“Real art, like the wife of an affectionate husband, needs no ornaments. But counterfeit art, like a prostitute, must always be decked out..
The cause of the production of real art is the artist’s inner need to express a feeling that has accumulated, just as for a mother the cause of a sexual conception is love. The cause of counterfeit art, is of prostitution , is gain.
The conseqence of true art is the introduction of a new feeling into the intercourse of life, as the consequence of a wife’s love is the birth of
a new man into her life.
The consequences of counterfeit art are the perversion of man, pleasure which never satisfies, and the weakening of man’s spiritual
Tolstoy didn’t just write great novels. He was a prolific thinker, and a writer of those thoughts. If he was alive now he would be a blogger, I have no doubt. One of the subjects that taxed him a lot was ‘What is Art ?’. He wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last, but after having started to write down his ideas, over a period of fifteen years he collected them into a book. Because we are blessed with the immediacy of the internet, you can read this volume courtesy of the wonderful project Gutenberg, the link is here; http://archive.org/stream/whatisart00tolsuoft#page/n5/mode/2up
Tolstoy had alot going on in his head, but what I took from his book was how art gets taken up by people more interested in gain than in the truth that an artist may be expressing. One of the messages of the book is that art that is true can be recognised as such by the uneducated and the unread as much as by the sophisticated onlooker, because it fulfils one of the criteria of being authentic. This sincerity by the artist is recognised by the onlooker, and it is this quality that enables the onlooker to be moved by the artistic object. This really resonates with me, since I feel very uneducated about culture, but my emotional brain is excited and moved by words, music , paintings and sculpture and I can’t always articulate how or what it provokes in me. Tolstoy extends his argument to suggest that Art has a necessary function to progress humanity by helping people to connect with compassion. For me it is true that art communicates the human experience. If we take that to a conclusion, it can be understood to be a force for the inevitable progression of humankind, since all inhumanity stems from man’s ability to distance himself from a common purpose , from a community. We do not tend to hate our own kind. History tells us that in order to commit violence, empathy is withdrawn, and the enemy has to be seen as different from ourselves. Wherever true art is applied, then we are seeing our own experiences and feelings reflected back onto ourselves, or our dreams , or our fears.
Raise a cheer then, for art and for all those who have ears to hear, and eyes to see. I have included a detail of a 12th century panel of Noah’s Ark by Nicolas of Verdun, simply because I found it beautiful. I hope you do too. Of course the dove is carrying the olive branch of peace.