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An Analysis Of Leo Tolstoy’s Definition Of Art

1450 words - 6 pages

In his paper ‘What is art?’ (1897), Tolstoy states that art is not the mere expression of beauty or emotion; it provides no pleasure nor is that its sole purpose. Art is not an opportunity for catharsis or an activity to occupy the minds of idle beings. Instead, "art is a human activity consisting in this, that one consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on others feelings he has lived through and that other people are infected by these feelings also experience them" (Tolstoy). In essence, the concept of art is an artist’s depiction of morality based on experience. Tolstoy’s essay on art sparked quite the reaction from the public because it openly criticized some of the ...view middle of the document...

Personal experiences verify the necessary condition prescribed by Tolstoy. Art allows the audience to empathize with artist because of the art piece evokes the artists emotions. For example, when I read the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley, I empathized with the poet's despair, persistence and acceptance of fate. However, the emotions that were experienced by me were distinctly different from that of the poet. On a personal level, the pain of an amputated leg as well as the miserable and painful period faced by the poet are unfamiliar experiences. Furthermore, these emotions were only felt upon enlightenment of the poem's context. Without fully understanding Invictus, it was difficult to identify the emotions felt by the poet. Although the poem did evoke emotion, they were not identical to that of the poet and in accordance to Tolstoy's criteria; Invictus cannot be defined as an art form. Almost certainly such a statement would be highly contested by society. The inability to transfer some kinds of emotion (e.g., despair) between individuals is a significant issue that Tolstoy's definition faces. Whereas the phrase ‘a smile is contagious' may bear truth, it is impossible to know exactly how the artist felt without adequate knowledge about the context of the poem. Evidently, one cannot truly understand the feelings of an artist who fought in the Second World War, if that person has no knowledge about the events that transpired during the Second World War. Since some emotional responses are specific towards some event, it is highly unlikely that every single person shall be able to resonate with an art piece. This would result in the definition of art being categorized differently for members from different generations. Clearly this would deprive certain generations of experiences with immaculate pieces of art and exposes the subjective nature of the definition of art.
In reality, art is not only created purely based on the artist's emotions. Artists are often hired to create graphic advertisements. Such creations cannot be disproved as being art because they require artistic talent to produce that are created to instill the notion that a particular product is better than another into the consumer’s subconscious mind. The artist sometimes bears no emotional attachment to the art piece, as it is based solely on the design outlined by the marketing team. Advertising presents an instance where emotion is completely unnecessary in the creation of art.
Tolstoy wholly disregards beauty as a necessary condition of art. He reasons that beauty cannot be defined objectively; people regard it differently everywhere. Art is not as subjective and does not have to be aesthetically pleasing for it to be deemed as art (or good art); However, consideration of the art produced during the renaissance (14th-17th century); Michelangelo's David statue, Leonardo Da Vinci's painting of the last supper prove otherwise as they are globally renowned for their...

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