what is art, really?

Leo Tolstoy wrote a short book called What is Art? defining art as a cultural form of communication. He believed that communication only worked with it’s appropriate audience. Only Italians can judge Italian opera. Only contemporary PBS viewers can judge Bob Ross. Only hip hop fans can criticize Kanye West’s music. He opposed those who judged art by beauty. He emphasized that anything can be art: jokes, home decorations, flower arrangements, spiritual rituals, and so on.

I’ll let his own words illuminate the concept:

Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man’s emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.

Leo Tolstoy, What is art?

What I love most about this definition of art is that it implores us to appreciate many more moments on a deeper level. If human interactions (“a means of union among men”) are art, and art is indispensable to our well-being, then that means we have many opportunities to appreciate art. That is, if only we were willing to appreciate more dad jokes, tedious rituals, hand-made tablecloths, dying floral arrangements, and homemade soundcloud rappers.

I always had an inkling that there was something worth appreciating all around us and What is Art? confirms it.

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