My Book World
I was assigned to read this book for a half-credit, pass-fail humanities class in college. There is little indication that I actually did so (a few underlined passages in Chapter Two). It seems like a challenging read for eighteen-year-olds who’ve had little exposure to argumentation or (unless they have studied art as children) art. In general, to summarize an often unclear thesis, Tolstoy seems to believe that art is a feeling that the artist would like to infect the watcher, listener, reader with.
He believes that high art is so only because it is heralded by the upper classes. Tolstoy goes on and on about how bad Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is, in part because Beethoven was deaf, and how could the composer possibly compose if he couldn’t hear? And besides, Beethoven is attempting to combine two arts: music and chorus (based on another’s lyric). Tolstoy abhors contemporary opera, Wagner in particular, again because it combines visual art, drama, music, singing, and more. When he uses the invective “filthy” to describe it, it seems he has a prejudice he can’t explain. In fact, he leaves a lot unexplained by way of sometimes poor or faulty logic, and by using terms he has defined to his own satisfaction. He asserts that beauty is not art. He asserts that the basis of art must be religious, i.e. Christian (I think).
However, Tolstoy does make a prescient remark when he argues that art (music, drawing, creative writing and more) should be taught to all children so that they may create art for all their lives, in order to enrich their lives and the lives of the people they love. That seems to be the most positive assertion that he makes, and, because many American school districts have abandoned the teaching of art, the result being a certain poverty, I believe he is right. The rest of this work seems like a highly subjective opinion he took fifteen years to develop; if he’d tried hard he probably could have done it in four or less.
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