What Is Not art? Nice Try, Leo

August 27, 2011

First, I must appologize again for falling behind on regular postings. A death in the family has occurred and taken us all off-guard. I’m afraid there will have to be a distance between postings for awhile longer, but I’ll try to pop them up whenever I can. In the meantime, here’s a musing for you to ponder.

Leo Tolstoy

I’ve been re-reading the book by Leo Tolstoy entitled “What is Art?” While I appreciate his attempt at answering the question, it’s obvious that he failed or else we’d already know the result. Unfortunately, he’s trying to hold smoke, and only leaves us with more questions. You can read the text here.

There are moments where he nails it. Being an artist himself he understands the process well, but much of what he says is too personal to be true for others. At one point he describes the creation of art as a communion between the artist and whoever receives it, but is receiving it actually required? If no one ever saw or heard it, would the work be any different? It’s like the old riddle of “if tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?” Tolstoy also tries to forecast what the artist of the future might create, and it’s immediately apparent that he got that wrong. I’m sure no one else in 1896 could have guessed what was to come either.

Perhaps another approach to his question is to attack it like Sherlock Holmes might have done while searching for clues and first eliminate the things that are not art. To me, that proves to be just as challenging. What about works of Nature? If I were to point to a bolt of lightning, an icicle hanging from a tree branch, or a bird egg, and then proclaim those as works of art, would you disagree with me? They are things that were created. Is art only made by people? Anything that is made has a reason for being, even if it’s accidental or the result of chemistry. You might choose to dismiss that Nature cannot be an artist, but weren’t we created by Nature? Too many questions, and I have no answer for them. If we make a declaration and then have to start attaching all these exceptions and amendments to it, then we only expose the flaws of our argument, or how organic it must be as it evolves. Perhaps all we’re left with is to evaluate how well something was made and assess its value for ourselves. That, I believe, is something we can’t escape.

What sort of things would you say we should not consider as Art?

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