Reading Tolstoy nowadays is an encounter with a kind of relief. Simple, clear and with no considerations for the politically correct, Tolstoy just claims for innocence, truth and peace. Lover of the simple life, as we see in Anna Karenina’s character Levin, and the rural calm, he also has something to say about art. In his long essay What is Art?, Tolstoy upholds the plain character of the classical art in opposition to the new modern and subjective one such as Impressionism or late Romanticism. This new artistic form in his days, says Tolstoy, is due to the Aristocratic corruption whose new thoughts are mainly exported from Europe. Simple people such as the rural worker can’t understand this new art, why?- wonders Tolstoy- because it’s not art, it’s just a decadent self-expression and the manifesto of a perverted upper-class unable to feel the sublime. Is not the worker the guilty of his misunderstanding in modern art, is the artist himself who can’t express what he feels, mainly, because he feels nothing, his art is artificial, not natural, his art is learned in a school of art which, says Tolstoy, is to kill the art itself. Therefore, the upper-class is now educated in order to understand this new art, which means, art is being enclosed in a group of people. So art is not more universal and that’s no art. Art becomes thus a prostitute because the aim of the artist is money, so he makes what can be sold. And in all this lack of artistic honesty, art perverts its consumers, that’s the upper-class, because art has no more value in itself. Then we can see how in The Kreutzer Sonata lessons on art are just an excuse for adultery.
Tolstoy would say, “if you want to know what is art, go and ask the farmer if he enjoy this or that. If he does, then it’s art”.
You can agree or not, but I think it deserves a thought.