July 7, 2013 by Jerry Alatalo
It has been some time since first reading Leo Tolstoy‘s nonfiction masterpiece, “What Is Art?.” It is interesting how we come to take certain actions after minor events coincide. Or perhaps we just think that events are minor when the smallest action sometimes leads to large changes in one’s life and perspective. The library at Northern Michigan University had the book.
While reading Mahatma Gandhi‘s book “All Men Are Brothers” Gandhi came to mention that “What Is Art?” was, in Gandhi’s opinion, Tolstoy’s masterpiece. So, after reading Gandhi’s book, Tolstoy’s was the next on the list for reading.Thinking about what Tolstoy had to say about the art world around the year 1900 we find that there has not been a great deal of change in the meantime. Tolstoy described a situation at that time where the so-called works of art were forms of entertainment for the leisure class of that time.
We find today that there is not much different between what Tolstoy described then and what we see now. How many works of art have literally changed you for the better in your life? We are talking about say, a movie where you cannot leave your seat right away when the credits come to the screen. You are frozen to your seat because the film moved you in a profound way. You finally walk out of the theater and you are changed.
Tolstoy listed some needed elements of a creative work which had to be present in the work for it to be called true art. He thought that a work must convey the highest spiritual feeling on Earth. He thought that the work had to result in a literal improvement in the lives of men, women and children on this planet.
I forget the year (1991) but it was when “Silence of the Lambs” won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was up against “JFK” by Oliver Stone. I thought about Tolstoy’s criteria and “Silence of the Lambs” met neither. It conveyed the lowest spiritual feeling on Earth. It probably resulted in a literal degradation of the human condition.
The movies “Schindler’s List” and “The Deer Hunter” come to mind when considering movies that met Tolstoy’s necessary ingredients to be seen as true art. Perhaps as a result of reading Gandhi’s “All Men Are Brothers” and Tolstoy’s “What Is Art?”, many times I would look at almost every movie at the rental store and walk out with nothing which was able to meet Tolstoy’s high standards.
We are grateful to have come across Tolstoy’s book. Because of reading it, we have avoided ingesting a lot of rubbish that many have erroneously considered “art” through the years.
Please share any and all films, books, music, plays etc. which you have experienced and believe reached the goals that Tolstoy set for a true work of art. What are your thoughts on the state of art in 2013?