What is Art?


We are accustomed to understand art to be only what we hear and see in theaters, concerts, and exhibitions, together with buildings, statues, poems, novels. . . . But all this is but the smallest part of the art by which we communicate with each other in life. All human life is filled with works of art of every kind — from cradlesong, jest, mimicry, the ornamentation of houses, dress, and utensils, up to church services, buildings, monuments, and triumphal processions. It is all artistic activity. So that by art, in the limited sense of the word, we do not mean all human activity transmitting feelings, but only that part which we for some reason select from it and to which we attach special importance.
– excerpted from What Is Art? (1896) By Leo Tolstoy.

This made me think… To what extent can human activity be defined as ‘art’?
Many things are called ‘artistic’ – whether it’s a piece of clothing, a Van Gogh painting, or simply just a photo of an apple. But does that mean that anything can be art? What exactly is the standard for defining the line between ‘art’ and ‘everything else’?

“The feelings with which the artist infects others may be most various — very strong or very weak, very important or very insignificant, very bad or very good: feelings of love for one’s own country, self-devotion and submission to fate or to God expressed in a drama, raptures of lovers described in a novel, feelings of voluptuousness expressed in a picture, courage expressed in a triumphal march, merriment evoked by a dance, humor evoked by a funny story, the feeling of quietness transmitted by an evening landscape or by a lullaby, or the feeling of admiration evoked by a beautiful arabesque — it is all art.
If only the spectators or auditors are infected by the feelings which the author has felt, it is art. “

– excerpted from What Is Art? (1896) By Leo Tolstoy.

Most people seem to believe that the standard for determining whether something falls into the category of ‘art’ or not is the intention of the artist. They think that if someone intends to convey an artistic message and therefore deliberately does a certain action, the action can be defined as ‘art’. However, Tolstoy suggests that the standard is ‘infection’. Not only does the artist have to deliberately convey a message, but the spectators have to be able to feel and indirectly experience the specific emotions or feelings that the artist expressed through the artwork.

I personally think that even if people appreciating the art don’t feel the exact emotions that the artist tried to express, the artist’s work can still be considered as ‘art’. Although art is mainly a form of communication, the standard of evaluating pieces of work shouldn’t be focused on the correct delivery of the artist’s specific state of mind. The most magical aspect of art is based on the fact that different people will definitely interpret a certain piece of art in many different ways. It’s the unique differences that are valuable, even amongst spectators.

I think that if any kind of artistic communication exists between the artist and spectators because of the artist’s work, the work can definitely be considered ‘art’.

P.S. Book Recommedation: What Is Art? (1896) By Leo Tolstoy.

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