Tolstoy on Art and Morality

Tolstoy quote:

In all his novels after Bel-Ami … Maupassant evidently submitted to the theory which ruled not only in his circle in Paris, but which now rules everywhere among artists: that for a work of art it is not only unnecessary to have any clear conception of what is right and wrong, but that on the contrary an artist should completely ignore all moral questions, there being even a certain artistic merit in so doing. According to this theory the artist may or should depict what is true to life, what really is, what is beautiful and therefore pleases him, or even what may be useful as material for ‘science’; but that to care about what is moral or immoral, right or wrong, is not an artist’s business.

I remember a celebrated painter showing me one of his pictures representing a religious procession. It was all excellently painted, but no relation of the artist to his subject was perceptible.

‘And do you regard these ceremonies as good and consider that they should be performed, or not?’ I asked him.

With some condescension to my naïveté, he told me that he did not know about that and did not want to know it; his business was to represent life.

‘But at any rate you sympathize with this?’

‘I cannot say I do.’

‘Well then do you dislike these ceremonies?’

‘Neither the one thing nor the other,’ with a smile of compassion at my silliness, replied this modern, highly cultured, artist who depicted life without understanding its purpose and neither loving nor hating its phenomena.

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  1. Roy says:

    I think it depends on the painter’s mind if he wants to share his/ her thoughts and feelings but if i were a painter i should need to understand what i am painting or doing and to share what i felt and that’s my contribution to this world, if i were a painter, but still it depends on the painter.

  2. Guillermo says:

    I liked this, thanks : )

  3. Guillermo says:

    One cannot offer a powerful representation of reality by filtering it, watering it down with moral conceptions, or a mental understanding. The mind pales in bleakness when trying to accurately represent the vastness of human experience, and in bringing a 2 dimensional canvas, a novel, a photography, or whatever, to life.. an artist must put enough of his own depth that it makes sense many consider their works their own babies.
    If the one who observes the work of art, does not bring a depth of his own to the work, the piece of art dies in front of him and the opportunity is lost for an enriching instant, sublime