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May 30, 2005

"What is Art?" Chapter One

So i'm reading Tolstoy's "What is Art?" now. Kate said it made her angry so it would probably make me really angry. But Tolstoy doesn't like Wilde, so I agree with him there. Aestheticism is silly. But Tolstoy doesn't like Beethoven, so he complete and utter moron. But Tolstoy doesn't like Wagner, so I think I need to listen to more Wagner.

Ok, chapter one goes into great detail to set up art as a"big endeavor" sort of thing. Thousands of people, some paid much, some paid little, all being criticised harshly when they make mistakes... Tolstoy asks, "What for? What is the sense of all this?"

"So on is quite ata a loss as to whom all 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 doubtful0, 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."

There is some of me in that. It happens. There are times when I prove the opposite of myself, as well, to be fair.

Tolstoy closes out the chapter saying that all artists of a particular movement all disown artists of all other movements.... the old romanticists deny the parnassians and the decadents, the dadaists deny all who came before, the tolstoy's deny the aestheticists... its the natural lot of artistic movements. Tolstoy says this is sort of a problem, since it is evidence that we do not agree on what is meant by art, and what is valuable in art.

OK OK reactions. Chapter one is not so groundbreaking. kate asked me once what I thought about art for art's sake. i think i said it was cool sometimes, but that I prefer my art to have some driving force behind it. Really I am just overcompensating for people who are overly pragmatic. What I believe is always somwhere between what I think and what I say. I do like art with a purpose, gasp, maybe even a use. I just define these things very very loosely, and don't ever throw things out rashly.

Tolstoy sets up the opera rehearsal as a big spectacle. Then he isolates it, making it appear very very foreign to us. But art does not exist in a vacuum. ANYTHING put inside of this strict mental isolation becomes foreign, pointless, nihilistic... Meaning is all metaphor. Part of being an artist is knowing how to manipulate the collective set of metaphors that a culture (or all of humanity, preferably, but that is not always possible) is familiar with. This is probably the primary reason for me to view popular music as a valid medium for creating art. That said, it is seldom done. That gets us into the art/craft distinction and I have such a hard time remembering thoughts that i had previously organized (that's one of the reasons I have a blog) that I can't talk about that tonight. Plus I'm a little tired. Comment if you care but this is straightforward (pretty boring) stuff so far.

Posted by pedalboy at May 30, 2005 3:07 AM | TrackBack

"Part of being an artist is knowing how to manipulate the collective set of metaphors that a culture (or all of humanity, preferably, but that is not always possible) is familiar with"

this is all fine and good if you are believing in some form of an objective value or values that are obtainable and even manipulatable by humanity. however, this also tends to lead to thoughts that there is some sort of objective underlying structure to all art or other things that i don't believe exists under the surface. under the surface, in my opinion, lies a multiplicity of meanings. the manipulation of these meanings is possible but only to a very minute extent.

i like art for a purpose as well. i think that it is neccessary...but i think that it can also box itself into a conglomoration of strict deffinitions which is again agreeing with you.

the problem i find is that many people want to isolate art from it's environment and that divorces the possibility of purpose from it i think. art should live and breathe and "live" in the dynamics of meanings. but i have a hard time reconciling it for it's own sake.

if tolstoy is writing this book with his right hand...what's he doing with his left?


Posted by: john at May 30, 2005 3:50 PM

i believe in an objective set of metaphors in society. and the idea that art manipulates those.
that's what art for art's sake was about originally. i think the purpose of art usually is to reject or comment on something in society. which is an attempt to manipulate. "purpose" is a difficult word. one that should be used losely in relation to art.
also, it's important to realize that tolstoy was basically done by the time he wrote this. he'd already written war and peace and anna karenina and rejected his own genius completely as being false talent. he'd just gone through a conversion (i would highly recommend tolstoy's confessions) and was i think angry at himself and at a world that had lied to him about fame and fortune.
but the man was still a genius.

Posted by: kate at May 31, 2005 12:24 AM
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