What Is Art?

What Is Art?

by Leo Tolstoy

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Tolstoy claims that all good art is related to the authentic life of the broader community and that the aesthetic value of a work of art is not independent of its moral content. The book is noteworthy not only for its famous iconoclasm and compelling attacks on the aestheticist notion of "art for art's sake" but even more for its wit, lucid and beautiful prose, and sincere expression of the deepest social conscience. A sustained consideration of the cultural import of art by someone who was himself an artist of the highest stature will always remain relevant and fascinating to anyone interested in the place of art and literature in society.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433258718
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date: 02/01/2013
Edition description: Unabridged
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 5.80(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Count Lev (Leo) Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828–1910) was born in Russia. His parents, who died when he was young, were of noble birth. He served in the army in the Caucasus and Crimea, where he wrote his first stories. In 1862 he married and in 1869 produced the masterpiece War and Peace.

Geoffrey Blaisdell is a professional actor who has appeared on and off Broadway, in Broadway national tours, and in regional theater.

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?