Thursday, March 17, 2011

WAVI: Leo Tolstoy's "What is Art?"

A formal response (3 paragraphs minimum) to the following prompt is due (via comment to this blog post) by 2:00 3-18-2011. Identify and evaluate Tolstoy's attitude toward the arts. Is his point of view valid? Reasonable? Flawed? Does he offer substantive support for his view? Don't forget to include your thesis as well as direct quotations from the excerpt.

13 comments:

Vicky Miller said...

The arts have always been an intricate part of society as a whole. Even though arts have evolved over time, they have always seemed to stick with us no matter what. Leo Tolstoy penned the essay “What is Art?” in an attempt to shed light to the then current day society in showing the secrets of the art community. Within Leo Tolstory’s “What is Art?” essay, Tolstoy employs verbosely condescending diction to display how the arts are a decadent and corrupt community that produce useless and harmful ways.
Tolstoy talks of how art is connected to pleasure, but this connection is one that should not be seen. He believes that art should not be allowed within society due to the corrupt nature of how it is brought about. He explains that “we have the terrible probability to consider, that while fearful sacrifices of the labor and lives of men, and morality itself, are being made to art, that same art may be not only useless, but even harmful” (Tolstoy 3). This brings up the point that the labor that is put into this art is sometimes “harmful and humiliating” (3) to the people forced to aid the artist. Art at the time this was written (late eighteenth century) was slowly breaking free of the religious confines that it had been held in for most of its existence. And with this break free movement, people’s opinions of art quickly grew skeptical. They feared that art would become a harrowing thing that would corrupt society as they knew it, and Tolstoy backed them up completely.
Tolstoy tells of how art was being made to ruin society, and argues against people that believe art is good, pure and truthful. He claims art will break down society from within. Clearly not a fan of the artistic movement, he rebelled. “What is Art?” contains all of his anti-art arguments. And though they did not amount to much over time, they do show that there are people who do oppose all art within the world.

K. Platt said...

My response is posted on my blog :)

Tori D. said...

Art is something that can never be truly defined. Leo Tolstoy own views on his piece what is art, is a testament to the questions one may have in his piece What is Art? Yet this piece questions it all entirely and its use. This piece discusses why Tolstoy believes art and beauty lost its value. There seems to be little reason in his opinion for the existence of art in the first place. Tolstoy utilizes a discerning tone to convey his distaste for how the arts and how vaguely it’s defined.
First, Tolstoy recounts in an anecdote, a rehearsal for an opera he went to where it did seem in all sense of the words, ridiculous. At the end of this experience he asks, “Whom can it please? If there are, occasionally, good melodies in the opera to which it is pleasant to listen, they could have been sung simply without these stupid costumes and all the processions and recitatives and hand waving” (2 Tolstoy). It is clears by the dictions used with “stupid” and suggesting that the music was too complex that he’s not pleased with what is seen, and questions his view. Then Tolstoy begins to criticize art as he perceives it to only hurt humanity. He reflects that “If not we have the terrible probability to consider that while fearful sacrifices of the lives of men and of morality itself, are being made to art that the same art may be not only useless but even harmful” (3). From the tone he’s looking down on what many men and women make sacrifices to perfect and calling it unnecessary but with the very harsh word “useless”. Finally, Tolstoy questions “wherein lies the characteristic sign of a work of art” (3). For which he proceeds to ramble on what should be considered beauty. Yet to simply question and try to define art, shows his discern.
Tolstoy is very flawed in his belief of art being something you can define. Perhaps during his time it was understandable to question that much effort being put into art. Yet it shouldn’t have been his to decide to through against the wall. He also seemed very bitter to anyone who did not share his opinion, immediately slandering them with the title “ordinary man” or “armature” as if to say only a “specialist” (when Tolstoy himself is simply just a writer) could grasp art. That is where his thinking became flawed. He is fine to believe that art does not enrich the lives of others, or gives purpose or meaning to people but to berate those who do is where one loses respect for his argument.

Kim Lynch said...

“Art is very important thing. But is it true that art is so important that such sacrifices should be made for its sake?” Many people in society have different views of art. Art can be expressed in music, dance, cooking and many other activities, “Art is architecture, sculpture, painting, music and poetry in all its forms.” Some people wouldn’t consider art to be involved in any other subjects, except art. In the excerpt, What is art?, Leo Tolstoy provides specific ideas in order to demonstrate how people don’t appreciate the works of art.

Leo Tolstoy’s attitude towards art is that art is only formed by art. He feels that art isn’t important if it’s dance, singing or other activities, “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 skillful only at rapidly twisting their legs, their tongue, or their fingers.” Tolstoy feels like people who say they’re artists by occupation, don’t deserve to be in the same category as artists who actually paints and draws. He feels like these “artists” are getting over-paid and shouldn’t be involved in the same group as actual artists.

Tolstoy’s point of view with art is supported in the excerpt, What is art?. In the excerpt, Tolstoy shows how art can be ugly and beautiful but music or dancing cannot be ugly or beautiful. The concept of the materials of each art work can’t show how the aspect of a painting can be shown. The painting can show emotional features but music cannot. “Music may be pleasant and good or unpleasant and bad; but there can be no such thing as beautiful or ugly music.” Leo Tolstoy demonstrates how people don’t value most art work.

Isabella Varela said...

According to Tolstoy, art cannot be defined as an activity which produces beauty. Beauty cannot be defined objectively, and therefore cannot be used as a criterion to define what is, or is not, art. The aim of art is not merely to produce beauty, or to provide pleasure, enjoyment, or entertainment. Art is a means of communication, and is an important means of expression of any experience, or of any aspect of the human condition.

In the text “What is Art?” Leo Tolstoy does not define art in terms of its ability to express beauty, but instead defines art in terms of its ability to express feelings or any kind of experience. Tolstoy’s point of view is valid because he explains and gives strong facts to prove his theory.

“ … If not, we have the terrible probability to consider that while fearful sacrifices of the labor and lives of men, and morality itself, are being made to art, that same art may be not only useless but even harmful.”

“If the reader will only be at the pains to peruse the following extracts, defining beauty, taken from the chief writers on aesthetics, he may convince himself that this censure is thoroughly deserved.”

“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.”

Briana B said...

In What is Art? Leo Tolstoy uses criticism to question and discuss the emotional acting of theatre. Tolstoy has his own point of view and attitude about art which is shown in What is Art? He expresses how he feels about the world and how it is changing toward the art form. He uses his own experiences to describe his emotions about it, “I remember being once at the rehearsal of one of the most ordinary of the new operas which are produced at all the opera hoses of Europe and America.” He explains his memories of growing up around art and being able to reflect back on it throughout his excerpt. In the excerpt, Tolstoy uses his opinion to exemplify exactly what forms of art there is. He speaks about the art of ballet, circus, concert, opera and others. His opinion is based off of what he has seen in his life but does he know he has not seen it all? He acts as though he knows exactly what art is and he gives an example of, “What is art? What a question! Art is architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and poetry in all it’s forms.”

Sean Mathews said...

Art is such a prominent part of our society and some people ask themselves “why?” Operas, orchestras, and galleries of art bring pleasure to many different people all over the world. They provide careers, hobbies, soundtracks, and so much more to daily life, and without them, a lot of beauty would be lost. This opinion is shared by many, but not author Leo Tolstoy. In the excerpt “What is Art?” Leo Tolstoy provides his own negatively charged point of view to question the importance of art in our culture.
Tolstoy’s opinion in the excerpt is clearly not appreciative of art. He questions its beauty, its purpose, and he seems charged by the stereotype of art being for the wealthy. He seems to want a world where the hard working people of middle class jobs should be rewarded more than they are. He is from the country of Russia and in this time period, the country wasn’t the strongest. He must feel bitter resentment toward those who seem like they have far too much time on their hands. He doesn’t get why people dress up to go and watch an opera, where the performers are dressed in absurd costumes. Tolstoy is fueled by his bitterness it seems.
Although he supports a pessimistic attitude toward art, he does present arguments throughout that many might agree with. He argues against the director of a recital claiming that there is no purpose to stating the same line over and over just to get yelled at by the director. He brings up some good points, but in the end I do not agree with his arguments. I believe art provides many different forms of beauty, and that the people who enjoy it have the right. However, he also is justified in stating his opinion. He feels resentment towards art and those who take part in it, but he is also not of a high social status. He gives an opinion and a strong argument and that is okay. I do not agree, but i understand his bitterness.

Christian said...

Many people who are old aged think that there generation is superior to the one that is currently taking charge in the world. Tolstoy was no different than these people. In the excerpt what is art? , Tolstoy employs the use of criticism to shed light upon his distaste of what the average man is doing to the performing arts, and other art forms.
I think Tolstoy is incorrect in his opinion that art is being tarnished by men. “If there are, occasionally, good melodies in opera, to which pleasant to listen, they could have been sung simply, without these stupid costumes.” Tolstoy is saying that opera is being ruined by all the fancy costumes and decorations used in the performance. Many people however enjoy this, and is one of the main reason to got to an opera, or in today’s world a movie. People wouldn’t got to the movies if the lines were just read and not acted. Sometimes making something more complex is better, and more interesting, but to Tolstoy it was the opposite and to him was ruining art.
Either side you take you take you are going to have people who agree with you. Many people probably did agree with Tolstoy, but the average person, probably thought differently than he did, and there are more of those people than the people who agree with Tolstoy. Tolstoy had just become bitter with age and believed that what was popular when he was young was the right way to do things.

Kerrin Hughes said...

Art is a part of our world that most people take for granted. Every day we witness some form of art, whether it’s photography, movies, architecture, sculpture, music, dance, paintings, writing, drawings, etc. and it is usually never given a second glance. Artists of every kind are rewarded and respected for their work, while other career choices are usually left unnoticed, even though the efforts put into either are the same. Many people question whether art deserves such a prominent role in our world. In the excerpt from What is Art? Leo Tolstoy questions the purpose, use, required dedication, and validity in society to reveal the interesting value realms of art have to individuals.
Tolstoy mentions many times how there is seemingly no use or purpose of art in society. There are so many pieces of art out in the world today that have done nothing other than sit there and look pretty, but isn’t that what art is for? Artistic pieces bring pleasant feelings such as memories, belonging, ideas, satisfaction or just overall goodness. Tolstoy fails to prove his point that art is useless when it can tell historical tales that were never able to be written, and help bring the world to advance. Pieces can inspire people to work towards a goal that will eventually be achieved. Tolstoy also has a weak argument when he says that the carpenters and plumbers are the ones that deserve credit for their work because in fact they are artists or work for artists, and they receive as much credit as artists do. Tolstoy is not alone in his ideas though, many people disrespect common artists for spending a lot of time on a painting or drawing which may not even be bought. Artists and pieces of art should still have a huge part in our society.
Leo Tolstoy shows that even he who questions art, enjoys its presence in society. He writes about his trip to an opera, which he didn’t enjoy, but at least he tried. Tolstoy shows that art is a huge part of society, but argues that it doesn’t deserve to be. Maybe if he was an artist, or came from a different point of view, he would respect art more.

Merri West said...

People have different opinions, some stronger than others. Usually, the stronger more influential a topic is the stronger people’s opinions will be. Art is something that can be greatly influential and is a huge part of cultures, so often people have strong opinions on it. Like in most things there are flaws about certain types of art. Also, there are certain things that can be detrimental. In “What is Art” Leo Toldstoy emphasizes some of the flaws of art and questions is definition to portray is negative point of view of art.
Points of view are something that can never be concrete; there is never a correct point of view or an incorrect point of view. Leo Toldstoy has a negative point of view on art. He supports his opinion with valid information and ideas, so it can’t be said whether or not his point of view is valid because it is his opinion, and as long as it can be supported there is no right or wrong.
Leo Toldstoy emphasizes some flaws in productions of art such as an opera or ballet. The people involved are not happy but “tiered and out of humor” in his experience. Being a part of the production was more of a burden than pleasure and honor. These experiences helped shape Leo Toldstoy’s negative view of art.

susan said...

The arts are known around the world for being entertaining, historical, cultural. People have many different opinions on the arts as well as the importance of the arts. The arts are seen to be very important in the eyes of many. However, to others, the arts seem to be meaningless. In his novel, “What Is Art?”, Tolstoy demonstrates how the arts are extremely overrated.
Leo Tolstoy does not appreciate art for what it truly is; he fails to look at the deeper meaning of the arts. In the novel, Tolstoy writes, “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 self- complacent specialists, dull to all the serious phenomena of life, and skillful only at rapidly twisting their legs, their tongues, or their fingers”(Tolstoy 1). He implies that artists waste their talents by practicing the arts. Tolstoy also suggests that the arts are both silly and simple. Tolstoy writes, “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” (1). Tolstoy believes that those who practice the arts are well over paid. Tolstoy strongly believes that the arts are overrated and a waste of time.
In Russia, beauty “can be used only concerning that which pleases the sight” (5). The arts refer to beauty in ways that most Russians cannot understand. Tolstoy explains, “the expressions ‘beautiful music’ and ‘ugly actions’ were not only unusual, but incomprehensible” (5). Tolstoy and many people from Russia believe that beauty can only be seen; it cannot be heard nor be done. Therefore, the arts are not beautiful and are simply not important to Tolstoy. Tolstoy believes the arts are overrated and do not deserve the appreciation they are given.

Carlos Silva said...

Carlos Silva

In what is art by Leo Tolstoy, he describes the context of beauty in art in a few different ways. Tolstoy views art in ways much different than most people. To him art comes in many forms that most of us are not aware of. He appreciates all works of art and the beauty of its many forms.

Tolstoy appreciates the arts in its many forms as is shown in the quotes “The art is the sense of taste, sense of smell, sense of touch, sense of hearing and sense of sight” This shows that you have art in many different ways. This point of view is valid because art is not only drawings or paintings’; cooking is a work of art that Tolstoy refers to. This is also a valid point because many people who have occupations in those careers consider there workings art. Some may see his view as flawed if they do not believe the examples he gives are works of art. This is why his point of view is valid and flawed.

Tolstoy offers substantial support in multiple ways. One way he offers support is by giving all of the examples of art in different forms. Another way he gives support is when he says “Art is such activity as produces beauty”. This supports his cause because he is saying that if you are doing something that is beautiful than it is a work of art. This is the support offered by Tolstoy to convey his message.

nickroe said...

Nick Roe
In Leo Tolstoy’s reading about art he talks about many forms of art. Whether it is portraits, operas, plays, or anything like that he is basically describing that there are many different forms of art. Art isn’t just painting something on paper; art is in all different forms. And he is trying to describe how different life would be without it. In the article “What is art” Leo Tolstoy tries to explain the many forms of art to explain how much of a drastic change in life it would be without it.
In the article, Tolstoy describes himself going to an opera and thinking about all the different forms of art and how the opera is also a form of art. Tolstoy views art in that he believes art is basically in everything we do. He says there is always a form of art going on in everything around us. And he believes that without art, our lives would not be the same.
Tolstoy believes that without art, our lives wouldn’t be the same. I think his views were pretty valid and reasonable. I believe his point is reasonable for a couple of reasons. The biggest reason that I believe his point is valid is because I also believe that art is in everything we do. Whether it is cooking dinner, playing sports, or painting; art is pretty much in everything we do and there are many forms of art. Without art, basically means we wouldn’t have anything, like chefs making fancy foods, athletes making fancy moves to fake people out or anything like that. I believe the world would be dull and have nothing special in it.