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The conclusion to be drawn

Post #950 • February 1, 2007, 5:02 PM • 6 Comments

Tolstoy, from What Is Art?:

Of a speech it may be said that it is admirable, but incomphrehensible to those who do not know the language in which it is delivered. A speech delivered in Chinese may be excellent and may yet remain incomprehensible to me if I do not know Chinese; but what distinguishes a work of art from all other mental activity is just the fact that its language is understood by all, and that it infects all without distinction. The tears and laughter of a Chinese infect me just as the laughter and tears of a Russian; and it is the same with painting and music and poetry when it is translated into a language I understand. ... So that, if art fails to move men, it cannot be said that this is due to the spectators' or hearers' lack of understanding, but the conclusion to be drawn may and should be that such art is either bad art or not art at all. ...

The business of art lies just in this - to make that understood and felt which, in the form of an argument, might be incomprehensible and inaccessible. Usually it seems to the recipient of a truly artistic impression that he knew the thing before but had been unable to express it.




February 1, 2007, 11:03 PM



Marc Country

February 2, 2007, 1:21 AM

Nevertheless, there remain a vast number of visually illiterate people in the world. "...if art fails to move men...", the fault may indeed lie with the viewer, and not the viewed. Sorry, Leo.


david rohn

February 2, 2007, 10:38 AM

Of course arrt is at least a more universal language -at least to the extent that visual material is universal and cross cultural. But a Dutch renaissance symbolist painting, a Barogue painting with a Bibical or Classical Mythology theme or narrative content, wil need some explaining -Just as a painting of Hindu Mythology or the Japanese Tale of Genji.
Beyond that I ve heard people on the fringe audience of Contemporary art comment that much Contemporary art is self referential makinng it inaccessible to people who are not 'following' art.
I ve also heard people suggest that the more 'explaining ' a work of contemporary art needs , the more suspect is it s value.
This seems like an oversimplification and it leads to the whole issuue of accessibility: in other words should artists create work that is easy to access, that communicates it s ideas more universally,? Or iis it ok to use one s own (possibly elevated, effete, elitist) frame of reference and appeal only to a small select audience The answer is artistic freedom rules and that if you re lucky, you ll get the audiennce you went after It s worth mentioning that contemporary art has a l least an overt idea that under the law of artisttic freedom visual artists need not consider the idea of communicationg ideas to a viewer-but just personal expressin-rathe different approach from the rigors of playwriting or film making.
I guess the point is that art also speaks several visual languages, and that within all those languages there appear to be some who 'speak in tongues' and others who are content to 'talk babytalk'. But a universal language -maybe not exactly.



February 3, 2007, 8:19 PM

Beyond that I ve heard people on the fringe audience of Contemporary art comment that much Contemporary art is self referential makinng it inaccessible to people who are not 'following' art.

It can be a sort of gnosticism, or better, a shibboleth designed to separate the allegedly wise from the allegedly foolish.



February 3, 2007, 10:14 PM

Yes, John. 'Gnosticism' may very well be the most accurate term for the majority of art that's currently prevailing. But even by such a weak standard as "more knowledge = better art" the current state of art affairs is so bereft of true value that even its salaried soothsayers are betraying their ill ease.

Could they possibly be unwittingly hearkening a collective near-future renewal of interest in our search for quality, for excellence, and for all that's good? Nah, they'll all find some other false grail to go groveling after - there are just too many possible heresies to get tangled up in, love of lucre being one of the stickiest.


Marc Country

February 4, 2007, 2:43 PM

To paraphrase Schopenhauer:

The artist who makes work for fools will always find a large audience.



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