Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tolstoy about art

It is said that the best works of art are such that they cannot be understood by the majority and are accessible only to the elect, who are prepared to understand these great works. But if the majority do not understand, they must be given an explanation, the knowledge necessary for understanding. But it turns out that this knowledge does not exist, that the works cannot be explained, and therefore those who say that the majority do not understand good works of art give no explanations, but say that in order to understand one must read, look at, or listen to the same work over and over again. But this is not to explain, it is to make accustomed. And one can get accustomed to anything, even the worst. As it is possible to get people accustomed to rotten food, vodka, tobacco, opium, so it is possible to get them accustomed to bad art, which in fact is being done.

Leo Tolstoy, What is Art?, Penguin Classics, translated
by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

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