What Is Art?

What Is Art?

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This profound analysis of the nature of art is the culmination of a series of essays and polemics on issues of morality, social justice, and religion. Considering and rejecting the idea that art reveals and reinvents through beauty, Tolstoy perceives the question of the nature of art to be a religious one. Ultimately, he concludes, art must be a force for good, for the progress and improvement of mankind.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780872202962
Publisher: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.
Publication date: 10/01/1996
Series: Hackett Classics Series
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

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.

Date of Birth:

September 9, 1828

Date of Death:

November 20, 1910

Place of Birth:

Tula Province, Russia

Place of Death:

Astapovo, Russia


Privately educated by French and German tutors; attended the University of Kazan, 1844-47

Table of Contents

What Is Art? - Leo Tolstoy Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky with a Preface by Richard Pevear

Bibliographical Note
A Note on the Text

WHAT IS ART?Appendix I
Appendix II

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What Is Art? 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
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?