I Wonder if Tolstoy Ever Sewed a Button

From the words of the master:

To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling – this is the activity of art.

Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one (wo)man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings (s)he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them.

I think Tolstoy was brilliant, but I have a soft spot for many of the Russian novelists. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Gogol, Pushkin…all that angst, guilt, stream of consciousness (not to mention the Russian names). They do the heavy lifting, for sure.  And somewhere in the middle of it all, I find scraps of truth.  Maybe it’s my European ancestry that harmonizes with this dark bunch.

So when Tolstoy tackles the definition of art, I listen.  He knows art.

But, Dear Tolstoy, what about the bodies of work that never get seen?  What about the unpublished novels, the paintings in the closet, the songs scribbled on scraps of paper and buried in desk drawers, the dance, done at home, the private journals, or for that matter, the flower deep in the woods, the snowflake on the mountaintop, the galaxies we never would have seen if not for Hubble?

You, Mr. Tolstoy, may call them many things, like creations, or nature.  How, you may ask, can it be labeled art, if no one knows it exists?

I wish I had an answer.

Your definition of art is by far one of the best I have ever seen.  But where is the soul of the artist?  If work is never shared, or never recognized, is it still art?  If not, then what exactly is it?  Because work done in private may be just as powerful as work shared publicly…for the creator at least.

I leave you with this thought, dear Tolstoy.  If art is only art when it communicates to others, then why do any of us strive to create in private?  Why do we put down the brush or the pen and set something aside?  What would happen to the world if we never bothered with the pre-art, the first drafts, the disposable stuff, the mediocre?

Again, I wish I had an answer.

But I know this much:  the world would be a shallower place without it.


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