own work better, especially his novels.
This being said, I was clearly not ready for this book. The amount of research I had to do in order to understand his ideas about some writers, musicians, painters, sculptures, etc. (or at least know who he was talking about) was, at times, overwhelming, which made me fall behind on schedule to finish the book.
Another negative aspect about it is the way he explains what he thinks about the topic: what he states is clearly biased by the time-frame he lived in, which was extremely different from the 21st century and that's maybe the reason why I didn't empathize with some of his arguments.
Even though I am giving this book only 3 stars, it is still a very interesting reading since it not only shows Tolstoi's perspective about a very important topic, but also educates the reader about more artists of his time.
I would say it is still worth it to read this book if you are interested in knowing more about art.
Profile Image for Ráid.
73 reviews
May 29, 2014
. 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.
36 reviews1 follower
February 11, 2022

All jokes aside, Tolstoy’s conviction in his arguments provides a great vessel for discussion
Profile Image for James Klagge.
Author 14 books80 followers
December 17, 2016
Not an engaging book--more like a diatribe by an Old Testament prophet. Tolstoy here is an old depressed curmudgeon heaping scorn on all the "art" that we hold dear. It was written toward the end of his life, after he had rejected much of his own great work, and here added to that a wholesale rejection of the pillars of Western culture (pp. 96-97)--Greek tragedians, Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, Bach, Beethoven (he singles out the 9th for detailed discussion, and hates the late quartets), Wagner (he singles out the Ring Cycle, pp. 103-112), but virtually all music, Michelangelo (especially the Last Judgment), Goethe, etc. Wow!
He begins by trying to answer "What is Art?" He considers a number of suggestions, including approximations to some ideal form, and what produces pleasure. He definitely severs art from the attempt to create beauty. His own answer is not any sort of characterization of how people use the term (since he believes our modern aesthetic senses are mostly thoroughly perverted--in fact, he seriously compares art as we know it to prostitution, p. 150). Instead he claims that (pp. 39-40) art is what expresses feelings the artist has experienced and which infects others with those feelings and gets them to experience them. He repeats this formulation with slight variations numerous times--indeed there is a lot of repetition in the book. Real art expresses feelings that are universal, not limited to a certain culture or class. Oddly, he thinks that religious feelings are prime candidates for this, and he in fact says often that Christianity is the source of these religious feelings, because it aims for universal application. But he does NOT mean the established church, but the deeper ideas behind it. He certainly has latched onto something--experiences that broadly move people. (On p. 37 he calls art a "means of communion among people.") But then he defines that as art, and dismisses everything else that might have claimed that label.
A crucial point for Tolstoy is that art is universally understood (pp. 79-83). Therefore he dismisses any elitist art that only those with finer sensibilities can get. He heaps ridicule on this approach, and thinks most all that goes under the label of art is an enormous waste.
He sometimes says a bit about what IS art by his lights, and it is a mundane lot of things that include (p. 41) lullabies, jokes, home decor, utensils, ceremonies, solemn processions, traditional folk tales and folk songs. As to whether anything traditionally thought of as art remains, he mentions a few things (p. 132), such as Hugo's Les Mis, Dostoevsky's House of the Dead, some Dickens. As for his own work, in a footnote he mentions only two of his Twenty Three Tales ("God Sees the Truth, but Waits" and "Prisoner of the Caucasus").
Toward the end Tolstoy blames the deterioration of art on the deterioration of science. And he has a similarly implausible account of science--the study of what will benefit human life. So "science" becomes a practical enterprise which leaves no room for theoretical concerns that would not pertain to the common man. In a way, this book is a bit like Plato's Republic, with its rejection of nearly all art, and its endorsement of a kind of social engineering. The last comparison that occurred to me was that Tolstoy sounds like a precursor to Wendell Berry.
Not a particularly enjoyable read--but interesting for its single-mindedness, and its dedication to following out an idea to its bitter end. And it does feel bitter.
I read the book b/c Wittgenstein discusses the issue of whether people understand his work and he mentions Tolstoy. I figured out that this book by Tolstoy is likely what he was referring to, with Tolstoy's insistence that a real work of art must be understood by all. If Wittgenstein was referring to this work, it raises interesting issues for thinking about Wittgenstein further. There is also the connection that "art" would seem to be a perfect illustration of Wittgenstein's point that we can't generally give an essential definition of a term, but can rest content with tracing the resemblances that its various uses have. Tolstoy takes a more Socratic view that there must be an essential definition, and a more Platonic view that a definition can run contrary to what people might have supposed (like Plato's definition of Justice). (Cf. p. 34) Finally, Wittgenstein expressed a special fondness for Tolstoy's Twenty Three Tales.
Profile Image for Todd.
33 reviews
November 17, 2008
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, is for the sake of the rich, the idle, the elite. It is thus decadent "counterfeit art". It seeks to impress rather than to join ordinary people in their common good. Tolstoy infamously repudiates most of the art that has considered to be great throughout history (including his own War and Peace and Anna Karenina), and he calls for art that connects with ordinary people and which supports the religious conception of the age, which he takes to be the brotherhood of all people. Although What is Art? has many faults, it is much more valuable than many critics claim. I highly recommend it, for it stimulates one to think about the artworld in a new, helpful way.
Profile Image for John Pistelli.
Author 8 books264 followers
June 11, 2020
This late polemic was written over the course of 15 years following the author’s religious conversion and published in 1898. It begins in characteristic Tolstoyan fashion—with a visit to the opera. There Tolstoy observes that, “[b]esides the costumed men and women, two other men in short jackets were running and fussing about the stage.” Viktor Shklovsky later founded the literary critical school of Russian Formalism on this tactic of defamiliarization, in which, Shklovsky famously writes in his manifesto “Art as Technique,”
Tolstoy makes the familiar seem strange by not naming the familiar object. He describes an object as if he were seeing it for the first time, an event as if it were happening for the first time.
But Tolstoy was no formalist. He put this technique to the end of social criticism: when he refuses to recognize the stage business as serious or even intelligible, Tolstoy renders judgment against the theater as such. He turns his attention instead to those who toil to bring the spectacle to life, to “one of the workers, his face grey and thin, wearing a dirty blouse, with dirty workman’s hands, the fingers sticking out, obviously tired and displeased.” Why should people’s lives be wasted, in an unequal society, on such insipid and debasing pleasures as the theater?

In his introduction to his and his wife Larissa Volokhonsky’s translation of What Is Art? Richard Pevear explains the biographical and religious background to this iconoclastic tract:
Essentially, Tolstoy’s teaching is a form of Christian anarchism, based on the principles of brotherly love and on certain precepts from the Sermon on the Mount: do not be angry; do not commit adultery; do not swear oaths; do not resist evil; love your enemies (see Matthew 5:21-43). With this Gospel distillation he combined the general outlook of a nineteenth-century liberal and specifically the view of history as the process of moral evolution of the masses and the effacement of governments. The good, he believed, would lead mankind eventually to a stateless, egalitarian, agrarian society of non-smoking, teetotal vegetarians dressed as peasants and practising chastity before and after marriage. This would be the Kingdom of God on earth.
On the basis of this religious morality, Tolstoy believes that true art must serve “mankind’s movement forward towards perfection” and must therefore be “understood by all people.” All other art, especially the incipiently modernist art of the late 19th century, but also most European art from the Renaissance forward, deserves to be considered false art to be banished from the brotherhood of man.

Tolstoy is aware that many readers will judge his doctrines perverse—how can a theory of art that banishes Dante, Shakespeare, Raphael, and Beethoven be taken seriously? Tolstoy answers with both a theoretical and a historical account. The early chapters of What Is Art? are devoted to Tolstoy’s survey of aesthetic philosophy since its inception in the 18th century. Tolstoy summarizes his vast reading with the conclusion that philosophers define art as that which is beautiful, and they justify artistic beauty in one of two ways, either by a Hegelian assertion that artistic beauty manifests metaphysical forces or by a Kantian-Darwinian view that artistic beauty gives a kind of surplus physical pleasure to humanity once we have secured our survival and probably also plays a role in our sexual reproduction.

Tolstoy dispels what he sees as the errors of the aestheticians by redefining art not as the beautiful but as the communication of feeling. Through words, he says, we express thoughts, and through art (including verbal art) we express our feelings. Artists’ goal is to “infect” others with their feelings—he uses this unappealingly viral-bacterial metaphor throughout—which means that the purpose and justification of art is to unite human beings in a universal community of emotion based on Christ’s teaching of humility and simplicity.

Tolstoy moreover argues that his view of art was widely shared in the epochs before the European Renaissance: the Greeks, the Jews, the Romans, the Chinese—they all expected art to subserve religion and to unite their communities around shared values that, from Tolstoy’s perspective, represented authentic stages in human progress before the revelation of Christ’s true message. This message itself was perverted by the alliance of Christianity with worldly power and pagan values in the form of the Western and Eastern churches; for this reason, Tolstoy does not romanticize the ecclesiastical Middle Ages, though he allows that medieval art at least united the people to the church, however flawed.

What followed the Middle Ages was a catastrophe: the educated ruling classes rightly ceased to believe in “church religion,” but did not take the step of adopting true Christianity, which would have meant dissolving their own class privileges to join with all people and equally share their labor. Instead, this ruling class believed nothing and subsidized art to entertain them in their nihilism, an irreligious, involuted, and self-impressed art that most people outside the elite could not comprehend. Such art both worsened and legitimized vast social inequality, since the poor were excluded from the education necessary to appreciate “advanced” aesthetics, since the labor of the poor was exploited in the production of the art (think of the harassed theater worker), and since a connoisseur class is by its nature parasitic on a working class.

Tolstoy’s political and economic critique is compelling: the poor really are excluded from high culture and oppressed in a class-stratified society. The solution, one might think, is to improve their lot by redistributing both resources and opportunities to them, a development perhaps enabled by advancing technology that requires less overall human labor. But this solution is too Marxist and irreligious for Tolstoy. Though he would later be hailed by Lenin as “the mirror of the revolution,” Tolstoy dismisses “the now widely spread theory of Marx that economic progress is inevitable and consists in the swallowing up of all private enterprises by capitalism,” a theory later endorsed by Lenin himself when he praised the monopolization of capital as a prelude to the communist command economy (a concept much neglected by socialists today who are, in their moralism, rather the children of Tolstoy).

Tolstoy believes that art addressed to the ruling class is in itself perverted, a word he uses frequently, in contrast to art that can be appreciated by “simple unperverted working people.” Why are working people unperverted? Here Tolstoy echoes Hegel: the workers’ labor brings them into contact with the necessities and exigencies of the world, phenomena never experienced by the indolent privileged. This is a superficially attractive theory that will not survive a moment’s contact with reality, in my experience as a scion of farm and factory workers who wanted nothing more than to be free of labor and enjoy all manner of refreshments, from cigarettes to pork chops to unsavory entertainments, that would have horrified the fastidious aristo-turned-peasant Count Tolstoy, for whom “the poor” were just a humble aggregate of noble savages. Why else does he contrast Hamlet unfavorably with “an account of the theatre of a savage people, the Voguls”? Not out of respect for other cultures, but because he wishes to legislate for an imaginary monoculture he finds everywhere but in his own pathologically hated social state. The Christian ideal animating this elevation of the humble demands an art that celebrates not victory and strength, but rather the moralized weakness of the victim state as a source of spiritual power:
And the highest work of [Christian] art was no temple of victory with statues of the victors, but the image of a human soul so transformed by love that a tortured and murdered man could pity and love his tormentors.
On the basis of this caste metaphysics, Tolstoy judges that only art made by or comprehensible to everyone, especially society’s victims, is legitimate art. Legitimate art can either be religious or essentially neutral (here Tolstoy charmingly—and in a surely inadvertent echo of Wilde—upholds household decoration as serious business, and ornament, from fashion to dolls, as well as wholesome children’s entertainment, as superior to fine art and opera).

Everything else he deems “harmful,” the mere amusement and alibi of the un-Christian victors, from his hated Shakespeare to the mystifying late works of Beethoven, the perverse poetry of Baudelaire, the obscure poetics of Mallarmé, the sordid novels of the naturalists, the immoralism of Nietzsche and the decadents (“aesthetes like Oscar Wilde choose as the theme of their works the denial of morality and the praise of depravity”), and above all—he devotes a whole chapter to this particular hatred—the innovative operas of Wagner, which he finds “so stupid, so farcical, that one wonders how people older than seven can seriously attend it.” Of good art, he proffers a little canon:
The majority understand and have always understood what we, too, consider the highest art: the artistically simple narratives of the Bible, the Gospel parables, folk legends, fairy tales, folk songs are understood by everyone.
We might grant him the folklore, though even here I suspect that “folk” art is made by dedicated individual artists, and not by the collective mind of the volk, to a much higher degree than 19th-century Romantic intellectuals (and their 21st-century multiculturalist legatees) suspect. But the Bible is a bad example even on its face. The very fact that its narratives are “artistically simple”—that is, they do not always yield up immediately intelligible meanings—has made them objects of theological contention and even religious warfare for millennia. Why did the Talmudists and the Church Fathers spill so much ink on a text supposedly so transparent? And even the contents of the Bible were not decided by “the people” but by a council of intellectuals. As for “Gospel parables,” Christ himself insisted they were for a coterie, not for the hoi polloi (He who has ears to hear, let him hear!), appropriately enough, since they are often spectacularly obscure. I understand why Jesus cursed the fig tree less than I understand Mallarmé.

Tolstoy’s modern canon of legitimate art is far better—Schiller, Dickens, Stowe, Dostoevsky, George Eliot—though even here, he hedges in a footnote, admitting that his own judgment might have been perverted by his miseducation in elite society. Furthermore, he excludes his own early novels—the masterpieces War and Peace and Anna Karenina—from the category of legitimate art and upholds among his own works only late parables like “God Sees the Truth but Waits.”

Finally, Tolstoy concludes that true art must not teach either “sensuality” (he is preoccupied by the idea of nudes, especially nude women, in the history of painting) or any type of patriotism or militarism that would work against the formation of a benevolent world society. In his final chapter, he adds that science, too, should be judged only by its immediate contribution to social justice and that there is no such thing as knowledge (or art) for its own sake. What should happen to illegitimate art? Tolstoy explains that “not only should [it] not be encouraged, but [it] should be banished, rejected and despised as art that does not unite but divides people.” Moreover, “all the people who wish to live a good life should be directed towards destroying this art.”

Tolstoy’s ethic of non-violence influenced Gandhi and King, but I would like to know whether or not there is any connection between Tolstoy’s late preachings and certain other modern developments. When Pol Pot forcibly depopulated Cambodia’s cities and slaughtered its metropolitans in the name of agrarian justice, when Mao ordered his cadres to immolate the vain works of tradition and smash the beneficiaries of an unequal society, did they know they had a warrant in Tolstoy? While there is a documented direct line from Maoism through the French intelligentsia of ’68 to today’s advocates of extirpating the literary canon, do these advocates know that the cry to abolish the canon is coming from inside the canon itself? While Tolstoy would seem not to approve of Pol Pot’s or Mao’s violence, does his injunction to “destroy” not give a license to the armed iconoclast? We all know what they burn after they burn books.

George Orwell, in his essay “Lear, Tolstoy, and the Fool,” cautions that those peddling attractive but perhaps unworkable messages of universal love and absolute social justice may be concealing—even from themselves—their own will to power, their own desire for victory over a humanity prostrated before their “humble” wisdom and benevolence:
The distinction that really matters is not between violence and non-violence, but between having and not having the appetite for power. There are people who are convinced of the wickedness both of armies and of police forces, but who are nevertheless much more intolerant and inquisitorial in outlook than the normal person who believes that it is necessary to use violence in certain circumstances. They will not say to somebody else, ‘Do this, that and the other or you will go to prison,’ but they will, if they can, get inside his brain and dictate his thoughts for him in the minutest particulars. Creeds like pacifism and anarchism, which seem on the surface to imply a complete renunciation of power, rather encourage this habit of mind. For if you have embraced a creed which appears to be free from the ordinary dirtiness of politics—a creed from which you yourself cannot expect to draw any material advantage—surely that proves that you are in the right? And the more you are in the right, the more natural that everyone else should be bullied into thinking likewise.
The Tolstoy of the great novels was, as a great novelist must be, a sharp enough psychologist to know this. The Tolstoy of What Is Art? knows only what the totalitarian polemicist always knows: he is right, and we must either agree with him in every detail or be “banished, rejected and despised.”
Profile Image for Illiterate.
1,763 reviews31 followers
August 20, 2022
Tolstoy slides from saying good art engages our ideals to equating our ideals with his religion in contrast to beauty, pleasure, interest, skepticism.
Profile Image for Matina.
17 reviews
May 23, 2021
If you have invested your life into art, or find yourself surrounded by it in some way or another (and who hasn’t?), then this is a must-read. As an aspiring artist, I can confidently say that Tolstoy saved me a couple years of figuring out and agonizing over my role in society. His reasoning isn’t flawless, and some of his ideas are outdated, but he justifies his claims with such clarity and conviction that reading this left me feeling more grounded in my practice than ever before.

One of Tolstoy’s main arguments in this book is that great art either embodies the religious consciousness of the time, or celebrates everyday life. True Christian art (he makes a clear distinction between true and false Christianity) speaks of a brotherhood of man. Regardless of religion, that’s a damn worthwhile message to spread.

He attributes the declining quality of contemporary art to a loss of faith by the elite classes, who began patronizing art that was only aesthetically beautiful, and therefore pleasing. There is danger in that: it robs art of its social and spiritual functions. Art, Tolstoy says, “is a means of communication, and therefore also of progress.”

There are some things I disagree with. Firstly, Tolstoy seems to be operating under the assumption that people once lived and acted in harmony, guided by a single religious consciousness. I don’t think we were ever as united by religion as Tolstoy makes us out to be. There’s no evidence for that, and plenty of evidence for the contrary. Secondly, on page 142 he claims that children don’t naturally admire art (they only admire physical strength and goodness?), and are only taught to do so by the adults around them. In my experience, art actually comes most naturally to children. Not sure what he was thinking there.

All in all, What is Art? was not as captivating as the royai fanfiction I was reading at the same time (lmao), but it was a great read. It made me uncomfortable at some points, solely because of how close I am to the world that Tolstoy painted in a less-than-favorable light. I needed this.

I believe we’ve moved beyond Tolstoy’s proposed religious consciousness, which speaks of a brotherhood of mankind. That’s still so important, but now, I think that message of oneness must include all of life on earth, and not just humanity. Olafur Eliasson’s environmentalist installations would be a perfect example of such art.

Ending this review with one of my favorite lines from the book: “Art should eliminate violence.”

Profile Image for Sunny.
739 reviews36 followers
August 6, 2016
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 that 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 thought provoking. Some of my favourite bits:

"But among these works of various kinds of art there is one in a hundred thousand which is not simply a little better than the others, but differs from all the rest in the way a diamond differs from glass."

"In painting, such are all falsely religious and patriotic pictures, as well as pictures representing the amusements and delight s of exclusive, wealthy and idle living; and such are all so-called symbolic paintings, in which the very meaning of the symbol is accessible only to persons of a certain circle; and, chiefly, all paintings of sensual objects, all that outrageous female nudity which fills all exhibitions and galleries. To the same kind belongs almost all concert and operatic music of our time, beginning with Beethoven — Schumann, Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner — the content of which is accessible only to people who have cultivated in themselves a morbid nervous excitability aroused by this artificial and exceptionally complex music."

"People say it is terrible and pitiful to look at little acrobats putting their legs behind their necks, but it is no less pitiful to look at ten-year-old children giving concerts, and still more so to see ten-year-old children who know by heart the exceptions of Latin grammar . . . But it is not only that these people are crippled physically and mentally — they are also crippled morally, becoming incapable of anything that is really necessary for people."

"No situation is more harmful for artistic productivity than the situation of complete security and luxury in which artists usually live in our society.
The artist of the future will live the ordinary life of a human being, earning his living by some kind of labor. "
Profile Image for Leon McNair.
102 reviews5 followers
December 5, 2021
What Is Art?

Leo Tolstoy's ability to dive into his philosophical tracts surrounding the subject and question of Art whilst staying the penmanship at a relatively easy read is very commendable. He tackles the question of what Art is in its purity, that what Art should mean between the artist and the audience - whether it be in the form of opera, libretto, musical composition, painting, dancing, or others - that can and should captivate emotions and in essence be infectious. By doing this, he therefore follows on with separating what pure Art is, from what it isn't. And from what Art isn't, he considers this the perversion of Art, the corrupted use to indulge in a man's senses. Tolstoy is therein very critical against the perversions of Art that are incomprehensible to him, in view of our senses: that they evoke nothing to our delight as onlookers nor cultivate the artist's longing expressions.

What was Art in the Early Medieval times was what garnered everybody's attention for the greater good of the Self. Hence, Tolstoy illuminates on the Christian Art prevalent at this time, and that Christ as the figure all artists strived to make sense of their emotions, which in turn all onlookers strived to emulate in their character. He then juxtaposes this version of Art with the "cultured man" of his time, who, as the upper-class client that has commissioned an artist for their own pleasures, disrupts this inherent characteristic of Art because it no more resembles this altruistic or utilitarian motive in which the artist freely encapsulates with emotion, but rather of a selfish desire within the client. Moreover, Tolstoy is critical in his description of this perversion of Art produced by the "cultured man", director of a theatre play, or in ballet performances, with the effects of seduction and lust that was then, and even now, prevalent, through the use of near-naked or naked sensuality to habitually evoke raw and carnal vices, in what he and the aestheticians decidedly call Beauty - an attempt to accurately describe that which is deemed commonly aesthetically-pleasing in modest scientific terms.
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