Tolstoy with a View
On Sunday, I had a great time finishing off Tolstoy's What is Art on top of a mountain overlooking the Alps. I highly recommend reading with an inspiring view. Although I like cross-country skiing I haven't enjoyed down-hill skiing that much in the past several years, especially since I hurt my knee. But that explains why Agi was skiing while I sat atop the mountain reading.
What is Art was very different than what I expected. I knew Tolstoy would provide an insightful, well-written analysis of various types of art, but what surprised me was how overtly spiritual and pro-Christian the book is. In brief, Tolstoy argues that the purpose of art is to convey feelings from one person to another. The best art is that which reflects the highest feelings of a particular culture at a specific time. The highest and most noble feelings result from one's "religious consciousness" rather than from lower feelings that typically focus solely on pleasure. He argues that the pursuit of the good and of God through religion is the best thing an individual or a culture can aspire to and thus the best art reflects this pursuit.
He also believes that the the upper classes of society have mistakenly replaced a focus on goodness and morality in art with an emphasis on mere pleasure that flows from beauty. In addition, he says the greatest art is that which is simple and accessible to everyone and so he bashes opera, ballet and many different types of pseudo-sophisticated music. He likes the stories of the bible, and the work of Dickens and Hugo--most likely because these last two authors write from a solid moral foundation.
Finally what I found very interesting was how he made some insightful predictions about where modern science is leading the world (he wrote this over a hundred years ago of course). He said that the efforts of science are overly focused on solving specific problems rather than preventing them in the first place (e.g. invasive surgery vs. promoting public health). And he is a big advocate of healthy living: working out in the yard and growing your own food.
Here's a picture or two of where I sat and also of Agi overlooking the beautiful Alps.