Tolstoy what is art beethoven 9th.
What thoughtful man has not been perplexed by problems relating to art?
An estimable and charming Russian lady I knew, felt the charm of the music and ritual of the services of the Russo-Greek Church so strongly that she wished the peasants, in whom she was interested, to retain their blind faith, though she herself disbelieved the church doctrines. “Their lives are so poor and bare — they have so little art, so little poetry and color in their lives — let them at least enjoy what they have; it would be cruel to undeceive them, ”said she.
A false and antiquated view of life is supported by means of art, and is inseparably linked to some manifestations of art which we enjoy and prize. If the false view of life be destroyed this art will cease to appear valuable. Is it best to screen the error for the sake of preserving the art? Or should the art be sacrificed for the sake of truthfulness?
Again and again in history a dominant church has utilized art to maintain its sway over men. Reformers (early Christians, Mohammedans, Puritans, and others) have perceived that art bound people to the old faith, and they were angry with art. They diligently chipped the noses from statues and images, and were wroth with ceremonies, decorations, stained-glass windows, and processions. They were even ready to banish art altogether, for, besides the visuperstitions it upheld, they saw that it depraved and perverted men by dramas, drinking songs, novels, pictures, and dances, of a kind that awakened man’s lower nature. Yet art always reasserted her sway, and to-day we are told by many that art has nothing to do with morality — that "art should be followed for art’s sake."
I went one day, with a lady artist, to the Bodkin Art Gallery in Moscow. In one of the rooms, on a table, lay a book of colored pictures, issued in Paris and supplied, I believe, to private subscribers only. The pictures were admirably executed, but represented scenes in the private cabinets of a restaurant. Sexual indulgence was the chief subject of each picture. Women extravagantly dressed and partly undressed, women exposing their legs and breasts to men in evening dress; men and women taking liberties with each other, or dancing the “can-can,” etc., etc. My companion the artist, a maiden lady of irreproachable conduct and reputation, began deliberately to look at these pictures. I could not let my attention dwell on them without ill effects. Such things had a certain attraction for me, and tended to make me restless and nervous. I ventured to suggest that the subject matter of the pictures was objectionable. But my companion (who prided herself on being an artist) remarked with conscious superiority, that from an artist’s point of view subject was of no consequence. The pictures being very well executed were artistic, and therefore worthy of attention and study. Morality had nothing to do with art.
Here again is a problem. One remembers Plato's advice not to let our thoughts run upon women, for if we do we shall think clearly about nothing else, and one knows that to neglect this advice is to lose tranquility of mind; but then one does not wish to be considered narrow, ascetic, or inartistic, nor to lose artistic pleasures which those around us esteem so highly.
viiAgain, the newspapers last year printed proposals to construct a Wagner Opera House, to cost, if I recollect rightly, £ 100,000 — about as much as a hundred laborers may earn by fifteen or twenty years ’hard work. The writers thought it would be a good thing if such an Opera House were erected and endowed. But I had a talk lately with a man who, till his health failed him, had worked as a builder in London. He told me that when he was younger he had been very fund of theater-going, but, later, when he thought things over and considered that in almost every number of his weekly paper he read of cases of people whose death was hastened by lack of good food, he felt it was not right that so much labor should be spent on theaters.
In reply to this view it is urged that food for the mind is as important as food for the body. The laboring classes work to produce food and necessaries for themselves and for the cultured, while some of the cultured class produce plays and operas. It is a division of labor. But this again invites the rejoinder that, sure enough, the laborers produce food for themselves and also food that the cultured class accept and consume, but that the artists seem too often to produce their spiritual food for the cultured only — at any rate that a singularly small share seems to reach the country laborers who work to supply the bodily food! Even the “division of labor” shown to be a fair one, the “division of products” seems remarkably one-sided.
Once again: how is it that often when a new work is produced, neither the critics, the artists, the publishers, nor the public, seem to know whether it is valuable or worthless? Some of the most famous books in English literature could hardly find a publisher, or were savagely derided by leading critics; while other works once acclaimed as masterpieces are now laughed at or utterly forgotten. A viiiplay which nobody now reads was once passed off as a newly-discovered masterpiece of Shakespear’s, and was produced at a leading London theater. Are the critics playing blind-man’s buff? Are they relying on each other? Is each following his own whim and fancy? Or do they possess a criterion which they never reveal to those outside the profession?
Such are a few of the many problems relating to art which present themselves to us all, and it is the purpose of this book to enable us to reach such a comprehension of art, and of the position art should occupy in our lives, as will enable us to answer such questions.
The task is one of enormous difficulty. Under the cloak of “art,” so much selfish amusement and self-indulgence tries to justify itself, and so many mercenary interests are concerned in preventing the light from shining in upon the subject, that the clamor raised by this book can only be compared to that raised by the silversmiths of Ephesus when they shouted, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" for about the space of two hours.
Elaborate theories blocked the path with subtle sophistries or ponderous pseudo-erudition. Merely to master these, and expose them, was by itself a colossal labor, but necessary in order to clear the road for a statement of any fresh view. To have accomplished this work of exposure in a few chapters is a wonderful achievement. To have done it without making the book intolerably dry is more wonderful still. In Chapter III. (where a rapid summary of some sixty æsthetic writers is given) even Tolstoy's powers fail to make the subject interesting, except to the specialist, and he has to plead with his readers “not to be overcome by dulness, but to read these extracts through . ”
Among the writers mentioned, English readers miss the names of John Ruskin and William Morris, especially as so much that Tolstoy says, is in accord with their views.
ixOf Ruskin, Tolstoy has a very high opinion. I have heard him say, "I don't know why you English make such a fuss about Gladstone — you have a much greater man in Ruskin." As a stylist, too, Tolstoy speaks of him with high commendation. Ruskin, however, though he has written on art with profound insight, and has said many things with which Tolstoy fully agrees, has, I think, nowhere so systematised and summarized his view that it can be readily quoted in the concise way which has enabled Tolstoy to indicate his points of essential agreement with Home, Véron, and Kant. Even the attempt to summarize Kant's æsthetic philosophy in a dozen lines will hardly be of much service except to readers who have already some acquaintance with the subject. For those to whom the difference between “subjective” and “objective” perceptions is fresh, a dozen pages would be none too much. And to summarize Ruskin would be perhaps more difficult than to condense Kant.
As to William Morris, we are reminded of his dictum that art is the workman's expression of joy in his work, by Tolstoy's “As soon as the author is not producing art for his own satisfaction, —does not himself feel what he wishes to express "A resistance immediately springs up" (p. 154); and again, “In such transmission to others of the feelings that have arisen in him, he (the artist) will find his happiness” (p. 195). Tolstoy sweeps over a far wider range of thought, but he and Morris are not opposed. Morris was emphasizing part of what Tolstoy is implying.
But to return to the difficulties of Tolstoy’s task. There is one, not yet mentioned, lurking in the hearts of most of us. We have enjoyed works of "art." We have been interested by the information conveyed in a novel, or we have been thrilled by an unexpected “effect”; have admired the exactitude with which real life has been reproduced, or have had our feelings touched by allusions xto, or reproductions of, works — old German legends, Greek myths, or Hebrew poetry — which moved us long ago, as they moved generations before us. And we thought all this was "art." Not clearly understanding what art is, and wherein its importance lies, we were not only attached to these things, but attributed importance to them, calling them “artistic” and “beautiful,” without well knowing what we meant by those words.
But here is a book that obliges us to clear our minds. It challenges us to define “art” and “beauty,” and to say why we consider these things, that pleased us, to be specially important. And as to beauty, we find that the definition given by aesthetic writers amounts merely to this, that "Beauty is a kind of pleasure received by us, not having personal advantage for its object." But it follows from this, that “beauty” is a matter of taste, differing among different people, and to attach special importance to what pleases me (and others who have had the same sort of training that I have had) is merely to repeat the old, old mistake which so divides human society; it is like declaring that my race is the best race, my nation the best nation, my church the best church, and my family the “best” family. It indicates ignorance and selfishness.
But "truth angers those whom it does not convince;" - people do not wish to understand these things. It seems, at first, as though Tolstoy were obliging us to sacrifice something valuable. We do not realize that we are being helped to select the best art, but we do feel that we are being deprived of our sense of satisfaction in Rudyard Kipling.
Both the magnitude and the difficulty of the task were therefore very great, but they have been surmounted in a marvelous manner. Of the effect this book has had on me personally, I can only say that “whereas I was blind, now I see.” Though sensitive to some forms of art, I was, when I took it up, much in the dark on questions of æsthetic xiphilosophy; when I had done with it, I had grasped the main solution of the problem so clearly that — though I waded through nearly all that the critics and reviewers had to say about the book — I never again became perplexed upon the central issues.
Tolstoy was indeed peculiarly qualified for the task he has accomplished. It was after many years of work as a writer of fiction, and when he was already standing in the very foremost rank of European novelists, that he found himself compelled to face, in deadly earnest, the deepest problems of human life. He not only could not go on writing books, but he felt he could not live, unless he found clear guidance, so that he might walk sure-footedly and know the purpose and meaning of his life. Not as a mere question of speculative curiosity, but as a matter of vital necessity, he devoted years to rediscover the truths which underlie all religion.
To fit him for this task he possessed great knowledge of men and books, a wide experience of life, a knowledge of languages, and a freedom from bondage to any authority but that of reason and conscience. He was pinned to no Thirty-nine Articles, and was in receipt of no retaining fee which he was not prepared to sacrifice. Another gift, rare among men of his position, was his wonderful sincerity and (due, I think, to that sincerity) an amazing power of looking at the phenomena of our complex and artificial life with the eyes of a little child; going straight to the real, obvious facts of the case, and brushing aside the sophistries, the conventionalities, and the “authorities” by which they are obscured.
He commenced the task when he was about fifty years of age, and since then (i.e., during the last twenty years) he has produced nine philosophical or scientific works of first-rate importance, besides a great many stories and short articles. xiiThese works, in chronological order, are—
A Criticism of Dogmatic Theology, which has never been translated.
The Four Gospels Harmonized and Translated, of which only two parts, out of three, have as yet appeared in English.
What I believe, sometimes called My religion.
The Gospel in Brief.
What are we to do then? sometimes called in English What to do?
On life, which is not an easy work in the original, and has not been satisfactorily translated.
The Kingdom of God is within you; other
The Christian Teaching, which appeared after What is Art? though it was written before it.
To these scientific works I am inclined to add The Kreutzer Sonata, with the Sequel or Postscript explaining its purpose; for though The Kreutzer Sonata is a story, the understanding of sexual problems, dealt with explicitly in the Sequel, is an integral part of that comprehension of life which causes Tolstoy to admire Christ, Buddha, or Francis of Assisi.
These ten works treat of the meaning of our life; of the problems raised by the fact that we approve of some things and disapprove of others, and find ourselves deciding which of two courses to pursue.
Religion, Government, Property, Sex, War, and all the relations in which man stands to man, to his own consciousness, and to the ultimate source (which we call God) from whence that consciousness proceeds — are examined with the utmost frankness.
xiiiAnd all this time the problems of Art: What is Art? What importance is due to it? How is it related to the rest of life? —Were working in his mind. He was a great artist, often upbraided for having abandoned his art. He, of all men, was bound to clear his thoughts on this perplexing subject, and to express them. His whole philosophy of life — the “religious perception” to which, with such tremendous labor and effort, he had attained, forbade him to detach art from life, and place it in a water-tight compartment where it should not act on life or be re-acted upon by life.
Life to him is rational. It has a clear aim and purpose, discernible by the aid of reason and conscience. And no human activity can be fully understood or rightly appreciated until the central purpose of life is perceived.
You cannot piece together a puzzle map as long as you keep one bit in a wrong place, but when the pieces all fit together, then you have a demonstration that they are all in their right places. Tolstoy used that simile years ago when explaining how the comprehension of the text, “resist not him that is evil,” enabled him to perceive the reasonableness of Christ’s teaching, which had long baffled him. So it is with the problem of art. Wrongly understood, it will tend to confuse and perplex your whole comprehension of life. But given the clue supplied by true “religious perception,” and you can place art so that it shall fit in with a right understanding of politics, economics, sex relationships, science, and all other phases of human activity.
The basis on which this work rests, is a perception of the meaning of human life. This has been quite lost sight of by some of the reviewers, who have merely misrepresented what Tolstoy says, and then demonstrated how very stupid he would have been had he said what they attributed to him. Leaving his premises and arguments untouched, xivthey dissent from various conclusions — as though it were all a mere question of taste. They say that they are very fund of things which Tolstoy ridicules, and that they can’t understand why he does not like what they like — which is quite possible, especially if they have not understood the position from which he starts. But such criticism can lead to nothing. Discussions as to why one man likes pears and another prefers meat, do not help towards finding a definition of what is essential in nourishment; and just so, "the solution of questions of taste in art does not help to make clear what this particular human activity which we call art really consists in."
The object of the following brief summary of a few main points is to help the reader to avoid pitfalls into which many reviewers have fallen. It aims at being no more than a bare statement of the positions — for more than that, the reader must turn to the book itself.
Let it be granted at the outset, that Tolstoy writes for those who have "ears to hear." He seldom pauses to safeguard himself against the captious critic, and cares little for minute verbal accuracy. For instance, on page 144, he mentions “Paris,” where an English writer (even one who knew to what an extent Paris is the art center of France, and how many artists flock thither from Russia, America, and all ends of the earth) would have been almost sure to have said “France,” for fear of being thought to exaggerate. One needs some alertness of mind to follow Tolstoy in his task of compressing so large a subject into so small a space. Moreover, he is an emphatic writer who says what he means, and even, I think, sometimes rather overemphasizes it. With this much warning let us proceed to a brief summary of Tolstoy’s view of art.
"Art is a human activity," and consequently does not exist for its own sake, but is valuable or objectionable in proportion as it is serviceable or harmful to mankind. xv The object of this activity is to transmit to others feeling the artist has experienced. Such feelings — intentionally re-evoked and successfully transmitted to others — are the subject matter of all art. By certain external signs — movements, lines, colors, sounds, or arrangements of words — an artist infects other people so that they share his feelings. Thus "art is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings."
Chapters II. To V. contain an examination of various theories which have taken art to be something other than this, and step by step we are brought to the conclusion that art is this, and nothing but this.
Having got our definition of art, let us first consider art independently of its subject-matter, i.e., without asking whether the feelings transmitted are good, bad, or indifferent. Without adequate expression there is no art, for there is no infection, no transference to others of the author’s feeling. The test of art is infection. If an author has moved you so that you feel as he felt, if you are so united to him in feeling that it seems to you that he has expressed just what you have long wished to express, the work that has so infected you is a work of art.
In this sense, it is true that art has nothing to do with morality; for the test lies in the "infection," and not in any consideration of the goodness or badness of the emotions conveyed. Thus the test of art is on internal one. The activity of art is based on the fact that a man, receiving, through his sense of hearing or sight, another man’s expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion that moved the man who expressed it. We all share the same common human nature, and in this sense, at least, are sons of one Father. To take the simplest example: a man laughs, and another, who hears, becomes merry; or a man weeps, and another, who hears, feels sorrow. Note in passing that it does not amount to xviart “if a man infects others directly, immediately, at the very time he experiences the feeling; if he causes another man to yawn when he himself cannot help yawning, ”etc. Art begins when some one, with the object of making others share his feeling, expresses his feeling by certain external indications.
Normal human beings possess this faculty to be infected by the expression of another man’s emotions. For a plain man of unperverted taste, living in contact with nature, with animals, and with his fellow-men — say, for “a country peasant of unperverted taste, this is as easy as it is for an animal of unspoilt scent to follow the trace he needs. " And he will know indubitably whether a work presented to him does, or does not, unite him in feeling with the author. But very many people “of our circle” (upper and middle class society) live such unnatural lives, in such conventional relations to the people around them, and in such artificial surroundings, that they have lost “that simple feeling, that sense of infection with another's feeling — compelling us to joy in another's gladness, to sorrow in another's grief, and to mingle souls with another — which is the essence of art. ” Such people, therefore, have no inner test by which to recognize a work of art; and they will always be mistaking other things for art, and seeking for external guides, such as the opinions of "recognized authorities." Or they will mistake for art something that produces a merely physiological effect — lulling or exciting them; or some intellectual puzzle that gives them something to think about.
But if most people of the “cultured crowd” are impervious to true art, it really possible that a common Russian country peasant, for instance, whose work-days are filled with agricultural labor, and whose brief leisure is largely taken up by his family life and by his participation in the affairs of the village commune — it is possible that heyxviican recognize and be touched by works of art? Certainly it is! Just as in ancient Greece crowds assembled to hear the poems of Homer, so to-day in Russia, as in many countries and many ages, the Gospel parables, and much else of the highest art, are gladly heard by the common people. And this does not refer to any superstitious use of the Bible, but to its use as literature.
Not only do normal, laboring country people possess the capacity to be infected by good art— “the epic of Genesis, folk-legends, fairy-tales, folk-songs, etc.,” but they themselves produce songs, stories, dances, decorations, etc., which are works of true art. Take as examples the works of Burns or Bunyan, and the peasant women's song mentioned by Tolstoy in Chapter XIV., Or some of those melodies produced by the negro slaves on the southern plantations, which have touched, and still touch, many of us with the emotions felt by their unknown and unpaid composers.
The one great quality which makes a work of art truly contagious is its sincerity. If an artist is really actuated by a feeling, and is strongly impelled to communicate that feeling to other people — not for money or fame, or anything else, but because he feels he must share it — then he will not be satisfied till he has found a clear way of expressing it. And the man who is not borrowing his feelings, but has drawn what he expresses from the depths of his nature, is sure to be original, for in the same way that no two people have exactly similar faces or forms, no two people have exactly similar minds or souls.
That in briefest outline is what Tolstoy says about art, considered apart from its subject-matter. And this is how certain critics have met it. They say that when Tolstoy says the test of art is internal, he must mean that it is external. When he says that country peasants have in the past appreciated, and do still appreciate, works of the highest art, he means that the way to detect a work of xviiiart is to see what is apparently most popular among the masses. Go into the streets or music-halls of the cities in any particular country and year, and observe what is most frequently sung, shouted, or played on the barrel-organs. It may happen to be
But whatever it is, you may at once declare these songs to be the highest musical art, without even pausing to ask to what they owe their vogue — what actress, or singer, or politician, or wave of patriotic passion has conduced to their popularity . Nor need you consider whether that popularity is not merely temporary and local. Tolstoy has said that works of the highest art are understood by unperverted country peasants — and here are things which are popular with the mob, ergo, these things must be the highest art.
The critics then proceed to say that such a test is utterly absurd. And on this point I am able to agree with the critics.
Some of these writers commence their articles by saying that Tolstoy is a most profound thinker, a great prophet, an intellectual force, etc. Yet when Tolstoy, in his emphatic way, makes the sweeping remark that "good art always pleases every one," the critics do not read on to find out what he means, but reply: “No! good art does not please every one; some people are color-blind, and some are deaf, or have no ear for music. "
It is as though a man strict arguing a point were to say, “Every one knows that two and two make four,” and a boy who did not at all see what the speaker was driving at, were to reply: “No, our new-born baby doesn't know it! " It would distract attention from the subject in hand, but it would not elucidate matters.
xixThere is, of course, a verbal contradiction between the statements that “good art always pleases every one” (p. 100), and the remark concerning “people of our circle,” who, “with very few exceptions, artists and public and critics, ... cannot distinguish true works of art from counterfeits, but continually mistake for real art the worst and most artificial ”(p. 151). But I venture to think that any one of intelligence, and free from prejudice, reading this book carefully, need not fail to reach the author’s meaning.
A point to be carefully noted is the distinction between science and art. "Science investigates and brings to human perception such truths and such knowledge as the people of a given time and society consider most important. Art transmits these truths from the region of perception to the region of emotion ”(p. 102). Science is an "activity of the understanding which demands preparation and a certain sequence of knowledge, so that one cannot learn trigonometry before knowing geometry." “The business of art,” on the other hand, “lies just in this — to make that understood and felt which, in the form of an argument, might be incomprehensible and inaccessible” (p. 102). It “infects any man whatever his plane of development,” and “the hindrance to understanding the best and highest feelings (as is said in the gospel) does not at all lie in deficiency of development or learning, but, on the contrary, in false development and false learning ”(pp. 102, 103). Science and art are frequently blended in one work—e.g., in the gospel elucidation of Christ’s comprehension of life, or, to take a modern instance, in Henry George’s elucidation of the land question in Progress and Poverty.
The class distinction to which Tolstoy repeatedly alludes needs some explanation. The position of the lower classes in England and in Russia is different. In Russia a much xxlarger number of people live on the verge of starvation; the condition of the factory-hands is much worse than in England, and there are many glaring cases of brutal cruelty inflicted on the peasants by the officials, the police, or the military, —but in Russia a far greater proportion of the population live in the country, and a peasant usually has his own house, and tills his share of the communal lands. The “unperverted country peasant” of whom Tolstoy speaks is a man who perhaps suffers grievous want when there is a bad harvest in his province, but he is a man accustomed to the experiences of a natural life, to the management of his own affairs, and to a real voice in the arrangements of the village commune. The government interferes, from time to time, to collect its taxes by force, to take the young men for soldiers, or to maintain the “rights” of the upper classes; but otherwise the peasant is free to do what he sees to be necessary and reasonable. On the other hand, English laborers are, for the most part, not so poor, they have more legal rights, and they have votes; but a far larger number of them live in towns and are engaged in unnatural occupations, while even those that do live in touch with nature are usually mere wage-earners, tilling other men's land, and living often in abject submission to the farmer, the parson, or the lady-bountiful. They are dependent on an employer for daily bread, and the condition of a wage-laborer is as unnatural as that of a landlord.
The tyranny of the St. Petersburg bureaucracy is more dramatic, but less omnipresent — and probably far less fatal to the capacity to enjoy art — than the tyranny of our respectable, self-satisfied, and property-loving middle-class. I am therefore afraid that we have no great number of “unperverted” country laborers to compare with those of whom Tolstoy speaks — and some of whom I have known personally. But the truth Tolstoy elucidates lies far too deep in xxihuman nature to be infringed by such differences of local circumstance. Whatever those circumstances may be, the fact remains that in proportion as a man approaches towards the condition not only of "earning his subsistence by some kind of labor," but of "living on all its sides the life natural and proper to mankind," his capacity to appreciate true art tends to increase. On the other hand, when a class settles down into an artificial way of life, —loses touch with nature, becomes confused in its perceptions of what is good and what is bad, and prefers the condition of a parasite to that of a producer, —Its capacity to appreciate true art must diminish. Having lost all clear perception of the meaning of life, such people are necessarily left without any criterion which will enable them to distinguish good from bad art, and they are sure to follow eagerly after beauty, or "that which pleases them."
The artists of our society can usually only reach people of the upper and middle classes. But who is the great artist? —He who delights a select audience of his own day and class, or he whose works link generation to generation and race to race in a common bond of feeling? Surely art should fulfill its purpose as completely as possible. A work of art that united every one with the author, and with one another, would be perfect art. Tolstoy, in his emphatic way, speaks of works of “universal” art, and (though the profound critics hasten to inform us that no work of art ever reached everybody) certainly the more nearly a work of art approaches to such expression of feeling that every one may be infected by it — the nearer (apart from all questions of subject matter) it approaches perfection.
But now as to subject matter. The subject-matter of art consists of feelings which can be spread from man to man, feelings which are “contagious” or “infectious.” Is it of no importance what feelings increase and multiply among men?
xxii One man feels that submission to the authority of his church, and belief in all that it teaches him, is good; Another is embued by a sense of each man’s duty to think with his own head — to use for his guidance in life the reason and conscience given to him. One man feels that his nation ought to wipe out in blood the shame of a defeat inflicted on her; Another feels that we are brothers, sons of one spirit, and that the slaughter of man by man is always wrong. One man feels that the most desirable thing in life is the satisfaction obtainable by the love of women; another man feels that sex-love is an entanglement and a snare, hindering his real work in life. And each of these, if he possess an artist’s gift of expression, and if the feeling be really his own and sincere, may infect other men. But some of these feelings will benefit and some will harm mankind, and the more widely they are spread the greater will be their effect.
Art unites men. Surely it is desirable that the feelings in which it unites them should be “the best and highest to which men have risen,” or at least should not run contrary to our perception of what makes for the well-being of ourselves and of others. And our perception of what makes for the well-being of ourselves and of others is what Tolstoy calls our "religious perception."
Therefore the subject-matter of what we, in our day, can esteem as being the best art, can be of two kinds only—
(1) Feelings flowing from the highest perception now attainable by man of our right relation to our neighbor and to the source from which we come. Dickens ’“ Christmas Carol, ”uniting us in a more vivid sense of compassion and love, is a ready example of such art.
(2) The simple feelings of common life, accessible to every one — provided that they are such as do not hinder progress towards well-being. Art of this kind makes us xxiiirealize to how great an extent we already are members one of another — sharing the feelings of one common human nature.
The success of a very primitive novel — the story of Joseph, which made its way into the sacred books of the Jews, spread from land to land and from age to age, and continues to be read to-day among people quite free from bibliolatry —Shows how nearly “universal” may be the appeal of this kind of art. This branch includes all harmless jokes, folk-stories, nursery rhymes, and even dolls, if only the author or designer has expressed a feeling (tenderness, pleasure, humor, or what not) so as to infect others.
But how are we to know what are the “best” feelings? What is good? and what is evil? This is decided by "religious perception." Some such perception exists in every human being; there is always something he approves of, and something he disapproves of. Reason and conscience are always present, active or latent, as long as man lives. Miss Flora Shaw tells that the most degraded cannibal she ever met, drew the line at eating his own mother — nothing would induce him to entertain the thought, his moral sense was revolted by the suggestion.In most societies the “religious perception,” to which they have advanced, —the foremost stage in mankind's long march towards perfection, which has been discerned, —has been clearly expressed by some one, and more or less consciously accepted as an ideal by the many. But there are transition periods in history when the worn-out forms of a past age have ceased to satisfy men, or have become so incrusted with superstitions that their original brightness is lost. The “religious perception” that is dawning may not yet have found such expression as to be generally understood, but for all that it exists, and shows itself by compelling men to repudiate beliefs that xxivsatisfied their forefathers, the outward and visible signs of which are still endowed and dominant long after their spirit has taken refuge in temples not made with hands.
At such times it is difficult for men to understand each other, for the very words needed to express the deepest experiences of men’s consciousness mean different things to different men. So among us to-day, to many minds faith means credulity, and God suggests a person of the male sex, father of one only-begotten son, and creator of the universe.
This is why Tolstoy’s clear and rational "religious perception," expressed in the books named on a previous page, is frequently spoken of by people who have not grasped it, as "mysticism."
The narrow materialist is shocked to find that Tolstoy will not confine himself to the “objective” view of life. Encountering in himself that “inner voice” which compels us all to choose between good and evil, Tolstoy refuses to be diverted from a matter which is of immediate and vital importance to him, by discussions as to the derivation of the external manifestations of conscience which Biologists are able to detect in remote forms of life. The real mystic, on the other hand, shrinks from Tolstoy’s desire to try all things by the light of reason, to depend on nothing vague, and to accept nothing on authority. The man who does not trust his own reason, fears that life thus squarely faced will prove less worth having than it is when clothed in mist.
In this work, however, Tolstoy does not recapitulate at length what he has said before. He does not pause to re-explain why he condemns Patriotism—i.e., each man’s preference for the predominance of his own country, which leads to the murder of man by man in war; or Churches, which are sectarian—i.e., which striving to assert that your doxy is heterodoxy, but that our doxy is orthodoxy, make xxv external authorities (Popes, Bibles, Councils) supreme, and cling to superstitions (their own miracles, legends, and myths), thus separating themselves from communion with the rest of mankind. Nor does he re-explain why he (like Christ) says “pitiable is your plight — ye rich,” who live artificial lives, maintainable only by the unbrotherly use of force (police and soldiers), but blessed are ye poor — who, by your way of life, are within easier reach of brotherly conditions, if you will but trust to reason and conscience, and change the direction of your hearts and of your labor, —working no more primarily from fear or greed, but seeking first the kingdom of righteousness, in which all good things will be added unto you. He merely summarizes it all in a few sentences, defining the “religious perception” of to-day, which alone can decide for us “the degree of importance both of the feelings transmitted by art and of the information transmitted by science.”
“The religious perception of our time, in its widest and most practical application, is the consciousness that our well-being, both material and spiritual, individual and collective, temporal and eternal, lies in the growth of brotherhood among men — in their loving harmony with one another ”(p. 159).
“However differently in form people belonging to our Christian world may define the destiny of man; whether they see it in human progress in whatever sense of the words, in the union of all men in a socialistic realm, or in the establishment of a commune; whether they look forward to the union of mankind under the guidance of one universal Church, or to the federation of the world, —however various in form their definitions of the destination of human life may be, all men in our times already admit that the highest well-being attainable by men is to be reached by their union with one another ”(p. 188).
xxvi This is the foundation on which the whole work is based. It necessarily follows from this perception that we should consider as most important in science “investigations into the results of good and bad actions, considerations of the reasonableness or unreasonableness of human institutions and beliefs, considerations of how human life should be lived in order to obtain the greatest well-being for each; as to what one may and ought, and what one cannot and should not believe; how to subdue one's passions, and how to acquire the habit of virtue. " This is the science that “occupied Moses, Solon, Socrates, Epictetus, Confucius, Mencius, Marcus Aurelius, Spinoza, and all those who have taught men to live a moral life,” and it is precisely the kind of scientific investigation to which Tolstoy has devoted most of the last twenty years, and for the sake of which he is often said to have "abandoned art."
Since science, like art, is a "human activity," that science best deserves our esteem, best deserves to be “chosen, tolerated, approved, and diffused,” which treats of what is supremely important to man; which deals with urgent, vital, inevitable problems of actual life. Such science as this brings "to the consciousness of men the truths that flow from the religious perception of our times," and "indicates the various methods of applying this consciousness to life." "Art should transform this perception into feeling."
The “science” which is occupied in “pouring liquids from one jar into another, or analyzing the spectrum, or cutting up frogs and porpoises,” is no use for rendering such guidance to art, though capable of practical applications which, under a more Right system of society, might greatly have lightened the sufferings of mankind.
Naturally enough, the last chapter of the book deals with the relation between science and art. And the conclusion is that:
xxvii “The destiny of art in our time is to transmit from the realm of reason to the realm of feeling the truth that well-being for men consists in being united together, and to set up, in place of the existing reign of force, that kingdom of God, i.e. of love, which we all recognize to be the highest aim of human life. "
And this art of the future will not be poorer, but far richer, in subject-matter than the art of to-day. From the lullaby — that will delight millions of people, generation after generation — to the highest religious art, dealing with strong, rich, and varied emotions flowing from a fresh outlook upon life and all its problems — the field open for good art is enormous . With so much to say that is urgently important to all, the art of the future will, in matter of form also, be far superior to our art in “clearness, beauty, simplicity, and compression” (p. 194).
For beauty (i.e., “That which pleases”) - though it depends on taste, and can furnish no criterion for art — will be a natural characteristic of work done, not for hire, nor even for fame, but because men, living a natural and healthy life, wish to share the “highest spiritual strength which passes through them” with the greatest possible number of others. The feelings such an artist wishes to share, he will transmit in a way that will please him, and will please other men who share his nature.
Morality is in the nature of things — we cannot escape it.
In a society where each man sets himself to obtain wealth, the difficulty of obtaining an honest living tends to become greater and greater. The more keenly a society pants to obtain “that which pleases,” and puts this forward as the first and great consideration, the more puerile and worthless will their art become. But in a society which sought, primarily, for right relations between its members, an abundance would easily be obtainable for all; and when “religious perception” guides a people’s art — beauty xxviiiinevitably results, as has always been the case when men have seized a fresh perception of life and of its purpose.
An illustration which Tolstoy struck out of the work while it was being printed, may serve to illustrate how, with the aid of the principles explained above, we may judge of the merits of any work professing to be art.
Take Romeo and Juliet. The conventional view is that Shakespear is the greatest of artists, and that Romeo and Juliet is one of his good plays. Why this is so nobody can tell you. It is so: that is the way certain people feel about it. They are "the authorities," and to doubt their dictum is to show that you know nothing about art. Tolstoy does not agree with them in their estimate of Shakespear, therefore Tolstoy is wrong!
But now let us apply Tolstoy’s view of art to Romeo and Juliet. He does not deny that it infects. “Let us admit that it is a work of art, that it infects (though it is so artificial that it can infect only those who have been carefully educated thereunto); but what are the feelings it transmits? "
That is to say, judging by the internal test, Tolstoy admits that Romeo and Juliet unites him to its author and to other people in feeling. But the work is very far from being one of “universal” art — only a small minority of people ever have cared, or ever will care, for it. Even in England, or even in the layer of European society it is best adapted to reach, it only touches a minority, and does not approach the universality attained by the story of Joseph and many pieces of folk-lore.
But perhaps the subject matter, the feeling with which Romeo and Juliet infects those whom it does reach, lifts it into the class of the highest religious art? Not so. The feeling is one of the attractiveness of "love at first sight." A girl fourteen years old and a young man meet at an xxixaristocratic party, where there is feasting and pleasure and idleness, and, without knowing each other’s minds, they fall in love as the birds and beasts do. If any feeling is transmitted to us, it is the feeling that there is a pleasure in these things. Somewhere, in most natures, there dwells, dominant or dormant, an inclination to let such physical sexual attraction guide our course in life. To give it a plain name, it is "sensuality." "How can I, father or mother of a daughter of Juliet’s age, wish that those foul feelings which the play transmits should be communicated to my daughter? And if the feelings transmitted by the play are bad, how can I call it good in subject-matter? "
But, objects a friend, the moral of Romeo and Juliet is excellent. See what disasters followed from the physical "love at first sight." But that is quite another matter. It is the feelings with which you are infected when reading, and not any moral you can deduce, that is subject-matter of art. Pondering upon the consequences that flow from Romeo and Juliet’s behavior may belong to the domain of moral science, but not to that of art.
I have hesitated to use an illustration Tolstoy had struck out, but I think it serves its purpose. No doubt there are other, subordinate, feelings (e.g. humor) to be found in Romeo and Juliet; but many quaint conceits that are ingenious, and have been much admired, are not, I think, infectious.
Tried by such tests, the enormous majority of the things we have been taught to consider great works of art are found wanting. Either they fail to infect (and attract merely by being interesting, realistic, effectful, or by borrowing from others), and are therefore not works of art at all; or they are works of "exclusive art," bad in form and capable of infecting only a select audience trained and habituated to such inferior art; or they are bad in subject-matter, transmitting feelings harmful to mankind.
xxx Tolstoy does not shrink from condemning his own artistic productions; with the exception of two short stories, he tells us they are works of bad art. Take, for instance, the novel Resurrection, which is now appearing, and of which he has, somewhere, spoken disparagingly, as being “written in my former style,” and being therefore bad art. What does this mean? The book is a masterpiece in its own line; it is eagerly read in many languages; it undoubtedly infects its readers, and the feelings are transmitted, in the main, such as Tolstoy approves of — in fact, they are the feelings to which his religious perception has brought him. If lust is felt in one chapter, the reaction follows as inevitably as in real life, and is transmitted with great artistic power. Why a work of such rare merit does not satisfy Tolstoy, is because it is a work of “exclusive art,” laden with details of time and place. It has not the “simplicity and compression” necessary in works of “universal” art. Things are mentioned which might apparently be quite well omitted. The style, also, is not one of great simplicity; The sentences are often long and involved, as is commonly the case in Tolstoy’s writings. It is a novel appealing mainly to the class that has leisure for novel reading because it neglects to produce its own food, make its own clothes, or build its own houses. If Tolstoy is stringent in his judgment of other artists, he is more stringent still in his judgment of his own artistic works. Had Resurrection been written by Dickens, or by Hugo, Tolstoy would, I think, have found a place for it (with whatever reservations) among the examples of religious art. For indeed, strive as we may to be clear and explicit, our approval and disapproval is a matter of degree. The thought which underlay the remark: “Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, even God, ”applies not to man only, but to all things human.
What is Art? itself is a work of science — though xxximany passages, and even some whole chapters, appeal to us as works of art, and we feel the contagion of the author's hope, his anxiety to serve the cause of truth and love, his indignation (sometimes rather sharply expressed) with what blocks the path of advance, and his contempt for much that the “cultured crowd,” in our erudite, perverted society, have persuaded themselves, and would fain persuade others, is the highest art.
One result which follows inevitably from Tolstoy’s view (and which illustrates how widely his views differ from the fashionable aesthetic mysticism), is that art is not stationary but progressive. It is true that our highest religious perception found expression eighteen hundred years ago, and then served as the basis of an art which is still unmatched; and similar cases can be instanced from the East. But allowing for such great exceptions, —to which, not inaptly, the term of “inspiration” has been specially applied, —the subject-matter of art improves, though long periods of time may have to be considered in order to make this obvious . Our power of verbal expression, for instance, may now be no better than it was in the days of David, but we must no longer esteem as good in subject-matter poems which appeal to the Eternal to destroy a man’s private or national foes; for we have reached a “religious perception” which bids us have no foes, and the ultimate source (undefinable by us) from which this consciousness has come, is what we mean when we speak of God.
Near Danbury, Essex,
23rd March 1899.
The Author’s Preface
This book of mine, "What is Art?" appears now for the first time in its true form. More than one edition has already been issued in Russia, but in each case it has been so mutilated by the “Censor,” that I request all who are interested in my views on art only to judge them by the work in its present shape. The causes which led to the publication of the book — with my name attached to it — in a mutilated form, were the following: —In accordance with a decision I arrived at long ago, —not to submit my writings to the “Censorship” (which I consider to be an immoral and irrational institution), but to print them only in the shape in which they were written, —I intended not to attempt to print this work in Russia. However, my good acquaintance Professor Grote, editor of a Moscow psychological magazine, having heard of the contents of my work, asked me to print it in his magazine, and promised me that he would get the book through the “Censor's” office unmutilated if I would but agree to a few very unimportant alterations, merely toning down certain expressions. I was weak enough to agree to this, and it has resulted in a book appearing, under my name, from which not only have some essential thoughts been excluded, but into which the thoughts of other men — even thoughts utterly opposed to my own convictions —Have been introduced.
xxxiv The thing occurred in this way. First, Grote softened my expressions, and in some cases weakened them. For instance, he replaced the words: always by sometimes, Alles by some, Church religion by Roman Catholic religion, "Mother of God”By Madonna, patriotism by pseudo-patriotism, palaces by palatii, etc., and I did not consider it necessary to protest. But when the book was already in type, the Censor required that whole sentences should be altered, and that instead of what I said about the evil of landed property, a remark should be substituted on the evils of a landless proletariat. I agreed to this also and to some further alterations.It seemed not worth while to upset the whole affair for the sake of one sentence, and when one alteration had been agreed to it seemed not worth while to protest against a second and a third. So, little by little, expressions crept into the book which altered the sense and attributed things to me that I could not have wished to say. So that by the time the book was printed it had been deprived of some part of its integrity and sincerity. But there was consolation in the thought that the book, even in this form, if it contains something that is good, would be of use to Russian readers whom it would otherwise not have reached. Things, however, xxxv turned out otherwise. Nous comptions sans notre hôte. After the legal term of four days had already elapsed, the book was seized, and, on instructions received from Petersburg, it was handed over to the "Spiritual Censor." Then Grote declined all further participation in the affair, and the “Spiritual Censor” proceeded to do what he would with the book. The "Spiritual Censorship" is one of the most ignorant, venal, stupid, and despotic institutions in Russia. Books which disagree in any way with the recognized state religion of Russia, if once it gets hold of them, are almost always totally suppressed and burnt; which is what happened to all my religious works when attempts were made to print them in Russia. Probably a similar fate would have overtaken this work also, had not the editors of the magazine employed all means to save it. The result of their efforts was that the “Spiritual Censor,” a priest who probably understands art and is interested in art as much as I understand or am interested in church services, but who gets a good salary for destroying whatever is likely to displease his superiors, struck out all that seemed to him to endanger his position, and substituted his thoughts for mine wherever he considered it necessary to do so. For instance, where I speak of Christ going to the Cross for the sake of the truth He professed, the “Censor” substituted a statement that Christ died for mankind, i.e. he attributed to me an assertion of the dogma of the Redemption, which I consider to be one of the most untrue and harmful of Church dogmas. After correcting the book in this way, the "Spiritual Censor" allowed it to be printed.
To protest in Russia is impossible, no newspaper would publish such a protest, and to withdraw my book from the magazine and place the editor in an awkward position with the public was also not possible.
So the matter has remained. A book has appeared under xxxvimy name containing thoughts attributed to me which are not mine.
I was persuaded to give my article to a Russian magazine, in order that my thoughts, which may be useful, should become the possession of Russian readers; and the result has been that my name is affixed to a work from which it might be assumed that I quite arbitrarily assert things contrary to the general opinion, without adding my reasons; that I only consider false patriotism bad, but patriotism in general a very good feeling; that I merely deny the absurdities of the Roman Catholic Church and disbelieve in the Madonna, but that I believe in the Orthodox Eastern faith and in the “Mother of God”; that I consider all the writings collected in the Bible to be holy books, and see the chief importance of Christ’s life in the redemption of mankind by his death.
I have narrated all this in such detail because it strikingly illustrates the indubitable truth, that all compromise with institutions of which your conscience disapproves, —compromises which are usually made for the sake of the general good, —instead of producing the good you expected, inevitably lead you not only to acknowledge the institution you disapprove of, but also to participate in the evil that institution produces.
I am glad to be able by this statement at least to do something to correct the error into which I was led by my compromise.
I also have to mention that besides reinstating the parts excluded by the Censor from the Russian editions, other corrections and additions of importance have been made in this edition.
29th March 1898.
Author’s Preface xxxiii
Time and labor spent on art — Lives stunted in its service — Morality sacrificed to and anger justified by art — The rehearsal of an opera described 1
Does art compensate for so much evil? —What is art? —Confusion of opinions — Is it “that which produces beauty”? - The word “beauty” in Russian — Chaos in æsthetics 9
Summary of various aesthetic theories and definitions, from Baumgarten to to-day 20
Definitions of art founded on beauty — Taste not definable — A clear definition needed to enable us to recognize works of art 38
Definitions not founded on beauty — Tolstoy’s definition — The extent and necessity of art — How people in the past have distinguished good from bad in art 46
How art for pleasure has come into esteem — Religions indicate what is considered good and bad — Church Christianity — The Renaissance — Skepticism of the upper classes — They confound beauty with goodness 53
An aesthetic theory framed to suit this view of life 61
Who have adopted it? —Real art needful for all men — Our art too expensive, too unintelligible, and too harmful for the masses — The theory of “the elect” in art 67
Perversion of our art — It has lost its natural subject matter — Has no flow of fresh feeling — Transmits chiefly three base emotions 73
Loss of comprehensibility — Decadent art — Recent French art — Have we a right to say it is bad and that what we like is good art? —The highest art has always been comprehensible to normal people — What fails to infect normal people is not art 79
Counterfeits of art produced by: Borrowing; Imitating; Striking; Interesting — Qualifications needful for production of real works of art, and those sufficient for production of counterfeits 106
Causes of production of counterfeits — Professionalism — Criticism — Schools of art 118
Wagner’s “Nibelung’s Ring” a type of counterfeit art — Its success, and the reasons thereof 128
Truths fatal to preconceived views are not readily recognized — Proportion of works of art to counterfeits — Perversion of taste and incapacity to recognize art — Examples 143
The quality of art, considered apart from its subject matter—The sign of art: infectiousness — Incomprehensible to those whose taste is perverted — Conditions of infection: Individuality; Clearness; Sincerity 152
The quality of art, considered according to its subject matter—The better the feeling the better the art — The cultured crowd — The religious perception of our age — The new ideals put fresh demands to art — Art unites — Religious art — Universal art — Both co-operate to one result — The new appraisement of art — Bad art — Examples of art — How to test a work claiming to be art 156
Results of absence of true art — Results of perversion of art: Labor and lives spent on what is useless and harmful — The abnormal life of the rich — Perplexity of children and plain folk — Confusion of right and wrong — Nietzsche and Redbeard — Superstition, Patriotism, and Sensuality 175
The purpose of human life is the brotherly union of man — Art must be guided by this perception 187
The art of the future not a possession of a select minority, but a means towards perfection and unity 192
The connection between science and art — The mendacious sciences; the trivial sciences — Science should deal with the great problems of human life, and serve as a basis for art 200
Appendix I 215
Appendix II 218
Appendix III 226
Appendix IV 232
Take up any one of our ordinary newspapers, and you will find a part devoted to the theater and music. In almost every number you will find a description of some art exhibition, or of some particular picture, and you will always find reviews of new works of art that have appeared, of volumes of poems, of short stories, or of novels.
Promptly, and in detail, as soon as it has occurred, an account is published of how such and such an actress or actor played this or that rôle in such and such a drama, comedy, or opera; and of the merits of the performance, as well as of the contents of the new drama, comedy, or opera, with its defects and merits. With as much care and detail, or even more, we are told how such and such an artist has sung a certain piece, or has played it on the piano or violin, and what were the merits and defects of the piece and of the performance . In every large town there is sure to be at least one, if not more than one, exhibition of new pictures, the merits and defects of which are discussed in the utmost detail by critics and connoisseurs.
New novels and poems, in separate volumes or in the magazines, appear almost every day, and the newspapers consider it their duty to give their readers detailed accounts of these artistic productions.
2For the support of art in Russia (where for the education of the people only a hundredth part is spent of what would be required to give everyone the opportunity of instruction) the Government grants millions of roubles in subsidies to academies, conservatoires and theaters. In France twenty million francs are assigned for art, and similar grants are made in Germany and England.
In every large town enormous buildings are erected for museums, academies, conservatoires, dramatic schools, and for performances and concerts. Hundreds of thousands of workmen, —carpenters, masons, painters, joiners, paperhangers, tailors, hairdressers, jewelers, moulders, type-setters, —spend their whole lives in hard labor to satisfy the demands of art, so that hardly any other department of human activity, except the military, consumes so much energy as this.
Not only is enormous labor spent on this activity, but in it, as in war, the very lives of men are sacrificed. Hundreds of thousands of people devote their lives from childhood to learning to twirl their legs rapidly (dancers), or to touch notes and strings very rapidly (musicians), or to draw with paint and represent what they see (artists), or to turn every phrase inside out and find a rhyme to every word. And these people, often very kind and clever, and capable of all sorts of useful labor, grow savage over their specialized and stupefying occupations, and become one-sided and self-complacent specialists, dull to all the serious phenomena of life, and skilful only at rapidly twisting their legs, their tongues, or their fingers.
But even this stunting of human life is not the worst. I remember being once at the rehearsal of one of the most ordinary of the new operas which are produced at all the opera houses of Europe and America.
I arrived when the first act had already commenced. To reach the auditorium I had to pass through the stage entrance. By dark entrances and passages, I was led through 3 the vaults of an enormous building past immense machines for changing the scenery and for illuminating; and there in the gloom and dust I saw workmen busily engaged. One of these men, pale, haggard, in a dirty blouse, with dirty, work-worn hands and cramped fingers, evidently tired and out of humor, went past me, angrily scolding another man. Ascending by a dark stair, I came out on the boards behind the scenes. Amid various poles and rings and scattered scenery, decorations and curtains, stood and moved dozens, if not hundreds, of painted and dressed-up men, in costumes fitting tight to their thighs and calves, and also women, as usual, as nearly nude as might be. These were all singers, or members of the chorus, or ballet-dancers, awaiting their turns. My guide led me across the stage and, by means of a bridge of boards, across the orchestra (in which perhaps a hundred musicians of all kinds, from kettle-drum to flute and harp, were seated), to the dark pit-stalls .
On an elevation, between two lamps with reflectors, and in an arm-chair placed before a music-stand, sat the director of the musical part, bâton in hand, managing the orchestra and singers, and, in general, the production of the whole opera.
The performance had already commenced, and on the stage a procession of Indians who had brought home a bride was being represented. Besides men and women in costume, two other men in ordinary clothes bustled and ran about on the stage; one was the director of the dramatic part, and the other, who stepped about in soft shoes and ran from place to place with unusual agility, was the dancing-master, whose salary per month exceeded what ten laborers earn in a year.
These three directors arranged the singing, the orchestra, and the procession. The procession, as usual, was enacted by couples, with tinfoil halberds on their shoulders. They all came from one place, and walked round and round again, 4 and then stopped. The procession took a long time to arrange: first the Indians with halberds came on too late; then too soon; then at the right time, but crowded together at the exit; then they did not crowd, but arranged themselves badly at the sides of the stage; and each time the whole performance was stopped and recommenced from the beginning. The procession was introduced by a recitative, delivered by a man dressed up like some variety of Turk, who, opening his mouth in a curious way, sang, "Home I bring the bri-i-ide." He sings and waves his arm (which is of course bare) from under his mantle. The procession commences, but here the French horn, in the accompaniment of the recitative, does something wrong; and the director, with a shudder as if some catastrophe had occurred, raps with his stick on the stand. All is stopped, and the director, turning to the orchestra, attacks the French horn, scolding him in the rudest terms, as cabmen abuse each other, for taking the wrong note. And again the whole thing recommences. The Indians with their halberds again come on, treading softly in their extraordinary boots; again the singer sings, "Home I bring the bri-i-ide." But here the pairs get too close together. More raps with the stick, more scolding, and a recommencement. Again, “Home I bring the bri-i-ide,” again the same gesticulation with the bare arm from under the mantle, and again the couples, treading softly with halberds on their shoulders, some with sad and serious faces, some talking and smiling, arrange themselves in a circle and begin to sing. All seems to be going well, but again the stick raps, and the director, in a distressed and angry voice, begins to scold the men and women of the chorus. It appears that when singing they had omitted to raise their hands from time to time in sign of animation. “Are you all dead, or what? Cows that you are! Are you corpses, that you can’t move? " Again they re-commence, “Home I bring the bri-i-ide,” and 5again, with sorrowful faces, the chorus women sing, first one and then another of them raising their hands. But two chorus girls speak to each other, —again a more vehement rapping with the stick. “Have you come here to talk? Can’t you gossip at home? You there in red breeches, come nearer. Look towards me! Recommence! " Again, "Home I bring the bri-i-ide." And so it goes on for one, two, three hours. The whole of such a rehearsal lasts six hours on end. Raps with the stick, repetitions, placings, corrections of the singers, of the orchestra, of the procession, of the dancers, —all seasoned with angry scolding. I heard the words, “asses,” “fools,” “idiots,” “swine,” addressed to the musicians and singers at least forty times in the course of one hour. And the unhappy individual to whom the abuse is addressed, —flautist, horn-blower, or singer, —physically and mentally demoralized, does not reply, and does what is demanded of him. Twenty times is repeated the one phrase, "Home I bring the bri-i-ide," and twenty times the striding about in yellow shoes with a halberd over the shoulder. The conductor knows that these people are so demoralized that they are no longer fit for anything but to blow trumpets and walk about with halberds and in yellow shoes, and that they are also accustomed to dainty, easy living, so that they will put up with anything rather than lose their luxurious life. He therefore gives free vent to his churlishness, especially as he has seen the same thing done in Paris and Vienna, and knows that this is the way the best conductors behave, and that it is a musical tradition of great artists to be so carried away by the great business of their art that they cannot pause to consider the feelings of other artists.
It would be difficult to find a more repulsive sight. I have seen one workman abuse another for not supporting the weight piled upon him when goods were being unloaded, or at hay-stacking, the village elder scold a peasant for not 6 making the rick right, and the man submitted in silence. And, however unpleasant it was to witness the scene, the unpleasantness was lessened by the consciousness that the business in hand was needful and important, and that the fault for which the head-man scolded the laborer was one which might spoil a needful undertaking.
But what was being done here? For what, and for whom? Very likely the conductor was tired out, like the workman I passed in the vaults; it was even evident that he was; but who made him tire himself? And for what was he tiring himself? The opera he was rehearsing was one of the most ordinary of operas for people who are accustomed to them, but also one of the most gigantic absurdities that could possibly be devised. An Indian king wants to marry; they bring him a bride; he disguises himself as a minstrel; the bride falls in love with the minstrel and is in despair, but afterwards discovers that the minstrel is the king, and everyone is highly delighted.
That there never were, or could be, such Indians, and that they were not only unlike Indians, but that what they were doing was unlike anything on earth except other operas, was beyond all manner of doubt; that people do not converse in such a way as recitative, and do not place themselves at fixed distances, in a quartet, waving their arms to express their emotions; that nowhere, except in theaters, do people walk about in such a manner, in pairs, with tinfoil halberds and in slippers; that no one ever gets angry in such a way, or is affected in such a way, or laughs in such a way, or cries in such a way; and that no one on earth can be moved by such performances; all this is beyond the possibility of doubt.
Instinctively the question presents itself — For whom is this being done? Whom can it please? If there are, occasionally, good melodies in the opera, to which it is to listen, they could have been pleasant sung simply, without 7these stupid costumes and all the processions and recitatives and hand-wavings.
The ballet, in which half-naked women make voluptuous movements, twisting themselves into various sensual wreathings, is simply a lewd performance.
So one is quite at a loss as to whom these things are done for. The man of culture is heartily sick of them, while to a real working man they are utterly incomprehensible. If anyone can be pleased by these things (which is doubtful), it can only be some young footman or depraved artisan, who has contracted the spirit of the upper classes but is not yet satiated with their amusements, and wishes to show his breeding.
And all this nasty folly is prepared, not simply, nor with kindly merriment, but with anger and brutal cruelty.
It is said that it is all done for the sake of art, and that art is a very important thing. But is it true that art is so important that such sacrifices should be made for its sake? This question is especially urgent, because art, for the sake of which the labor of millions, the lives of men, and above all, love between man and man, are being sacrificed, —this very art is becoming something more and more vague and uncertain to human perception.
Criticism, in which the lovers of art used to find support for their opinions, has latterly become so self-contradictory, that, if we exclude from the domain of art all that to which the critics of various schools themselves deny the title, there is scarcely any art left.
The artists of various sects, like the theologians of the various sects, mutually exclude and destroy themselves. Listen to the artists of the schools of our times, and you will find, in all branches, each set of artists disowning others. In poetry the old romanticists deny the parnassians and the decadents; the parnassians disown the romanticists and the decadents; the decadents disown all their predecessors 8 and the symbolists; the symbolists disown all their predecessors and les mages; other les mages disown all, all their predecessors. Among novelists we have naturalists, psychologists, and "nature-ists," all rejecting each other. And it is the same in dramatic art, in painting and in music. So that art, which demands such tremendous labor-sacrifices from the people, which stunts human lives and transgresses against human love, is not only not a thing clearly and firmly defined, but is understood in such contradictory ways by its own devotees that 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.
For the production of every ballet, circus, opera, operetta, exhibition, picture, concert, or printed book, the intense and unwilling labor of thousands and thousands of people is needed at what is often harmful and humiliating work. It were well if artists made all they require for themselves, but as it is, they all need the help of workmen, not only to produce art, but also for their own usually luxurious maintenance. And, one way or other, they get it; Either through payments from rich people, or through subsidies given by Government (in Russia, for instance, in grants of millions of roubles to theaters, conservatoires and academies). This money is collected from the people, some of whom have to sell their only cow to pay the tax, and who never get those æsthetic pleasures which art gives.
It was all very well for a Greek or Roman artist, or even for a Russian artist of the first half of our century (when there were still slaves, and it was considered right that there should be), with a quiet mind to make people serve him and his art; but in our day, when in all men there is at least some dim perception of the equal rights of all, it is impossible to constrain people to labor unwillingly for art, without first deciding the question whether it is true that art is so good and so important an affair as to redeem this evil.
If not, we have the terrible probability to consider, that while fearful sacrifices of the labor and lives of men, and of morality itself, are being made to art, that same art may be not only useless but even harmful.
10And therefore it is necessary for a society in which works of art arise and are supported, to find out whether all that professes to be art is really art; whether (as is presupposed in our society) all that which is art is good; and whether it is important and worth those sacrifices which it necessitates. It is still more necessary for every conscientious artist to know this, that he may be sure that all he does has a valid meaning; that it is not merely an infatuation of the small circle of people among whom he lives which excites in him the false assurance that he is doing a good work; and that what he takes from others for the support of his often very luxurious life, will be compensated for by those productions at which he works. And that is why answers to the above questions are especially important in our time.
What is this art, which is considered so important and necessary for humanity that for its sake these sacrifices of labor, of human life, and even of goodness may be made?
“What is art? What a question! Art is architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and poetry in all its forms, ”usually replies the ordinary man, the art amateur, or even the artist himself, imagining the matter about which he is talking to be perfectly clear, and uniformly understood by everybody. But in architecture, one inquires further, are there not simple buildings which are not objects of art, and buildings with artistic pretensions which are unsuccessful and ugly and therefore cannot be considered as works of art? wherein lies the characteristic sign of a work of art?
It is the same in sculpture, in music, and in poetry. Art, in all its forms, is bounded on one side by the practically useful and on the other by unsuccessful attempts at art. How is art to be marked off from each of these? The ordinary educated man of our circle, and even the artist who has not occupied himself, especially with aesthetics, 11 will not hesitate at this question either. He thinks the solution has been found long ago, and is well known to everyone.
"Art is such activity as produces beauty," says such a man.
If art consists in that, then is a ballet or an operetta art? you inquire.
"Yes," says the ordinary man, though with some hesitation, "a good ballet or a graceful operetta is also art, in so far as it manifests beauty."
But without even asking the ordinary man what differentiates the “good” ballet and the “graceful” operetta from their opposites (a question he would have much difficulty in answering), if you ask him whether the activity of costumiers and hairdressers, who ornament the figures and faces of the women for the ballet and the operetta, is art; or the activity of Worth, the dressmaker; of scent-makers and men-cooks, then he will, in most cases, deny that their activity belongs to the sphere of art. But in this the ordinary man makes a mistake, just because he is an ordinary man and not a specialist, and because he has not occupied himself with aesthetic questions. Had he looked into these matters, he would have seen in the great Renan's book, Marc Aurele, a dissertation showing that the tailor’s work is art, and that those who do not see in the adornment of woman an affair of the highest art are very small-minded and dull. "C’est le grand art”Says Renan. Moreover, he would have known that in many aesthetic systems — for instance, in the aesthetics of the learned Professor Kralik, World beauty, Attempt at a general aesthetic, by Richard Kralik, and in Lesproblemèmes de l’Esthétique Contemporaine, by Guyau — the arts of costume, of taste, and of touch are included.
“There now follows a five-page series of arts which sterilize subjective sensuality”(There results then a pentafoliate of arts, growing out of the subjective perceptions), says 12 Kralik (p. 175). "They are the aesthetic treatment of the five senses."(They are the aesthetic treatment of the five senses.)
These five arts are the following: -
The art of taste—The art of the sense of taste (p. 175).
The art of smell—The art of the sense of smell (p. 177).
The art of the sense of touch—The art of the sense of touch (p. 180).
The art of hearing—The art of the sense of hearing (p. 182).
The art of sight—The art of the sense of sight (p. 184).
Of the first of these—the art of taste—He says: "Usually only two or at most three senses are considered worthy of submitting the material to artistic treatment, but I believe only with a limited right to do so. I do not want to put too much emphasis on the fact that the common parlance knows some other arts, such as the art of cooking.”
And further: "And it is certainly an aesthetic achievement when the art of cooking succeeds in turning an animal carcass into an object of taste in every sense. The principle of the art of taste (which is more advanced than the so-called culinary art) is this: everything edible should be treated as a symbol of an idea and always in harmony with the idea to be expressed.”
13This author, like Renan, acknowledges a Costume art (Art of Costume) (p. 200), etc.
Such is also the opinion of the French writer, Guyau, who is highly esteemed by some authors of our day. In his book, The probèmes de l’esthétique contemporaine, he speaks seriously of touch, taste, and smell as giving, or being capable of giving, aesthetic impressions: "Si la couleur manque au toucher, il nous fournit en revanche une notion que l’œil seul ne peut nous thunder, et qui a une valeur esthétique considérable, celle du doux, du soyeux du poli. Ce qui caractérise la beauté du velours, c’est sa douceur au toucher non moins que son brilliant. Dans l’idée que nous nous faisons de la beauté d’une femme, le velouté de sa peau entre comme élément essentiel.”
“Chacun de nous probablement avec un peu d’attention se rappellera des jouissances du gût, qui out été de véritables jouissances esthétiques.” And he recounts how a glass of milk drunk by him in the mountains gave him æsthetic enjoyment.
So it turns out that the conception of art as consisting in making beauty manifest is not at all so simple as it seemed, especially now, when in this conception of beauty are included our sensations of touch and taste and smell, as they are by the latest aesthetic writers.
14 But the ordinary man either does not know, or does not wish to know, all this, and is firmly convinced that all questions about art may be simply and clearly solved by acknowledging beauty to be the subject matter of art. To him it seems clear and comprehensible that art consists in manifesting beauty, and that a reference to beauty will serve to explain all questions about art.
But what is this beauty which forms the subject matter of art? How is it defined? What is it?
As is always the case, the more cloudy and confused the conception conveyed by a word, with the more aplomb and self-assurance do people use that word, pretending that what is understood by it is so simple and clear that it is not worth while even to discuss what it actually means.
This is how matters of orthodox religion are usually dealt with, and this is how people now deal with the conception of beauty. It is taken for granted that what is meant by the word beauty is known and understood by everyone. And yet not only is this not known, but, after whole mountains of books have been written on the subject by the most learned and profound thinkers during one hundred and fifty years (ever since Baumgarten founded æsthetics in the year 1750), the question, What is beauty? remains to this day quite unsolved, and in each new work on aesthetics it is answered in a new way. One of the last books I read on Aesthetics is a not ill-written booklet by Julius Mithalter, called Riddle of the beautiful (The Enigma of the Beautiful). And that title precisely expresses the position of the question, What is beauty? After thousands of learned men have discussed it during one hundred and fifty years, the meaning of the word beauty remains an enigma still. The Germans answer the question in their manner, though in a hundred different ways. The physiologist-aestheticians, especially the Englishmen: Herbert Spencer, 15 Grant Allen and his school, answer it, each in his own way; the French eclectics, and the followers of Guyau and Taine, also each in his own way; and all these people know all the preceding solutions given by Baumgarten, and Kant, and Schelling, and Schiller, and Fichte, and Winckelmann, and Lessing, and Hegel, and Schopenhauer, and Hartmann, and Schasler, and Cousin, and Lévêque and others .
What is this strange conception “beauty,” which seems so simple to those who talk without thinking, but in defining which all the philosophers of various tendencies and different nationalities can come to no agreement during a century and a half? What is this conception of beauty, on which the dominant doctrine of art rests?
In Russian, by the word krasota (beauty) we mean only that which pleases the sight. And though latterly people have begun to speak of “an ugly deed,” or of “beautiful music,” it is not good Russian.
A Russian of the common folk, not knowing foreign languages, will not understand you if you tell him that a man who has given his last coat to another, or done anything similar, has acted “beautifully,” that a man who has cheated another has done an "ugly" action, or that a song is "beautiful."
In Russian a deed may be kind and good, or unkind and bad. Music may be pleasant and good, or unpleasant and bad; but there can be no such thing as “beautiful” or “ugly” music.
Beautiful may relate to a man, a horse, a house, a view, or a movement. Of actions, thoughts, character, or music, if they please us, we may say that they are good, or, if they do not please us, that they are not good. But beautiful can be used only concerning that which pleases the sight. So that the word and conception “good” includes the conception of “beautiful,” but the reverse is not the case; the conception "beauty" does not include the conception 16 "good." If we say “good” of an article which we value for its appearance, we thereby say that the article is beautiful; but if we say it is "beautiful," it does not at all mean that the article is a good one.
Such is the meaning ascribed by the Russian language, and therefore by the sense of the people, to the words and conceptions “good” and “beautiful.”
In all the European languages, i.e. the languages of those nations among whom the doctrine has spread that beauty is the essential thing in art, the words “beau,” “schön,” “beautiful,” “bello,” etc., while keeping their meaning of beautiful in form, have come to also express "goodness," "kindness," i.e. have come to act as substitutes for the word "good."
So that it has become quite natural in those languages to use such expressions as “belle ame,” “Schöne Zeiten,” of “beautiful deed.” Those languages no longer have a suitable word wherewith expressly to indicate beauty of form, and have to use a combination of words such as “beau par la forme,” “beautiful to look at,” etc., to convey that idea.
Observation of the divergent meanings which the words “beauty” and “beautiful” have in Russian on the one hand, and in those European languages now permeated by this aesthetic theory on the other hand, shows us that the word “beauty” has, among the latter, acquired a special meaning, namely, that of "good."
What is remarkable, moreover, is that since we Russians have begun more and more to adopt the European view of art, the same evolution has begun to show itself in our language also, and some people speak and write quite confidently, and without causing surprise , of beautiful music and ugly actions, or even thoughts; whereas forty years ago, when I was young, the expressions “beautiful music” and “ugly actions” were not only unusual but incomprehensible. 17 Evidently this new meaning given to beauty by European thought begins to be assimilated by Russian society.
And what really is this meaning? What is this “beauty” as it is understood by the European peoples?
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