THE great Russian writer, to whose views on the subject of science we made a passing reference last month, has published a book under the title of What is Art? which has been translated into French by M. de Wyzewa, a well-known contributor to the Revue des Deux Mondes and other periodicals. The author's treatment of the question is very radical; and, as he has assailed the theories of all previous writers on the subject, the theory which he himself puts forward will probably receive abundant criticism. To our mind, waiving all minor questions, his book seems to be one of great importance and value. It is a direct appeal to the conscience and intelligence of the cultivated classes, summoning them to consider whether far the larger part of that which they applaud as art is art at all in the true sense, and whether its effect on themselves and on the world at large is not injurious rather than beneficial. The appeal is made with so much vigor and sincerity, and is supported by so many apt and powerful illustrations, that we shall be surprised if it does not produce far-reaching effects of a most salutary kind. Such a voice as has now been raised has long been wanted to cry out to a luxurious generation that they are abusing the advantages they possess, that their ideals of life are false, and that art in their hands has sunk from its high position as a chief means of the moral and intellectual elevation of mankind and become little else than the echo of their affectations and the servant of their vanity and pride. Count Tolstoi examines the various definitions that have been given of art and finds them all unsatisfactory, though he pronounces the views put forward by Darwin and Spencer as infinitely superior to those of the metaphysical school which founds art u])on the perception of beauty. He hazards a theory of his own, which is that art is the means adopted by men to communicate their emotions and sentiments, as distinct from simple statements of fact, to their fellows. Where any communication is made from man to man in such a way as to awaken in him who receives it the same emotion as is experienced by him who makes it, there, according to Tolstoi, art has intervened. Art may be employed in the service of an evil sentiment; but that does not prevent its being art, provided the sentiment is truly personal to one individual and effectively conveyed to another. In the same way ordinary language might be employed in perfectly logical form to convey a false statement or a wrong opinion; but just as the proper and normal use of language is to convey true statements and correct opinions, so the proper and normal use of art is to convey right sentiments, and, above all, sentiments which make for the binding together of mankind in fraternal union. Art finds, according to this writer, its highest use when it is employed in the service of religion; and the religion of to-day, he holds, consists mainly in the affirmation that all men should be brethren. The best examples of art are those which give expression to sentiments in which all mankind can share; and judged by this standard the art most highly prized by the cultivated classes of to-
Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 53.djvu/571
TOLSTOI ON ART.