What Is Art?

( 3 )

Overview

During the decades of his world fame as sage and preacher as well as author of War and Peace and Anna Karenin, Tolstoy wrote prolifically in a series of essays and polemics on issues of morality, social justice and religion. These culminated in What is Art?, published in 1898. Although Tolstoy perceived the question of art to be a religious one, he considered and rejected the idea that art reveals and reinvents through beauty. The works of Dante, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Baudelaire and even his own ...
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Overview

During the decades of his world fame as sage and preacher as well as author of War and Peace and Anna Karenin, Tolstoy wrote prolifically in a series of essays and polemics on issues of morality, social justice and religion. These culminated in What is Art?, published in 1898. Although Tolstoy perceived the question of art to be a religious one, he considered and rejected the idea that art reveals and reinvents through beauty. The works of Dante, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Baudelaire and even his own novels are condemned in the course of Tolstoy's impassioned and iconoclastic redefinition of art as a force for good, for the progress and improvement of mankind. In his illuminating preface Richard Pevear considers What is Art? in relation to the problems of faith and doubt, and the spiritual anguish and fear of death which preoccupied Tolstoy in the last decades of his life.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140446425
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 1/28/1996
  • Series: Classics Series
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 403,325
  • Product dimensions: 9.42 (w) x 3.30 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Meet the Author

Leo Tolstoy

Count Leo Tolstoy was born on September 9, 1828, in Yasnaya Polyana, Russia. Orphaned at nine, he was brought up by an elderly aunt and educated by French tutors until he matriculated at Kazan University in 1844. In 1847, he gave up his studies and, after several aimless years, volunteered for military duty in the army, serving as a junior officer in the Crimean War before retiring in 1857. In 1862, Tolstoy married Sophie Behrs, a marriage that was to become, for him, bitterly unhappy. His diary, started in 1847, was used for self-study and self-criticism; it served as the source from which he drew much of the material that appeared not only in his great novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), but also in his shorter works. Seeking religious justification for his life, Tolstoy evolved a new Christianity based upon his own interpretation of the Gospels. Yasnaya Polyana became a mecca for his many converts At the age of eighty-two, while away from home, the writer suffered a break down in his health in Astapovo, Riazan, and he died there on November 20, 1910.
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have produced acclaimed translations of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, and Bulgakov. Their translation of The Brothers Karamazov won the 1991 PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize. They are married and live in Paris, France.
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have produced acclaimed translations of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, and Bulgakov. Their translation of The Brothers Karamazov won the 1991 PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize. They are married and live in Paris, France.

Biography

Count Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 on the family estate of Yasnaya Polyana, in the Tula province, where he spent most of his early years, together with his several brothers. In 1844 he entered the University of Kazan to read Oriental Languages and later Law, but left before completing a degree. He spent the following years in a round of drinking, gambling and womanizing, until weary of his idle existence he joined an artillery regiment in the Caucasus in 1851.

He took part in the Crimean war and after the defence of Sevastopol wrote The Sevastopol Sketches (1855-6), which established his literary reputation. After leaving the army in 1856 Tolstoy spent some time mixing with the literati in St Petersburg before traveling abroad and then settling at Yasnaya Polyana, where he involved himself in the running of peasant schools and the emancipation of the serfs. His marriage to Sofya Andreyevna Behrs in 1862 marked the beginning of a period of contentment centred around family life; they had thirteen children. Tolstoy managed his vast estates, continued his educational projects, cared for his peasants and wrote both his great novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877).

During the 1870s he underwent a spiritual crisis, the moral and religious ideas that had always dogged him coming to the fore. A Confession (1879–82) marked an outward change in his life and works; he became an extreme rationalist and moralist, and in a series of pamphlets written after 1880 he rejected church and state, indicted the demands of flesh, and denounced private property. His teachings earned him numerous followers in Russia and abroad, and also led finally to his excommunication by the Russian Holy Synod in 1901. In 1910 at the age of eighty-two he fled from home "leaving this worldly life in order to live out my last days in peace and solitude;" he died some days later at the station master's house at Astapovo.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Books LTD.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 9, 1828
    2. Place of Birth:
      Tula Province, Russia
    1. Date of Death:
      November 20, 1910
    2. Place of Death:
      Astapovo, Russia

Table of Contents

Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky with a Preface by Richard Pevear

Preface
Bibliographical Note
A Note on the Text

WHAT IS ART? Appendix I
Appendix II
Notes

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2012

    Well worth a read.

    This is a must-read for anyone interested in the purpose and meaning of art and aesthetics, and it provides a very good overview of the history of aesthetics. Given much of purportedly objective philosophical and aesthetic discourse, Tolstoy makes it clear that this is his view of things. Some of his view of things is colored by a religio-political perspective, which may resonate with some readers and not with others. Most will not agree with his assessment of his own literary work, and I think he is off about the relevance of "modern" visual art and poetry, but... Tolstoy punctures the aesthetic balloon that art is about beauty, and makes a solid case for the relevance of art as an integral part of being human, both individually and culturally. This is one of those books that you can disagree with about specifics and still embrace the pervasive theme.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2000

    Confused about art? Here's a guide for you!

    Do you have thoughts like 'well, maybe it's just me... They say Monet is great, but perhaps I just don't understand it...' I say, maybe it's your own gut that tells you what is the true art and what is not! This work by Tolstoy is a summary of his 15 year spiritual journey and research of art and what it's all about. And who is the author?! A genius himself! In this piece he tells us in plain language that the whole art of his century (with a few exceptions) is a product of a rotten class of people, a select few, whose main concerns were far from being common with the feelings of any normal human being. 'Art, nowadays, is for pleasure, not for bringing moral values in the form of genuine feelings to a reader'. This is basically the general idea of the work. At first, you feel dumbfounded reading this, but after a few pages, his statements start to make sense. Only a true moral feeling expressed in the right form, not necessarily beautiful, but understandable and to the point, is a true piece of art. Now, let's go back and think for minute: do I really like Shakespeare or is it the literary criticism the makes me feel that I am not a fully cultured person unless I acknowledge Shakespeare as the greatest of all, or at least one of the greatest writers (playwrights) ever? Even if I think that he was too verbose and vague to begin with? That sometimes you read him and whole paragraphs go by without you fully understanding what he's talking about? Mind you, he wrote for the theater, which means characters' sentences need to be pretty concise and clear, so that the audience could follow them. Anyway, Tolstoy will help you understand this problem. His main idea, again, is for art to convey the feelings of fraternity and love to the reader, not sexual desires, fake patriotism, chauvinism or those exquisite feelings of the upper class. Art is about compassion, love, oneness of all people and good healthy humor. I totally agree with that. One more thing: in this work, Tolstoy confronts the idea of goodness with the idea of beauty, saying that for the sake of beauty, the contemporary artists disregard goodness. This a very controversial statement, in my opinion, but there is a point there... Also recommended: of course, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Resurrection, Childhood, Boyhood & Youth, as true standards of literature, by which you can judge the works of others. All other fiction by Tolstoy is just as great and easy to read, especially his short stories, such as 'Master and Man', 'The Forged Coupon', etc. His other less known works that are revolutionary by their essence, are 'My Confession', 'What is My Belief (Religion)' and especially (really hard to find) 'Critique of Dogmatic Theology', where he expounded his views on religion and traditional Church Christianity with all its absurd, useless dogmas, which only divert your attention from what Christ really taught. This is a very controversial work, which was prohibited in Russia of his day, but which is certainly worth reading. By the way, why doesn't Everyman's Library publish it?

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted September 6, 2013

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