Tolstoy’s Aesthetics. “The business of art consists precisely in making understandable and accessible that which might be incomprehensible and inaccessible in the form of reason” [10:81]. Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy, 1828-1910. Overview of Tolstoy’s Aesthetics:. A. What is Art?
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“The business of art consists precisely in making understandable and accessible that which might be incomprehensible and inaccessible in the form of reason” [10:81].
Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy, 1828-1910
A. What is Art?
B. Aesthetic Experience.
C. Aesthetic Value.
D. Aesthetic Judgment.
E. What is True and Great Art.
F. Questions for Reflection.
In chapter 5 of What is Art? Tolstoy writes:
“To call up in oneself a feeling once experienced and, having, called it up in oneself, to transmit it by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, images expressed in words, so that others experience the same feeling-in this consists the activity of art. Art is that human activity which consists in one’s person consciously transmitting to others, by certain external signs, the feelings he has experienced, and in others being infected by those feelings and experiencing them [5:39-40].”
The desire to share is “almost involuntary”; you can’t help it. Even though it begins with an “electrical spark” the “sign created” is “consciously structured.”
This existential need creates the material grounds for sharing the experience with another person
Art begins with a personal experience so strong that we FEEL the need to confirm it, call it up, and fix it “IN SIGNS.”
1st Psychological Event
2nd Psychological Event
The Replication of Emotion
3rd Psychological Event
Aesthetic Experience occurs when there is a common bond of feeling. The stronger the infection, the more successful the art work is.
“The unity between people brought about by the spark of infection does not result in our amalgamation, loss of identity, or even necessarily in our casual agreement; such unity is measured, above all, by an increase in mutual tolerance and love. Art destroys separation-but emphasizes individuality. What is more, infection by art is not some irreversible chemical fusion that takes place between two bodies once and for all. People are unified (and love is released) in exceptional moments” [pg. 245].
“Although our organisms must be susceptible and receptive in a general way, of course, as with any infection we are not susceptible in the same away each time, nor for the same length of time. ‘Since each person is unlike all others,’ Tolstoy writes, ‘one person’s feeling will be [felt as] particular for every other person, and the more particular the feeling is-the more deeply the artist has dipped into his own nature-the more heartfelt and sincere it will be” (15:122) [pg. 245].
1. Primary value “caught” by recipient is sincerity.
2. The degree of individuality of the feeling transmitted.
3. The beauty (i.e., clarity) of expression.
1st and Primary value is sincerity. It is a sincerity that is “caught” by recipient is sincerity.
2nd Condition: The degree of individuality of the feeling transmitted:
The beauty (i.e., clarity) of expression. How does the internal organization assist to this end? Tolstoy does not say.
Remember, Tolstoy argues that ideas and feelings are separable, if not in their substance then at least in the treatment a person accords them-for ideas can be disputed and manipulated. In contrast, by the time we register a feeling, it has already occurred.
True/Counterfeit Axis: Standard of success is simply communicative; if it is true it infects. The true artist is a conduit and enabler.
Good/Bad Axis: Religious, reflecting an ethical ideal endorsed by a certain people in a given historical time or place, or universal, accessible at all times to everyone in all cultures, without exception [16:131-32]. There are no institutional associations.
1st device: Mimesis or borrowing when they do not have emotional experiences of their own. To copy prior works in a passive mechanical way is always bad.
1. The standard of success is simply communicative; if it is true, it infects (replicates).
“The Russian word ‘iskrennost’ (sincerity), Tolstoy’s central requirement for authentic art, is built off of iskra, ‘a spark’: That which flashes momentarily and either catches fire or dies. The artistic effect either takes, or fails to take.”
“Tolstoy’s Aesthetics,” 244.
2nd device: To describe in photographic art without concern for their spiritual or transfiguring experience is also a counterfeit (e.g., realistic art).
2. The replication of emotion in the recipient must be immediate & unmediated.
3. The result of true art is to make us experience an event of life more deeply, without having to analyze it or struggle with it.
3rd device: Do not convey feelings but strive for a certain effect (e.g., horror stories, erotica) “crisis ethics” (i.e., focus on murder, crime which dull the cultivation of the practical virtues of everyday living and downplay what is more valuable.
4th Device: No ideas should be in art for ratiocination interferes with infection for three reasons:
a. Mental effort has to be applied to determine “message” this diminishes infection or replication of emotion.
b. We have to guess about the meaning of an artwork; this divides rather than unites the audience;
c. Those educated fosters discrimination for those who don’t have a discerning learning ability/background.
The standard of success is simply communicative; if it is true, it infects:
The replication of emotion in the recipient must be immediate & unmediated.
Its happy result is to make us experience an event of life more deeply, without having to analyze it or struggle with it.
“The business of art,” Tolstoy insists, “consists precisely in making understandable and accessible that which might be incomprehensible and inaccessible in the form of reasoning” (10:81).
“The stronger the infection, the better the art is as art, regardless of its content-that is, independently of the worth of the feelings it conveys” (15:121).
Caryl Emerson notes:
“True/counterfeit and good/bad: these two axes of judgment must be applied to every human product that claims to be art. Tolstoy was aware of the difficulties involved in making aesthetic discriminations, especially for social classes whose tastes had been perverted. ‘false works’ can superficially appear to be better constructed, more interesting and worthy than true ones [14:114]… While authentic (that is, contagious) bad art will always be around and inevitably will infect us, we should strive wherever possible to create conditions for the right sorts of infection to occur.
Caryl Emerson states in his Cambridge Companion article on “Tolstoy’s Aesthetics,” 238.
“If a work of art portrays struggle, it must show us a way out. The responsibility of art to ‘get us there,’ and where in fact that final place is, are among the most ancient concerns of moral philosophy. Tolstoy belongs with those philosophers who do not believe that art can be explained by a poetics.”
Caryl Emerson, “Tolstoy’s Aesthetics,” 238.
It is rather, an indispensable part of organic life, in Tolstoy’s literal understanding of that phrase: it has life-bearing functions, whose proper metabolic activity is essential to the health of each individual organism and to the health of the social body as a whole. Art, Tolstoy writes, is the ‘spiritual organ of human life, and it cannot be destroyed.’”
Caryl Emerson, “Tolstoy’s Aesthetics,” 238.
2. Great and true art are those pieces that express/conforms with the highest religious perceptions of our age: the Christian ideal of the union and brotherhood of man as opposed to art which is socially divisive or elitist fails in its true function and so is counterfeit/bad art.
Art that promotes hedonism does not survive this test.