Chapter 20. "Art Evokes Feeling" by Leo Tolstoy

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from What Is Art?
The Reading Selection from What Is Art?
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Leo Tolstoy 1828-1910, adapted from Library of Congress

About the author …

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910, born in Yasnaya Polyana in central Russia, had a charmed early life until the death of both parents at the age of ten. When he attended the University of Kazań he became disenchanted with the system of education and endorsed Jean-Jacques Rousseau's philosophy expressed in ╔mile, Or On Education. At nineteen, he broke with the church and religion, and a few years later became a military officer in the Crimean War. This early experience fueled the realism of his novels. Although he often criticized the Russian government, his world-wide fame kept him safe from polical harm . At midlife, he sought a simple life based on the religious tenets of the Sermon on the Mount and put his books in the public domain. Our reading, from What is Art? contains his final view of art: the social value of art is ultimately religious.

About the work …

In What Is Art?, [1] Tolstoy details the social purpose to art. Art, he believes, is a sincere emotion transferred from an artist to others and, as such, is a uniquely human activity. Tolstoy defines genuine or real art as the communication of emotion transferable to, and felt by, all persons; consequently, art is to judged by the universal (religious) spirit of brotherhood of an age. Great art, he thinks, unites humanity.

Ideas of Interest from What Is Art?

  1. How does Tolstoy contrast the purpose of speech and the purpose of art?

  2. How does Tolstoy characterize the basis of the activity of art?

  3. Why doesn't Tolstoy think art is simply the expression of emotion?

  4. Cite some of the examples Tolstoy mentions of the harmful historical beliefs of the place of art in human culture.

  5. According to Tolstoy what is it that distinguishes the feeling produced by art from all other feelings?

  6. What according to Tolstoy is "the chief characteristic and the great attractive force of art"?

  7. What does Tolstoy describe as three conditions of good art? What is the subject matter of good art?



Leo Tolstoy, What Is Art? Translated by Aylmer Maude. London: The Brotherhood Publishing Company. 1898.