The Literary Life

Home » Big Questions » Art Communicates Soul to Soul: Leo Tolstoy, “What is Art?”

Art Communicates Soul to Soul: Leo Tolstoy, “What is Art?”

Previous Posts

February 2016
S M T W T F S
« Jan   Sep »
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
2829  

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,603 other followers

4698721e-991c-464b-8d07-77e02a51941d-2060x1236

For Leo Tolstoy a work of literature does not justify itself merely by its existence. There is no such thing as Art for Art’s Sake. The function of the work is to communicate. He says, “Speech, transmitting the thoughts and experiences of men, serves as a means of union among them, and art acts in a similar manner.”

Of course all texts communicate similarly to this. But art and literature go further: “The peculiarity of this latter means of intercourse, distinguishing it from intercourse by means of words, consists in this, that whereas by words a man transmits his thoughts to another, by means of art he transmits his feelings.”

Literature communicates the author’s feelings. But communication requires a reader. What is the responsibility of the reader in order for the work of art to be effective? Tolstoy says, “The activity of art is based on the fact that a man, receiving through his sense of hearing or sight another man’s expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion which moved the man who expressed it.”

Art is communication of the feelings of one soul, the poet’s, to another, the reader’s.

Again, Tolstoy says, “And it is on this capacity of man to receive another man’s expression of feeling, and experience those feelings himself, that the activity of art is based.”

Well, fine, all these ideas may seem fairly reasonable. But wait. One of the issues in poetry, especially, since the late modernist period of the post World War II generations has been that of subjectivity versus objectivity.

Does the poet unashamedly bare his or her soul to the world or should the poet aim for as much detachment from the subject matter as possible? Some “confessional” poets such as Sylvia Plath were at one time criticized for expressing personal feelings.

For the reader, or the critic, does it matter what the poet felt when composing the poem? In fact, do we care what the poet intended at all? Actually, shouldn’t we approach the poem, or any text, as if the poet is dead and has left no trace of intentions whatever? Do intentions matter anyway?

Obviously, Tolstoy would say the answers to these questions would all be “You bet it matters.” In fact, these answers would be determinative in reading literature.

Is Tolstoy right? How do his ideas play out in literature today? I’ve been getting some excellent comments lately. Send in your ideas and read what other readers have written in previous posts.

But, ok, art communicates soul to soul. That’s fine. What doesn’t? In other words what is not art. Click in to The Literary Life next Thursday.

Advertisements

1 Comment

  1. Brian Rusher says:

    I think that what the writer intended has value, but I’ve also never really been able to comprehend Barthe and the “death of the author” movement. However, I feel like people such as Hirsch too easily disregard the role of the reader, as well as such things as the writer’s unconscious. Of course, latent meaning might be the reader’s unconscious rather than the author’s…yeah, I get confused.

    I seriously doubt Stowe intended “Uncle Tom” to become a pejorative. On that note, in terms of function, Uncle Tom’s Cabin would seem to be a great example fulfilling Tolstoy’s notion of art. But, I’ve read that novel twice and simply cannot consider it a peer of Leaves of Grass or Dubliners.

    So, I look forward to the next post.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog Stats

  • 3,359 hits
Follow The Literary Life on WordPress.com

Goodreads

Follow me on Twitter

Follow me on Twitter

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,603 other followers

The Hoarding

On 19th-Century Literary Scholarship

cancer killing recipe

Just another WordPress.com site

MUDD iN YOUR FACE

from boredom to creativity

Proof Perfectly

Editing - Copywriting - Advice

deconstructingdoctor.com

a peek behind the curtain

The Long Victorian - c.1789 - 1914

The literary world of the Long Nineteenth Century, c.1789 - 1914

Under the Light of Western Skies

Intellectual Comfort from the American West

The Scene

Radical Poetics at the Zig Zag Edges

The Literary Life

A Site for Those for whom Serious Literature Matters

The Literary Counsellor

Mainly a book blog, with a bit of life thrown in for good measure.

A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.

Rosemary's Blog

A window into my world

Lizzy's Literary Life

Celebrating the pleasures of a 21st century bookworm

Let's Talk about Lit

Moving Poetry Out of Books and Into Life

Witty N Pretty

Dallas Fashion Blogger

%d bloggers like this: