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WHAT IS ART? 







Count L. N. TolstoI, 1892. 



WHAT IS ART? 



BY 
COUNT LYOF N. TOLSTOI 



TRANSLATED FROM THE RUSSIAN ORIGINAL 

BY 

AYLMER MAUDE 



EMBODYING THE AUTHOR'S LAST ALTERATIONS 
AND REVISIONS 



NEW YORK 

THOMAS Y. CROWELL & CO. 

PUBLISHERS 



CorotiGHT, 2899, 
By THOMAS Y. CROWELL & COl 



TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE 



THE fundamental thought expressed in this book 
leads inevitably to conclusions so new, so unex- 
pected, and so contrary to what is usually maintained in 
literary and artistic circles, that although it is clearly 
and emphatically expressed (and this I hope has not 
been lost in translation), most readers who wish to pos- 
sess themselves of it will have to read the work care- 
fully, and to digest it slowly. 

Especially the introductory Chapters II., III., IV., and 
V., need careful perusal by any who, having adopted 
one or other of the current theories on beauty and art, 
may find it difficult to abandon a preconceived view, 
and to clear their minds for a fair appreciation of what 
is new to them. 

The first four chapters raise the problem, and tell us 
briefly what has been said by previous writers. Chap- 
ter III. gives (in highly condensed form) the substance 
of the teaching of some sixty philosophers on this sub- 
ject, and since many of them were extremely confused, 
the chapter cannot, in the nature of things, be easy 
reading. 

I should like to remark, in passing, that though Tol- 
stot in this chapter (presumably for convenience of veri- 
fication) refers chiefly to the compilations of Schasler, 
Kralik, and Knight, he has gone behind these authori- 
ties to the primary sources. To give a single instance : 
in the paragraph on Darwin, the foot-note refers us to 
Knight, but the remark that the origin of the art of 
music may be traced back to the call of the males to 
the females in the animal world will be found in Dar- 
win, but will not be found in Knight. 

In Chapter V. we come to Tolstoi's definition of art, 



xvi TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE 

which definition should be kept well in mind while read- 
ing the rest of the book. 

No doubt most of those to whom it is an end in itself, 
who live by it, or make it their chief occupation, will 
read this book (or leave it unread) and go on in their 
former way, much as Pharaoh, of old, hardened his 
heart, and did not sympathize with what Moses had to 
say on the labor question. But for those of us who 
have felt that art is too valuable a matter to be lost out 
of our lives, and who, in their quest for social justice, 
have met the reproach that they were sacrificing the 
pleasures and advantages of art, this book is of inesti- 
mable value, in that it solves a perplexed question of 
far-reaching importance to practical life. 

To this class of readers neither the masterly elucida- 
tion of the former theories contained in the opening 
chapters, nor the explanation of how it has come about 
that such great importance is attached to the activity we 
call art (Chapters VI. and VII.), nor the explanation 
and illustrations of the perversion that art has under- 
gone, nor even the elucidation of the terrible evils this 
perversion is producing (XVI I.), will equal in significance 
the remaining chapters of the book. These show us 
what to look for in art, how to distinguish it from coun- 
terfeits (XV., XVI., and XVIIL), treat of the true art 
of the future (XIX.), and explain how science and art 
are linked together in man's life, are directed by his 
perception of the meaning of life, and inevitably react 
on all he thinks and f eels. 



THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE 



THIS book of mine, "What is Art? " appears now 
for the first time in its true form. More than one 
edition has already been issued in Russia, but in each 
case it has been so mutilated by the " Censor," that I 
request all who are interested in my views on art only 
to judge of them by the work in its present shape. The 
causes which led to the publication of the book — with 
my name attached to it — in a mutilated form were the 
following : In accordance with a decision I arrived at 
long ago, — not to submit my writings to the " Censor- 
ship " (which I consider to be an immoral and irrational 
institution), but to print them only in the shape in which 
they were written, — I intended not to attempt to print 
this work in Russia. However, my good acquaintance, 
Professor Grote, editor of a Moscow psychological maga- 
zine, having heard of the contents of my work, asked me 
to print it in his magazine, and promised me that he 
would get the book through the "Censor's" office unmu- 
tilated if I would but agree to a few very unimportant 
alterations, merely toning down certain expressions. I 
was weak enough to agree to this, and it has resulted in 
a book appearing under my name, from which not only 
have some essential thoughts been excluded, but into 
which the thoughts of other men — even thoughts utterly 
opposed to my own convictions — have been introduced. 
The thing occurred in this way. First, Grote softened 
my expressions, and in some cases weakened them. For 
instance, he replaced the words : always by sometimes^ 
all by some, Church religion by Roman Catholic religion, 
" Mother of God" by Madonna, patriotism by pseudo-pa- 
triotism, palaces by palatii, 1 etc., and I did not consider 

1 Tolstoi's remarks on Church religion were re-worded so as to seem to 
relate only to the Western Church, and his disapproval of luxurious life was 
made to apply, not, say, to Queen Victoria or Nicholas IL, but to the Caesars 
or the Pharaohs. — Tr. 



xviii THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE 

it necessary to protest. But when the book was already 
in type, the Censor required that whole sentences should 
be altered, and that instead of what I said about the evil 
of landed property, a remark should be substituted on 
the evils of a landless proletariate. 1 I agreed to this 
also, and to some further alterations. It seemed not 
worth while to upset the whole affair for the sake of 
one sentence, and when one alteration had been agreed 
to it seemed not worth while to protest against a second 
and a third. So, little by little, expressions crept into 
the book which altered the sense and attributed things 
to me that I could not have wished to say. So that by 
the time the book was printed it had been deprived of 
some part of its integrity and sincerity. But there was 
consolation in the thought that the book, even in this 
form, if it contains something that is good, would be of 
use to Russian readers whom it would otherwise not have 
reached. Things, however, turned out otherwise. Nous 
cotnptions sans notre hdte. After the legal term of four 
days had already elapsed, the book was seized, and, on 
instructions received from Petersburg, it was handed 
over to the " Spiritual Censor." Then Grote declined 
all further participation in the affair, and the " Spiritual 
Censor " proceeded to do what he would with the book. 
The " Spiritual Censorship " is one of the most ignorant, 
venal, stupid, and despotic institutions in Russia. Books 
which disagree in any way with the recognized state re- 
ligion of Russia, if once it gets hold of them, are almost 
always totally suppressed and burnt; which is what 
happened to all my religious works when attempts were 
made to print them in Russia. Probably a similar fate 
would have overtaken this work also, had not the editors 

1 The Russian peasant is usually a member of a village commune, and 
has therefore a right to a share in the land belonging to the village. Tol- 
stoi disapproves of the order of society which allows less land for the sup- 
port of a village full of people than is sometimes owned by a single landed 
proprietor. The " Censor " will not allow disapproval of this state of 
things to be expressed, but is prepared to admit that the laws and customs, 
say, of England — where a yet more extreme form of landed property exists, 
and the men who actually labor on the land usually possess none of it— 
deserve criticism. — Tr. 



THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE xix 

of the magazine employed all means to save it The re* 
suit of their efforts was that the " Spiritual Censor," a 
priest who probably understands art and is interested in 
art as much as I understand or am interested in church 
services, but who gets a good salary for destroying what- 
ever is likely to displease his superiors, struck out all that 
seemed to him to endanger his position, and substituted 
his thoughts for mine wherever he considered it neces- 
sary to do so. For instance, where I speak of Christ 
going to the Cross for the sake of the truth He professed, 
the " Censor " substituted a statement that Christ died 
for mankind, i.e. he attributed to me an assertion of the 
dogma of the Redemption, which I consider to be one of 
the most untrue and harmful of Church dogmas. After 
correcting the book in this way, the " Spiritual Censor " 
allowed it to be printed. 

To protest in Russia is impossible — no newspaper 
would publish such a protest ; and to withdraw my book 
from the magazine, and place the editor in an awkward 
position with the public, was also not possible. 

So the matter has remained. A book has appeared 
under my name containing thoughts attributed to me 
which are not mine. 

I was persuaded to give my article to a Russian mag- 
azine in order that my thoughts, which may be useful, 
should become the possession of Russian readers ; and 
the result has been that my name is affixed to a work 
from which it might be assumed that I quite arbitrarily 
assert things contrary to the general opinion, without 
adducing my reasons ; that I only consider false patri- 
otism bad, but patriotism in general a very good feeling ; 
that I merely deny the absurdities of the Roman Catholic 
Church and disbelieve in the Madonna, but that I believe 
in the Orthodox Eastern faith and in the " Mother of 
God " ; that I consider all the writings collected in the 
Bible to be holy books, and see the chief importance 
of Christ's life in the Redemption of mankind by His 
death. 

I have narrated all this in such detail because it strik- 
ingly illustrates the indubitable truth that all compromise 



xx THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE 

with institutions of which your conscience disapproves, 
— compromises which are usually made for the sake of 
the general good, — instead of producing the good you 
expected, inevitably lead you, not only to acknowledge 
the institution you disapprove of, but also to participate 
in the evil that institution produces. 

I am glad to be able by this statement at least to do 
something to correct the error into which I was led by 
my compromise. 

I have also to mention that besides reinstating the 
parts excluded by the Censor from the Russian editions, 
other corrections and additions of importance have been 
made in this edition. 

29th March, i8g& 



WHAT IS ART? 



CHAPTER I 

TAKE up any one of our ordinary newspapers, and 
you will find a part devoted to the theater and 
music. In almost every number you will find a descrip- 
tion of some art exhibition, or of some particular picture, 
and you will always find reviews of new works of art that 
have appeared, of volumes of poems, of short stories, or 
of novels. 

Promptly, and in detail, as soon as it has occurred, an 
account is published of how such and such an actress 
or actor played this or that rdle in such and such a drama, 
comedy, or opera ; and of the merits of the performance, 
as well as of the contents of the new drama, comedy, or 
opera, with its defects and merits. With as much care 
and detail, or even more, we are told how such and such 
an artist has sung a certain piece, or has played it on the 
piano or violin, and what were the merits and defects of 
the piece and of the performance. In every large town 
there is sure to be at least one, if not more than one, 
exhibition of new pictures, the merits and defects of 
which are discussed in the utmost detail by critics and 
connoisseurs. 

New novels and poems, in separate volumes or in the 
magazines, appear almost every day, and the news- 
papers consider it their duty to give their readers de- 
tailed accounts of these artistic productions. 

For the support of art in Russia (where for the educa- 
tion of the people only a hundredth part is spent of what 
would be required to give every one the opportunity of 
instruction) the government grants millions q{ roubles in 
subsidies to academies, conservatoires, and theaters. In 

* i 



2 WHAT IS ART? 

France twenty million francs are assigned for art, and 
similar grants are made in Germany and England. 

In every large town enormous buildings are erected for 
museums, academies, conservatoires, dramatic schools, 
and for performances and concerts. Hundreds of thou- 
sands of workmen — carpenters, masons, painters, join- 
ers, paperhangers, tailors, hairdressers, jewelers, molders, 
type-setters — spend their whole lives in hard labor to 
satisfy the demands of art, so that hardly any other de- 
partment of human activity, except the military, con- 
sumes so much energy as this. 

Not only is enormous labor spent on this activity, but 
in it, as in war, the very lives of men are sacrificed. 
Hundreds of thousands of people devote their lives from 
childhood to learning to twirl their legs rapidly(dancers\ 
or to touch notes and strings very rapidly (musicians), 
or to draw with paint and represent what they see (ar- 
tists), or to turn every phrase inside out and find a rhyme 
to every word. And these people, often very kind and 
clever, and capable of all sorts of useful labor, grow sav- 
age over their specialized and stupefying occupations, 
and become one-sided and self-complacent specialists, 
dull to all the serious phenomena of life, and skilful only 
at rapidly twisting their legs, their tongues, or their 
fingers. 

But even this stunting of human life is not the worst 
I remember being once at the rehearsal of one of the 
most ordinary of the new operas which are produced at 
all the opera houses of Europe and America. 

I arrived when the first act had already commenced. 
To reach the auditorium I had to pass through the stage 
entrance. By dark entrances and passages, I was led 
through the vaults of an enormous building, past immense 
machines for changing the scenery and for illuminating; 
and there in the gloom and dust I saw workmen busily 
engaged. One of these men, pale, haggard, in a dirty 
blouse, with dirty, work-worn hands and crattiped fin- 
gers, evidently tired and out of humor, went past me, 
angrily scolding another man. Ascending by a dark 
stair, I came out on the boards behind the scenes. Amid 



WHAT IS ART? 3 

Various poles and rings and scattered scenery, decora* 
tions and curtains, stood and moved dozens, if not hun- 
dreds, of painted and dressed-up men, in costumes fitting 
tight to their thighs and calves, and also women, as usual, 
as nearly nude as might be. These were all singers, or 
members of the chorus, or ballet-dancers, awaiting their 
turns. My guide led me across the stage and, by means 
of a bridge of boards across the orchestra (in which per- 
haps a hundred musicians of all kinds, from kettledrum 
to flute and harp, were seated), to the dark pit-stalls. 

On an elevation, between two lamps with reflectors, 
and in an arm-chair placed before a music-stand, sat the 
director of the musical part, bdton in hand, managing 
the orchestra and singers, and, in general, the production 
of the whole opera. 

The performance had already commenced, and on the 
stage a procession of Indians who had brought home a 
bride was being presented. Besides men and women in 
costume, two other men in ordinary clothes bustled and 
ran about on the stage ; one was the director of the dra- 
matic part, and the other, who stepped about in soft 
shoes and ran from place to place with unusual agility, 
was the dancing-master, whose salary per month ex- 
ceeded what ten laborers earn in a year. 

These three directors arranged the singing, the or- 
chestra, and the procession. The procession, as usual, 
was enacted by couples, with tinfoil halberds on their 
shoulders. They all came from one place, and walked 
round and round again, and then stopped. The proces- 
sion took a long time to arrange : first the Indians with 
halberds came on too late ; then too soon ; then at the 
right time, but crowded together at the exit ; then they 
did not crowd, but arranged themselves badly at the sides 
of the stage ; and each time the whole performance was 
stopped and recommenced from the beginning. The 
procession was introduced by a recitative, delivered by 
a man dressed up like some variety of Turk, who, open- 
ing his mouth in a curious way, sang, " Home I bring 
the bri-i-ide." He sings and waves his arm (which is of 
course bare) from under his mantle. The procession com? 



4 WHAT IS ART? 

mences, but here the French horn, in the accompaniment 
of the recitative, does something wrong; and the director, 
with a shudder as if some catastrophe had occurred, raps 
with his stick on the stand. All is stopped, and the di- 
rector, turning to the orchestra, attacks the French horn, 
scolding him in the rudest terms, as cabmen abuse each 
other, for taking the wrong note. And again the whole 
thing recommences. The Indians with their halberds 
Again come on, treading softly in their extraordinary 
boots; again the singer sings, "Home I bring the 
bri-i-ide." But here the pairs get too close together. 
More raps with the stick, more scolding, and a recom- 
mencement. Again, " Home I bring the bri-i-ide," again 
the same gesticulation with the bare arm from under the 
mantle, and again the couples, treading softly with hal- 
berds on their shoulders, some with sad and serious faces, 
some talking and smiling, arrange themselves in a circle 
and begin to sing. All seems to be going well, but again 
the stick raps, and the director, in a distressed and an- 
gry voice, begins to scold the men and women of the 
chorus. It appears that when singing they had omitted 
to raise their hands from time to time in sign of anima- 
tion. " Are you all dead, or what ? Cows that you are ! 
Are you corpses, that you can't move ? " Again they 
recommence, " Home I bring the bri-i-ide," and again, 
with sorrowful faces, the chorus-women sing, first one 
and then another of them raising their hands. But two 
chorus-girls speak to each other, — again a more vehe- 
ment rapping with the stick. " Have you come here to 
talk ? Can't you gossip at home ? You there in red 
breeches, come nearer. Look toward me! Recom- 
mence ! " Again, " Home I bring the bri-i-ide." And 
so it goes on for one, two, three hours. The whole of 
such a rehearsal lasts six hours on end. Raps with the 
stick, repetitions, placings, corrections of the singers, of 
the orchestra, of the procession, of the dancers, — all 
seasoned with angry scolding. I heard the words, 
" asses," " fools," " idiots," " swine," addressed to the 
musicians and singers at least forty times in the course 
of one hour. And the unhappy individual to whom the 



WHAT IS ART? 5 

abuse is addressed, — flautist, horn-blower, or singer, — 
physically and mentally demoralized, does not reply, and 
does what is demanded of him. Twenty times is repeated 
the one phrase, " Home I bring the bri-i-ide," and twenty 
times the striding about in yellow shoes with a halberd 
over the shoulder. The conductor knows that these peo- 
ple are so demoralized that they are no longer fit for any- 
thing but to blow trumpets and walk about with halberds 
and in yellow shoes, and that they are also accustomed 
to dainty, easy living, so that they will put up with any- 
thing rather than lose their luxurious life. He therefore 
gives free vent to his churlishness, especially as he has 
seen the same thing done in Paris and Vienna, and 
knows that this is the way the best conductors behave, 
and that it is a musical tradition of great artists to be 
so carried away by the great business of their art that 
they cannot pause to consider the feelings of other 
artists. 

It would be difficult to find a more repulsive sight. 
I have seen one workman abuse another for not sup- 
porting the weight piled upon him when goods were 
being unloaded, or, at hay-stacking, the village elder 
scold a peasant for not making the rick right, and the 
man submitted in silence. And, however unpleasant 
it was to witness the scene, the unpleasantness was 
lessened by the consciousness that the business in 
hand was needful and important, and that the fault 
for which the head man scolded the laborer was one 
which might spoil a needful undertaking. 

But what was being done here ? For what, and for 
whom ? Very likely the conductor was tired out, like 
the workman I passed in the vaults; it was even 
evident that he was ; but who made him tire himself ? 
And for what was he tiring himself ? The opera he 
was rehearsing was one of the most ordinary of operas 
for people who are accustomed to them, but also one 
of the most gigantic absurdities that could possibly 
be devised. An Indian king wants to marry; they 
bring him a bride ; he disguises himself as a minstrel ; 
the bride falls in love with the minstrel and is in de- 



6 WHAT IS ART? 

spair, but afterwards discovers that the minstrel is the 
king, and every one is highly delighted. 

That there never were, or could be, such Indians, 
and that they were not only unlike Indians, but that 
what they were doing was unlike anything on earth 
except other operas, was beyond all manner of doubt ; 
that people do not converse in such a way as recita- 
tive, and do not place themselves at fixed distances, 
in a quartet, waving their arms to express their 
emotions ; that nowhere, except in theaters, do people 
walk about in such a manner, in pairs, with tinfoil 
halberds and in slippers ; that no one ever gets angry 
in such a way, or is affected in such a way, or laughs 
in such a way, or cries in such a way ; and that no one 
on earth can be moved by such performances ; all this 
is beyond the possibility of doubt 

Instinctively the question presents itself : For whom 
is this being done ? Whom can it please ? If there 
are, occasionally, good melodies in the opera, to which 
it is pleasant to listen, they could have been sung 
simply, without these stupid costumes and all the pro- 
cessions and recitatives and hand-wavings. 

The ballet, in which half-naked women make volup- 
tuous movements, twisting themselves into various sen- 
sual wreathings, is simply a lewd performance. 

So one is quite at a loss as to whom these things 
are done for. The man of culture is heartily sick of 
them, while to a real working-man they are utterly in- 
comprehensible. If any one can be pleased by these 
things (which is doubtful), it can only be some young 
footman or depraved artisan, who has contracted the 
spirit of the upper classes but is not yet satiated with 
their amusements, and wishes to show his breeding. 

And all this nasty folly is prepared, not simply, nor 
with kindly merriment, but with anger and brutal 
cruelty. 

It is said that it is all done for the sake of art, and 
that art is a very important thing. But is it true that 
art is so important that such sacrifices should be made 
for its sake? This question is especially urgent, be« 



WHAT IS ART? 7 

cause art, for the sake of which the labor of Bullions, 
the lives of men, and, above all, love between man and 
man, are being sacrificed, — this very art is becoming 
something more and more vague and uncertain to 
human perception. 

Criticism, in which the lovers of art used to find 
support for their opinions, has latterly become so self- 
contradictory, that, if we exclude from the domain of 
art all that to which the critics of various schools them- 
selves deny the title, there is scarcely any art left. 

The artists of various sects, like the theologians of 
the various sects, mutually exclude and destroy them- 
selves. Listen to the artists of the schools of our 
times, and you will find, in all branches, each set of 
artists disowning others. In poetry the old roman- 
ticists deny the parnassiens and the decadents ; the 
parnassiens disown the romanticists and the deca- 
dents ; the decadents disown all their predecessors and 
the symbolists ; the symbolists disown all their pre- 
decessors and les mages ; and les mages disown all, 
all their predecessors. Among novelists we have 
naturalists, psychologists, and " nature-ists," all reject- 
ing each other. And it is the same in dramatic art, 
in painting, and in music. So that art, which demands 
such tremendous labor-sacrifices from the people, 
which stunts human lives and transgresses against 
human love, is not only not a thing clearly and firmly 
defined, but is understood in such contradictory ways 
by its own devotees that it is difficult to say what is 
meant by art, and especially what is good, useful art, 
— art for the sake of which we might condone such 
sacrifices as are being offered at its shrine. 



CHAPTER II 

For the production of every ballet, circus, opera, 
operetta, exhibition, picture, concert, or printed book, 
the intense and unwilling labor of thousands and thou- 
sands of people is needed at what is often harmful and 



8 WHAT IS ART? 

humiliating work. It were well if artists made all they 
require for themselves, but, as it is, they all need the 
help of workmen, not only to produce art, but also for 
their own usually luxurious maintenance. And, one 
way or other, they get it ; either through payments from 
rich people, or through subsidies given by government 
(in Russia, for instance, in grants of millions of roubles 
to theaters, conservatoires, and academies). This money 
is collected from the people, some of whom have to sell 
their only cow to pay the tax, and who never get those 
aesthetic pleasures which art gives. 

It was all very well for a Greek or Roman artist, or 
even for a Russian artist of the first half of our century 
(when there were still slaves, and it was considered right 
that there should be), with a quiet mind to make people 
serve him and his art ; but in our day, when in all men 
there is at least some dim perception of the equal rights 
of all, it is impossible to constrain people to labor un- 
willingly for art, without first deciding the question 
whether it is true that art is so good and so important 
an affair as to redeem this evil. 

If not, we have the terrible probability to consider, 
that while fearful sacrifices of the labor and lives of men, 
and of morality itself, are being made to art, that same 
art may be not only useless but even harmful. 

And therefore it is necessary for a society in which 
works of art arise and are supported, to find out whether 
all that professes to be art is really art ; whether (as is 
presupposed in our society) all that which is art is good ; 
and whether it is important and worth those sacrifices 
which it necessitates. It is still more necessary for 
every conscientious artist to know this, that he may be 
sure that all he does has a valid meaning ; that it is not 
merely an infatuation of the small circle of people among 
whom he lives which excites in him the false assurance 
that he is doing a good work ; and that what he takes 
from others for the support of his often very luxurious 
life, will be compensated for by those productions at 
which he works. And that is why answers to the above 
questions are especially important in our time. 



WHAT IS ART? 9 

What is this art, which is considered so important and 
necessary for humanity that for its sake these sacrifices of 
labor, of human life, and even of goodness may be made ? 

"What is art? What a question! Art is architecture, 
sculpture, painting, music, and poetry in all its forms/' 
usually replies the ordinary man, the art amateur, or 
even the artist himself, imagining the matter about 
which he is talking to be perfectly clear, and uniformly 
understood by everybody. But in architecture, one in- 
quires further, are there not simple buildings which are 
not objects of art, and buildings with artistic pretensions 
which are unsuccessful and ugly and therefore cannot 
be considered as works of art ? Wherein lies the charac- 
teristic sign of a work of art ? 

It is the same in sculpture, in music, and in poetry. 
Art, in all its forms, is bounded on one side by the prac- 
tically useful, and on the other by unsuccessful attempts 
at art. How is art to be marked off from each of these ? 
The ordinary educated man of our circle, and even the 
artist who has not occupied himself especially with 
aesthetics, will not hesitate at this question either. He 
thinks the solution has been found long ago, and is well 
known to every one. 

" Art is such activity as produces beauty," says such 
a man. 

If art consists in that, then is a ballet or an operetta 
art ? you inquire. 

" Yes," says the ordinary man, though with some hesi- 
tation, " a good ballet or a graceful operetta is also art, 
in so far as it manifests beauty." 

But without even asking the ordinary man what differ- 
entiates the " good " ballet and the " graceful " operetta 
from their opposites (a question he would have much 
difficulty in answering), if you ask him whether the 
activity of costumiers and hairdressers, who ornament 
the figures and faces of the women for the ballet and 
the operetta, is art ; or the activity of Worth, the dress- 
maker ; of scent-makers and men cooks, — then he will, 
in most cases, deny that their activity belongs to the 
sphere of art But in this the ordinary man makes a 



io WHAT IS ART? 

mistake, just because he is an ordinary man and not a 
specialist, and because he has not occupied himself with 
aesthetic questions. Had he looked into these matters, 
he would have seen in the great Renan's book, " Marc 
Aurele," a dissertation showing that the tailor's work is 
art, and that those who do not see in the adornment of 
woman an affair of the highest art are very small-minded 
and dull. " Cest le grand art" says Renan. Moreover, 
he would have known that in many aesthetic systems — 
for instance, in the aesthetics of the learned Professor 
Kralik, " Weltschonheit, Versuch einer allgemeinen JEs- 
thetik, von Richard Kralik," and in " Les Probtemes de 
TEsthdtique Contemporaine," by Guyau — the arts of 
costume, of taste, and of touch are included. 

" Es Folgt nun ein Fiinfblatt von Kunsten, die der sub- 
jectiven Sinnlichkeit entkeimen " (There results then a 
pentafoliate of arts, growing out of the subjective per- 
ceptions), says Kralik (p. 1 75). " Sie sind die dsthetische 
Behandlung der fiinf Sinned (They are the aesthetic 
treatment of the five senses.) 

These five arts are the following : — 

Die Kunst des Geschmacksinns — The art of the sense 
of taste (p. 175). 

Die Kunst des Geruchsinns — The art of the sense 
of smell (p. 177). 

Die Kunst des Tastsinns — The art of the sense of 
touch (p. 180). 

Die Kunst des Gehorsinns — The art of the sense of 
hearing (p. 182). 

Die Kunst des Gesichtsinns — The art of the sense 
of sight (p. 184). 

Of the first of these — die Kunst des Geschmacksinns 
— he says : " Man halt zwar gewohnlich nur zwei oder 
hochstens drei Sinnefur wiirdig, den Stoff kunstlerischer 
Behandlung abzugeben, aber ich glaube nur mit bedingtem 
Recht. Ich will kein allzugrosses Gewicht darauf legen, 
dass der getneine Sprachgebrauch manch andere Kilns te, 
wie zutn Beispiel die Kochkunst kennt" 1 

1 Only two, or at most three, senses are generally held worthy to 
supply matter for artistic treatment, but 1 think this opinion is only con- 



WHAT IS ART? n 

And further : " Und es ist dock gewiss eine asthetischt 
Leistung, wenn es der Kochkunst gelingt aus einem thie- 
rischen Kadaver einen Gegenstand des Geschtnacks in 
jedent Sinne zu machen. Der Grundsatz der Kunst des 
Geschmacksinns (die weiter ist als die sogenannte Koch- 
kunst) ist also dieser: Es soil alles Genie ssbare als Sinn- 
bild einer Idee behandelt werden und in jedesmaligem 
Einklang zur auszudriickenden Idee.** l 

This author, like Renan, acknowledges a KostUmkunst 
(Art of Costume) (p. 200), etc. 

Such is also the opinion of the French writer, Guyau, 
who is highly esteemed by some authors of our day. In his 
book, " Les Problfemes de TEsth&ique Contemporaine," 
he speaks seriously of touch, taste, and smell as giving, 
or being capable of giving, aesthetic impressions : " Si la 
couleur manque au toucher % il nous fournit en revanche 
une notion que Vceil seul ne peut nous donner, et qui a une 
valeur estUtique considerable ; celle du doux, du soyeux, 
du poli. Ce qui caractirise la beauti du velours, c'est sa 
douceur au toucher non tnoins que son brillant. Dans 
Vidie que nous nous faisons de la beauti d 'une femnte, le 
velouti de sapeau entre comme iliment essentiel." 

" Chacun de nous probablement avec un peu d % attention 
se rappellera des jouissances du godt, qui ont it/ de viri- 
tables jouissances esthitiques." 2 And he recounts how a 
glass of milk drunk by him in the mountains gave him 
aesthetic enjoyment. 

ditionally correct. I will not lay too much stress on the fact that our com- 
mon speech recognizes many other arts, as, for instance, the art of cookery. 

1 And yet it is certainly an aesthetic achievement when the art of cook- 
ing succeeds in making of an animal's corpse an object in all respects taste- 
ful. The principle of the Art of Taste (which goes beyond the so-called 
Art of Cookery) is therefore this : All that is eatable should be treated as 
the symbol of some Idea, and always in harmony with the Idea to be 
expressed. 

* If the sense of touch lacks color, it gives us, on the other hand, 
a notion which the eye alone cannot afford, and one of considerable 
aesthetic value, namely, that of softness, silkiness, polish. The beauty 
of velvet is characterized not less by its softness to the touch than by 
its luster. In the idea we form of a woman's beauty, the softness of 
her skin enters as an essential element. 

Each of us, probably, with a little attention, can recall pleasures of taste 
which have been real aesthetic pleasures. 



12 WHAT IS ART? 

So it turns out that the conception of art, as consisting 
in making beauty manifest, is not at all so simple as 
it seemed, especially now, when in this conception of 
beauty are included our sensations of touch and taste 
and smell, as they are by the latest aesthetic writers. 

But the ordinary man either does not know, or does not 
wish to know, all this, and is firmly convinced that all 
questions about art may be simply and clearly solved by 
acknowledging beauty to be the subject-matter of art. To 
him it seems clear and comprehensible that art consists 
in manifesting beauty, and that a reference to beauty 
will serve to explain all questions about art. 

But what is this beauty which forms the subject-matter 
of art ? How is it defined ? What is it ? 

As is always the case, the more cloudy and confused 
the conception conveyed by a word, with the more 
aplomb and self-assurance do people use that word, pre- 
tending that what is understood by it is so simple and 
clear that it is not worth while even to discuss what it 
actually means. 

This is how matters of orthodox religion are usually 
dealt with, and this is how people now deal with the 
conception of beauty. It is taken for granted that what 
is meant by the word beauty is known and understood 
by every one. And yet not only is this not known, but, 
after whole mountains of books have been written on the 
subject by the most learned and profound thinkers dur- 
ing one hundred and fifty years (ever since Baumgarten 
founded aesthetics in the year 1750), the question, What 
is beauty? remains to this day quite unsolved, and in 
each new work on aesthetics it is answered in a new 
way. One of the last books I read on aesthetics is a 
not ill-written booklet by Julius Mithalter, called " Ratsel 
des Schonen " (The Enigma of the Beautiful). And that 
title precisely expresses the position of the question, 
What is beauty ? After thousands of learned men have 
discussed it during one hundred and fifty years, the 
meaning of the word beauty remains an enigma still. 
The Germans answer the question in their manner, 
though in a hundred different ways. The physiologist- 



WHAT IS ART? 13 

aestheticians, especially the Englishmen, Herbert Spen- 
cer, Grant Allen, and his school, answer it, each in his own 
way ; the French eclectics, and the followers of Guyau 
and Taine, also each in his own way; and all these 
people know all the preceding solutions given by 
Baumgarten, and Kant, and Schelling, and Schiller, and 
Fichte, and Winckelmann, and Lessing, and Hegel, and 
Schopenhauer, and Hartmann, and Schasler, and Cousin, 
and L£v6que, and others. 

What is this strange conception "beauty," which 
seems so simple to those who talk without thinking, 
but in defining which all the philosophers of various 
tendencies and different nationalities can come to no 
agreement during a century and a half ? What is this 
conception of beauty, on which the dominant doctrine of 
art rests ? 

In Russian, by the word krasota (beauty) we mean only 
that which pleases the sight. And though latterly people 
have begun to speak of " an ugly deed," or of " beautiful 
music," it is not good Russian. 

A Russian of the common folk, not knowing foreign 
languages, will not understand you if you tell him that a 
man who has given his last coat to another, or done any- 
thing similar, has acted " beautifully," that a man who 
has cheated another has done an " ugly " action, or that 
a song is "beautiful." 

In Russian a deed may be kind and good, or unkind 
and bad. Music may be pleasant and good, or un- 
pleasant and bad; but there can be no such thing as 
" beautiful " or " ugly " music. 

Beautiful may relate to a man, a horse, a house, a 
view, or a movement. Of actions, thoughts, character, 
or music, if they please us, we may say that they are 
good, or, if they do not please us, that they are not 
good. But beautiful can be used only concerning that 
which pleases the sight. So that the word and concep- 
tion " good " includes the conception of " beautiful," but 
the reverse is not the case ; the conception " beauty " 
does not include the conception "good." If we say 
u good " of an article which we value for its appearance, 



14 WHAT IS ART? 

we thereby say that the article is beautiful ; but if we say it 
is " beautiful," it does not at all mean that the article is 
a good one. 

Such is the meaning ascribed by the Russian language, 
and therefore by the sense of the people, to the words 
and conceptions " good " and " beautif ul." 

In all the European languages, i.e. the languages 
of those nations among whom the doctrine has spread 
that beauty is the essential thing in art, the words 
I'beau," "schon," "beautiful," " bello," etc., while keep- 
ing their meaning of beautiful in form, have come to 
also express "goodness," "kindness/' i.e. have come 
to act as substitutes for the word "good." 

So that it has become quite natural in those languages 
to use such expressions as "belle ame," "schone Ge- 
danken," of "beautiful deed." Those languages no 
longer have a suitable word wherewith expressly to 
indicate beauty of form, and have to use a combination 
of words such as " beau par la forme," " beautiful to 
look at," etc., to convey that idea. 

Observation of the divergent meanings which the 
words " beauty " and " beautiful " have in Russian on 
the one hand, and in those European languages now 
permeated by this aesthetic theory on the other hand, 
shows us that the word " beauty " has, among the latter, 
acquired a special meaning, namely, that of " good." 

What is remarkable, moreover, is that since we Rus- 
sians have begun more and more to adopt the European 
view of art, the same evolution has begun to show itself 
in our language also, and some people speak and write 
quite confidently, and without causing surprise, of beau- 
tiful music and ugly actions, or even thoughts ; whereas 
forty years ago, when I was young, the expressions 
" beautiful music " and " ugly actions " were not only 
unusual, but incomprehensible. Evidently this new 
meaning given to beauty by European thought begins 
to be assimilated by Russian society. 

And what really is this meaning? What is this 
" beauty " as it is understood by the European peoples ? 

In order to answer this question, I must here quote 



WHAT IS ART? 15 

at least a small selection of those definitions of beauty 
most generally adopted in existing aesthetic systems. I 
especially beg the reader not to be overcome by dullness, 
but to read these extracts through, or, still better, to 
read some one of the erudite aesthetic authors. Not to 
mention the voluminous German aestheticians, a very 
good book for this purpose would be either the German 
book by Kralik, the English work by Knight, or the 
French one by L£v£que. It is necessary to read one 
of the learned aesthetic writers in order to form at first- 
hand a conception of the variety in opinion and the 
frightful obscurity which reigns in this region of specu- 
lation ; not, in this important matter, trusting to another's 
report. 

This, for instance, is what the German aesthetician 
Schasler says in the preface to his famous, voluminous, 
and detailed work on aesthetics : — 

" Hardly in any sphere of philosophic science can we 
find such divergent methods of investigation and expo- 
sition, amounting even to self-contradiction, as in the 
sphere of aesthetics. On the one hand, we have ele- 
gant phraseology without any substance, characterized 
in great part by most one-sided superficiality ; and on 
the other hand, accompanying undeniable profundity 
of investigation and richness of subject-matter, we get 
a revolting awkwardness of philosophic terminology, 
infolding the simplest thoughts in an apparel of ab- 
stract science, as though to render them worthy to 
enter the consecrated palace of the system ; and finally, 
between these two methods of investigation and exposi- 
tion there is a third, forming, as it were, the transition 
from one to the other, a method consisting of eclecti- 
cism, now flaunting an elegant phraseology, and now 

a pedantic erudition A style of exposition that falls 

into none of these three defects but it is truly concrete, 
and, having important matter, expresses it in clear and 
popular philosophic language, can nowhere be found 
less frequently than in the domain of aesthetics.' ' * 

It is only necessary, for instance, to read Schasler* s 
1 M. Schasler, "Kritische Geschichte der iEsthetik," 1872, vol. L, p. 13. 



16 WHAT IS ART? 

own book to convince oneself of the justice of this ob- 
servation of his. 

On the same subject the French writer V6ron, in the 
preface to his very good work on aesthetics, says: "// 
riy a pas de science, qui ait tie 1 plus que Festke'tique livre*e 
aux riveries des mitaphysiciens. Depuis Platon jusqu* 
aux doctrines officielles de nos jours, on a fait de Vartje 
ne sais quel amalgame de fantaisies quintessences, et de 
my s teres transcendantaux qui trouvent leur expression su- 
preme dans la conception absolue du Beau idial, prototype 
immuable et divin des choses rtelles " (" L'Esth&ique," 
1878, p. 5). 1 

If the reader will only be at the pains to peruse the 
following extracts, defining beauty, taken from the chief 
writers on aesthetics, he may convince himself that this 
censure is thoroughly deserved. 

I shall not quote the definitions of beauty attributed 
to the ancients, — Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc., down 
to Plotinus, — because, in reality, the ancients had not 
that conception of beauty separated from goodness 
which forms the basis and aim of aesthetics in our time. 
By referring the judgments of the ancients on beauty to 
our conception of it, as is usually done in aesthetics, we 
give the words of the ancients a meaning which is not 
theirs. 2 



CHAPTER III 

I begin with the founder of aesthetics, Baumgarten 
(1714-1762). 

According to Baumgarten, 8 the object of logical 

1 There is no science which, more than aesthetics, has been handed over 
to the reveries of the metaphysicians. From Plato down to the received 
doctrines of our day, people have made of art a strange amalgam of quin- 
tessential fancies and transcendental mysteries, which find their supreme 
expression in the conception of an absolute ideal Beauty, immutable and 
divine prototype of actual things. 

2 See on this matter Benard's admirable book, " L'Esthetique d'Aristote," 
also Walter's "Geschichte der iEsthetik in Altertum." 

8 Schasler, p. 361. 



WHAT IS ART? 17 

knowledge is Truth, the object of aesthetic (i.e. sensu- 
ous) knowledge is Beauty. Beauty is the Perfect (the 
Absolute) recognized through the senses ; Truth is the 
Perfect perceived through reason ; Goodness is the Per- 
fect reached by moral will. 

Beauty is defined by Baumgarten as a correspondence, 
i.e. an order of the parts in their mutual relations to 
each other and in their relation to the whole. The aim 
of beauty itself is to please and excite a desire, " Wohlge- 
fallen und Erregung eines Verlangens." (A position 
precisely the opposite of Kant's definition of the nature 
and sign of beauty.) 

With reference to the manifestations of beauty, Baum- 
garten considers that the highest embodiment of beauty 
is seen by us in nature, and he therefore thinks that the 
highest aim of art is to copy nature. (This position also 
is directly contradicted by the conclusions of the latest 
sestheticians.) 

Passing over the unimportant followers of Baumgar- 
ten, — Maier, Eschenburg, and Eberhard, — who only 
slightly modified the doctrine of their teacher by divid- 
ing the pleasant from the beautiful, I will quote the 
definitions given by writers who came immediately after 
Baumgarten, and defined beauty quite in another way. 
These writers were Sulzer, Mendelssohn, and Moritz. 
They, in contradiction to Baumgarten's main position, 
recognize as the aim of art, not beauty, but goodness. 
Thus Sulzer ( 1 720-1 777) says that only that can be con- 
sidered beautiful which contains goodness. According 
to his theory, the aim of the whole life of humanity is 
welfare in social life. This is attained by the education 
of the moral feelings, to which end art should be sub- 
servient. Beauty is that which evokes and educates 
this feeling. 

Beauty is understood almost in the same way by 
Mendelssohn (1 729-1 786). According to him, art is 
the carrying forward of the beautiful, obscurely recog- 
nized by feeling, till it becomes the true and good. The 
aim of art is moral perfection. 1 

1 Schasler, p. 369, 



1 8 WHAT IS ART? 

For the aestheticians of this school, the ideal of beauty 
is a beautiful soul in a beautiful body. So that these 
aestheticians completely wipe out Baumgarten's division 
of the Perfect (the Absolute), into the three forms of 
Truth, Goodness, and Beauty; and Beauty is again 
united with the Good and the True. 

But this conception is not only not maintained by the 
later aestheticians, but the aesthetic doctrine of Winckel- 
mann arises, again in complete opposition. This divides 
the mission of art from the aim of goodness in the sharp- 
est and most positive manner, makes external beauty the 
aim of art, and even limits it to visible beauty. 

According to the celebrated work of Winckelmann 
(171 7-1 767), the law and aim of all art is beauty only, 
beauty quite separated from and independent of good- 
ness. There are three kinds of beauty: (1) beauty 
of form, (2) beauty of idea, expressing itself in the posi- 
tion of the figure (in plastic art), (3) beauty of expression, 
attainable only when the two first conditions are present. 
This beauty of expression is the highest aim of art, and 
is attained in antique art ; modern art should therefore 
aim at imitating ancient art. 1 

Art is similarly understood by Lessing, Herder, and 
afterwards by Goethe and by all the distinguished aesthe- 
ticians of Germany till Kant, from whose day, again, a 
different conception of art commences. 

Native aesthetic theories arose during this period in 
England, France, Italy, and Holland, and they, though 
not taken from the German, were equally cloudy and 
contradictory. And all these writers, just like the Ger- 
man aestheticians, founded their theories on a conception 
of the Beautiful, understanding beauty in the sense of 
a something existing absolutely, and more or less in- 
termingled with Goodness or having one and the same 
root. In England, almost simultaneously with Baum- 
garten, even a little earlier, Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, 
Home, Burke, Hogarth, and others, wrote on art 

According to Shaftesbury (1670-1713), "That which 
is beautiful is harmonious and proportionable, what is 
l Schasler, pp. 388-390. 



WHAT IS ART? 19 

harmonious and proportionable is true, and what is at 
once both beautiful and true is of consequence agreeable 
and good." 1 Beauty, he taught, is recognized by the 
mind only. God is fundamental beauty; beauty and 
goodness proceed from the same fount. 

So that, although Shaftesbury regards beauty as being 
something separate from goodness, they again merge 
into something inseparable. 

According to Hutcheson (1694-1747 — " Inquiry into 
the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue "), the 
aim of art is beauty, the essence of which consists in 
evoking in us the perception of uniformity amid variety. 
In the recognition of what is art we are guided by " an 
internal sense." This internal sense may be in con- 
tradiction to the ethical one. So that, according to 
Hutcheson, beauty does not always correspond with 
goodness, but separates from it and is sometimes con- 
trary to it. 2 

According to Home, Lord Kames (1696- 1782), beauty 
is that which is pleasant. Therefore beauty is defined 
by taste alone. The standard of true taste is that the 
maximum of richness, fullness, strength, and variety of 
impression should be contained in the narrowest limits. 
That is the ideal of a perfect work of art. 

According to Burke (1729- 1797 — "Philosophical In- 
quiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and 
Beautiful"), the sublime and beautiful, which are the 
aim of art, have their origin in the promptings of self- 
preservation and of society. These feelings, examined 
in their source, are means for the maintenance of the 
race through the individual. The first (self-preserva- 
tion) is attained by nourishment, defense, and war , the 
second (society) by intercourse and propagation. There- 
fore self-defense, and war, which is bound up with it, is 
the source of the sublime ; sociability, and the sex-instinct, 
which is bound up with it, is the source of beauty. 8 

1 Knight, " Philosophy of the Beautiful," i., pp. 165, 166. 

8 Schasler, p. 289. Knight, pp. 168, 169. 

* R. Kralik, " Weltschonheit, Versuch einer allgcmeinen iEsthetik,"pp, 



20 WHAT IS ART? 

Such were the chief English definitions of art and 
beauty in the eighteenth century. 

During that period, in France, the writers on art were 
P£re Andr6 and Batteux, with Diderot, D'Alembert, 
and, to some extent, Voltaire, following later. 

According to P&re Andr6 ("Essai sur le Beau," 
1 741), there are three kinds of beauty, — divine beauty, 
natural beauty, and artificial beauty. 1 

According to Batteux (1713-1780), art consists in 
imitating the beauty of nature, its aim being enjoyment. 2 
Such is also Diderot's definition of art. 

The French writers, like the English, consider that it 
is taste that decides what is beautiful. And the laws of 
taste are not only not laid down, but it is granted that 
they cannot be settled. The same view was held by 
D'Alembert and Voltaire. 8 

According to the Italian aesthetician of that period, 
Pagano, art consists in uniting the beauties dispersed in 
nature. The capacity to perceive these beauties is taste, 
the capacity to bring them into one whole is artistic 
genius. Beauty commingles with goodness, so that 
beauty is goodness made visible, and goodness is inner 
beauty. 4 

According to the opinion of other Italians : Muratori 
(1672-1750), — " Riflessioni sopra il biwn gusto intorno 
le science e le arti" — and especially Spaletti, 6 — " Sag- 
gio sopra la bellezza" (1765), — art amounts to an 
egotistical sensation, founded (as with Burke) on the 
desire for self-preservation and society. 

Among Dutch writers, Hemsterhuis (1 720-1 790), who 
had an influence on the German aestheticians and on 
Goethe, is remarkable. According to him, beauty is 
that which gives most pleasure, and that gives most 
pleasure which gives us the greatest number of ideas in 
the shortest time. Enjoyment of the beautiful, because 
it gives the greatest quantity of perceptions in the shortest 
time, is the highest notion to which man can attain. 6 

1 Knight, p. 101. * Schasler, p. 316. 

• Knight, pp. 102-104. * R. Kralik, p. 124. 

* Spaletti, Schasler, p. 328. , e Schasler, pp. 331-333. 



WHAT IS ART? 21 

Such were the aesthetic theories outside Germany dur- 
ing the last century. In Germany, after Winckelmann, 
there again arose a completely new aesthetic theory, that 
of Kant ( 1 724-1 804), which, more than all others, clears 
up what this conception of beauty, and consequently of 
art, really amounts to. 

The aesthetic teaching of Kant is founded as follows : 
Man has a knowledge of nature outside him and of 
himself in nature. In nature, outside himself, he seeks 
for truth ; in himself, he seeks for goodness. The first 
is an affair of pure reason, the other of practical reason 
(free will). Besides these two means of perception, there 
is yet the judging capacity ( Urteilskraft\ which forms 
judgments without reasonings and produces pleasure 
without desire (Urtheilohne Begriff und Vergniigen ohne 
Begehren). This capacity is the basis of aesthetic feeling. 
Beauty, according to Kant, in its subjective meaning is 
that which, in general and necessarily, without reason- 
ings and without practical advantage, pleases. In its 
objective meaning it is the form of a suitable object, in 
so far as that object is perceived without any conception 
of its utility. 1 

Beauty is defined in the same way by the followers 
of Kant, among whom was Schiller (1759-1805). Ac- 
cording to Schiller, who wrote much on aesthetics, the 
aim of art is, as with Kant, beauty, the source of which 
is pleasure without practical advantage. So that art 
may be called a game, not in the sense of an unim- 
portant occupation, but in the sense of a manifestation 
of the beauties of life itself without other aim than 
that of beauty. 2 

Besides Schiller, the most remarkable of Kant's 
followers in the sphere of aesthetics was Wilhelm 
Humboldt, who, though he added nothing to the defi- 
nition of beauty, explained various forms of it, — the 
drama, music, the comic, etc. 8 

After Kant, besides the second-rate philosophers, 
the writers on aesthetics were Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, 

1 Schasler, pp. 525-528. * Knight, pp. 61-63. 

• Schasler, pp. 740-743. 



22 WHAT IS ART? 

and their followers. Fichte (1762-18 14) says that per 
ception of the beautiful proceeds from this : the world 
— i.e. nature — has two sides: it is the sum of our 
limitations, and it is the sum of our free idealistic ac- 
tivity. In the first aspect the world is limited, in the 
second aspect it is free. In the first aspect every 
object is limited, distorted, compressed, confined — 
and we see deformity; in the second we perceive its 
inner completeness, vitality, regeneration — and we see 
beauty. So that the deformity or beauty of an object, 
according to Fichte, depends on the point of view of 
the observer. Beauty therefore exists, not in the world, 
but in the beautiful soul (schoner Geisi). Art is the 
manifestation of this beautiful soul, and its aim is the 
education, not only of the mind — that is the business 
of the savant, not only of the heart — that is the affair 
of the moral preacher, but of the whole man. And so 
the characteristic of beauty lies, not in anything external, 
but in the presence of a beautiful soul in the artist. 1 

Following Fichte, and in the same direction, Fried- 
rich Schlegel and Adam Miiller also defined beauty. 
According to Schlegel (1 772-1 829), beauty in art is 
understood too incompletely, one-sidedly, and discon- 
nectedly. Beauty exists, not only in art, but also in 
nature and in love; so that the truly beautiful is ex- 
pressed by the union of art, nature, and love. Therev 
fore, as inseparably one with aesthetic art, Schlegel 
acknowledges moral and philosophic art. 2 

According to Adam Miiller (1 779-1 829), there are 
two kinds of beauty: the one, general beauty, which 
attracts people as the sun attracts the planet — this is 
found chiefly in antique art ; and the other, individual 
beauty, which results from the observer himself be- 
coming a sun, attracting beauty — this is the beauty 
of modern art. A world in which all contradictions 
are harmonized is the highest beauty. Every work 
of art is a reproduction of this universal harmony. 1 
The highest art is the art of life. 4 

1 Schasler, pp, 769-771. 2 Schasler, pp. 786, 787. 

• Kialik, p. 148. * Kralik, p. 820. 



WHAT IS ART? 23 

Next after Fichte and his followers came a contem- 
porary of his, the philosopher Schelling (1 775-1 854), 
who has had a great influence on the aesthetic con- 
ceptions of our times. According to Schelling' s philos- 
ophy, art is the production or result of that conception 
of things by which the subject becomes its own object, 
or the object its own subject. Beauty is the percep- 
tion of the infinite in the finite. And the chief charac- 
teristic of works of art is unconscious infinity. Art is 
the uniting of the subjective with the objective, of 
nature with reason, of the unconscious with the con- 
scious, and therefore art is the highest means of 
knowledge. Beauty is the contemplation of things in 
themselves as they exist in the prototype (In den 
Urbilderti). It is not the artist who by his knowl- 
edge or skill produces the beautiful, but the idea of 
beauty in him itself produces it. 1 

Of Schelling's followers the most noticeable was 
Solger (1780-18 19 — "Vorlesungen iiber iEsthetik "). 
According to him, the idea of beauty is the fundamental 
idea of everything. In the world we see only distor- 
tions of the fundamental idea, but art, by imagination, 
may lift itself to the height of this idea. Art is there- 
fore akin to creation. 2 

According to another follower of Schelling, Krause 
(1781-1832), true, positive beauty is the manifestation 
of the Idea in an individual form ; art is the actualization 
of the beauty existing in the sphere of man's free spirit. 
The highest stage of art is the art of life, which directs 
its activity toward the adornment of life so that it may 
be a beautiful abode for a beautiful man. 8 

After Schelling and his followers came the new aes- 
thetic doctrine of Hegel, which is held to this day, con- 
sciously by many, but by the majority unconsciously. 
This teaching is not only no clearer or better defined 
than the preceding ones, but is, if possible, even more 
cloudy and mystical. 



1 Schasler, pp. 828, 829, 834-841. 

* Schasler, p. 891. 

• Schasler, p. 917. 



24 WHAT IS ART? 

According to Hegel (1770-1831), God manifests him- 
self in nature and in art in the form of beauty. God ex- 
presses himself in two ways : in the object and in the 
subject, in nature and in spirit. Beauty is the shining 
of the Idea through matter. Only the soul, and what 
pertains to it, is truly beautiful; and therefore the beauty 
of nature is only the reflection of the natural beauty of 
the spirit — the beautiful has only a spiritual content. 
But the spiritual must appear in sensuous form. The 
sensuous manifestation of spirit is only appearance 
(schein), and this appearance is the only reality of the 
beautiful. Art is thus the production of this appearance 
of the Idea, and is a means, together with religion and 
philosophy, of bringing to consciousness and of express- 
ing the deepest problems of humanity and the highest 
truths of the spirit. 

Truth and beauty, according to Hegel, are one and 
the same thing ; the difference being only that truth is 
the Idea itself as it exists in itself, and is thinkable. 
The Idea, manifested externally, becomes to the appre- 
hension not only true but beautiful. The beautiful 
is the manifestation of the Idea. 1 

Following Hegel came his many adherents, Weisse, 
Arnold Ruge, Rosenkrantz, TheodorVischer, and others. 

According to Weisse (1801-1 867), art is the introduc- 
tion (Einbildung) of the absolute spiritual reality of 
beauty into external, dead, indifferent matter, the per- 
ception of which latter, apart from the beauty brought 
into it, presents the negation of all existence in itself 
{Negation alles Fursichseins). 

In the idea of truth, Weisse explains, lies a contradic- 
tion between the subjective and the objective sides of 
knowledge, in that an individual / discerns the Uni- 
versal. This contradiction can be removed by a con- 
ception that should unite into one the universal and the 
individual, which fall asunder in our conceptions of 
truth. Such a conception would be reconciled (aufge- 
hobeti) truth. Beauty is such a reconciled truth. 2 

1 Schasler, pp. 946, 1085, 9^4» 985, 990. 

2 Schasler, pp, 966, 655, 956, 



WHAT IS ART? 25 

According to Ruge (1 802-1 880), a strict follower of 
Hegel, beauty is the Idea expressing itself. The spirit, 
contemplating itself, either finds itself expressed com- 
pletely, and then that full expression of itself is beauty ; 
or incompletely, and then it feels the need to alter this 
imperfect expression of itself, and becomes creative art. 1 

According to Vischer (1 807-1 887), beauty is the Idea 
in the form of a finite phenomenon. The Idea itself is 
not indivisible, but forms a system of ideas, which may 
be represented by ascending and descending lines. The 
higher the idea, the more beauty it contains ; but even 
the lowest contains beauty, because it forms an essential 
link of the system. The highest form of the Idea is 
personality, and therefore the highest art is that which 
has for its subject-matter the highest personality. 2 

Such were the theories of the German aestheticians in 
the Hegelian direction, but they did not monopolize aes- 
thetic dissertations. In Germany, side by side and sim- 
ultaneously with the Hegelian theories, there appeared 
theories of beauty not only independent of Hegel's po- 
sition (that beauty is the manifestation of the Idea), but 
directly contrary to this view, denying and ridiculing it. 
Such was the line taken by Herbart and, more particu- 
larly, by Schopenhauer. 

According to Herbart (1 776-1 841), there is not, and 
cannot be, any such thing as beauty existing in itself. 
What does exist is only our opinion, and it is necessary 
to find the base of this opinion (Asthetisches Eletnentar- 
urtheil). Such bases are connected with our impressions. 
There are certain relations which we term beautiful ; and 
art consists in finding these relations, which are simul- 
taneous in painting, the plastic art, and architecture, 
successive and simultaneous in music, and purely succes- 
sive in poetry. In contradiction to the former aesthe- 
ticians, Herbart holds that objects are often beautiful 
which express nothing at all, as, for instance, the rainbow, 
which is beautiful for its lines and colors, and not for its 
mythological connection with Iris or Noah's rainbow. 8 

J Schasler, p. 1017. * Schasler, pp. 1065, 1066. 

• Schasler, pp. 1097-1 100. 



26 WHAT IS ART? 

Another opponent of Hegel was Schopenhauer, who 
denied Hegel's whole system, his aesthetics included. 

According to Schopenhauer (i 788-1 860), Will objec- 
tivizes itself in the world on various planes ; and although 
the higher the plane on which it is objectivized the more 
beautiful it is, yet each plane has its own beauty. Re- 
nunciation of one's individuality and contemplation of 
one of these planes of manifestation of Will gives us 
a perception of beauty. All men, says Schopenhauer, 
possess the capacity to objectivize the Idea on different 
planes. The genius of the artist has this capacity in 
a higher degree, and therefore makes a higher beauty 
manifest. 1 

After these more eminent writers there followed, in 
Germany, less original and less influential ones, such as 
Hartmann, Kirkmann, Schnasse, and, to some extent, 
Helmholtz (as an aesthetician), Bergmann, Jungmann, 
and an innumerable host of others. 

According to Hartmann (1842), beauty lies, not in the 
external world, nor in " the thing in itself," neither does 
it reside in the soul of man, but it lies in the " seeming " 
{Scheiri) produced by the artist. The thing in itself 
is not beautiful, but is transformed into beauty by the 
artist. 2 

According to Schnasse (1798-1875), there is no per- 
fect beauty in the world. In nature there is only an 
approach toward it. Art gives what nature cannot 
give. In the energy of the free ego, conscious of har- 
mony not found in nature, beauty is disclosed. 8 

Kirkmann wrote on experimental aesthetics. All as- 
pects of history in his system are joined by pure chance. 
Thus, according to Kirkmann (1 802-1 884), there are 
six realms of history: The realm of Knowledge, of 
Wealth, of Morality, of Faith, of Politics, and of Beauty; 
and activity in the last-named realm is art. 4 

According to Helmholtz (1821), who wrote on beauty 
as it relates to music, beauty in musical productions is 
attained only by following unalterable laws. These laws 

1 Schasler, pp. 1 124, 1 107. 2 Knight, pp. 81, 82. 

• Knight, p. 83. * Schasler, p. II2L 



WHAT IS ART? v> 

are not known to the artist ; so that beauty is manifested 
by the artist unconsciously, and cannot be subjected to 
analysis. 1 

According to Bergmann(i84o)("Ueber das Schone," 
1887), to define beauty objectively is impossible. Beauty 
is only perceived subjectively, and therefore the problem 
of aesthetics is to define what pleases whom. 2 

According to Jungmann (d. 1885), firstly, beauty is a 
suprasensible quality of things ; secondly, beauty pro- 
duces in us pleasure by merely being contemplated ; and, 
thirdly, beauty is the foundation of love. 8 

The aesthetic theories of the chief representatives of 
France, England, and other nations in recent times have 
been the following : — 

In France, during this period, the prominent writers 
on aesthetics were Cousin, Jouffroy, Pictet, Ravaisson, 
L6v£que. 

Cousin (1792- 1 867) was an eclectic, and a follower of 
the German idealists. According to his theory, beauty 
always has a moral foundation. He disputes the doctrine 
that art is imitation and that the beautiful is what pleases. 
He affirms that beauty may be defined objectively, and 
that it essentially consists in variety in unity. 4 

After Cousin came Jouffroy (1 796-1 842), who was a 
pupil of Cousin's and also a follower of the German 
aestheticians. According to his definition, beauty is the 
expression of the invisible by those natural signs which 
manifest it. The visible world is the garment by means 
of which we see beauty. 6 

The Swiss writer Pictet repeated Hegel and Plato, 
supposing beauty to exist in the direct and free manifes- 
tation of the divine Idea revealing itself in sense forms. 8 

L£v£que was a follower of Schelling and Hegel. He 
holds that beauty is something invisible behind nature 
— a force or spirit revealing itself in ordered energy. 7 

Similar vague opinions about the nature of beauty 

l Knight, pp. 85, 86. * Knight, p. 88. 

• Knight, p. 88. * Knight, p. 1 12. 

• Knight, p. 116. • Knight, pp. 118, 119. 

• Knight, pp. 123, 124. 



28 WHAT IS ART? 

were expressed by the French metaphysician Ravaisson, 
who considered beauty to be the ultimate aim and pur- 
pose of the world. " La beaute' la plus divine et princu 
paletnent la plus parfaite contient le secret du monde" x 
And again, " Le monde entier est Fceuvre d'une beauti 
absolue, qui riest la cause des choses que par V amour 
qiielle met en elles." 

I purposely abstain from translating these metaphysi- 
cal expressions, because, however cloudy the Germans 
may be, the French, once they absorb the theories of the 
Germans and take to imitating them, far surpass them 
in uniting heterogeneous conceptions into one expression, 
and putting forward one meaning or another indiscrimi- 
nately. For instance, the French philosopher Renou- 
vier, when discussing beauty, says, " Ne craignons pas 
de dire qu'une ve'rite qui ne serait pas belle, ne serait qu'un 
jeu logique de notre esprit et que la settle ve'rite' solide et 
digne de ce nom c'est la beaute'." 2 

Besides the aesthetic idealists who wrote and still write 
under the influence of German philosophy, the following 
recent writers have also influenced the comprehension 
of art and beauty in France : Taine, Guyau, Cherbuliez, 
Coster, and V£ron. 

According to Taine (i 828-1 893), beauty is the mani- 
festation of the essential characteristic of any important 
idea more completely than it is expressed in reality. 8 

Guyau ( 1 854-1 888) taught that beauty is not some- 
thing exterior to the object itself, — is not, as it were, a 
parasitic growth on it, — but is itself the very blossoming 
forth of that on which it appears. Art is the expression 
of reasonable and conscious life, evoking in us both the 
deepest consciousness of existence and the highest feel- 
ings and loftiest thoughts. Art lifts man from his per- 
sonal life into the universal life by means, not only of 
participation in the same ideas and beliefs, but also by 
means of similarity in feeling. 4 

1 " La Philosophic en France," p. 232. 
9 " Du Fondement de l'Induction." 

* " Philosophic de PArt," vol. i., 1 893, p. 47. 

* Knight, pp. 1 39-141. 



WHAT IS ART? 29 

According to Cherbuliez, art is an activity, (1) satisfy- 
ing our innate love of forms (apparences), (2) endowing 
these forms with ideas, (3) affording pleasure alike to 
our senses, heart, and reason. Beauty is not inherent 
in objects, but is an act of our souls. Beauty is an illu- 
sion; there is no absolute beauty. But what we con- 
sider characteristic and harmonious appears beautiful 
to us. 

Coster held that the ideas of the beautiful, the good, 
and the true are innate. These ideas illuminate our 
minds and are identical with God, who is Goodness, 
Truth, and Beauty. The idea of Beauty includes unity 
of essence, variety of constitutive elements, and order, 
which brings unity into the various manifestations of 
life. 1 

For the sake of completeness, I will further cite some 
of the very latest writings upon art. 

" La Psychologie du Beau et de T Art, par Mario Pilo " 
(1895), says that beauty is a product of our physical 
feelings. The aim of art is pleasure, but this pleasure 
(for some reason) he considers to be necessarily highly 
moral 

The "Essai sur TArt Contempprain, par Fierens 
Gevaert" (1897), sa y s that art rests on lts connection 
with the past, and on the religious ideal of the present 
which the artist holds when giving to his work the form 
of his individuality. 

Then again, Sar Peladan's " L'Art Idealiste et Mys- 
tique " (1894), says that beauty is one of the manifesta- 
tions of God. " // riy a pas d* autre Re'alite' que Dteu 9 
il riy a pas d* autre Ve'rite' que Dieu, il riy a pas d* autre 
Beauti que Dieu" (p. 33). This book is very fantastic 
and very illiterate, but is characteristic in the positions it 
takes up, and noticeable on account of a certain success 
it is having with the younger generation in France. 

All the aesthetics diffused in France up to the present 
time are similar in kind, but among them V6ron's 
" L'Esth&ique " (1878) forms an exception, being reason- 
able and clear. That work, though it does not give an 

1 Knight, p. 1 34. 



30 WHAT IS ART? 

exact definition of art, at least rids aesthetics of the 
cloudy conception of an absolute beauty. 

According to V6ron (1825-1889), art is the manifesta- 
tion of emotion transmitted externally by a combination 
of lines, forms, colors, or by a succession of movements, 
sounds, or words subjected to certain rhythms. 1 

In England, during this period, the writers on aesthetics 
define beauty more and more frequently, not by its own 
qualities, but by taste ; and the discussion about beauty 
is superseded by a discussion on taste. 

After Reid (1 704-1 796), who acknowledged beauty as 
being entirely dependent on the spectator, Alison, in his 
" Essay on the Nature and Principles of Taste " (1790), 
proved the same thing. From another side this was also 
asserted by Erasmus Darwin (1 731-1802), the grand- 
father of the celebrated Charles Darwin. 

He says that we consider beautiful that which is con- 
nected in our conception with what we love. Richard 
Knight's work?, " An Analytical Inquiry into the Princi- 
ples of Taste," also tends in the same direction. 

Most of the English theories of aesthetics are on the 
same lines. The prominent writers on aesthetics in 
England during the present century have been Charles 
Darwin (to some extent), Herbert Spencer, Grant Allen, 
Ker, and Knight. 

According to Charles Darwin (1 809-1 882 — " Descent 
of Man," 1 871), beauty is a feeling natural not only to 
man, but also to animals, and consequently to the ances- 
tors of man. Birds adorn their nests and esteem beauty 
in their mates. Beauty has an influence on marriages. 
Beauty includes a variety of diverse conceptions. The 
origin of the art of music is the call of the males to the 
females. 2 

According to Herbert Spencer (b. 1820), the origin of 
art is play, a thought previously expressed by Schiller. 
In the lower animals all the energy of life is expended 
in life-maintenance and race-maintenance ; in man, how- 
ever, there remains, after these needs are satisfied, 
some superfluous strength. This excess is used in play, 
x « L'Esthetique," p. 106. * Knight, p. 23S. 



WHAT IS ART? 31 

which passes over into art. Play is an imitation of real 
activity; so is art. The sources of aesthetic pleasure 
are threefold: (1) That "which exercises the faculties 
affected in the most complete ways, with the fewest 
drawbacks from exercise, M (2) "the difference of a 
stimulus in large amount, which awakens a glow of 
agreeable feeling," (3) the partial revival of the same, 
with special combinations. 1 

In Todhunter's " Theory of the Beautiful" (1872), 
beauty is infinite loveliness, which we apprehend both 
by reason and by the enthusiasm of love. The recogni- 
tion of beauty as being such depends on taste ; there 
can be no criterion for it. The only approach to a defi- 
nition is found in culture. (What culture is, is not de- 
fined.) Intrinsically, art — that which affects us through 
lines, colors, sounds, or words — is not the product of 
blind forces, but of reasonable ones, working, with mutual 
helpfulness toward a reasonable aim. Beauty is the 
reconciliation of contradictions. 2 

Grant Allen is a follower of Spencer, and in his 
"Physiological ^Esthetics" (1877) he says that beauty 
has a physical origin. ^Esthetic pleasures come from 
the contemplation of the beautiful, but the conception of 
beauty is obtained by a physiological process. The 
origin of art is play; when there is a superfluity of 
physical strength man gives himself to play ; when there 
is a superfluity of receptive power man gives himself to 
art The beautiful is that which affords the maximum 
of stimulation with the minimum of waste. Differences 
in the estimation of beauty proceed from taste. Taste 
can be educated. We must have faith in the judg- 
ments " of the finest-nurtured and most discriminative " 
men. These people form the taste of the next generation. 8 

According to Ker's " Essay on the Philosophy of Art " 
(1883), beauty enables us to make part of the objective 
world intelligible to ourselves without being troubled by 
reference to other parts of it, as is inevitable for science. 
So that art destroys the opposition between the one and 

1 Knight, pp. 239, 240. a Knight, pp. 240-243. 

• Knight, pp. 250-252. 



32 WHAT IS ART? 

the many, between the law and its manifestation, between 
the subject and its object, by uniting them. Art is the 
revelation and vindication of freedom, because it is free 
from the darkness and incomprehensibility of finite 
things. 1 

According to Knight's " Philosophy of the Beautiful/' 
Part II. (1893), beauty is (as with Schelling) the union of 
object and subject, the drawing forth from nature of that 
which is cognate to man, and the recognition in oneself 
of that which is common to all nature. 

The opinions on beauty and on art here mentioned 
are far from exhausting what has been written on the 
subject. And every day fresh writers on aesthetics arise, 
in whose disquisitions appear the same enchanted con- 
fusion and contradictoriness in defining beauty. Some, 
by inertia, continue the mystical aesthetics of Baumgarten 
and Hegel with sundry variations ; others transfer the 
question to the region of subjectivity, and seek for the 
foundation of the beautiful in questions of taste ; others 
— the aestheticians of the very latest formation — seek 
the origin of beauty in the laws of physiology; and 
finally, others again investigate the question quite inde- 
pendently of the conception of beauty. Thus Sully, in 
his "Sensation and Intuition : Studies in Psychology 
and ^Esthetics " ( 1 874), dismisses the conception of beauty 
altogether, art, by his definition, being the production of 
some permanent objector passing action fitted to supply 
active enjoyment to the producer, and a pleasurable im- 
pression to a number of spectators or listeners, quite apart 
from any personal advantage derived from it. 2 



CHAPTER IV 

To what do these definitions of beauty amount ? Not 
reckoning the thoroughly inaccurate definitions of beauty 
which fail to cover the conception of art, and which sup- 
pose beauty to consist either in utility, or in adjustment 
to a purpose, or in symmetry, or in order, or in propor- 

1 Knight, pp. 258, 259. * Knight, p. 243. 



WHAT IS ART? 33 

Hon, or in smoothness, or in harmony of the parts, of 
in unity amid variety, or in various combinations of 
these — not reckoning these unsatisfactory attempts at 
objective definition, all the aesthetic definitions of beauty 
lead to two fundamental conceptions. The first is that 
beauty is something having an independent existence 
(existing in itself), that it is one of the manifestations 
of the absolutely Perfect, of the Idea, of the Spirit, of 
Will, or of God ; the other is that beauty is a kind of 
pleasure received by us, not having personal advantage 
for its object 

The first of these definitions was accepted by Fichte, 
Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and the philosophizing 
Frenchmen, Cousin, Jouffroy, Ravaisson, and others, 
not to enumerate the second-rate aesthetic philosophers. 
And this same objective-mystical definition of beauty is 
held by a majority of the educated people of our day. 
It is a conception very widely spread, especially among 
the elder generation. 

The second view, that beauty is a certain kind of 
pleasure received by us, not having personal advantage 
for its aim, finds favor chiefly among the English aes- 
thetic writers, and is shared by the other part of our 
society, principally by the younger generation. 

So there are (and it could not be otherwise) only two 
definitions of beauty : the one objective, mystical, merg- 
ing this conception into that of the highest perfection, 
God — a fantastic definition, founded on nothing; the 
other, on the contrary, a very simple and intelligible 
subjective one, which considers beauty to be that which 
pleases (I do not add to the word " pleases " the words 
"without the aim of advantage," because " pleases " 
naturally presupposes the absence of the idea of profit). 

On the one hand, beauty is viewed as something 
mystical and very elevated, but unfortunately at the 
same time very indefinite, and consequently embracing 
philosophy, religion, and life itself (as in the theories of 
Schelling and Hegel, and their German and French 
followers); or, on the other hand (as necessarily fol- 
lows from the definition of Kant and his adherents^ 



34 WHAT IS ART? 

beauty is simply a certain kind of disinterested pleas- 
ure received by us. And this conception of beauty, 
although it seems very clear is, unfortunately, again in- 
exact ; for it widens out on the other side, i.e. it includes 
the pleasure derived from drink, from food, from touch- 
ing a delicate skin, etc., as is acknowledged by Guyau, 
Kralik, and others. 

It is true that, following the development of the aes- 
thetic doctrines on beauty, we may notice that, though 
at first (in the times when the foundations of the science 
of aesthetics were being laid) the metaphysical definition 
of beauty prevailed, yet the nearer we get to our own 
times the more does an experimental definition (recently 
assuming a physiological form) come to the front, so 
that at last we even meet with such aestheticians as 
V£ron and Sully, who try to escape entirely from the 
conception of beauty. But such aestheticians have very 
little success, and with the majority of the public, as 
well as of artists and the learned, a conception of 
beauty is firmly held which agrees with the definitions 
contained in most of the aesthetic treatises, i.e. which 
regards beauty either as something mystical or meta- 
physical, or as a special kind of enjoyment. 

What, then, is this conception of beauty, so stubbornly 
held to by people of our circle and day as furnishing a 
definition of art ? 

In the subjective aspect, we call beauty that which 
supplies us with a particular kind of pleasure. 

In the objective aspect, we call beauty something ab- 
solutely perfect, and we acknowledge it to be so only 
because we receive, from the manifestation of this abso- 
lute perfection, a certain kind of pleasure ; so that this 
objective definition is nothing but the subjective concep- 
tion differently expressed. In reality both conceptions 
of beauty amount to one and the same thing ; namely, 
the reception by us of a certain kind of pleasure ; i.e. we 
call " beauty " that which pleases us without evoking 
in us desire. 

Such being the position of affairs, it would seem only 
natural that the science of art should decline to content 



WHAT IS ART? 35 

itself with a definition of art based on beauty (i.e. on 
that which pleases), and seek a general definition, which 
should apply to all artistic productions, and by reference 
to which we might decide whether a certain article be- 
longed to the realm of art or not. But no such defini- 
tion is supplied, as the reader may see from those 
summaries of the aesthetic theories which I have given, 
and as he may discover even more clearly from the orig- 
inal aesthetic works, if he will be at the pains to read 
them. All attempts to define absolute beauty in itself 
— whether as an imitation of nature, or as suitability to 
its object, or as a correspondence of parts, or as sym- 
metry, or as harmony, or as unity in variety, etc. — 
either define nothing at all, or define only some traits 
of some artistic productions, and are far from including 
all that everybody has always held, and still holds, to 
be art. 

There is po objective definition of beauty. The ex- 
isting definitions (both the metaphysical and the experi- 
mental) amount only to one and the same subjective 
definition, which (strange as it seems to say so) is, that 
art is that which makes beauty manifest, and beauty is 
that which pleases (without exciting desire). Many aes- 
theticians have felt the insufficiency and instability of 
such a definition, and, in order to give it a firm basis, 
have asked themselves why a thing pleases. And they 
have converted the discussion on beauty into a question 
concerning taste, as did Hutcheson, Voltaire, Diderot, 
and others. But all attempts to define what taste is 
must lead to nothing, as the reader may see both from 
the history of aesthetics and experimentally. There is 
and can be no explanation of why one thing pleases 
one man and displeases another, or vice versa. So that 
the whole existing science of aesthetics fails to do what 
we might expect from it, being a mental activity calling 
itself a science ; namely, it does not define the qualities 
and laws of art, or of the beautiful (if that be the con- 
tent of art), or the nature of taste (if taste decides the 
question of art and its merit), and then, on the basis of 
such definitions, acknowledge as art those productions 



36 WHAT IS ART? 

which correspond to these laws, and reject those which 
do not come under them. But this science of aesthetics 
consists in first acknowledging a certain set of produc- 
tions to be art (because they please us), and then fram- 
ing such a theory of art that all those productions which 
please a certain circle of people should fit into it. There 
exists an art canon, according to which certain produc- 
tions favored by our circle are acknowledged as being 
art, — Phidias, Sophocles, Homer, Titian, Raphael, 
Bach, Beethoven, Dante, Shakespear, Goethe, and 
others, — and the aesthetic laws must be such as to 
embrace all these productions. In aesthetic literature 
you will incessantly meet with opinions on the merit 
and importance of art, founded not on any certain laws 
by which this or that is held to be good or bad, but 
merely on the consideration whether this art tallies with 
the art canon we have drawn up. 

The other day I was reading a far from ill-written 
book by Folgeldt. Discussing the demand for morality 
in works of art, the author plainly says that we must 
not demand morality in art. And in proof of this he 
advances the fact that if we admit such a demand, 
Shakespear's " Romeo and Juliet," and Goethe's " Wil- 
helm Meister," would not fit into the definition of good 
art; but since both these books are included in our 
canon of art, he concludes that the demand is unjust. 
And therefore it is necessary to find a definition of art 
which shall fit the works ; and instead of a demand for 
morality, Folgeldt postulates as the basis of art a 
demand for the important {Bedeutungsvolles). 

All the existing aesthetic standards are built on this 
plan. Instead of giving a definition of true art, and 
then deciding what is and what is not good art by judg- 
ing whether a work conforms or does not conform to 
the definition, a certain class of works, which for some 
reason please a certain circle of people, is accepted as 
being art, and a definition of art is then devised to 
cover all these productions. I recently came upon a 
remarkable instance of this method in a very good Ger- 
man work, " The History of Art in the Nineteenth Cen- 



WHAT IS ART? 37 

tury," by Muther. Describing the pre-Raphaelites, the 
Decadents and the Symbolists (who are already in- 
cluded in the canon of art), he not only does not ven- 
ture to blame their tendency, but earnestly endeavors 
to widen his standard so that it may include them all, 
they appearing to him to represent a legitimate reaction 
from the excesses of realism. No matter what insani- 
ties appear in art, when once they find acceptance 
among the upper classes of our society, a theory is 
quickly invented to explain and sanction them ; just as 
if there had never been periods in history when certain 
special circles of people recognized and approved false, 
deformed, and insensate art which subsequently left no 
trace and has been utterly forgotten. And to what 
lengths the insanity and deformity of art may go, espe- 
cially when, as in our days, it knows that it is considered 
infallible, may be seen by what is being done in the art 
of our circle to-day. 

So that the theory of art, founded on beauty, ex- 
pounded by aesthetics, and, in dim outline, professed by 
the public, is nothing but the setting up as good of 
that which has pleased and pleases us, i.e. pleases a 
certain class of people. 

In order to define any human activity, it is necessary 
to understand its sense and importance. And, in order 
to do that, it is primarily necessary to examine that 
activity in itself, in its dependence on its causes, and in 
connection with its effects, and not merely in relation 
to the pleasure we can get from it 

If we say that the aim of any activity is merely our 
pleasure, and define it solely by that pleasure, our defini- 
tion will evidently be a false one. But this is precisely 
what has occurred in the efforts to define art. Now, if 
we consider the food question, it will not occur to any- 
one to affirm that the importance of food consists in 
the pleasure we receive when eating it. Every on 2 
understands that the satisfaction of our taste cannot 
serve as a basis for our definition of the merits of 
food, and that we have therefore no right to presuppose 
that the dinners with cayenne pepper, Limburg cheese, 



38 WHAT IS ART? 

alcohol, etc., to which we are accustomed and which 
please us, form the very best human food. 

And in the same way, beauty, or that which pleases 
us, can in no sense serve as the basis for the definition 
of art; nor can a series of objects which afford us 
pleasure serve as the model of what art should be. 

To see the aim and purpose of art in the pleasure we 
get from it, is like assuming (as is done by people of 
the lowest moral development, e.g. by savages) that the 
purpose and aim of food is the pleasure derived when 
consuming it. 

Just as people who conceive the aim and purpose of 
food to be pleasure cannot recognize the real meaning 
of eating, so people who consider the aim of art to be 
pleasure cannot realize its true meaning and purpose, 
because they attribute to an activity, the meaning of 
which lies in its connection with other phenomena of 
life, the false and exceptional aim of pleasure. People 
come to understand that the meaning of eating lies in 
the nourishment of the body only when they cease to 
consider that the object of that activity is pleasure. 
And it is the same with regard to art. People will 
come to understand the meaning of art only when they 
cease to consider that the aim of that activity is beauty, 
i.e. pleasure. The acknowledgment of beauty {i.e. of 
a certain kind of pleasure received from art) as being 
the aim of art, not only fails to assist us in finding a 
definition of what art is, but, on the contrary, by trans- 
ferring the question into a region quite foreign to art 
(into metaphysical, psychological, physiological, and 
even historical discussions as to why such a production 
pleases one person, and such another displeases or 
pleases some one else), it renders such definition im- 
possible. And since discussions as to why one man 
likes pears and another prefers meat do not help toward 
finding a definition of what is essential in nourishment, 
so the solution of questions of taste in art (to which the 
discussions on art involuntarily come), not only does not 
help to make clear what this particular human activity 
which we call art really consists in, but renders such 



WHAT IS ART? 39 

elucidation quite impossible, until we rid ourselves of a 
conception which justifies every kind of art, at the cost 
of confusing the whole matter. 

To the question, What is this art, to which is offered 
up the labor of millions, the very lives of men, and even 
morality itself? we have extracted replies from the 
existing aesthetics, which all amount to this * that the 
aim of art is beauty, that beauty is recognized by the en- 
joyment it gives, and that artistic enjoyment is a good 
and important thing, because it is enjoyment. In a 
word, that enjoyment is good because it is enjoyment. 
Thus, what is considered the definition of art is no 
definition at all, but only a shuffle to justify existing 
art Therefore, however strange it may seem to say 
so, in spite of the mountains of books written about 
art, no exact definition of art has been constructed. 
And the reason of this is that the conception of art has 
been based on the conception of beauty. 



CHAPTER V 

What is art, if we put aside the conception of beauty, 
which confuses the whole matter ? The latest and most 
comprehensible definitions of art, apart from the con- 
ception of beauty, are the following: (i a) Art is an 
activity arising even in the animal kingdom, and spring- 
ing from sexual desire and the propensity to play (Schiller, 
Darwin, Spencer), and (i b) accompanied by a pleasur- 
able excitement of the nervous system (Grant Allen). 
This is the physiological-evolutionary definition. (2) 
Art is the external manifestation, by means of lines, 
colors, movements, sounds, or words, of emotions felt 
by man (V6ron). This is the experimental definition. 
According to the very latest definition (Sully), (3) Art 
is "the production of some permanent object or passing 
action, which is fitted, not only to supply an active 
enjoyment to the producer, but to convey a pleasurable 
impression to a number of spectators or listeners, quite 
apart from any personal advantage to be derived from it" 



40 WHAT IS ART? 

Notwithstanding the superiority of these definitions 
to the metaphysical definitions which depended on the 
conception of beauty, they are yet far from exact (i a) 
The first, the physiological-evolutionary definition, is 
inexact, because, instead of speaking about the artistic 
activity itself, which is the real matter in hand, it treats 
of the derivation of art. The modification of it (i 6), 
based on the physiological effects on the human organ- 
ism, is inexact, because within the limits of such defini- 
tion many other human activities can be included, as 
has occurred in the neo-aesthetic theories, which reckon 
as art the preparation of handsome clothes, pleasant 
scents, and even of victuals. 

The experimental definition (2), which makes art 
consist in the expression of emotions, is inexact, because 
a man may express his emotions by means of lines, 
colors, sounds, or words, and yet may not act on others 
by such expression ; and then the manifestation of his 
emotions is not art. 

The third definition (that of Sully) is inexact, because 
in the production of objects or actions affording pleasure 
to the producer and a pleasant emotion to the spectators 
or hearers apart from personal advantage may be in- 
cluded the showing of conjuring tricks or gymnastic 
exercises, and other activities which are not art. And, 
further, many things, the production of which does not 
afford pleasure to the producer, and the sensation re- 
ceived from which is unpleasant, such as gloomy, heart- 
rending scenes in a poetic description or a play, may 
nevertheless be undoubted works of art. 

The inaccuracy of all these definitions arises from 
the fact that in them all (as also in the metaphysical 
definitions) the object considered is the pleasure art may 
give, and not the purpose it may serve in the life of man 
and of humanity. 

In order correctly to define art, it is necessary, first of 
all, to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure, and 
to consider it as one of the conditions of human life. 
Viewing it in this way, we cannot fail to observe that art is 
one of the means of intercourse between man and man. 



WHAT IS ART? 41 

Every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a 
certain kind of relationship both with him who produced, 
or is producing, the art, and with all those who, simul- 
taneously, previously, or subsequently, receive the same 
artistic impression. 

Speech, transmitting the thoughts and experiences of 
men, serves as a means of union among them, and art 
acts in a similar manner. The peculiarity of this latter 
means of intercourse, distinguishing it from intercourse 
by means of words, consists in this, that whereas by 
words a man transmits his thoughts to another, by means 
of art he transmits his feelings. 

The activity of art is based on the fact that a man, 
receiving through his sense of hearing or sight another 
man's expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing 
the emotion which moved the man who expressed it. 
To take the simplest example: one man laughs, and 
another, who hears, becomes merry; or a man weeps, 
and another, who hears, feels sorrow. A man is excited 
or irritated, and another man, seeing him, comes to a 
similar state of mind. By his movements, or by the 
sounds of his voice, a man expresses courage and deter- 
mination, or sadness and calmness, and this state of mind 
passes on to others. A man suffers, expressing his suf- 
ferings by groans and spasms, and this suffering trans- 
mits itself to other people ; a man expresses his feeling 
of admiration, devotion, fear, respect, or love to certain 
objects, persons, or phenomena, and others are infected 
by the same feelings of admiration, devotion, fear, respect, 
or love to the same objects, persons, and phenomena. 

And it is on this capacity of man to receive another 
man's expression of feeling, and experience those feel- 
ings himself, that the activity of art is based. 

If a man infects another or others, directly, immedi- 
ately, by his appearance, or by the sounds he gives vent 
to at the very time he experiences the feeling; if he 
causes another man to yawn when he himself cannot 
help yawning, or to laugh or cry when he himself is 
obliged to laugh or cry, or to suffer when he himself is 
suffering — that does not amount to art 



42 WHAT IS ART? 

Art begins when one person, with the object of join- 
ing another or others to himself in one and the same 
feeling, expresses that feeling by certain external indi- 
cations. To take the simplest example : a boy, having 
experienced, let us say, fear on encountering a wolf, re- 
lates that encounter ; and, in order to evoke in others 
the feeling he has experienced, describes himself, his 
condition before the encounter, the surroundings, the 
wood, his own light- heartedness, and then the wolf's 
appearance, its movements, the distance between him- 
self and the wolf, etc. All this, if only the boy, when 
telling the story, again experiences the feelings he had 
lived through and infects the hearers and compels them 
to feel what the narrator had experienced, is art. If 
even the boy had not seen a wolf but had frequently 
been afraid of one, and if, wishing to 'evoke in others 
the fear he had felt, he invented an encounter with a 
wolf, and recounted it so as to make his hearers share 
the feelings he experienced when he feared the wolf, 
that also would be art. And just in the same way it is 
art if a man, having experienced either the fear of suf- 
fering or the attraction of enjoyment (whether in reality 
or in imagination), expresses these feelings on canvas 
or in marble so that others are infected by them. And 
it is also art if a man feels or imagines to himself feel- 
ings of delight, gladness, sorrow, despair, courage, or 
despondency, and the transition from one to another of 
these feelings, and expresses these feelings by sounds, 
so that the hearers are infected by them, and experi- 
ence them as they were experienced by the composer. 

The feelings with which the artist infects others may 
be most various, — very strong or very weak, very im- 
portant or very insignificant, very bad or very good : 
feelings of love for native land, self-devotion and sub- 
mission to fate or to God expressed in a drama, raptures 
of lovers described in a novel, feelings of voluptuous- 
ness expressed in a picture, courage expressed in a tri- 
umphal march, merriment evoked by a dance, humor 
evoked by a funny story, the feeling of quietness trans- 
mitted by an evening landscape or by a lullaby, or the 



WHAT IS ART? 43 

feeling of admiration evoked by a beautiful arabesque 
— it is all art. 

If only the spectators or auditors are infected by the 
feelings which the author has felt, it is art. 

To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, 
and having evoked it in oneself, then, by means of move- 
ments, 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 
man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands 
on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other 
people are infected by these feelings, and also experience 
them. 

Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifesta- 
tion 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 indis- 
pensable for the life and progress toward well-being 
of individuals and of humanity. 

As, thanks to man's capacity to express thoughts by 
words, every man may know all that has been done for 
him in the realms of thought by all humanity before his 
day, and can, in the present, thanks to this capacity to 
understand the thoughts of others, become a sharer in 
their activity, and can himself hand on to his contempo- 
raries and descendants the thoughts he has assimilated 
from others, as well as those which have arisen within 
himself ; so, thanks to man's capacity to be infected 
with the feelings of others by means of art, all that is 
being lived through by his contemporaries is accessible 
to him, as well as the feelings experienced by men 
thousands of years ago, and he has also the possibility 
of transmitting his own feelings to others. 

If people lacked this capacity to receive the thoughts 
conceived by the men who preceded them, and to pass 



44 WHAT IS ART? 

on to others their own thoughts, men would be like wild 
beasts, or like Kaspar Hauser. 1 

And if men lacked this other capacity of being infected 
by art, people might be almost more savage still, and, 
above all, more separated from, and more hostile to, one 
another. 

And therefore the activity of art is a most important 
one, as important as the activity of speech itself, and as 
generally diffused. 

We are accustomed to understand art to be only what 
we hear and see in theaters, concerts, and exhibitions ; 

together with buildings, statues, poems, novels But all 

this is but the smallest part of the art by which we com- 
municate with each other in life. All human life is filled 
with works of art of every kind, — from cradle-song, jest, 
mimicry, the ornamentation of houses, dress, and uten- 
sils, up to church services, buildings, monuments, and tri- 
umphal processions. It is all artistic activity. So that 
by art, in the limited sense of the word, we do not mean 
all human activity transmitting feelings, but only that 
part which we for some reason select from it and to 
which we attach special importance. 

This special importance has always been given by all 
men to that part of this activity which transmits feelings 
flowing from their religious perception, and this small 
part of art they have specifically called art, attaching to 
it the full meaning of the word. 

That was how men of old — Socrates, Plato, and 
Aristotle — looked on art. Thus did the Hebrew proph- 
ets and the ancient Christians regard art ; thus it was, 
and still is, understood by the Mahommedans, and thus 
is it still understood by religious folk among our own 
peasantry. 

Some teachers of mankind — as Plato in his " Repub- 
lic," and people such as the primitive Christians, the strict 

lM The foundling of Nuremberg," found in the market-place of that 
town on 26th May, 1828, apparently some sixteen years old. He spoke 
little, and was almost totally ignorant even of common objects. He subse- 
quently explained that he had been brought up in confinement under* 
ground, and visited by only one man, whom he saw but seldom. — Tr. 



WHAT IS ART? 45 

Mahommedans, and the Buddhists — have gone so far 
as to repudiate all art. 

People viewing art in this way (in contradiction to the 
prevalent view of to-day, which regards any art as good 
if only it affords pleasure) considered, and consider, that 
art (as contrasted with speech, which need not be 
listened to) is so highly dangerous in its power to infect 
people against their wills, that mankind will lose far less 
by banishing all art than by tolerating each and every 
art 

Evidently such people were wrong in repudiating all 
art, for they denied that which cannot be denied, — one 
of the indispensable means of communication, without 
which mankind could not exist. But not less wrong are 
the people of civilized European society of our class and 
day, in favoring any art if it but serves beauty, i.e. gives 
people pleasure. 

Formerly, people feared lest among the works of art 
there might chance to be some causing corruption, and 
they prohibited art altogether. Now, they only fear lest 
they should be deprived of any enjoyment art can afford, 
and patronize any art. And I think the last error is 
much grosser than the first, and that its consequences 
are far more harmf uL 



CHAPTER VI 

But how could it happen that that very art, which 
in ancient times was merely tolerated (if tolerated at 
all), should have come, in our times, to be invariably 
considered a good thing if only it affords pleasure? 

It has resulted from the following causes. The 
estimation of the value of art {i.e. of the feelings it 
transmits) depends on men's perception of the mean- 
ing of life ; depends on what they consider to be the 
good and the evil of life. And what is good and what 
is evil is defined by what are termed religions. 

Humanity unceasingly moves forward from a lower, 
more partial, and obscure understanding of life, to one 



46 WHAT IS ART? 

more general and more lucid. And in this, as in every 
movement, there are leaders, — those who have under- 
stood the meaning of life more clearly than others, — 
and of these advanced men' there is always one who 
has, in his words and by his life, expressed this mean- 
ing more clearly, accessibly, and strongly than others. 
This man's expression of the meaning of life, together 
with those superstitions, traditions, and ceremonies 
which usually form themselves round the memory of 
such a man, is what is called a religion. Religions 
are the exponents of the highest comprehension of 
life accessible to the best and foremost men at a 
given time in a given society ; a comprehension toward 
which, inevitably and irresistibly, all the rest of that 
society must advance. And therefore only religions 
have always served, and still serve, as bases for the 
valuation of human sentiments. If feelings bring men 
nearer the ideal their religion indicates, if they are in 
harmony with it and do not contradict it, they are 
good; if they estrange men from it and oppose it, 
they are bad. 

If the religion places the meaning of life in worship- 
ing one God and fulfilling what is regarded as His 
will, as was the case among the Jews, then the feelings 
flowing from love to that God, and to His law, suc- 
cessfully transmitted through the art of poetry by the 
prophets, by the psalms, or by the epic of the book 
of Genesis, is good, high art. All opposing that, as, 
for instance, the transmission of feelings of devotion 
to strange gods, or of feelings incompatible with the 
law of God, would be considered bad art Or if, as 
was the case among the Greeks, the religion places 
the meaning of life in earthly happiness, in beauty 
and in strength, then art successfully transmitting the 
joy and energy of life would be considered good art, 
but art which transmitted feelings of effeminacy or 
despondency would be bad art. If the meaning of 
life is seen in the well-being of one's nation, or in 
honoring one's ancestors and continuing the mode of 
life led by them, as was the case among the Romans 



WHAT IS ART? 47 

and the Chinese respectively, then art transmitting 
feelings of joy at sacrificing one's personal well-being 
for the common weal, or at exalting one's ancestors 
and maintaining their traditions, would be considered 
good art, but art expressing feelings contrary to this 
would be regarded as bad. If the meaning of life is 
seen in freeing oneself from the yoke of animalism, 
as is the case among the Buddhists, then art success- 
fully transmitting feelings that elevate the soul and 
humble the flesh will be good art, and all that trans- 
mits feelings strengthening the bodily passions will be 
bad art 

In every age, and in every human society, there 
exists a religious sense, common to that whole society, 
of what is good and what is bad, and it is this religious 
conception that decides the value of the feelings trans- 
mitted by art And therefore, among all nations, art 
which transmitted feelings considered to be good by 
this general religious sense was recognized as being 
good and was encouraged ; but art which transmitted 
feelings considered to be bad by this general religious 
conception, was recognized as being bad, and was re- 
jected. All the rest of the immense field of art by 
means of which people communicate one with another, 
was not esteemed at all, and was only noticed when 
it ran counter to the religious conception of its age, 
and then merely to be repudiated. Thus it was among 
all nations, — Greeks, Jews, Indians, Egyptians, and 
Chinese, — and so it was when Christianity appeared. 

The Christianity of the first centuries recognized as 
productions of good art only legends, lives of saints, 
sermons, prayers, and hymn-singing, evoking love of 
Christ, emotion at His life, desire to follow His example, 
renunciation of worldly life, humility, and the love of 
others ; all productions transmitting feelings of personal 
enjoyment they considered to be bad, and therefore 
rejected : for instance, tolerating plastic representations 
only when they were symbolical, they rejected all the 
pagan sculptures. 

This was so among the Christians of the first cen- 



48 WHAT IS ART? 

tunes, who accepted Christ's teaching, if not quite in 
its true form, at least not in the perverted, paganized 
form in which it was accepted subsequently. 

But besides this Christianity, from the time of the 
wholesale conversion of nations by order of the au- 
thorities, as in the days of Constantine, Charlemagne, 
and Vladimir, there appeared another, a Church Chris- 
tianity, which was nearer to paganism than to Christ's 
teaching. And this Church Christianity, in accor- 
dance with its own teaching, estimated quite otherwise 
the feelings of people and the productions of art which 
transmitted those feelings. 

This Church Christianity not only did not acknowl- 
edge the fundamental and essential positions of true 
Christianity, — the immediate relationship of each man 
to the Father, the consequent brotherhood and equality 
of all men, and the substitution of humility and love 
in place of every kind of violence, — but, on the con- 
trary, having set up a heavenly hierarchy similar to 
the pagan mythology, and having introduced the wor- 
ship of Christ, of the Virgin, of angels, of apostles, of 
saints, and of martyrs, and not only of these divinities 
themselves, but also of their images, it made blind faith 
in the Church and its ordinances the essential point of 
its teaching. 

However foreign this teaching may have been to 
true Christianity ; however degraded, not only in com- 
parison with true Christianity, but even with the life- 
conception of Romans such as Julian and others, — it 
was, for all that, to the barbarians who accepted it, a 
higher doctrine than their former adoration of gods, 
heroes, and good and bad spirits. And therefore this 
teaching was a religion to them, and on the basis of 
that religion the art of the time was assessed. And 
art transmitting pious adoration of the Virgin, Jesus, 
the saints and the angels, a blind faith in and submis- 
sion to the Church, fear of torments and hope of 
blessedness in a life beyond the grave, was considered 
good ; all art opposed to this was considered bad. 

The teaching on the basis of which this art arose 



WHAT IS ART? 49 

was a perversion of Christ's teaching, but the art 
which sprang up on this perverted teaching was never- 
theless a true art, because it corresponded to the re- 
ligious view of life held by the people among whom 
it arose. 

The artists of the Middle Ages, vitalized by the 
same source of feeling — religion — as the mass of the 
people, and transmitting, in architecture, sculpture, 
painting, music, poetry or drama, the feelings and 
states of mind they experienced, were true artists; 
and their activity, founded on the highest conceptions 
accessible to their age and common to the entire peo- 
ple, though, for our times a mean art, was, neverthe- 
less a true one, shared by the whole community. 

And this was the state of things until, in the upper, 
rich, more educated classes of European society, doubt 
arose as to the truth of that understanding of life 
which was expressed by Church Christianity. When, 
after the Crusades and the maximum development of 
papal power and its abuses, people of the rich classes 
became acquainted with the wisdom of the classics, and 
saw, on the one hand, the reasonable lucidity of the 
teaching of the ancient sages, and, on the other hand, 
the incompatibility of the Church doctrine with the 
teaching of Christ, they lost all possibility of continuing 
to believe the Church teaching. 

If, in externals, they still kept to the forms of Church 
teaching, they could no longer believe in it, and held to 
it only by inertia and for the sake of influencing the 
masses, who continued to believe blindly in Church 
doctrine, and whom the upper classes, for their own 
advantage, considered it necessary to support in those 
beliefs. 

So that a time came when Church Christianity ceased 
to be the general religious doctrine of all Christian 
people ; some — the masses — continued blindly to 
believe in it, but the upper classes — those in whose 
hands lay the power and wealth, and therefore the 
leisure to produce art and the means to stimulate it— ■ 
ceased to believe in that teaching. 



50 WHAT IS ART? 

In respect to religion, the upper circles of the Middle 
Ages found themselves in the same position in which 
the educated Romans were before Christianity arose, i.e. 
they no longer believed in the religion of the masses, 
but had no beliefs to put in place of the worn-out 
Church doctrine which for them had lost its meaning. 

There was only this difference : that whereas for the 
Romans, who lost faith in their emperor-gods and 
household-gods, it was impossible to extract anything 
further from all the complex mythology they had 
borrowed from all the conquered nations, and it was 
consequently necessary to find a completely new con- 
ception of life, the people of the Middle Ages, when 
they doubted the truth of the Church teaching, had no 
need to seek a fresh one. That Christian teaching 
which they professed in a perverted form as Church 
doctrine had mapped out the path of human progress 
so far ahead that they had but to rid themselves of 
those perversions which hid the teaching announced by 
Christ, and to adopt its real meaning — if not completely, 
then at least in some greater degree than that in which 
the Church had held it. And this was partially done, 
not only in the reformations of Wyclif, Huss, Luther, 
and Calvin, but by all that current of non-Church 
Christianity represented in earlier times by the Pauli- 
cians, the Bogomili, 1 and, afterward, by the Waldenses 
and the other non-Church Christians who were called 
heretics. But this could be, and was, done chiefly by 
poor people — who did not rule. A few of the rich 
and strong, like Francis of Assisi and others, accepted 
the Christian teaching in its full significance, even 
though it undermined their privileged positions. But 
most people of the upper classes (though in the depth 
of their souls they had lost faith in the Church teach- 
ing) could not or would not act thus, because the essence 
of that Christian view of life, which stood ready to 
be adopted when once they rejected the Church faith, 

1 Eastern sects well known in early Church history, who rejected the 
Church's rendering of Christ's teaching, and were cruelly persecuted 



WHAT IS ART? 51 

was a teaching of the brotherhood (and therefore the 
equality) of man, and this negatived those privileges 
on which they lived, in which they had grown up and 
been educated, and to which they were accustomed. 
Not, in the depth of their hearts, believing in the 
Church teaching, — which had outlived its age and 
had no longer any true meaning for them, — and not 
being strong enough to accept true Christianity, men 
of these rich, governing classes — popes, kings, dukes, 
and all the great ones of the earth — were left without 
any religion, with but the external forms of one, which 
they supported as being profitable and even necessary 
for themselves, since these forms screened a teaching 
which justified those privileges which they made use of. 
In reality, these people believed in nothing, just as the 
Romans of the first centuries of our era believed in 
nothing. But at the same time these were the people 
who had the power and the wealth, and these were the 
people who icwarded art and directed it. 

And, let it be noticed, it was just among these people 
that there grew up an art esteemed, not according to its 
success in expressing men's religious feelings, but in 
proportion to its beauty, — in other words, according to 
the enjoyment it gave. 

No longer able to believe in the Church religion, 
whose falsehood they had detected, and incapable of 
accepting true Christian teaching, which denounced 
their whole manner of life, these rich and powerful 
people, stranded without any religious conception of 
life, involuntarily returned to that pagan view of things 
which places life's meaning in personal enjoyment. 
And then took place among the upper classes what is 
called the " Renaissance of science and art," and which 
was really not only a denial of every religion, but also 
an assertion that religion is unnecessary. 

The Church doctrine is so coherent a system that it 
cannot be altered or corrected without destroying it 
altogether. As soon as doubt arose with regard to the 
infallibility of the Pope (and this doubt was then in the 
minds of all educated people), doubt inevitably followed 



52 WHAT IS ART? 

as to the truth of tradition. But doubt as to the truth 
of tradition is fatal not only to popery and Catholicism, 
but also to the whole Church creed, with all its dogmas : 
the divinity of Christ, the resurrection, and the Trinity ; 
and it destroys the authority of the Scriptures, since 
they were considered to be inspired only because the 
tradition of the Church decided it so. 

So that the majority of the highest classes of that 
age, even the popes and the ecclesiastics, really believed 
in nothing at all. In the Church doctrine these people 
did not believe, for they saw its insolvency ; but neither 
could they follow Francis of Assisi, Keltchitsky, 1 and 
most of the heretics, in acknowledging the moral, social 
teaching of Christ, for that teaching undermined their 
social position. And so these people remained without 
any religious view of life. And, having none, they 
could have no standard wherewith to estimate what was 
good and what was bad art but that of personal enjoy- 
ment. And, having acknowledged their criterion of what 
was good to be pleasure, i.e. beauty, these people of the 
upper classes of European society went back in their 
comprehension of art to the gross conception of the 
primitive Greeks which Plato had already condemned 
And conformably to this understanding of life, a theory 
of art was formulated. 



CHAPTER VII 

From the time that people of the upper classes lost 
faith in Church Christianity, beauty {i.e. the pleasure re- 
ceived from art) became their standard of good and bad 
art. And, in accordance with that view, an aesthetic 
theory naturally sprang up among those upper classes 
justifying such a conception, — a theory according to 
which the aim of art is to exhibit beauty. The partizans 
of this aesthetic theory, in confirmation of its truth, af- 

1 Keltchitsky, a Bohemian of the fifteenth century, was the author of a 
remarkable book, " The Net of Faith," directed against Church and State. 
It is mentioned in Tolstoi's " The Kingdom of God is Within You." — Tr. 



WHAT IS ART? 53 

firmed that it was no invention of their own, but that it 
existed in the nature of things, and was recognized even 
by the ancient Greeks. But this assertion was quite 
arbitrary, and has no foundation other than the fact 
that among the ancient Greeks, in consequence of the 
low grade of their moral ideal (as compared with the 
Christian), their conception of the good, to aya06v, was 
not. yet sharply divided from their conception of the 
beautiful, rb icakAv. 

That highest perfection of goodness (not only not 
identical with beauty, but, for the most part, contrast- 
ing with it) which was discerned by the Jews even in 
the times of Isaiah, and fully expressed by Christianity, 
was quite unknown to the Greeks. They supposed that 
the beautiful must necessarily also be the good. It is 
true that their foremost thinkers — Socrates, Plato, 
Aristotle — felt that goodness may happen not to coin- 
cide with beauty. Socrates expressly subordinated beauty 
to goodness ; Plato, to unite the two conceptions, spoke 
of spiritual beauty ; while Aristotle demanded from art 
that it should have a moral influence on people (/edOapais). 
But, notwithstanding all this, they could not quite dis- 
miss the notion that beauty and goodness coincide. 

And consequently, in the language of that period, a 
compound word (/ca\o-/caya0ia t beauty-goodness) came 
into use to express that notion. 

Evidently the Greek sages began to draw near to that 
perception of goodness which is expressed in Buddhism 
and in Christianity, and they got entangled in defining 
the relation between goodness and beauty. Plato's 
reasonings about beauty and goodness are full of con- 
tradictions. And it was just this confusion of ideas 
that those Europeans of a later age, who had lost all 
faith, tried to elevate into a law. They tried to prove 
that this union of beauty and goodness is inherent in the 
very essence of things ; that beauty and goodness must 
coincide ; and that the word and conception tccCKo-icayaOia 
(which had a meaning for Greeks, but has none at all for 
Christians) represents the highest ideal of humanity. On 
this misunderstanding the new science of aesthetics was 



54 WHAT IS ART? 

built up. And, to justify its existence, the teachings of 
the ancients on art were so twisted as to make it appear 
that this invented science of aesthetics had existed among 
the Greeks. 

In reality, the reasoning of the ancients on art was 
quite unlike ours. As Benard, in his book on the aes- 
thetics of Aristotle, quite justly remarks, " Pour qui veut 
y regarder de prts, la thiorie du beau et celle de Vart sont 
tout dfait stpartes dans Arts tote, comme elles le sont dans 
Platon et chez tous leurs successeurs " (" L'Esth&ique 
d'Aristote et de ses Successeurs," Paris, 1889, p. 28). * 
And indeed the reasoning of the ancients on art not 
only does not confirm our science of aesthetics, but rather 
contradicts its doctrine of beauty. But nevertheless all 
the aesthetic guides, from Schasler to Knight, declare 
that the science of the beautiful — aesthetic science — 
was commenced by the ancients, by Socrates, Plato, 
Aristotle; and was continued, they say, partially by 
the Epicureans and Stoics: by Seneca and Plutarch, 
down to Plotinus. But it is supposed that this science, 
by some unfortunate accident, suddenly vanished in the 
fourth century, and stayed away for about 1 500 years, 
and only after these 1 500 years had passed did it revive 
in Germany, 1750 a.d., in Baumgarten's doctrine. 

After Plotinus, says Schasler, fifteen centuries passed 
away during which there was not the slightest scientific 
interest felt for the world of beauty and art. These one 
and a half thousand years, says he, have been lost to 
aesthetics, and have contributed nothing toward the 
erection of the learned edifice of this science. 2 

1 Any one examining closely may see that the theory of beauty and that 
of art are quite separated in Aristotle as they are in Plato and in all their 
successors. 

2 Die Lucke von funf Jahrhunderten, welche zwischen den Kunst-philo- 
sophischen Betrachtungen des Plato und Aristoteles und die des Plotins 
fallt, kann zwar auflallig erscheinen ; dennoch kann man eigentlich nicht 
sagen, dass in dieser Zwischenzeit uberhaupt von asthetischen Dingen 
nicht die Rede gewesen; oder dass gar ein vSlliger Mangel an Zusammen- 
hang zwischen den Kunst-anschauungen des letztgenannten Philosophen 
und denen der ersteren existire. Freilich wurde die von Aristoteles be- 
grundete Wissenschaft in Nichts dadurch gefordert; immerhin aber zeigt 
rich in jener Zwischenzeit noch ein gewisses Interesse fUr asthetischo 



WHAT IS ART? 55 

In reality nothing of the kind happened. The science 
of aesthetics, the science of the beautiful, neither did nor 
could vanish, because it never existed. Simply, the 
Greeks (just like everybody else, always and everywhere) 
considered art (like everything else) good only when it 
served goodness (as they understood goodness), and bad 
when it was in opposition to that goodness. And the 
Greeks themselves were so little developed morally, that 
goodness and beauty seemed to them to coincide. On 
that obsolete Greek view of life was erected the science 
of aesthetics, invented by men of the eighteenth century, 
and especially shaped and mounted in Baumgarten's 
theory. The Greeks (as any one may see who will read 
Benard's admirable book on Aristotle and his successors 
and Walter's work on Plato) never had a science of 
aesthetics. 

iEsthetic theories arose about one hundred and fifty 
years ago among the wealthy classes of the Christian 
European world, and arose simultaneously among dif- 
ferent nations, — German, Italian, Dutch, French, and 
English. The founder and organizer of it, who gave it 
a scientific, theoretic form, was Baumgarten. 

With a characteristically German, external exactitude, 
pedantry, and symmetry, he devised and expounded this 
extraordinary theory. And, notwithstanding its obvious 
insolidity, nobody else's theory so pleased the cultured 
crowd, or was accepted so readily and with such an 
absence of criticism. It so suited the people of the 
upper classes, that to this day, notwithstanding its en- 
tirely fantastic character and the arbitrary nature of its 
assertions, it is repeated by learned and unlearned as 
though it were something indubitable and self-evident. 

Fragen. Nach Plotin aber, die wenigen, ihm in der Zeit nahestehenden 
Philosophen, wie Longin, Augustin, u. s. f. kommen, wie wir gesehen, kaum 
in Betracbt und schliessen sich tibrigens in ihrer Anschauungsweise an 
inn an, — vergehen nicht funf, sondern funfrehn Jahrhundcrte, in denen 
yon irgend einer wiasenschaftlicben Interesse fur die Welt des Schdnen 
and der Kunst nichts za spuren ist. 

Diese anderthalbtausend Jahre, innerhalb deren der Weltgeist durch die 
mannigfachsten Kampfe hindurch zu einer vollig neuen Gestaltung des 
Lebens sich durcharbeitete, sind fur die Aesthetik, hinsichtlich des weiteren 
Ausbaus dieser Wissenschaft verloren. — Max Schaslkr. 



56 WHAT IS ART? 

Habent sua fata libelli pro capite lectoris, and so, or 
even more so, theories habent sua fata according to the 
condition of error in which that society is living, among 
whom and for whom the theories are invented. If a 
theory justifies the false position in which a certain 
part of a society is living, then, however unfounded or 
even obviously false the theory may be, it is accepted, 
and becomes an article of faith to that section of society. 
Such, for instance, was the celebrated and unfounded 
theory, expounded by Malthus, of the tendency of that 
population of the world to increase in geometrical 
progression, but of the means of sustenance to increase 
only in arithmetical progression, and of the consequent 
over-population of the world ; such, also, was the theory 
(an outgrowth of the Malthusian) of selection and strug- 
gle for existence as the basis of human progress. Such, 
again, is Marx's theory, which regards the gradual de- 
struction of small private production by large capitalistic 
production, now going on around us, as an inevitable 
decree of fate. However unfounded such theories are, 
however contrary to all that is known and confessed by 
humanity, and however obviously immoral they may be, 
they are accepted with credulity, pass uncriticized, and 
are preached, perchance for centuries, until the condi- 
tions are destroyed which they served to justify, or until 
their absurdity has become too evident. To this class 
belongs this astonishing theory of the Baumgartenian 
Trinity, — Goodness, Beauty, and Truth, — according to 
which it appears that the very best that can be done 
by the art of nations after 1900 years of Christian teach- 
ing, is to choose as the ideal of their life the ideal that 
was held by a small, semi-savage, slave-holding people 
who lived 2000 years ago, who imitated the nude human 
body extremely well, and erected buildings pleasant to 
look at. All these incompatibilities pass completely 
unnoticed. Learned people write long, cloudy treatises 
on beauty as a member of the aesthetic trinity of Beauty, 
Truth, and Goodness : das Sclwne, das Wahre, das Gute; 
le Beau, le Vrai, le Bon, are repeated, with capital letters, 
by philosophers, aestheticians, and artists, by private in- 



WHAT IS ART? 57 

dividuals, by novelists, and by feuilletonistes, and they 
all think, when pronouncing these sacrosanct words, 
that they speak of something quite definite and solid — 
something on which they can base their opinions. In 
reality, these words not only have no definite meaning, 
but they hinder us in attaching any definite meaning to 
existing art ; they are wanted only for the purpose of 
justifying the false importance we attribute to an art 
that transmits every kind of feeling, if only those feel- 
ings afford us pleasure. 



CHAPTER VIII 

But if art is a human activity having for its purpose 
the transmission to others of the highest and best feel- 
ings to which men have risen, how could it be that 
humanity for a certain rather considerable period of its 
existence (from the time people ceased to believe in 
Church doctrine down to the present day) should exist 
without this important activity, and, instead of it, should 
put up with an insignificant artistic activity only afford- 
ing pleasure ? 

In order to answer this question, it is necessary, first 
of all, to correct the current error people make in 
attributing to our art the significance of true, universal 
art. We are so accustomed, not only naively to con- 
sider the Circassian family the best stock of people, but 
also the Anglo-Saxon race the best race if we are Eng- 
lishmen or Americans, or the Teutonic if we are Ger- 
mans, or the Gallo-Latin if we are French, or the 
Slavonic if we are Russians, that, when speaking of our 
own art, we feel fully convinced, not only that our art is 
true art, but even that it is the best and only true art. 
But in reality our art is not only not the only art (as 
the Bible once was held to be the only book), but it is 
not even the art of the whole of Christendom — only 
of a small section of that part of humanity. It was 
correct to speak of a national Jewish, Grecian, or 



58 WHAT IS ART? 

Egyptian art, and one may speak of a now-existing 
Chinese, Japanese, or Indian art shared in by a whole 
people. Such art, common to a whole nation, existed 
in Russia till Peter the First's time, and existed in the 
rest of Europe until the thirteenth or fourteenth century ; 
but since the upper classes of European society, having 
lost faith in the Church teaching, did not accept real 
Christianity but remained without any faith, one can no 
longer speak of an art of the Christian nations in the 
sense of the whole of art. Since the upper classes 
of the Christian nations lost faith in Church Christianity, 
the art of those upper classes has separated itself from 
the art of the rest of the people, and there have been 
two arts, — the art of the people and genteel art. And 
therefore the answer to the question, How it could occur 
that humanity lived for a certain period without real 
art, replacing it by art which served enjoyment only? is, 
that not all humanity, nor even any considerable portion 
of it, lived without real art, but only the highest classes 
of European Christian society, and even they only for 
a comparatively short time, — from the commencement 
of the Renaissance down to our own day. 

And the consequence of this absence of true art 
showed itself, inevitably, in the corruption of that class 
which nourished itself on the false art. All the confused, 
unintelligible theories of art, all the false and contra- 
dictory judgments on art, and particularly the self-confi- 
dent stagnation of our art in its false path, all arise from 
the assertion, which has come into common use and is 
accepted as an unquestioned truth, but is yet amazingly 
and palpably false, the assertion, namely, that the art 
of our upper classes 1 is the whole of art, the true, the 
only, the universal art And although this assertion 
(which is precisely similar to the assertion made by 
religious people of the various Churches who consider 
that theirs is the only true religion) is quite arbitrary 

1 The contrast made is between the classes and the masses ; between 
those who do not and those who do earn their bread by productive man- 
ual labor; the middle classes being taken as an offshoot of the upper 
classes. — Tr. 



WHAT IS ART? 59 

and obviously unjust, yet it is calmly repeated by all 
the people of our circle with full faith in its infallibility. 

The art we have is the whole of art, the real, the only 
art, and yet two-thirds of the human race (all the peoples 
of Asia and Africa) live and die knowing nothing of this 
sole and supreme art And even in our Christian soci- 
ety hardly one per cent of the people make use of this 
art which we speak of as being the whole of art ; the 
remaining ninety-nine per cent live and die, generation 
after generation, crushed by toil, and never tasting this 
art, which, moreover, is of such a nature that, if they 
could get it, they would not understand anything of it. 
We, according to the current aesthetic theory, acknowl- 
edge art as one of the highest manifestations of the 
Idea, God, Beauty, or as the highest spiritual enjoyment; 
furthermore, we hold that all people have equal rights, 
if not to material, at any rate to spiritual well-being ; 
and yet ninety-nine per cent of our European popula- 
tion live and die, generation after generation, crushed 
by toil, much of which toil is necessary for the produc- 
tion of our art which they never use, and we, neverthe- 
less, calmly assert that the art which we produce is the 
real, true, only art — all of art ! 

To the remark that if our art is the true art every one 
should have the benefit of it, the usual reply is that if 
not everybody at present makes use of existing art, the 
fault lies, not in the art, but in the false organization of 
society ; that one can imagine to oneself, in the future, 
a state of things in which physical labor will be partly 
superseded by machinery, partly lightened by its just 
distribution, and that labor for the production of art will 
be taken in turns ; that there is no need for some people 
always to sit below the stage moving the decorations, 
winding up the machinery, working at the piano or 
French horn, and setting type and printing books, but 
that the people who do all this work might be engaged 
only a few hours per day, and in their leisure time might 
enjoy all the blessings of art. 

That is what the defenders of our exclusive art say. 
But I think they do not themselves believe it. They 



60 WHAT IS ART? 

cannot help knowing that fine art can arise only on the 
slavery of the masses of the people, and can continue 
only as long as that slavery lasts, and they cannot help 
knowing that only under conditions of intense labor for 
the workers, can specialists — writers, musicians, dancers, 
and actors — arrive at that fine degree of perfection to 
which they do attain, or produce their refined works of 
art ; and only under the same conditions can there be a 
fine public to esteem such productions. Free the slaves 
of capital, and it will be impossible to produce such re- 
fined art. 

But even were we to admit the inadmissible, and say 
that means may be found by which art (that art which 
among us is considered to be art) may be accessible to 
the whole people, another consideration presents itself 
showing that fashionable art cannot be the whole of art, 
viz., the fact that it is completely unintelligible to the 
people. Formerly men wrote poems in Latin, but now 
their artistic productions are as unintelligible to the com- 
mon folk as if they were written in Sanscrit. The usual 
reply to this is, that if the people do not now understand 
this art of ours, it only proves that they are undeveloped, 
and that this has been so at each fresh step forward 
made by art. First it was not understood, but after- 
ward people got accustomed to it. 

" It will be the same with our present art ; it will be 
understood when everybody is as well educated as we 
are — the people of the upper classes — who produce 
this art," say the defenders of our art. But this assertion 
is evidently even more unjust than the former; for we 
know that the majority of the productions of the art of 
the upper classes, such as various odes, poems, dramas, 
cantatas, pastorals, pictures, etc., which delighted the 
people of the upper classes when they were produced, 
never were afterward either understood or valued by 
the great masses of mankind, but have remained, what 
they were at first, a mere pastime for rich people of 
their time, for whom alone they ever were of any im- 
portance. It is also often urged, in proof of the asser- 
tion that the people will some day understand our art 



WHAT IS ART? 61 

that some productions of so-called " classical " poetry, 
music, or painting, which formerly did not please the 
masses, do — now that they have been offered to them 
from all sides — begin to please these same masses ; 
but this only shows that the crowd, especially the half- 
spoilt town crowd, can easily (its taste having been per- 
verted) be accustomed to any sort of art. Moreover, this 
art is not produced by these masses, nor even chosen 
by them, but is energetically thrust upon them in those 
public places in which art is accessible to the people. 
For the great majority of working-people, our art, be- 
sides being inaccessible on account of its costliness, is 
strange in its very nature, transmitting, as it does, the 
feelings of people far removed from those conditions of 
laborious life which are natural to the great body of 
humanity. That which is enjoyment to a man of the 
rich classes is incomprehensible, as a pleasure, to a 
working-man, and evokes in him, either no feeling at 
all, or only a feeling quite contrary to that which it 
evokes in an idle and satiated man. Such feelings as 
tcnn the chief subjects oi present-day art — say, for 
instance, honor, 1 patriotism, and amorousness — evoke 
in a working-man only bewilderment and contempt, or 
indignation. So that even if a possibility were given to 
the laboring classes, in their free time, to see, to read, 
and to hear all that forms the flower of contemporary 
art (as is done to some extent, in towns, by means of 
picture galleries, popular concerts, and libraries), the 
working-man (to the extent to which he is a laborer, 
and has not begun to pass into the ranks of those per- 
verted by idleness) would be able to make nothing of 
our fine art, and if he did understand it, that which he 
understood would not elevate his soul, but would cer- 
tainly, in most cases, pervert it. To thoughtful and 
sincere people there can, therefore, be no doubt that the 
art of our upper classes never can be the art of the whole 
people. But if art is an important matter, a spiritual 
blessing, essential for all men (" like religion/' as the 

1 Dueling is still customary among the higher circles in Russia, 65 iff 
Other continental countries. — T&. 



62 WHAT IS ART? 

devotees of art are fond of saying), then it should be 
accessible to every one. And if, as in our day, it is not 
accessible to all men, then one of two things : either art 
is not the vital matter it is represented to be, or that art 
which we call art is not the real thing. 

The dilemma is inevitable, and therefore clever and 
immoral people avoid it by denying one side of it, viz., 
denying that the common people have a right to art. 
These people simply and boldly speak out (what lies at 
the heart of the matter), and say that the participators 
in and utilizers of what, in their esteem, is highly beau- 
tiful art, i.e. art furnishing the greatest enjoyment, can 
only be " schone Geister," "the elect," as the romanti- 
cists called them, the " Uebermenschen," as they are 
called by the followers of Nietzsche; the remaining 
vulgar herd, incapable of experiencing these pleasures, 
must serve the exalted pleasures of this superior breed 
of people. The people who express these views at least 
do not pretend, and do not try, to combine the incom- 
binable, but frankly admit, what is the case, that our art 
is an art of the upper classes only. So essentially art 
has been, and is, understood by every one engaged on it 
in our society. 



CHAPTER IX 

The unbelief of the upper classes of the European 
world had this effect — that instead of an artistic activity 
aiming at transmitting the highest feelings to which 
humanity has attained, — those flowing from religious 
perception, — we have an activity which aims at afford- 
ing the greatest enjoyment to a certain class of society. 
And of all the immense domain of art, that part has been 
fenced off, and is alone called art, which affords enjoy- 
ment to the people of this particular circle. 

Apart from the moral effects on European society of 
such a selection from the whole sphere of art of what 
did not deserve such a valuation, and the acknowledg- 
ment of it as important art, this perversion of art has 



WHAT IS ART? 63 

weakened art itself, and well-nigh destroyed it. The 
first great result was that art was deprived of the infinite, 
varied, and profound religious subject-matter proper to 
it. The second result was that having only a small circle 
of people in view, it lost its beauty of form and became 
affected and obscure ; and the third and chief result was 
that it ceased to be either natural or even sincere, and 
became thoroughly artifical and brain-spun. 

The first result — the impoverishment of subject- 
matter — followed because only that is a true work of 
art which transmits fresh feelings not before experienced 
by man. As thought-product is only then real thought- 
product when it transmits new conceptions and thoughts, 
and does not merely repeat what was known before, so 
also an art-product is only then a genuine art-product 
when it brings a new feeling (however insignificant) into 
the current of human life. This explains why children 
and youths are so strongly impressed by those works of 
art which first transmit to them feelings they had not 
before experienced. 

The same powerful impression is made on people by 
feelings which are quite new, and have never before 
been expressed by man. And it is the source from 
which such feelings flow of which the art of the upper 
classes has deprived itself by estimating feelings, not in 
conformity with religious perception, but according to 
the degree of enjoyment they afford. There is nothing 
older and more hackneyed than enjoyment, and there 
is nothing fresher than the feelings springing from the 
religious consciousness of each age. It could not be 
otherwise: man's enjoyment has limits established by 
his nature, but the movement forward of humanity, that 
which is voiced by religious perception, has no limits. 
At every forward step taken by humanity — and such 
steps are taken in consequence of the greater and 
greater elucidation of religious perception — men ex- 
perience new and fresh feelings. And therefore only 
on the basis of religious perception (which shows the 
highest level of life-comprehension reached by the men 
of a certain period) can fresh emotion, never before felt 



64 WHAT IS ART? 

by man, arise. From the religious perception of th<> 
ancient Greeks flowed the really new, important, and 
endlessly varied feelings expressed by Homer and the 
tragic writers. It was the same among the Jews, who 
attained the religious conception of a single God, — 
from that perception flowed all those new and important 
emotions expressed by the prophets. It was the same 
for the poets of the Middle Ages, who if they believed 
in a heavenly hierarchy, believed also in the Catholic 
commune ; and it is the same for a man of to-day who 
has grasped the religious conception of true Christian- 
ity, — the brotherhood of man. 

The variety of fresh feelings flowing from religious 
perception is endless, and they are all new ; for religious 
perception is nothing else than the first indication of 
that which is coming into existence, viz., the new rela- 
tion of man to the world around him. But the feelings 
flowing from the desire for enjoyment are, on the con- 
trary, not only limited, but were long ago experienced 
and expressed. And therefore the lack of belief of the 
upper classes of Europe has left them with an art fed 
on the poorest subject-matter. 

The impoverishment of the subject-matter of upper- 
class art was further increased by the fact that, ceasing 
to be religious, it ceased also to be popular, and this again 
diminished the range of feelings which it transmitted. 
For the range of feelings experienced by the powerful 
and the rich, who have no experience of labor for the 
support of life, is far poorer, more limited, and more 
insignificant than the range of feelings natural to work- 
ing-people. 

People of our circle, aestheticians, usually think and 
say just the contrary of this. I remember how Gon- 
tchareff , the author, a very clever and educated man, but 
a thorough townsman and an aesthetician, said to me 
that after Tourgenieff 's " Memoirs of a Sportsman " there 
was nothing left to write about in peasant life. It was 
all used up. The life of working-people seemed to him 
so simple that TourgeniefFs peasant stories had used 
up all there was to describe. The life of our wealthy 



WHAT IS ART? 65 

people, with their love-affairs and dissatisfaction with 
themselves, seemed to him full of inexhaustible subject- 
matter. One hero kissed his lady on her palm, another 
on her elbow, and a third somewhere else. One man 
is discontented through idleness, and another because 
people don't love him. And Gontchareff thought that 
in this sphere there is no end of variety. And this 
opinion — that the life of working-people is poor in 
subject-matter, but that our life, the life of the idle, is 
full of interest — is shared by very many people in our 
society. The life of a laboring man, with its endlessly 
varied forms of labor, and the dangers connected with 
this labor on sea and underground ; his migrations, the 
intercourse with his employers, overseers, and compan- 
ions, and with men of other religions and other nationali- 
ties ; his struggles with nature and with wild beasts, the 
associations with domestic animals, the work in the forest, 
on the steppe, in the field, the garden, the orchard ; his 
intercourse with wife and children, not only as with 
people near and dear to him, but as with co-workers 
and helpers in labor, replacing him in time of need; 
his concern in all economic questions, not as matters of 
display or discussion, but as problems of life for himself 
and his family ; his pride in self -suppression and service 
to others, his pleasures of refreshment ; and with all 
these interests permeated by a religious attitude toward 
these occurrences — all this to us, who have not these 
interests and possess no religious perception, seems 
monotonous in comparison with those small enjoyments 
and insignificant cares of our life, — a life, not of labor 
nor of production, but of consumption and destruction 
of that which others have produced for us. We think 
the feelings experienced by people of our day and our 
class are very important and varied ; but in reality almost 
all the feelings of people of our class amount to but 
three very insignificant and simple feelings, — the feel- 
ing of pride, the feeling of sexual desire, and the feeling 
of weariness of life. These three feelings, with their 
outgrowths, form almost the only subject-matter of the 
art of the rich classes. 



66 WHAT IS ART? 

At first, at the veiy beginning of the separation of the 
exclusive art of the upper classes from universal art, its 
chief subject-matter was the feeling of pride. It was 
so at the time of the Renaissance and after it, when the 
chief subject of works of art was the laudation of the 
strong, — popes, kings, and dukes : odes and madrigals 
were written in their honor, and they were extolled in 
cantatas and hymns ; their portraits were painted, and 
their statues carved, in various adulatory ways. Next, 
the element of sexual desire began more and more to 
enter into art, and (with very few exceptions, and in 
novels and dramas almost without exception) it has 
now become an essential feature of every art-product 
of the rich classes. 

The third feeling transmitted by the art of the rich — 
that of discontent with life — appeared yet later in 
modern art. This feeling, which, at the commence- 
ment of the present century, was expressed only by 
exceptional men : by Byron, by Leopardi, and after- 
ward by Heine, has latterly become fashionable, and is 
expressed by most ordinary and empty people. Most 
justly does the French critic Doumic characterize the 
works of the new writers : " C'est la lassitude de vivre t 
le mfpris de Vipoque prtsente, le regret d'un autre temps 
aperfu d travers V illusion de Vart> le go At du paradoxe, 
le besoin de se singulariser, une aspiration de raffinfc 
vers la simplicity l y adoration enfantine du merveilleux, 
la seduction maladive de la riverie, IVbranlement des 
nerfs, — surtout Vappel exaspM de la sensuality (" Les 
Jeunes," Ren£ Doumic). 1 And, as a matter of fact, of 
these three feelings it is sensuality, the lowest (accessi- 
ble not only to all men, but even to all animals), which 
forms the chief subject-matter of works of art of recent 
times. 

From Boccaccio to Marcel Provost, all the novels, 

1 It is the weariness of life, contempt for the present epoch, regret for 
another age seen through the illusion of art, a taste for paradox, a desire 
to be singular, a sentimental aspiration after simplicity, an infantine adora- 
tion of the marvelous, a sickly tendency toward reverie, a shattered con- 
dition of nerves, and, above all, the exasperated demand of sensuality. 



WHAT IS ART? 67 

poems, and verses invariably transmit the feeling of 
sexual love in its different forms. Adultery is not only 
the favorite, but almost the only theme of all the novels. 
A performance is not a performance unless, under some 
pretense, women appear with naked busts and limbs. 
Songs and romances — all are expressions of lust, ideal- 
ized in various degrees. 

A majority of the pictures by French artists repre- 
sent female nakedness in various forms. In recent 
French literature there is hardly a page or a poem in 
which nakedness is not described, and in which, rele- 
vantly or irrelevantly, their favorite thought and word 
nu is not repeated a couple of times. There is a certain 
writer, Ren6 de Gourmond, who gets printed, and is 
considered talented. To get an idea of the new writers, 
I read his novel, " Les Chevaux de Diomfede." It is a 
consecutive and detailed account of the sexual connec- 
tions some gentleman had with various women. Every 
page contains lust-kindling descriptions. It is the same 
in Pierre Louys' book, "Aphrodite," which met with 
success ; it is the same in a book I lately chanced upon, 
Huysmans* "Certains," and, with but few exceptions, 
it is the same in all the French novels. They are all 
the productions of people suffering from erotic mania. 
And these people are evidently convinced that as their 
whole life, in consequence of their diseased condition, 
is concentrated on amplifying various sexual abomina- 
tions, therefore the life of all the world is similarly con- 
centrated. And these people, suffering from erotic 
mania, are imitated throughout the whole artistic world 
of Europe and America. 

Thus in consequence of the lack of belief and the 
exceptional manner of life of the wealthy classes, the 
art of those classes became impoverished in its subject- 
matter, and has sunk to the transmission of the feelings 
of pride, discontent with life, and, above all, of sexual 
desire. 



68 WHAT IS ART? 



CHAPTER X 



In consequence of their unbelief, the art of the upper 
classes became poor in subject-matter. But besides that, 
becoming continually more and more exclusive, it be- 
came at the same time continually more and more 
involved, affected, and obscure. 

When a universal artist (such as were some of the 
Grecian artists or the Jewish prophets) composed his 
work, he naturally strove to say what he had to say 
in such a manner that his production should be intelli- 
gible to all men. But when an artist composed for a 
small circle of people placed in exceptional conditions, 
or even for a single individual and his courtiers, — for 
popes, cardinals, kings, dukes, queens, or for a king's 
mistress, — he naturally only aimed at influencing these 
people, who were well known to him, and lived in 
exceptional conditions familiar to him. And this was 
an easier task, and the artist was involuntarily drawn to 
express himself by allusions comprehensible only to the 
initiated, and obscure to every one else. In the first 
place, more could be said in this way ; and secondly, 
there is (for the initiated) even a certain charm in the 
cloudiness of such a manner of expression. This method, 
which showed itself both in euphemism and in mytho- 
logical and historical allusions, came more and more 
into use, until it has, apparently, at last reached its 
utmost limits in the so-called art of the Decadents. It 
has come, finally, to this: that not only is haziness, 
mysteriousness, obscurity, and exclusiveness (shutting 
out the masses) elevated to the rank of a merit and 
a condition of poetic art, but even incorrectness, indefi- 
niteness, and lack of eloquence are held in esteem. 

Th6ophile Gautier, in his preface to the celebrated 
" Fleurs du Mai," says that Baudelaire, as far as possi- 
ble, banished from poetry eloquence, passion, and truth 
too strictly copied (" Vdoquence, la passion, et la viriti 
calqute trop exactement"). 

And Baudelaire not only expressed this, but main- 



WHAT IS ART? 6 9 

tained his thesis in his verses, and yet more strikingly 
in the prose of his " Petits Po&mes en Prose," the mean- 
ings of which have to be guessed like a rebus, and 
remain for the most part undiscovered. 

The poet Verlaine (who followed next after Baude- 
laire, and was also esteemed great) even wrote an " Art 
Po&ique," in which he advises this style of composi- 
tion : — 

De la musique avant toute chose, 
Et pour cela prtfkre V Impair 
Plus vague et plus soluble dans Vair t 
Sans rien en lui qui pise ou qui pose. 

Ilfaut aussi que tu riailles point 
Choisir tes mots sans quelque miprise: 
Rien de plus cher que la chanson grise 
Ou VIncUcis au Precis se joint. 
• • • • • 



And again: — 

De la musique encore et toujours! 
Que ton vers soit la chose envoUe 
Qu'on sent quifuit d'une dme en alUo 
Vers d'autres cieux d d'autres amours. 

Que ton vers soit la bonne aventure 
Eparse au vent crispi du matin, 
Qui vafieurant la menthe et le thyiti.^ 
Et tout le reste est literature. 1 

1 Music, music before all things 
The eccentric still prefer, 
Vague in air, and nothing weighty, 
Soluble. Yet do not err, 

Choosing words; still do it lightly 
Do it too with some contempt; 
Dearest is the song that's tipsy, 
Clearness, dimness not exempt. 



70 WHAT IS ART? 

After these two comes Mallarm6, considered the most 
important of the young poets, and he plainly says that 
the charm of poetry lies in our having to guess its 
meaning — that in poetry there should always be a 
puzzle : — 

Je pense qu'il faut qu'il riy ait qu' allusion, says he. 
La contemplation des objets, r image s'envolant des ri- 
veries suscite'es par eux, sont le chant: les Parnassiens, 
eux, prennent la chose entUrement et la montrent; par 
Id, Us manquent de mystere ; Us retirent aux esprits cette 
joie dtticieuse de croire qu'ils cr/ent. Nommer un ob- 
jet, c'est supprimer les trois quarts de la jouissance du 
po&me, qui est f aite du bonheur de deviner peu k peu : 
le sugg6rer, voili le rfive. Cest le parfait usage de ce 
mystere qui constitue le symbole: ivoquer petit d petit 
un objet pour montrer un e'tat tfdme, ou, inversement, 
choisir un objet et en digager un e'tat cTdme, par une serie 
de cUchiffrements. 

.... Si un itre (Tune intelligence moyenne, et (Tune 
preparation litte'raire insuffisante, ouvre par hasard un 
livre ainsi fait et pretend en jouir y il y a malentendu 9 
il faut remettre les choses d leur place. II doit y avoir 
tou jours £nigme en po£sie, et c'est le but de la littifrature 9 
il ny en a pas (T autre, — d' ivoquer les objets. — " En- 
qufite sur revolution Litt6raire," Jules Huret, pp. 60, 61. 1 

Music always, now and ever . 
Be thy verse the thing that flies 
From a soul that 's gone, escaping, 
Gone to other loves and skies. 

Gone to other loves and regions, 
Following fortunes that allure, 
Mint and thyme and morning crispness mm 
All the rest 's mere literature. 

1 1 think there should be nothing but allusions. The contemplation of 
objects, the flying image of reveries evoked by them, are the song. The 
Parnassiens state the thing completely, and show it, and thereby lack 
mystery; they deprive the mind of that delicious joy of imagining that it 
creates. To name an object is to take three-quarters from the enjoyment 
of the poem, which consists in the happiness of guessing little by little : to 
suggest, that is the dream. It is the perfect use of this mystery that con- 
stitutes the symbol : little by little, to evoke an object in order to show a 



WHAT IS ART? 71 

Thus is obscurity elevated into a dogma among the 
new poets. As the French critic Doumic (who has not 
yet accepted the dogma) quite correctly says : — 

"// serait temps aussi d y en finir avec cette fameuse 
^thtorie de Fobscurite* que la nouvelle /cole a Hevie, en 
effet y d la hauteur (Tun dogme." — "Les Jeunes, par 
Ren6 Doumic." 1 

But it is not French writers only who think thus. The 
poets of all other countries think and act in the same 
way : German, and Scandinavian, and Italian, and Rus- 
sian, and English. So also do the artists of the new 
period in all branches of art : in painting, in sculpture, 
and in music. Relying on Nietzsche and Wagner, the 
artists of the new age conclude that it is unnecessary 
for them to be intelligible to the vulgar crowd ; it is 
enough for them to evoke poetic emotion in " the finest 
nurtured," to borrow a phrase from an English aestheti- 
cian. 

In order that what I am saying may not seem to be 
mere assertion, I will quote at least a few examples from 
the French poets who have led this movement. The 
name of these poets is legion. I have taken French 
writers, because they, more decidedly than any others, 
indicate the new direction of art, and are imitated by 
most European writers. 

Besides those whose names are already considered 
famous, such as Baudelaire and Verlaine, here are the 
names of a few of them : Jean Morias, Charles Morice, 
Henri de R6gnier, Charles Vignier, Adrien Remade, 
Ren6 Ghil, Maurice Maeterlinck, G. Albert Aurier, R6my 
de Gourmont, Saint- Pol- Roux-le-Magnifique, Georges 
Rodenbach, le comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac. 

state of the soul; or, inversely, to choose an object, and from it to dis- 
engage a state of the soul by a series of decipherings. 

.... If a being of mediocre intelligence and insufficient literary prepa 
ration chance to open a book made in this way and pretends to enjoy it, 
there is a misunderstanding — things must be returned to their places. 
There should always be an enigma in poetry, and the aim of literature — 
it has no other — is to evoke objects. 

1 It were time also to have done with this famous " theory of obscurity,* 
which the new school have practically raised to the height of a dogmt. 



72 WHAT IS ART? 

These are Symbolists and Decadents. Next we have 
the "Magi": Jos6phin P61adan, Paul Adam, Jules Bois, 
M. Papus, and others. 

Besides these, there are yet one hundred and forty-one 
others, whom Doumic mentions in the book referred to 
above. 

Here are some examples from the work of those of 
them who are considered to be the best, beginning with 
that most celebrated man, acknowledged to be a great 
artist worthy of a monument — Baudelaire. This is a 
poem from his celebrated " Fleurs du Mai" :— 

No. XXIV 

Je f adore d l*/gal de la voAte nocturne, 
O vase de tristesse, 6 grande taciturne, 
Et faime d'autant ft/us, belle \ que tu tnefuis, 
Et que tu tneparais, ornement de mes nuits, 
Plus ironiquement accumuler les lieues 
Qui siparent mes bras des immensit/s bleues. 

Je nCavance d I'attaque, et je grimpe aux assauts 9 
Comme apris un cadavre un chceur de vermisseaux, 
Et je chtris, 6 bite implacable et cruelle, 
Jusqu'd cette froideur par au tu nies plus belle/ 1 

And this is another by the same writer :— 



No. XXXVI 

DUELLUM 

Deux guerriers ont couru Vun sur l % autre; leurs armrt 
Ont iclaboussi Vair de lueurs et de sang. 
Ces jeux, ces cliquetis du fer sont les vacarmes 
D'une jeunesse en proie d V amour vagissant. 

*For translation, see Appendix IV. 



WHAT IS ART? 73 

Les glaives sont brisks ! contnte notre jeunesse, 
Ma chkre ! Mais les dents, les ongles acMs 9 
Vengent bientdt Vfyte et la dague trattresse. 
O fureur des cceurs m&rs par V amour ulcMst 

Dans le ravin hantg des chats-pards et des onces 
Nos A/ros, sVtreignant m/cAamment, ont route, 
Et leur peau fleurira V aridity des ronces. 

Ce gouffre, c f est Venfer, de nos amis peupUt 
Roulons-y sans remords, amazone inhumaine 9 
Afin d'iterniser Fardeur de notre haine ! x 

To be exact, I should mention that the collection con- 
tains verses less comprehensible than these, but not one 
poem which is plain and can be understood without a 
certain effort — an effort seldom rewarded ; for the feeU 
ings which the poet transmits are evil and very low ones. 
And these feelings are always, and purposely, expressed 
by him with eccentricity and lack of clearness. This 
premeditated obscurity is especially noticeable in his 
prose, where the author could, if he liked, speak plainly. 

Take, for instance, the first piece from his "Petits 
Po&mes": — 

VETRANGER 

Qui aimes-tu le mieux, homme hiigmatique, dis t ton 
pire, ta mkre, ta sceur, ou tonfrire f 

Je riai ni pire t ni mire % ni sceur 9 nifrkre. 

Tes amis f 

Vous vous serves Id d f une parole dont le sens m'est resti 
jusqu'd cejour inconnu. 

Ta patrie f 

J* ignore sous quelle latitude elle est situ/e. 

La beaut J? 

Je Vaimerais volontiers, desse et immortelle. 

Vort 

Je le hats comme vous haissez Dieu. 

1 For translation, see Appendix IV. 



74 WHAT IS ART? 

Et qu'aimes-tu done, extraordinaire Stranger? 
J'aime les nuages .... les nuages qui p assent .... Id bas 9S m 
les merveilleux nuages ! x 

The piece called " La Soupe et les Nuages" is probably 
intended to express the unintelligibility of the poet even 
to her whom he loves. This is the piece in question : — 

Ma petite folle bien-aimie me donnait d dtner, et par la 
fenitre ouverte de la salle d manger je contemplais Us 
mouvantes architectures que Dieu fait avec les vapeurs, 
les merveilleuses constructions de V impalpable. Etje me 
disais, d travers ma contemplation : " Toutes ces fantas- 
magories sontpresque aussi belles que lesyeux de ma belle 
bien-aime*e 9 la petite folle monstrueuse aux yeux verts" 

Et tout d coupje requs un violent coup de poing dans le 
dos, etfentendis une voix rauque et charmante $ une voix 
hysUrique et comme enroute par I } eau-de-vie, la voix de 
ma chere petite bien-aimie^ qui me disait f u Allez-vous 
bientdt manger votre soupe , s .... b .... de marchand de 
nuages f" 1 

However artificial these two pieces may be, it is still 
possible, with some effort, to guess at what the author 
meant them to express, but some of the pieces are ab- 
solutely incomprehensible — at least to me, " Le Galant 
Tireur" is a piece I was quite unable to understand. 



LE GALANT TLREUR 

Comme la voiture traversait le bois 9 il la fit arriter 
dans le voisinage d*un tir, disant qu'il lui serait agriable 
de tirer quelques balles pour tuer le Temps. Tuer ce 
fnonstre-ldj riest-ce pas V occupation la plus ordinaire et la 
plus legitime de chacun ? — Et il offrit galamment la 
main d sa chere t dtlicieuse et execrable femme, d cette 
tnystirieuse femme d laquelle il doit tant deplaisirs, tant 
de douleurs, et peut-ltre aussi une grande partie de son 
giiiie. 

1 For translation, see Appendix IV* 



WHAT IS ART? 75 

Plusieurs dalles frapperent loin du but proposi, rune 
d'elles s'enfonfa mime dans le plafond; et comme la 
charmante criature riait follement, se moquant de la 
maladresse de son tpoux, celui-ci se tourna brusquement 
vers elUy et lui dit: " Observes cette poupie, li-bas, d 
droite, qui porte le nez en Vair et qui a la mine si hau- 
taine. Eh bien ! cher ange, je me figure que c'est 
vous." Et il ferma les yeux et il Idcha la ditente. La 
pouptefut nettement de'capite'e. 

Alors s' inclinant vers sa chire, sa de'licieuse, son 
execrable femme, son inevitable et impitoyable Muse, et 
lui baisant respectueusement la main, il ajouta: "Ah/ 
mm cher ange, combien je vous remercie de mon 
adresse!" 1 

The productions of another celebrity, Verlaine, are not 
less affected and unintelligible. This, for instance, is 
the first poem in the section called " Ariettes Oubltes." 

" Le vent dans la plaine 

Suspend son Aateine." — FAVART. 

C*est Vextase langoureuse, 
C'est la fatigue amoureuse, 
C'est tons les frissons des bois 
Parmi rttreinte des brises, 
C'est, vers les ramures grises, 
Le chceur des petites voix. 

O lefrile etfrais murmure! 
Cela gazouille et susurre, 
Cela ressemble au cri doux 
Que Vherbe agite'e expire .... 
Tu dirais, sous I'eau qui vine, 
Le roulis sourd des cailloux. 

Cette time qui se lamente 
En cette plainte dormante 
C'est la ndtre, n'est-ce pas? 

*For translation, see Appendix IV* 



76 WHAT IS ART? 

La mienne, dis t et la tienne> 
Dont s y exhale V humble antienne 
Parce Hide soir 9 tout bos? 1 

What " chceur des petites voix " t and what " cri doux 
que Vherbe agitie expire"? and what it all means, 
remains altogether unintelligible to me. 

And here is another " Ariette " : — 



VIII 

Dans r interminable 
Ennui de laplaine f 
La neige incertaine 
Luit comme du sable. 

Le del est de cuivre. 
Sans lueur aucune. 
On croirait voir vivre 
Et mourir la lime. 

Comme des nutes 
Flottent gris les chines 
Des fortts prochaines 
Parmi les buies. 

Le ciel est de cuivre, 
Sans lueur aucune. 
On croirait voir vivre 
Et mourir la lune. 

Corneille poussive 
Et vous t les loups maigres 9 
Par ces bises aigres 
Quoi done vous arrive t 

Dans l y interminable 
Ennui de laplaine 9 

*For translation, see Appendix IV* 



WHAT IS ART? 77 

La neige incertaine 
Luit cotnme du sable} 

How does the moon seem to live and die in a copper 
heaven? And how can snow shine like sand? The 
whole thing is not merely unintelligible, but, under pre- 
tense of conveying an impression, it passes off a string 
of incorrect comparisons and words. 

Besides these artificial and obscure poems there are 
others which are intelligible, but which make up for it by 
being altogether bad, both in form and in subject. Such 
are all the poems under the heading " La Sagesse." The 
chief place in these verses is occupied by a very poor 
expression of the most commonplace Roman Catholic 
and patriotic sentiments. For instance, one meets with 
verses such as this : — 

Je ne veux plus penser qu y d ma mire Marie \ 
Siige de la sagesse et source de pardons. 
Mire de France aussi de qui nous attendons 
Inibranlablement Thonneur de la patrie. 2 

Before citing examples from other poets, I must pause 
to note the amazing celebrity of these two versifiers, 
Baudelaire and Verlaine, who are now accepted as being 
great poets. How the French, who had Ch&iier, Musset, 
Lamartine, and, above all, Hugo, — and among whom 
quite recently flourished the so-called Parnassiens : Le- 
conte de Lisle, Sully-Prudhomme, etc., — could attribute 
such importance to these two versifiers, who were far 
from skilful in form and most contemptible and com- 
monplace in subject-matter, is to me incomprehensible. 
The conception of life of one of them, Baudelaire, con- 
sisted in elevating gross egotism into a theory, and re- 
placing morality by a cloudy conception of beauty, and 

1 For translation, see Appendix IV. 

f I do not wish to think any more, except about my mother Mary, 
Seat of wisdom and source of pardon, 
Also Mother of France, from whom we 
Steadfastly expect the honor of our country* 



78 WHAT IS ART? 

especially artificial beauty. Baudelaire had a preference, 
which he expressed, for a woman's face painted rather 
than showing its natural color, and for metal trees and 
a theatrical imitation of water rather than real trees and 
real water. 

The life-conception of the other, Verlaine, consisted 
in weak profligacy, confession of his moral impotence, 
and, as an antidote to that impotence, in the grossest 
Roman Catholic idolatry. Both, moreover, were quite 
lacking in natvet6, sincerity, and simplicity, and both 
overflowed with artificiality, forced originality and self- 
assurance. So that in their least bad productions one 
sees more of M. Baudelaire or M. Verlaine than of what 
they were describing. But the§e two indifferent versi- 
fiers form a school, and lead hundreds of followers after 
them. 

There is only one explanation of this fact : it is that 
the art of the society in which these versifiers lived is not 
a serious, important matter of life, but is a mere amuse- 
ment. And all amusements grow wearisome by repeti- 
tion. And, in order to make wearisome amusement 
again tolerable, it is necessary to find some means to 
freshen it up. When, at cards, ombre grows stale, whist 
is introduced ; when whist grows stale, £cartd is substi- 
tuted; when £cart6 grows stale, some other novelty is 
invented, and so on. The substance of the matter re- 
mains the same, only its form is changed. And so it is 
with this kind of art. The subject-matter of the art of 
the upper classes growing continually more and more 
limited, it has come at last to this, that to the artists of 
these exclusive classes it seems as if everything has 
already been said, and that to find anything new to say 
is impossible. And therefore, to freshen up this art, 
they look out for fresh forms. 

Baudelaire and Verlaine invent such a new form, 
furbish it up, moreover, with hitherto unused porno- 
graphic details, and — the critics and the public of the 
upper classes hail them as great writers. 

This is the only explanation of the success, not of 
Baudelaire and Verlaine only, but of all the Decadents. 



WHAT IS ART? 79 

For instance, there are poems by Mallarm6 and 
Maeterlinck which have no meaning, and yet for all 
that, or perhaps on that very account, are printed by 
tens of thousands, not only in various publications, but 
even in collections of the best works of the younger 
poets. 

This, for example, is a sonnet by Mallarm6 : — 

A la nue accablante tu 
Basse de basalte et de laves 
A mime les tchos esclaves 
Par une trompe sans vertu. 

Quel stpulcral naufrage (tu 
Le soir, /cume, tnais y baves) 
Suprtme une entre les tpaves 
Abolit le tndt dtvttu. 

Ou cela que furibond faute 
De quelque perdition haute 
Tout Vabime vain tployt 
Dans le si blanc cheveu qui tratne 
Avarement aura noyi 
Leflanc enfant d'une sirbie. 1 

("Pan," 1895, No. I.) 

This poem is not exceptional in its incomprehensi- 
bility. I have read several poems by Mallarm£, and 
they also had no meaning whatever. I give a sample 
of his prose in Appendix I. There is a whole volume 
of this prose called " Divagations." It is impossible to 
understand any of it. And that is evidently what the 
author intended. 

And here is a song by Maeterlinck, another cele- 
brated author of to-day : — 

Quand il est sorti, 
(J'entendis laporte) 

1 This sonnet seems too unintelligible for translation.— Tr. 



80 WHAT IS ART? 

Quand il est sorti 
Elle avait souri .... 

Mais quand il entra 
{J'entendis la lampe) 
Mais quand il entra 
Une autre itait Id .... 

Etj'ai vu la mort, 
{J'entendis son dme) 
Etj *ai vu la mort 
Qui V attend encore ..- 

On est venu dire, 
{Mon enfant j'aipeur) 
On est venu dire 
QuHl allait partir.... 

Ma lampe allumie, 
{Mon enfant j'aipeuf) 
Ma lampe allumh 
Me suis approchie .... 

A la premiere porte, 
{Mon enfant j'aipeur) 
A la premiere porte, 
Lafiamme a tremble .... 

A la seconde porte, 
{Mon enfant j'aipeur) 
A la seconde porte, 
Lafiamme aparli .... 

A la troisieme porte, 
{Mon enfant j'aipeur) 
A la troisieme porte, 
La tumilre est morte .... 

Et sHl revenait unjour 
Quefaut-il lui diret 



WHAT IS ART? 81 

Dites-lui qu'on Vattendit 
Jusqu'd s'en tnourir.... 

Et s'il demande oh vous ites 
Quefaut-il rtpondre ? 
Donnez-lui tnon anneau d'or 
Sans rien lui rtpondre .... 

Et s'il rriinterroge alors 
Sur la derniire heure f 
Dites lui quefai souri 
De peur qiiil ne pleure .... 

Et s'il rriinterroge encore 
Sans me reconnaitre ? 
Parlez-lui comtne une sceur, 
II souffre peut-itre .... 

Et s'il vent savoir pourquoi 
La salle est d/serte t 
Montrez lui la lampe e'teinte 
Et laporte ouverte .... 1 

(" Pan," 1895, No. 2.) 

Who went out ? Who came in ? Who is speaking ? 
Who died? 

I beg the reader to be at the pains of reading through 
the samples I cite in Appendix II. of the celebrated 
and esteemed young poets — Griffin, Verhaeren, Mor6as, 
and Montesquiou. It is important to do so in order to 
form a clear conception of the present position of art, 
and not to suppose, as many do, that Decadentism is an 
accidental and transitory phenomenon. To avoid the 
reproach of having selected the worst verses, I have 
copied out of each volume the poem which happened 
to stand on page 28. 

All the other productions of these poets are equally 
unintelligible, or can only be understood with great 

1 For translation, see Appendix IV. 



82 WHAT IS ART? 

difficulty, and then not fully. All the productions of 
those hundreds of poets, of whom I have named a few, 
are the same in kind. And among the Germans, 
Swedes, Norwegians, Italians, and us Russians, similar 
verses are printed. And such productions are printed 
and made up into book form, if not by the million, then 
by the hundred thousand (some of these works sell in 
tens of thousands). For type-setting, paging, printing, 
and binding these books, millions and millions of work- 
ing days are spent — not less, I think, than went to 
build the great pyramid. And this is not all. The 
same is going on in all the other arts : millions and 
millions of working days are being spent on the pro- 
duction of equally incomprehensible works in painting, 
in music, and in the drama. 

Painting not only does not lag behind poetry in this 
matter, but rather outstrips it. Here is an extract from 
the diary of an amateur of art, written when visiting 
the Paris exhibitions in 1894: — 

" I was to-day at three exhibitions : the Symbolists', 
the Impressionists', and the Neo-Impressionists'. I 
looked at the pictures conscientiously and carefully, but 
again felt the same stupefaction and ultimate indigna- 
tion. The first exhibition, that of Camille Pissarro, was 
comparatively the most comprehensible, though the pic- 
tures were out of drawing, had no subject, and the col- 
orings were most improbable. The drawing was so 
indefinite that you were sometimes unable to make out 
which way an arm or a head was turned. The subject 
was generally ' effets ' — Effet de brouillard, Effet du 
soir, Soleil couchant. There were some pictures with 
figures, but without subjects. 

" In the coloring, bright blue and bright green pre- 
dominated. And each picture had its special color, with 
which the whole picture was, as it were, splashed. For 
instance, in ' A Girl Guarding Geese/ the special color 
is vert de gris, and dots of it were splashed about every- 
where ; on the face, the hair, the hands, and the clothes. 
In the same gallery — ' Durand Ruel ' — were other pic- 
tures by Puvis de Chavannes, Manet, Monet, Renoir, 



WHAT IS ART? 83 

Sisley — who are all Impressionists. One of them, 
whose name I could not make out, — it was something 
like Redon, — had painted a blue face in profile. On 
the whole face there is only this blue tone, with white- 
of-lead. Pissarro has a water-color all done in dots. In 
the foreground is a cow, entirely painted with various- 
colored dots. The general color cannot be distinguished, 
however much one stands back from, or draws near to, 
the picture. From there I went to see the Symbolists. 
I looked at them long without asking any one for an ex- 
planation, trying to guess the meaning ; but it is beyond 
human comprehension. One of the first things to catch 
my eye was a wooden JiauUrelief, wretchedly executed, 
representing a woman (naked) who with both hands is 
squeezing from her two breasts streams of blood. The 
blood flows down, becoming lilac in color. Her hair 
first descends, and then rises again, and turns into 
trees. The figure is all colored yellow, and the hair is 
brown. 

"Next — a picture: a yellow sea, on which swims 
something which is neither a ship nor a heart ; on the 
horizon is a profile with a halo and yellow hair, which 
changes into a sea, in which it is lost Some of the 
painters lay on their colors so thickly that the effect is 
something between painting and sculpture. A third 
exhibit was even less comprehensible : a man's profile ; 
before him a flame and black stripes — leeches, as I was 
afterwards told. At last I asked a gentleman who was 
there what it meant, and he explained to me that the 
haut-relief was a symbol, and that it represented l La 
Terre! The heart swimming in a yellow sea was 'Illu- 
sion perdue, and the gentleman with the leeches 'Le 
MaU There were also some Impressionist pictures: 
elementary profiles, holding some sort of flowers in 
their hands: in monotone, out of drawing, and either 
quite blurred or else marked out with wide black out- 
lines." 

This was in 1894; the same tendency is now even 
more strongly defined, and we have Bocklin, Stuck, 
Klinger, Sasha Schneider, and others. 



84 WHAT IS ART? 

The same thing is taking place in the drama. The 
play-writers give us an architect who, for some reason, 
has not fulfilled his former high intentions, and who 
consequently climbs on to the roof of a house he has 
erected, and tumbles down head foremost ; or an incom- 
prehensible old woman (who exterminates rats), and 
who, for an unintelligible reason, takes a poetic child to 
the sea, and there drowns him ; or some blind men who, 
sitting on the seashore, for some reason always repeat 
one and the same thing ; or a bell of some kind, which 
flies into a lake, and there rings. 

And the same is happening in music — in that art 
which, more than any other, one would have thought, 
should be intelligible to everybody. 

An acquaintance of yours, a musician of repute, sits 
down to the piano and plays you what he says is a new 
composition of his own, or of one of the new composers. 
You hear the strange, loud sounds, and admire the gym- 
nastic exercises performed by his fingers ; and you see 
that the performer wishes to impress upon you that the 
sounds he is producing express various poetic strivings 
of the soul. You see his intention, but no feeling what- 
ever is transmitted to you except weariness. The exe- 
cution lasts long, or at least it seems very long to you, 
because you do not receive any clear impression, and 
involuntarily you remember the words of Alphonse 
Karr, " Plus qa va vite t plus qa dure longtemps." l And 
it occurs to you that perhaps it is all a mystification ; 
perhaps the performer is trying you — just throwing his 
hands and fingers wildly about the keyboard in the 
hope that you will fall into the trap and praise him, 
and then he will laugh and confess that he only wanted 
to see if he could hoax you. But when at last the piece 
does finish, and the perspiring and agitated musician 
rises from the piano evidently anticipating praise, you 
see that it was all done in earnest. 

The same thing takes place at all the concerts, with 
pieces by Liszt, Wagner, Berlioz, Brahms, and (newest 
of all) Richard Strauss, and the numberless other com 
1 The quicker it goes the longer it Jests. 



WHAT IS ART? 85 

posers of the new school, who unceasingly produce 
opera after opera, symphony after symphony, piece 
after piece. 

The same is occurring in a domain in which it seemed 
hard to be unintelligible, — in the sphere of novels and 
short stories. 

Read " IA Bas," by Huysmans, or some of Kipling's 
short 9tories, or " L'Annonciateur," by Villiers de l'lsle 
Adam in his " Contes Cruels," etc., and you will find 
them not only " abscons M (to use a word adopted by the 
new writers), but absolutely unintelligible both in form 
and in substance. Such, again, is the work by E. Morel, 
" Terre Promise," now appearing in the Revue Blanche, 
and such are most of the new novels. The style is very 
high-flown, the feelings seem to be most elevated, but 
you can't make out what is happening,*to whom it is 
happening, and where it is happening. And such is 
the bulk of the young art of our time. 

People who grew up in the first half of this century, 
admiring Goethe, Schiller, Musset, Hugo, Dickens, 
Beethoven, Chopin, Raphael, da Vinci, Michael Angelo, 
Delaroche, being unable to make head or tail of this 
new art, simply attribute its productions to tasteless 
insanity, and wish to ignore them. But such an atti- 
tude toward this new art is quite unjustifiable, because, 
in the first place, that art is spreading more and more, 
and has already conquered for itself a firm position in 
society, similar to the one occupied by the Romanticists 
in the third decade of this century ; and, secondly and 
chiefly, because, if it is permissible to judge in this way 
of the productions of the latest form of art, called by 
us Decadent art, merely because we do not understand 
it, then remember there are an enormous number of peo- 
ple, — all the laborers, and many of the non-laboring 
folk, — who, in just the same way, do not comprehend 
those productions of art which we consider admirable : 
the verses of our favorite artists — Goethe, Schiller, and 
Hugo ; the novels of Dickens, the music of Beethoven 
and Chopin, the pictures of Raphael, Michael Angelo, 
da Vinci, etc. 



86 WHAT IS ART? 

If I have a right to think that great masses of people 
do not understand and do not like what I consider un 
doubtedly good because they are not sufficiently devel- 
oped, then I have no right to deny that perhaps the 
reason why I cannot understand and cannot like thi* 
new productions of art is merely that I am still insuffi- 
ciently developed to understand them. If I have a 
right to say that I, and the majority of people who are 
in sympathy with me, do not understand the productions 
of the new art, simply because there is nothing in it to 
understand, and because it is bad art, then, with just the 
same right, the still larger majority, the whole laboring 
mass, who do not understand what I consider admirable 
art, can say that what I reckon as good art is bad art, 
and there is nothing in it to understand. 

I once saw the injustice of such condemnation of 
the new art with especial clearness, when, in my 
presence, a certain poet, who writes incomprehensible 
verses, ridiculed incomprehensible music with gay 
self-assurance; and, shortly afterwards, a certain mu- 
sician, who composes incomprehensible symphonies, 
laughed at incomprehensible poetry with equal self- 
confidence. I have no right, and no authority, to con- 
demn the new art on the ground that I (a man 
educated in the first half of the century) do not under- 
stand it; I can only say that it is incomprehensible 
to me. The only advantage the art I acknowledge 
has over the Decadent art, lies in the fact that the 
art I recognize is comprehensible to a somewhat larger 
number of people than the present-day art. 

The fact that I am accustomed to a certain exclusive 
art, and can understand it, but am unable to under- 
stand another still more exclusive art, does not give 
me a right to conclude that my art is the real true 
art, and that the other one, which I do not understand, 
is an unreal, a bad art. I can only conclude that art, 
becoming ever more and more exclusive, has become 
more and more incomprehensible to an ever increas- 
ing number of people, and that, in this its progress 
toward greater and greater incomprehensibility (on one 



WHAT IS ART? 8/ 

level of which I am standing, with the art familiar to 
me), it has reached a point where it is understood by 
a very small number of the elect, and the number of 
these chosen people is ever becoming smaller and 
smaller. 

As soon as ever the art of the upper classes sepa- 
rated itself from universal art, a conviction arose that 
art may be art and yet be incomprehensible to the 
masses. And as soon as this position was admitted, 
it had inevitably to be admitted also that art may be 
intelligible only to the very smallest number of the 
elect, and, eventually, to two, or to one, of our nearest 
friends, or to oneself alone. Which is practically what 
is being said by modern artists : " I create and under- 
stand myself, and if any one does not understand me, 
so much the worse for him." 

The assertion that art may be good art, and at the 
same time incomprehensible to a great number of peo- 
ple, is extremely unjust, and its consequences are 
ruinous to art itself ; but at the same time it is so com- 
mon and has so eaten into our conceptions, that it is 
impossible sufficiently to elucidate all the absurdity of 
it. 

Nothing is more common than to hear it said of re- 
puted works of art, that they are very good but very 
difficult to understand. We are quite used to such 
assertions, and yet to say that a work of art is good, 
but incomprehensible to the majority of men, is the 
same as saying of some kind of food that it is very 
good, but that most people can't eat it. The majority 
of men may not like rotten cheese or putrefying grouse 
— dishes esteemed by people with perverted tastes; 
but bread and fruit are only good when they please 
the majority of men. And it is the same with art. 
Perverted art may not please the majority of men, but 
good art always pleases every one. 

It is said that the very best works of art are such 
that they cannot be understood by the mass, but are 
accessible only to the elect who are prepared to under- 
stand these great works. But if the majority of men 



88 WHAT IS ART? 

do not understand, the knowledge necessary to enable 
them to understand should be taught and explained 
to them. But it turns out that there is no such knowl- 
edge, that the works cannot be explained, and that 
those who say the majority do not understand good 
works of art, still do not explain those works, but only 
tell us that, in order to understand them, one must 
read, and see, and hear these same works over and 
over again. But this is not to explain, it is only to 
habituate! And people may habituate themselves to 
anything, even to the very worst things. As people 
may habituate themselves to bad food, to spirits, to- 
bacco, and opium, just in the same way they may 
habituate themselves to bad art — and that is exactly 
what is being done. 

Moreover, it cannot be said that the majority of 
people lack the taste to esteem the highest works of 
art. The majority always have understood, and still 
understand, what we also recognize as being the very 
best art: the epic of Genesis, the gospel parables, 
folk-legends, fairy-tales, and folk-songs, are understood 
by all. How can it be that the majority has suddenly 
lost its capacity to understand what is high in our 
art? 

Of a speech it may be said that it is admirable, but 
incomprehensible to those who do not know the lan- 
guage in which it is delivered. A speech delivered in 
Chinese may be excellent, and may yet remain incom- 
prehensible to me if I do not know Chinese ; but what 
distinguishes a work of art from all other mental ac- 
tivity is just the fact that its language is understood 
by all, and that it infects all without distinction. The 
tears and laughter of a Chinese infect me just as 
the laughter and tears of a Russian; and it is the 
same with painting and music and poetry, when it is 
translated into a language I understand. The songs 
of a Kirghiz or of a Japanese touch me, though in a 
lesser degree than they touch a Kirghiz or a Japanese. 
I am also touched by Japanese painting, Indian archi- 
tecture, and Arabian stories. If I am but little touched 



WHAT IS ART? 89 

by a Japanese song and a Chinese novel, it is not that 
I do not understand these productions, but that I know 
and am accustomed to higher works of art. It is not 
because their art is above me. Great works of art are 
only great because they are accessible and comprehen- 
sible to every one. The story of Joseph, translated 
into the Chinese language, touches a Chinese. The 
story of Sakya Muni touches us. And there are, and 
must be, buildings, pictures, statues, and music of simi- 
lar power. So that, if art fails to move men, it cannot 
be said that this is due to the spectators' or hearers' 
lack of understanding ; but the conclusion to be drawn 
may and should be, that such art is either bad art, or 
is not art at all. 

Art is differentiated from activity of the understand- 
ing, which demands preparation and a certain sequence 
of knowledge (so that one cannot learn trigonometry 
before knowing geometry), by the fact that it acts on 
people independently of their state of development and 
education, that the charm of a picture, sounds, or of 
forms, infects any man whatever his plane of de- 
velopment. 

The business of art lies just in this, — to make that 
understood and felt which, in the form of an argu- 
ment, might be incomprehensible and inaccessible. 
Usually it seems to the recipient of a truly artistic 
impression that he knew the thing before but had 
been unable to express it. 

And such has always been the nature of good, su- 
preme art ; the " Iliad/' the " Odyssey," the stories of 
Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, the Hebrew prophets, the 
psalms, the gospel parables, the story of Sakya Muni, 
and the hymns of the Vedas: all transmit very ele- 
vated feelings, and are nevertheless quite comprehen- 
sible now to us, educated or uneducated, as they were 
comprehensible to the men of those times, long ago, 
who were even less educated than our laborers. Peo- 
ple talk about incomprehensibility; but if art is the 
transmission of feelings flowing from man's religious 
perception, how can a feeling be incomprehensible 



tp WHAT IS ART? 

which is founded on religion, i.e. on man's relation 
to God ? Such art should be, and has actually always 
been, comprehensible to everybody, because every man's 
relation to God is one and the same. And therefore 
the churches and the images in them were always 
comprehensible to every one. The hindrance to under- 
standing the best and highest feelings (as is said in the 
gospel) does not at all lie in deficiency of development 
or learning, but, on the contrary, in false development 
and false learning. A good and lofty work of art may 
be incomprehensible, but not to simple, unperverted 
peasant laborers (all that is highest is understood by 
them) — it may be, and often is, unintelligible to 
erudite, perverted people destitute of religion. And 
this continually occurs in our society, in which the 
highest feelings are simply not understood. For in- 
stance, I know people who consider themselves most 
refined, and who say that they do not understand the 
poetry of love to one's neighbor, of self-sacrifice, or 
of chastity. 

So that good, great, universal, religious art may be 
incomprehensible to a small circle of spoilt people, but 
certainly not to any large number of plain men. 

Art cannot be incomprehensible to the great masses 
only because it is very good — as artists of our day are 
fond of telling us. Rather we are bound to conclude 
that this art is unintelligible to the great masses only 
because it is very bad art, or even is not art at all. So 
that the favorite argument (natvely accepted by the 
cultured crowd), that in order to feel art one has first 
to understand it (which really only means habituate 
oneself to it), is the truest indication that what we are 
asked to understand by such a method is either very 
bad, exclusive art, or is not art at all. 

People say that works of art do not please the peo- 
ple because they are incapable of understanding them. 
But if the aim of works of art is to infect people with 
the emotion the artist has experienced, how can one 
talk about not understanding ? 

A man of the people reads a book, sees a picture. 



WHAT IS ART? 91 

hears a play or a symphony, and is touched by no feel- 
ing. He is told that this is because he cannot under- 
stand. People promise to let a man see a certain show ; 
he enters and sees nothing. He is told that this is be- 
cause his sight is not prepared for this show. But the 
man well knows that he sees quite well, and if he does 
not see what people promised to show him, he only con- 
cludes (as is quite just) that those who undertook to 
show him the spectacle have not fulfilled their engage- 
ment. And it is perfectly just for a man who does feel 
the influence of some works of art to come to this con- 
clusion concerning artists who do not, by their works, 
evoke feeling in him. To say that the reason a man is 
not touched by my art is because he is still too stupid, 
besides being very self-conceited and also rude, is to 
reverse the rdles, and for the sick to send the hale to 
bed. 

Voltaire said that " Tous les genres sont bons, hors le 
genre ennuyeux ;" x but with even more right one may 
say of art that Tous les genres sont ions, hors celui 
qiion ne comprend pas, or qui ne produit pas son effet? 
for of what value is an article which fails to do that for 
which it was intended ? 

Mark this above all : if only it be admitted that art 
may be art and yet be unintelligible to any one of sound 
mind, there is no reason why any circle of perverted 
people should not compose works tickling their own 
perverted feelings and comprehensible to no one but 
themselves, and call it "art," as is actually being done 
by the so-called Decadents. 

The direction art has taken may be compared to 
placing on a large circle other circles, smaller and 
smaller, until a cone is formed, the apex of which is no 
longer a circle at all. That is what has happened to 
the art of our times. 

1 AH styles are good except the wearisome style. 

2 All styles are good except that which is not understood, or which fails 
to produce its effect. 



92 WHAT IS ART? 



CHAPTER XI 

Becoming ever poorer and poorer in subject-matter, 
and more and more unintelligible in form, the art of the 
upper classes, in its latest productions, has even lost all 
the characteristics of art, and has been replaced by imi- 
tations of art. Not only has upper-class art, in conse- 
quence of its separation from universal art, become 
poor in subject-matter, and bad in form, i.e. ever more 
and more unintelligible, it has, in course of time, ceased 
even to be art at all, and has been replaced by counter- 
feits. 

This has resulted from the following causes : Univer- 
sal art arises only when some one of the people, having 
experienced a strong emotion, feels the necessity of 
transmitting it to others. The art of the rich classes, 
on the other hand, arises not from the artist's inner im- 
pulse, but chiefly because people of the upper classes 
demand amusement and pay well for it. They demand 
from art the transmission of feelings that please them, 
and this demand artists try to meet. But it is a very 
difficult task; for people of the wealthy classes, spend- 
ing their lives in idleness and luxury, desire to be con- 
tinually diverted by art; and art, even the lowest, 
cannot be produced at will, but has to generate spon- 
taneously in the artist's inner self. And therefore, to 
satisfy the demands of people of the upper classes, art- 
ists have had to devise methods of producing imitations 
of art. And such methods have been devised. 

These methods are those of (i) borrowing, (2) imitat- 
ing, (3) striking (effects), and (4) interesting. 

The first method consists in borrowing whole subjects, 
or merely separate features, from former works recog- 
nized by every one as being poetical, and in so re-shap- 
ing them, with sundry additions, that they should have 
an appearance of novelty. 

Such works, evoking in people of a certain class 
memories of artistic feelings formerly experienced, 
produce an impression similar to art, and, provided 



WHAT IS ART? 93 

only that they conform to other needful conditions, 
they pass for art among those who seek for pleasure 
from art Subjects borrowed from previous works of 
art are usually called poetical subjects. Objects and 
people thus borrowed are called poetical objects and 
people. Thus, in our circle, all sorts of legends, sagas, 
and ancient traditions are considered poetical subjects. 
Among poetical people and objects we reckon maidens, 
warriors, shepherds, hermits, angels, devils of all sorts, 
moonlight, thunder, mountains, the sea, precipices, 
flowers, long hair, lions, lambs, doves, and nightingales. 
In general, all those objects are considered poetical 
which have been most frequently used by former artists 
in their productions. 

Some forty years ago a stupid but highly cultured — 
ay ant beaucoup d* acquis — lady (since deceased) asked 
me to listen to a novel written by herself. It began 
with a heroine who, in a poetic white dress, and with 
poetically flowing hair, was reading poetry near some 
water in a poetic wood. The scene was in Russia, but 
suddenly from behind the bushes the hero appears, 
wearing a hat with a feather d la Guillaume Tell (the 
book specially mentioned this) and accompanied by two 
poetical white dogs. The authoress deemed all this 
highly poetical, and it might have passed muster if 
only it had not been necessary for the hero to speak. 
But as soon as the gentleman in the hat d la Guillaume 
Tell began to converse with the maiden in the white 
dress, it became obvious that the authoress had nothing 
to say, but had merely been moved by poetic memories 
of other works, and imagined that by ringing the changes 
on those memories she could produce an artistic impres- 
sion. But an artistic impression, i.e. infection, is only 
received when an author has, in the manner peculiar to 
himself, experienced the feeling which he transmits, and 
not when he passes on another man's feeling previously 
transmitted to him. Such poetry from poetry cannot 
infect people, it can only simulate a work of art, and 
even that only to people of perverted aesthetic taste. 
The lady in question being very stupid and devoid of 



94 WHAT IS ART? 

talent, it was at once apparent how the case stood ; but 
when such borrowing is resorted to by people who are 
erudite and talented and have cultivated the technique 
of their art, we get those borrowings from the Greek, 
the antique, the Christian or mythological world which 
have become so numerous, and which, particularly in our 
day, continue to increase and multiply, and are accepted 
by the public as works of art, if only the borrowings are 
well mounted by means of the technique of the particu- 
lar art to which they belong. 

As a characteristic example of such counterfeits of art 
in the realm of poetry, take Rostand's " Princesse Loin- 
taine," in which there is not a spark of art, but which 
seems very poetical to many people, and probably also 
to its author. 

The second method of imparting a semblance of art 
is that which I have called imitating. The essence of 
this method consists in supplying details accompanying 
the thing described or depicted. In literary art this 
method consists in describing, in the minutest details, 
the external appearance, the faces, the clothes, the 
gestures, the tones, and the habitations of the characters 
represented, with all the occurrences met with in life. 
For instance, in novels and stories, when one of the 
characters speaks, we are told in what voice he spoke, 
and what he was doing at the time. And the things 
said are not given so that they should have as much 
sense as possible, but, as they are in life, disconnectedly, 
and with interruptions and omissions. In dramatic art, 
besides such imitation of real speech, this method con- 
sists in having all the accessories and all the people just 
like those in real life. In painting, this method assimi- 
lates painting to photography, and destroys the difference 
between them. And, strange to say, this method is used 
also in music: music tries to imitate, not only by its 
rhythm but also by its very sounds, the sounds which 
in real life accompany the thing it wishes to represent. 

The third method is by action, often purely physical, 
on the outer senses. Work of this kind is said to be 
•'striking/' " eff ectf ul." In all arts these effects con- 



WHAT IS ART? 95 

sist chiefly in contrasts; in bringing together the ter- 
rible and the tender, the beautiful and the hideous, the 
loud and the soft, darkness and light, the most ordinary 
and the most extraordinary. In verbal art, besides effects 
of contrast, there are also effects consisting in the de- 
scription of things that have never before been described. 
These are usually pornographic details evoking sexual 
desire, or details of suffering and death evoking feelings 
of horror, as, for instance, when describing a murder, to 
give a detailed medical account of the lacerated tissues, 
of the swellings, of the smell, quantity, and appearance 
of the blood. It is the same in painting: besides all 
kinds of other contrasts, one is coming into vogue which 
consists in giving careful finish to one object and being 
careless about all the rest The chief and usual effects 
in painting are effects of light and the depiction of the 
horrible. In the drama, the most common effects, be- 
sides contrasts, are tempests, thunder, moonlight, scenes 
at sea or by the seashore, changes of costume, exposure 
of the female body, madness, murders, and death gen- 
erally: the dying person exhibiting in detail all the 
phases of agony. In music the most usual effects are a 
crescendo, passing from the softest and simplest sounds 
to the loudest and most complex crash of the full 
orchestra ; a repetition of the same sounds arpeggio in 
all the octaves and on various instruments ; or that the 
harmony, tone, and rhythm be not at all those naturally 
flowing from the course of the musical thought, but such 
as strike one by their unexpectedness. Besides these, 
the commonest effects in music are produced in a purely 
physical manner by strength of sound, especially in an 
orchestra. 

Such are some of the most usual effects in the various 
arts, but there yet remains one common to them all; 
namely, to convey by means of one art what it would be 
natural to convey by another: for instance, to make 
music describe (as is done by the programme music of 
Wagner and his followers), or to make painting, the 
drama, or poetry, induce a frame of mind (as is aimed 
at by all the Decadent art). 



96 WHAT IS ART? 

The fourth method is that of interesting (that is, 
absorbing the mind) in connection with works of art. 
The interest may lie in an intricate plot — a method till 
quite recently much employed in English novels and 
French plays, but now going out of fashion and being 
replaced by authenticity, i.e. by detailed description of 
some historical period or some branch of contemporary 
life. For example, in a novel, interestingness may con- 
sist in a description of Egyptian or Roman life, the life 
of miners, or that of the clerks in a large shop. The 
reader becomes interested and mistakes this interest for 
an artistic impression. The interest may also depend on 
the very method of expression ; a kind of interest that 
has now come much into use. Both verse and prose, as 
well as pictures, plays, and music, are constructed so that 
they must be guessed like riddles, and this process of 
guessing again affords pleasure and gives a semblance 
of the feeling received from art. 

It is very often said that a work of art is very good 
because it is poetic, or realistic, or striking, or interest- 
ing; whereas not only can neither the first, nor the 
second, nor the third, nor the fourth of these attributes 
supply a standard of excellence in art, but they have not 
even anything in common with art. 

Poetic — means borrowed. All borrowing merely 
recalls to the reader, spectator, or listener some dim 
recollection of artistic impressions they have received 
from previous works of art, and does not infect them 
with feeling which the artist has himself experienced. 
A work founded on something borrowed, like Goethe's 
" Faust," for instance, may be very well executed and 
be full of mind and every beauty, but because it lacks 
the chief characteristic of a work of art — completeness, 
oneness, the inseparable unity of form and contents 
expressing the feeling the artist has experienced — it 
cannot produce a really artistic impression. In availing 
himself of this method, the artist only transmits the 
feeling received by him from a previous work of art ; 
therefore every borrowing, whether it be of whole sub- 
jects, or of various scenes, situations, or descriptions, is 



WHAT IS ART? 97 

but a reflection of art, a simulation of it, but not art 
itself. And therefore, to say that a certain production 
is good because it is poetic — i.e. resembles a work of 
art — is like saying of a coin that it is good because it 
resembles real money. 

Equally little can imitation, realism, serve, as many 
people think, as a measure of the quality of art. Imita- 
tion cannot be such a measure ; for the chief characteris- 
tic of art is the infection of others with the feelings the 
artist has experienced, and infection with a feeling is 
not only not identical with description of the accessories 
of what is transmitted, but is usually hindered by super- 
fluous details. The attention of the receiver of the 
artistic impression is diverted by all these well-observed 
details, and they hinder the transmission of feeling even 
when it exists. 

To value a work of art by the degree of its realism, 
by the accuracy of the details reproduced, is as strange 
as to judge of the nutritive quality of food by its exter- 
nal appearance. When we appraise a work according 
to its realism, we only show that we are talking, not of 
a work of art, but of its counterfeit. 

Neither does the third method of imitating art — by 
the use of what is striking or effectual — coincide with 
real art any better than the two former methods ; for in 
effectfulness — the effects of novelty, of the unexpected, 
of contrasts, of the horrible — there is no transmission 
of feeling, but only an action on the nerves. If an 
artist were to paint a bloody wound admirably, the sight 
of the wound would strike me, but it would not be art. 
One prolonged note on a powerful organ will produce 
a striking impression, will often even cause tears, but 
there is no music in it, because no feeling is transmitted. 
Yet such physiological effects are constantly mistaken 
for art by people of our circle, and this not only in 
music, but also in poetry, painting, and the drama. It 
is said that art has become refined. On the contrary, 
thanks to the pursuit of effectfulness, it has become 
very coarse. A new piece is brought out and accepted 
all over Europe, such, for instance, as " Hannele," in 



98 WHAT IS ART? 

which play the author wishes to transmit to the spec- 
tators pity for a persecuted girl. To evoke this feeling 
in the audience by means of art, the author should 
either make one of the characters express this pity in 
such a way as to infect every one, or he should describe 
the girl's feelings correctly. But he cannot, or will not, 
do this, and chooses another way, more complicated in 
stage management, but easier for the author. He makes 
the girl die on the stage ; and, still further to increase 
the physiological effect on the spectators, he extinguishes 
the lights in the theater, leaving the audience in the 
dark, and to the sound of dismal music he shows how 
the girl is pursued and beaten by her drunken father. 
The girl shrinks — screams — groans — and falls. 
Angels appear and carry her away. And the audience, 
experiencing some excitement while this is going on, 
are fully convinced that this is true aesthetic feeling. 
But there is nothing aesthetic in such excitement; for 
there is no infecting of man by man, but only a mingled 
feeling of pity for another, and of self-congratulation 
that it is not I who am suffering: it is like what we 
feel at the sight of an execution, or what the Romans 
felt in their circuses. 

The substitution of effectfulness for aesthetic feeling 
is particularly noticeable in musical art — that art which 
by its nature has an immediate physiological action on 
the nerves. Instead of transmitting by means of a mel- 
ody the feelings he has experienced, a composer of the 
new school accumulates and complicates sounds, and 
by now strengthening, now weakening them, he pro- 
duces on the audience a physiological effect of a kind 
that can be measured by an apparatus invented for the 
purpose. 1 And the public mistake this physiological 
effect for the effect of art 

As to the fourth method — that of interesting — it also 
is frequently confounded with art. One often hears it 
said, not only of a poem, a novel, or a picture, but even 

1 An apparatus exists by means of which a very sensitive arrow, in 
dependence on the tension of a muscle of the arm, will indicate the 
physiological action of music on the nerves and muscles. 



WHAT IS ART? 99 

of a musical work, that it is interesting. What does 
this mean? To speak of an interesting work of art 
means either that we receive from a work of art infor- 
mation new to us, or that the work is not fully intelligible, 
and that little by little, and with effort, we arrive at its 
meaning, and experience a certain pleasure in this pro- 
cess of guessing it. In neither case has the interest any- 
thing in common with artistic impression. Art aims at 
infecting people with feeling experienced by the artist. 
But the mental effort necessary to enable the spectator, 
listener, or reader to assimilate the new information con- 
tained in the work, or to guess the puzzles propounded, 
by distracting him, hinders the infection. And there- 
fore the interestingness of a work, not only has nothing 
to do with its excellence as a work of art, but rather 
hinders than assists artistic impression. 

We may, in a work of art, meet with what is poetic, 
and realistic, and striking, and interesting, but these 
things cannot replace the essential of art, — feeling ex- 
perienced by the artist. Latterly, in upper-class art, 
most of the objects given out as being works of art are 
of the kind which only resemble art, and are devoid of 
its essential quality, — feeling experienced by the artist. 
And, for the diversion of the rich, such objects are con- 
tinually being produced in enormous quantities by the 
artisans of art. 

Many conditions must be fulfilled to enable a man to 
produce a real work of art. It is necessary that he 
should stand on the level of the highest life-conception 
of his time, that he should experience feeling and have 
the desire and capacity to transmit it, and that he should, 
moreover, have a talent for some one of the forms of 
art. It is very seldom that all these conditions neces- 
sary to the production of true art are combined. But 
in order — aided by the customary methods of borrow- 
ing, imitating, introducing effects, and interesting — 
unceasingly to produce counterfeits of art which pass 
for art in our society and are well paid for, it is only 
necessary to have a talent for some branch of art ; and 
this is very often to be met with. By talent I mean 



ioo WHAT IS ART? 

ability: in literary art, the ability to express one's 
thoughts and impressions easily and to notice and re- 
member characteristic details ; in the depictive arts, to 
distinguish and remember lines, forms, and colors; in 
music, to distinguish the intervals, and to remember and 
transmit the sequence of sounds. And a man, in our 
times, if only he possesses such a talent and selects 
some specialty, may, after learning the methods of 
counterfeiting used in his branch of art, — if he has 
patience and if his aesthetic feeling (which would ren- 
der such productions revolting to him) be atrophied, — 
unceasingly, till the end of his life, turn out works which 
will pass for art in our society. 

To produce such counterfeits, definite rules or recipes 
exist in each branch of art. So that the talented man, 
having assimilated them, may produce such works d 
froid y cold drawn, without any feeling. 

In order to write poems a man of literary talent needs 
only these qualifications : to acquire the knack, con- 
formably with the requirements of rhyme and rhythm, 
of using, instead of the one really suitable word, ten 
others meaning approximately the same ; to learn how 
to take any phrase which, to be clear, has but one 
natural order of words, and despite all possible dis- 
locations still to retain some sense in it ; and lastly, to 
be able, guided by the words required for the rhymes, 
to devise some semblance of thoughts, feelings, or 
descriptions to suit these words. Having acquired these 
qualifications, he may unceasingly produce poems — 
short or long, religious, amatory, or patriotic, according 
to the demand. 

If a man of literary talent wishes to write a story 
or novel, he need only form his style — i.e. learn how 
to describe all that he sees — and accustom himself to 
remember or note down details. When he has accus- 
tomed himself to this, he can, according to his inclina- 
tion or the demand, unceasingly produce novels or 
stories — historical, naturalistic, social, erotic, psycho- 
logical, or even religious, for which latter kind a de- 
mand and fashion begins to show itself. He can take 



WHAT IS ART? 101 

subjects from books or from the events of life, and can 
copy the characters of the people in his book from his 
acquaintances. 

And such novels and stories, if only they are decked 
out with well-observed and carefully noted details, pref- 
erably erotic ones, will be considered works of art, 
even though they may not contain a spark of feeling 
experienced. 

To produce art in dramatic form, a talented man, in 
addition to all that is required for novels and stories, 
must also learn to furnish his characters with as many 
smart and witty sentences as possible, must know how 
to utilize theatrical effects, and how to entwine the 
action of his characters so that there should not be any 
long conversations, but as much bustle and movement 
on the stage as possible. If the writer is able to do 
this, he may produce dramatic works one after another 
without stopping, selecting his subjects from the re- 
ports of the law courts, or from the latest society topic, 
such as hypnotism, heredity, etc., or from deep antiquity, 
or even from the realms of fancy. 

In the sphere of painting and sculpture it is still 
easier for the talented man to produce imitations of 
art He need only learn to draw, paint, and model — 
especially naked bodies. Thus equipped he can con- 
tinue to paint pictures, or model statues, one after 
another, choosing subjects according to his bent — 
mythological, or religious, or fantastic, or symbolical; 
or he may depict what is written about in the papers— 
a coronation, a strike, the Turko-Grecian war, famine 
scenes; or, commonest of all, he may just copy any- 
thing he thinks beautiful — from naked women to 
copper basins. 

For the production of musical art the talented man 
neeas still less of what constitutes the essence of art, 
i.e. feeling wherewith to infect others : but on the other 
hand, he requires more physical, gymnastic labor than 
for any other art, unless it be dancing. To produce 
works of musical art, he must first learn to move his 
fingers on some instrument as rapidly as those who 



io2 WHAT IS ART? 

have reached the highest perfection ; next, he must 
know how in former times polyphonic music was written, 
must study what are called counterpoint and fugue; 
and, furthermore, he must learn orchestration, i.e. how 
to utilize the effects of the instruments. But once he 
has learned all this, the composer may unceasingly 
produce one work after another ; whether programme- 
music, opera, or song (devising sounds more or less 
corresponding to the words), or chamber music, i.e. he 
may take another man's themes and work them up into 
definite forms by means of counterpoint and fugue ; or, 
what is commonest of all, he may compose fantastic 
music, i.e. he may take a conjunction of sounds which 
happens to come to hand, and pile every sort of com- 
plication and ornamentation on to this chance combina- 
tion. 

Thus, in all realms of art, counterfeits of art are 
manufactured to a ready-made, prearranged recipe, and 
these counterfeits the public of our upper classes accept 
for real art. 

And this substitution of counterfeits for real works 
of art was the third and most important consequence 
of the separation of the art of the upper classes from 
universal art 



CHAPTER XII 

In our society three conditions cooperate to cause the 
production of objects of counterfeit art. They are — 
(i) the considerable remuneration of artists for their 
productions, and the professionalization of artists which 
this has produced, (2) art criticism, and (3) schools of 
art. 

While art was as yet undivided, and only religious 
art was valued and rewarded while indiscriminate art 
was left unrewarded, there were no counterfeits of art, 
or, if any existed, being exposed to the criticism of the 
whole people, they quickly disappeared. But as soon 
as that division occurred! and the upper classes ac* 



WHAT IS ART? 103 

claimed every kind of art as good if only it afforded 
them pleasure, and began to reward such art more 
highly than any other social activity, immediately a 
large number of people devoted themselves to this 
activity, and art assumed quite a different character, 
and became a profession. 

And as soon as this occurred, the chief and most 
precious quality of art — its sincerity — was at once 
greatly weakened and eventually quite destroyed. 

The professional artist lives by his art, and has con- 
tinually to invent subjects for his works, and does in 
vent them. And it is obvious how great a differencfc 
must exist between works of art produced on the one 
hand by men such as the Jewish prophets, the authors 
of the Psalms, Francis of Assisi, the authors of the 
" Iliad " and " Odyssey," of folk-stories, legends, and folk- 
songs, many of whom not only received no remuneration 
for their work, but did not even attach their names to 
it; and, on the other hand, works produced by court 
poets, dramatists and musicians receiving honors and 
remuneration ; and later on by professional artists, who 
lived by the trade, receiving remuneration from news- 
paper editors, publishers, impresarios, and in general 
from those agents who come between the artists and 
the town public — the consumers of art. 

Professionalism is the first condition of the diffusion 
of false, counterfeit art. 

The second condition is the growth, in recent times, 
of artistic criticism, i.e. the valuation of art, not by every- 
body, and, above all, not by plain men, but by erudite, 
that is, by perverted and at the same time self-confident 
individuals. 

A friend of mine, speaking of the relation of critics to 
artists, half jokingly defined it thus: "Critics are the 
stupid who discuss the wise." However partial, inexact, 
and rude this definition may be, it is yet partly true, and 
is incomparably juster than the definition which con- 
siders critics to be men who can explain works of art. 

" Critics explain ! " What do they explain ? 

The artist, if a real artist, has by his work transmitted 



io 4 WHAT IS ART? 

to others the feeling he experienced. What is there, 
then, to explain ? 

If a work be good as art, then the feeling expressed 
by the artist — be it moral or immoral — transmits itself 
to other people. If transmitted to others, then they feel 
it, and all interpretations are superfluous. If the work 
does not infect people, no explanation can make it con- 
tagious. An artist's work cannot be interpreted. Had 
it been possible to explain in words what he wished to 
convey, the artist would have expressed himself in words. 
He expressed it by his art only because the feeling he 
experienced could not be otherwise transmitted. The 
interpretation of works of art by words only indicates 
that the interpreter is himself incapable of feeling the 
infection of art. And this is actually the case ; for, how- 
ever strange it may seem to say so, critics have always 
been people less susceptible than other men to the con- 
tagion of art. For the most part they are able writers, 
educated and clever, but with their capacity of being 
infected by art quite perverted or atrophied. And there- 
fore their writings have always largely contributed, and 
still contribute, to the perversion of the taste of that 
public which reads them and trusts them. 

Artistic criticism did not exist — could not and can- 
not exist — in societies where art is undivided, and where, 
consequently, it is appraised by the religious under- 
standing of life common to the whole people. Art criti- 
cism grew, and could grow, only on the art of the upper 
classes, who did not acknowledge the religious percep- 
tion of their time. 

Universal art has a definite and indubitable internal 
criterion, — religious perception ; upper-class art lacks 
this, and therefore the appreciators of that art are 
obliged to cling to some external criterion. And they 
find it in " the judgments of the finest-nurtured/' as an 
English aesthetician has phrased it, that is, in the au- 
thority of the people who are considered educated, nor 
in this alone, but also in a tradition of such authorities. 
This tradition is extremely misleading, both because the 
opinions of "the finest-nurtured" are often mistaken, 



WHAT IS ART? 



105 



and also because judgments which were valid once cease 
to be so with the lapse of time. But the critics, having 
no basis for their judgments, never cease to repeat their 
traditions. The classical tragedians were once con- 
sidered good, and therefore criticism considers them to 
be so still. Dante was esteemed a great poet, Raphael 
a great painter, Bach a great musician — and the critics, 
lacking a standard by which to separate good art from 
bad, not only consider these artists great, but regard all 
their productions as admirable and worthy of imitation. 
Nothing has contributed, and still contributes, so much 
to the perversion of art as these authorities set up by 
criticism. A man produces a work of art, like every 
true artist expressing in his own peculiar manner a 
feeling he has experienced. Most people are infected 
by the artist's feeling ; and his work becomes known. 
Then criticism, discussing the artist, says that the work 
is not bad, but all the same the artist is not a Dante, nor 
a Shakespear, nor a Goethe, nor a Raphael, nor what 
Beethoven was in his last period. And the young artist 
sets to work to copy those who are held up for his im- 
itation, and he produces not only feeble works, but false 
works, — counterfeits of art. 

Thus, for instance, our Pushkin writes his short poems, 
"Evgeniy Onegin," "The Gipsies," and his stories — 
works all varying in quality, but all true art. But then, 
under the influence of false criticism extolling Shake- 
spear, he writes "Boris Godunoff," a cold, brain-spun 
work, and this production is lauded by the critics, set up 
as a model, and imitations of it appear: "Minin," by 
Ostrovsky, and "Tsar Boris," by Alex£e Tolstor, and 
such imitations of imitations as crowd all literatures 
with insignificant productions. The chief harm done by 
the critics is this, — that themselves lacking the capacity 
to be infected by art (and that is the characteristic of all 
critics ; for did they not lack this they could not attempt 
the impossible — the interpretation of works of art), they 
pay most attention to, and eulogize, brain-spun, invented 
works, and set these up as models worthy of imitation. 
That is the reason they so confidently extol, in literature, 



106 WHAT IS ART? 

the Greek tragedians, Dante, Tasso, Milton, Shakespear, 
Goethe (almost all he wrote), and, among recent writers, 
Zola and Ibsen ; in music, Beethoven's last period, and 
Wagner. To justify their praise of these brain-spun, 
invented works, they devise entire theories (of which the 
famous theory of beauty is one) ; and not only dull but 
also talented people compose works in strict deference 
to these theories; and often even real artists, doing 
violence to their genius, submit to them. 

Every false work extolled by the critics serves as a 
door through which the hypocrites of art at once 
crowd in. 

It is solely due to the critics, who in our times still praise 
rude, savage, and, for us, often meaningless works of the 
ancient Greeks : Sophocles, Euripides, iEschylus, and 
especially Aristophanes ; or, of modern writers, Dante, 
Tasso, Milton, Shakespear ; in painting, all of Raphael, 
all of Michael Angelo, including his absurd " Last Judg- 
ment " ; in music, the whole of Bach, and the whole of 
Beethoven, including his last period, — thanks only to 
them have the Ibsens, Maeterlincks, Verlaines, Mal- 
larm£s, Puvis de Chavannes, Klingers, Bocklins, Stucks, 
Schneiders; in music, the Wagners, Liszts, Berliozes, 
Brahmses, and Richard Strausses, etc., and all that im- 
mense mass of good-for-nothing imitators of these imita- 
tors, become possible in our day. 

As a good illustration of the harmful influence of 
criticism, take its relation to Beethoven. Among his 
innumerable hasty productions written to order, there 
are, notwithstanding their artificiality of form, works of 
true art. But he grows deaf, cannot hear, and begins to 
write invented, unfinished works, which are consequently 
often meaningless and musically unintelligible. I know 
that musicians can imagine sounds vividly enough, and 
can almost hear what they read, but imaginary sounds 
can never replace real ones, and every composer must 
hear his production in order to perfect it. Beethoven, 
however, could not hear, could not perfect his work, 
and consequently published productions which are artistic 
ravings. But criticism, having once acknowledged him 



WHAT IS ART? 107 

to be a great composer, seizes on just these abnormal works 
with special gusto, and searches for extraordinary beauties 
in them. And, to justify its laudations (perverting the 
very meaning of musical art), it attributed to music the 
property of describing what it cannot describe. And 
imitators appear — an innumerable host of imitators of 
these abnormal attempts at artistic productions which 
Beethoven wrote when he was deaf. 

Then Wagner appears, who at first in critical articles 
praises just Beethoven's last period, and connects this 
music with Schopenhauer's mystical theory that music 
is the expression of Will — not of separate manifesta- 
tions of will objectivized on various planes, but its very 
essence — which is in itself as absurd as this music 
of Beethoven. And afterward he composes music of 
his own on this theory, in conjunction with another stilJ 
more erroneous system of the union of all the arts* 
After Wagner yet new imitators appear, diverging yet 
further from art : Brahms, Richard Strauss, and others. 

Such are the results of criticism. But the third 
condition of the perversion of art, namely, art schools, 
is almost more harmful still. 

As soon as art became, not art for the whole people, 
but for a rich class, it became a profession ; as soon as 
it became a profession, methods were devised to teach 
it; people who chose this profession of art began to 
learn these methods, and thus professional schools 
sprang up : classes of rhetoric or literature in the pub- 
lic schools, academies for painting, conservatoires for 
music, schools for dramatic art. 

In these schools art is taught ! But art is the trans- 
mission to others of a special feeling experienced by 
the artist. How can this be taught in schools ? 

No school can evoke feeling in a man, and still less 
can it teach him how to manifest it in the one particular 
manner natural to him alone. But the essence of art 
lies in these things. 

The one thing these schools can teach is how to 
transmit feelings experienced by other artists in the 
way those other artists transmitted them. And this is 



108 WHAT IS ART? 

just what the professional schools do teach ; and such 
instruction not only does not assist the spread of true 
art, but, on the contrary, by diffusing counterfeits of 
art, does more than anything else to deprive people 
of the capacity to understand true art. 

In literary art people are taught how, without having 
anything they wish to say, to write a many-paged com- 
position on a theme about which they have never thought, 
and, moreover, to write it so that it should resemble the 
work of an author admitted to be celebrated. This is 
taught in schools. 

In painting, the chief training consists in learning to 
draw and paint from copies and models, the naked body 
chiefly (the very thing that is never seen, and which 
a man occupied with real art hardly ever has to depict), 
and to draw and paint as former masters drew and 
painted. The composition of pictures is taught by giv- 
ing out themes similar to those which have been treated 
by former acknowledged celebrities. 

So also in dramatic schools, the pupils are taught to 
recite monologues just as tragedians, considered cele- 
brated, declaimed them. 

It is the same in music. The whole theory of music 
is nothing but a disconnected repetition of those methods 
which the acknowledged masters of composition made 
use of. 

I have elsewhere quoted the profound remark of the 
Russian artist Bruloff on art, but I cannot here refrain 
from repeating it, because nothing better illustrates 
what can and what cannot be taught in the schools. 
Once when correcting a pupil's study, Bruloff just 
touched it in a few places, and the poor dead study 
immediately became animated. " Why, you only touched 
it a wee bit, and it is quite another thing ! " said one of 
the pupils. " Art begins where the wee bit begins," replied 
Bruloff, indicating by these words just what is most 
characteristic of art. The remark is true of all the arts, 
but its justice is particularly noticeable in the perfor- 
mance of music. That musical execution should be 
artistic, should be art, i.e. should infect, three chief 



WHAT IS ART? 109 

conditions must be observed, — there are many others 
needed for musical perfection ; the transition from one 
sound to another must be interrupted or continu- 
ous; the sound must increase or diminish steadily; 
it must be blended with one and not with another 
sound; the sound must have this or that timbre, and 
much besides, — but take the three chief conditions; 
the pitch, the time, and the strength of the sound. 
Musical execution is only then art, only then infects, 
when the sound is neither higher nor lower than it should 
be, that is, when exactly the infinitely small center of 
the required note is taken ; when that note is continued 
exactly as long as is needed ; and when the strength of 
the sound is neither more nor less than is required. 
The slightest deviation of pitch in either direction, the 
slightest increase or decrease in time, or the slightest 
strengthening or weakening of the sound beyond what 
is needed, destroys the perfection and, consequently, 
the infectiousness of the work. So that the feeling of 
infection by the art of music, which seems so simple 
and so easily obtained, is a thing we receive only when 
the performer finds those infinitely minute degrees 
which are necessary to perfection in music. It is the 
same in all arts: a wee bit lighter, a wee bit darker, 
a wee bit higher, lower, to the right or the left — in 
painting; a wee bit weaker or stronger in intonation, 
or a wee bit sooner or later — in dramatic art; a 
wee bit omitted, over-emphasized, or exaggerated — in 
poetry, and there is no contagion. Infection is only 
obtained when an artist finds those infinitely minute 
degrees of which a work of art consists, and only to the 
extent to which he finds them. And it is quite impos- 
sible to teach people by external means to find these 
minute degrees ; they can only be found when a man 
yields to his feeling. No instruction can make a dancer 
catch just the tact of the music, or a singer or a fiddler 
take exactly the infinitely minute center of his note, 
or s sketcher draw of all possible lines the only right 
one, or a poet find the only meet arrangement of the 
only suitable words. All this is found only by feeling. 



no WHAT IS ART? 

And therefore schools may teach what is necessary in 
order to produce something resembling art, but not art 
itself. 

The teaching of the schools stops there where the wet) 
bit begins — consequently where art begins. 

Accustoming people to something resembling art, dis- 
accustoms them to the comprehension of real art. And 
that is how it comes about that none are more dull to 
art than those who have passed through the professional 
schools and been most successful in them. Professional 
schools produce an hypocrisy of art precisely akin to 
that hypocrisy of religion which is produced by theo- 
logical colleges for training priests, pastors, and religious 
teachers generally. As it is impossible in a school to 
train a man so as to make a religious teacher of him, 
so it is impossible to teach a man how to become an 
artist. 

Art schools are thus doubly destructive of art : first, in 
that they destroy the capacity to produce real art in those 
who have the misfortune to enter them and go through 
a seven or eight years' course ; secondly, in that they 
generate enormous quantities of that counterfeit art 
which perverts the taste of the masses and overflows our 
world. In order that born artists may know the methods 
of the various arts elaborated by former artists, there 
should exist in all elementary schools such classes for 
drawing and music (singing) that, after passing through 
them, every talented scholar may, by using existing 
models accessible to all, be able to perfect himself in 
his art independently. 

These three conditions — the professionalization of 
artists, art criticism, and art schools — have had this 
effect : that most people in our times are quite unable 
even to understand what art is, and accept as art the 
grossest counterfeits of it 



WHAT IS ART? in 



CHAPTER XIII 

To what an extent people of our circle and time have lost 
the capacity to receive real art, and have become accus- 
tomed to accept as art things that have nothing in com- 
mon with it, is best seen from the works of Richard 
Wagner, which have latterly come to be more and more 
esteemed, not only by the Germans, but also by the 
French and the English, as the very highest art, reveal- 
ing new horizons to us. 

The peculiarity of Wagner's music, as is known, con- 
sists in this, — that he considered that music should serve 
poetry, expressing all the shades of a poetical work. 

The union of the drama with music, devised in the 
fifteenth century in Italy for the revival of what they 
imagined to have been the ancient Greek drama with 
music, is an artificial form which had, and has, success 
only among the upper classes, and that only when gifted 
composers, such as Mozart, Weber, Rossini, and others, 
drawing inspiration from a dramatic subject, yielded 
freely to the inspiration and subordinated the text to the 
music, so that in their operas the important thing to the 
audience was merely the music on a certain text, and 
not the text at all, which latter, even when it was ut- 
terly absurd, as, for instance, in the " Magic Flute," still 
did not prevent the music from producing an artistic 
impression. 

Wagner wishes to correct the opera by letting music 
submit to the demands of poetry and unite with it. But 
each art has its own definite realm, which is not identi- 
cal with the realm of other arts, but merely comes in 
contact with them ; and therefore, if the manifestation 
of, I will not say several, but even of two arts — the 
dramatic and the musical — be united in one complete 
production, then the demands of the one art will make 
it impossible to fulfil the demands of the other, as has 
always occurred in the ordinary operas, where the dra- 
matic art has submitted to, or rather yielded place to, 
the musical Wagner wishes that musical art should 



ii2 WHAT IS ART? 

submit to dramatic art, and that both should appear in 
full strength. But this is impossible; for every work of 
art, if it be a true one, is an expression of intimate feel- 
ings of the artist, which are quite exceptional, and not 
like anything else. Such is a musical production, and 
such is a dramatic work, if they be true art. And there- 
fore, in order that a production in the one branch of 
art should coincide with a production in the other 
branch, it is necessary that the impossible should hap- 
pen : that two works from different realms of art should 
be absolutely exceptional, unlike anything that existed 
before, and yet should coincide, and be exactly alike. 

And this cannot be, just as there cannot be two men, 
or even two leaves on a tree, exactly alike. Still less 
can two works from different realms of art, the musical 
and the literary, be absolutely alike. If they coincide, 
then either one is a work of art and the other a counter- 
feit, or both are counterfeits. Two live leaves cannot 
be exactly alike, but two artificial leaves may be. And 
so it is with works of art. They can only coincide com- 
pletely when neither the one nor the other is art, but 
only cunningly devised semblances of it. 

If poetry and music may be joined, as occurs in hymns, 
songs, and romances — (though even in these the music 
does not follow the changes of each verse of the text, as 
Wagner wants to, but the song and the music merely 
produce a coincident effect on the mind) — this occurs 
only because lyrical poetry and music have, to some ex- 
tent, one and the same aim : to produce a mental con- 
dition and the conditions produced by lyrical poetry and 
by music can, more or less, coincide. But even in these 
conjunctions the center of gravity always lies in one of 
the two productions, so that it is one of them that pro- 
duces the artistic impression while the other remains un- 
regarded. And still less is it possible for such union to 
exist between epic or dramatic poetry and music. 

Moreover, one of the chief conditions of artistic crea- 
tion is the complete freedom of the artist from every kind 
of preconceived demand. And the necessity of adjust- 
ing his musical work to a work from another realm of 



WHAT IS ART? 113 

art is a preconceived demand of such a kind as to destroy 
all possibility of creative power ; and therefore works of 
this kind, adjusted to one another, are, and must be, as 
has always happened, not works of art, but only imita- 
tions of art, like the music of a melodrama, signatures 
to pictures, illustrations, and librettos to operas. 

And such are Wagner's productions. And a con- 
firmation of this is to be seen in the fact that Wagner's 
new music lacks the chief characteristic of every true 
work of art; namely, such entirety and completeness 
that the smallest alteration in its form would disturb the 
meaning of the whole work. In a true work of art — 
poem, drama, picture, song, or symphony — it is impos- 
sible to extract one line, one scene, one figure, or one 
bar from its place and put it in another, without infring- 
ing the significance of the whole work ; just as it is 
impossible, without infringing the life of an organic be- 
ing, to extract an organ from one place and insert it 
in another. But in the music of Wagner's last period, 
with the exception of certain parts of little importance 
which have an independent musical meaning, it is pos- 
sible to make all kinds of transpositions, putting what 
was in front behind, and vice versa, without altering the 
musical sense. And the reason why these transpositions 
do not alter the sense of Wagner's music is because the 
sense lies in the words and not in the music. 

The musical score of Wagner's later operas is like what 
the result would be should one of those versifiers — of 
whom there are now many, with tongues so broken that 
they can write verses on any theme to any rhymes in 
any rhythm, which sound as if they had a meaning — 
conceive the idea of illustrating by his verses some sym- 
phony or sonata of Beethoven, or some ballade of 
Chopin, in the following manner. To the first bars, of 
one character, he writes verses corresponding in his opin- 
ion to those first bars. Next come some bars of a differ- 
ent character, and he also writes verses corresponding 
in his opinion to them, but with no internal connection 
with the first verses, and, moreover, without rhymes and 
without rhythm. Such a production, without the music, 



ii4 WHAT IS ART? 

would be exactly parallel in poetry to what Wagner's 
operas are in music, if heard without the words. 

But Wagner is not only a musician, he is also a poet, 
or both together; and therefore, to judge of Wagner, 
one must know his poetry also — that same poetry which 
the music has to subserve. The chief poetical produc- 
tion of Wagner is "The Nibelung's Ring. ,, This work 
has attained such enormous importance in our time, and 
has such influence on all that now professes to be art, that 
it is necessary for every one to-day to have some idea of it 
I have carefully read through the four booklets which 
contain this work, and have drawn up a brief summary 
of it, which I give in Appendix III. I would strongly 
advise the reader (if he has not perused the poem itself, 
which would be the best thing to do) at least to read my 
account of it, so as to have an idea of this extraordinary 
work. It is a model work of counterfeit art, so gross 
as to be even ridiculous. 

But we are told that it is impossible to judge of Wag- 
ner's works without seeing them on the stage. The 
Second Day of this drama, which, as I was told, is the 
best part of the whole work, was given in Moscow last 
winter, and I went to see the performance. 

When I arrived the enormous theater was already 
filled from top to bottom. There were grand dukes, 
and the flower of the aristocracy, of the merchant class, 
of the learned, and of the middle-class official public. 
Most of them held the libretto, fathoming its meaning. 
Musicians — some of them elderly, gray-haired men — 
followed the music, score in hand. Evidently the per- 
formance of this work was an event of importance. 

I was rather late, but I was told that the short prelude, 
with which the act begins, was of little importance, and 
that it did not matter having missed it. When I arrived, 
an actor sat on the stage amid decorations intended to 
represent a cave, and before something which was meant 
to represent a smith's forge. He was dressed in trico- 
tights, with a cloak of skins, wore a wig and an artificial 
beard, and with white, weak genteel hands (his easy 
movements, and especially the shape of his stomach 



WHAT IS ART? 115 

and his lack of muscle revealed the actor) beat an impos- 
sible sword with an unnatural hammer in a way in which 
no one ever uses a hammer ; and at the same time, open- 
ing his mouth in a strange way, he sang something 
incomprehensible. The music of various instruments 
accompanied the strange sounds which he emitted. 
From the libretto one was able to gather that the actor 
had to represent a powerful gnome, who lived in the cave, 
and who was forging a sword for Siegfried, whom he 
had reared. One could tell he was a gnome by the fact 
that the actor walked all the time bending the knees of 
his trico-covered legs. This gnome, still opening his 
mouth in the same strange way, long continued to sing 
or shout. The music meanwhile runs over something 
strange, like beginnings which are not continued and do 
not get finished. From the libretto one could learn that 
the gnome is telling himself about a ring which a giant 
had obtained, and which the gnome wishes to procure 
through Siegfried's aid, while Siegfried wants a good 
sword, on the forging of which the gnome is occupied. 
After this conversation or singing to himself has gone 
on rather a long time, other sounds are heard in the or- 
chestra, also like something beginning and not finishing, 
and another actor appears, with a horn slung over his 
shoulder, and accompanied by a man running on all fours 
dressed up as a bear, whom he sets at the smith-gnome. 
The latter runs away without unbending the knees of 
his trico-covered legs. This actor with the horn repre- 
sented the hero, Siegfried. The sounds which were 
emitted in the orchestra on the entrance of this actor 
were intended to represent Siegfried's character, and 
are called Siegfried's leit-motiv. And these sounds are 
repeated each time Siegfried appears. There is one 
fixed combination of sounds, or leit-motiv, for each char- 
acter, and this leit-motiv is repeated every time the per- 
son whom it represents appears ; and when any one is 
mentioned the motiv is heard which relates to that per- 
son. Moreover, each article also has its own leit-motiv 
or chord. There is a motiv of the ring, a motiv of the 
helmet, a motiv of the apple, a motiv of fire, spear, sword, 



n6 WHAT IS ART? 

water, etc. ; and as soon as the ring, helmet, or apple is 
mentioned, the motiv or chord of the ring, helmet, or 
apple is heard. The actor with the horn opens his 
mouth as unnaturally as the gnome, and long continues 
in a chanting voice to shout some words, and in a similar 
chant Mime (that is the gnome's name) answers some- 
thing or other to him. The meaning of this conversa- 
tion can only be discovered from the libretto ; and it is 
that Siegfried was brought up by the gnome, and there- 
fore, for some reason, hates him and always wishes to 
kill him. The gnome has forged a sword for Siegfried, 
but Siegfried is dissatisfied with it. From a ten-page 
conversation (by the libretto), lasting half an hour and 
conducted with the same strange openings of the mouth 
and chantings, it appears that Siegfried's mother gave 
birth to him in the wood, and that concerning his father 
all that is known is that he had a sword which was broken, 
the pieces of which are in Mime's possession, and that 
Siegfried does not know fear and wishes to go out of 
the wood. Mime, however, does not want to let him go. 
During the conversation the music never omits, at the 
mention of father, sword, etc., to sound the motiv of 
these people and things. After these conversations 
fresh sounds are heard — those of the god Wotan — 
and a wanderer appears. This wanderer is the god 
Wotan. Also dressed up in a wig, and also in tights/ 
this god Wotan, standing in a stupid pose with a spear, 
thinks proper to recount what Mime must have known 
before, but what it is necessary to tell the audience. 
He does not tell it simply, but in the form of riddles 
which he orders himself to guess, staking his head (one 
does not know why) that he will guess right. Moreover, 
whenever the wanderer strikes his spear on the ground, 
fire comes out of the ground, and in the orchestra the 
sounds of spear and of fire are heard. The orchestra 
accompanies the conversation, and the motiv of the 
people and things spoken of are always artfully inter- 
mingled. Besides this the music expresses feelings in 
the most natve manner : the terrible by sounds in the 
bass, the frivolous by rapid touches in the treble, etc. 



WHAT IS ART? 117 

The riddles have no meaning except to tell the audi- 
ence what the nibelungs are, what the giants are, what 
the gods are, and what has happened before. This 
conversation also is chanted with strangely opened 
mouths and continues for eight libretto pages, and cor- 
respondingly long on the stage. After this the wan- 
derer departs, and Siegfried returns and talks with 
Mime for thirteen pages more. There is not a single 
melody the whole of this time, but merely intertwinings 
of the leit-motiv of the people and things mentioned. 
The conversation tells that Mime wishes to teach Sieg- 
fried fear, and that Siegfried does not know what fear 
is. Having finished this conversation, Siegfried seizes 
one of the pieces of what is meant to represent the 
broken sword, saws it up, puts it on what is meant to 
represent the forge, melts it, and then forges it and sings : 
Heiho ! heiho ! heiho ! Ho ! ho ! Aha ! oho ! aha ! 
Heiaho! heiaho! heiaho! Ho! ho! Hahei! hoho! 
hahei! and Act I. finishes. 

As far as the question I had come to the theater to 
decide was concerned, my mind was fully made up, as 
surely as on the question of the merits of my lady 
acquaintance's novel when she read me the scene be- 
tween the loose-haired maiden in the white dress and 
the hero with two white dogs and a hat with a feather 
d la Guillaume Tell. 

From an author who could compose such spurious 
scenes, outraging all aesthetic feeling, as those which I 
had witnessed, there was nothing to be hoped ; it may 
safely be decided that all that such an author can write 
will be bad, because he evidently does not know what 
a true work of art is. I wished to leave, but the friends 
I was with asked me to remain, declaring that one could 
not form an opinion by that one act, and that the second 
would be better. So I stopped for the second act. 

Act II., night. Afterward, dawn. In general, the 
whole piece is crammed with lights, clouds, moonlight, 
darkness, magic fires, thunder, etc. 

The scene represents a wood, and in the wood there 
is a cave. At the entrance of the cave sits a third 



u8 WHAT IS ART? 

actor in tights, representing another gnome. It dawns. 
Enter the god Wotan, again with a spear, and again in 
the guise of a wanderer. Again his sounds, together 
with fresh sounds of the deepest bass that can be pro- 
duced. These latter indicate that the dragon is speak- 
ing. Wotan awakens the dragon. The same bass 
sounds are repeated, growing yet deeper and deeper. 
First the dragon says, " I want to sleep," but afterward 
he crawls out of the cave. The dragon is represented 
by two men ; it is dressed in a green, scaly skin, waves 
a tail at one end, while at the other it opens a kind of 
crocodile's jaw that is fastened on, and from which 
flames appear. The dragon (who is meant to be dread- 
ful, and may appear so to five-year-old children) speaks 
some words in a terribly bass voice. This is all so 
stupid, so like what is done in a booth at a fair, that it 
is surprising that people over seven years of age can 
witness it seriously; yet thousands of quasi-cultured 
people sit and attentively hear and see it, and are 
delighted. 

Siegfried, with his horn, reappears, as does Mime also. 
In the orchestra the sounds denoting them are emitted, 
and they talk about whether Siegfried does or does not 
know what fear is. Mime goes away, and a scene com- 
mences which is intended to be most poetical. Siegfried, 
in hi3 tights, lies down in a would-be beautiful pose, and 
alternately keeps silent and talks to himself. He pon- 
ders, listens to the song of birds, and wishes to imitate 
them. For this purpose he cuts a reed with his sword 
and makes a pipe. The dawn grows brighter and 
brighter ; the birds sing. Siegfried tries to imitate the 
birds. In the orchestra is heard the imitation of birds, 
alternating with sounds corresponding to the words he 
speaks. But Siegfried does not succeed with his pipe- 
playing, so he plays on his horn instead. This scene 
is unendurable. Of music, i.e. of art serving as a means 
to transmit a state of mind experienced by the author, 
there is not even a suggestion. There is something that 
is absolutely unintelligible musically. In a musical sense 
a hope .is continually experienced, followed by disap- 



WHAT IS ART? 119 

pointment, as if a musical thought were commenced 
only to be broken off. If there are something like 
musical commencements, these commencements are so 
short, so encumbered with complications of harmony 
and orchestration and with effects of contrast, are so 
obscure and unfinished, and what is happening on the 
stage meanwhile is so abominably false, that it is diffi- 
cult even to perceive these musical snatches, let alone 
to be infected by them. Above all, from the very be- 
ginning to the very end, and in each note, the author's 
purpose is so audible and visible that one sees and 
hears neither Siegfried nor the birds, but only a limited, 
self-opinionated German, of bad taste and bad style, 
who has a most false conception of poetry, and who, in 
the rudest and most primitive manner, wishes to trans- 
mit to me these false and mistaken conceptions of his. 

Every one knows the feeling of distrust and resistance 
which is always evoked by an author's evident predeter- 
mination. A narrator need only say in advance, Prepare 
to cry or to laugh, and you are sure neither to cry nor to 
laugh. But when you see that an author prescribes emo- 
tion at what is not touching, but only laughable or dis- 
gusting, and when you see, moreover, that the author is 
fully assured that he has captivated you, a painfully 
tormenting feeling results, similar to what one would 
feel if an old, deformed woman put on a ball-dress, and 
smilingly coquetted before you, confident of your appro- 
bation. This impression was strengthened by the fact 
that around me I saw a crowd of three thousand people, 
who not only patiently witnessed all this absurd non- 
sense, but even considered it their duty to be delighted 
with it. 

I somehow managed to sit out the next scene also, in 
which the monster appears, to the accompaniment of 
his bass notes intermingled with the motiv of Siegfried ; 
but after the fight with the monster, and all the roars, 
fires, and sword-wavings, I could stand no more of it, 
and escaped from the theater with a feeling of repulsion 
Which, even now, I cannot forget 

Listening to this opera, I involuntarily thought of a 



i2o WHAT IS ART? 

respected, wise, educated country laborer, — one, for 
instance, of those wise and truly religious men whom I 
know among the peasants, — and I pictured to myself 
the terrible perplexity such a man would be in were he 
to witness what I was seeing that evening. 

What would he think if he knew of all the labor spent 
on such a performance, and saw that audience, those 
great ones of the earth, — old, bald-headed, gray-bearded 
men, whom he had been accustomed to respect, — sit 
silent and attentive, listening to and looking at all these 
stupidities for five hours on end ? Not to speak of an 
adult laborer, one can hardly imagine even a child of 
over seven occupying himself with such a stupid, inco- 
herent fairy tale. 

And yet an enormous audience, the cream of the cul- 
tured upper classes, sits out five hours of this insane 
performance, and goes away imagining that by paying 
tribute to this nonsense it has acquired a fresh right to 
esteem itself advanced and enlightened. 

I speak of the Moscow public. But what is the Mos- 
cow public ? It is but a hundredth part of that public 
which, while considering itself most highly enlightened, 
esteems it a merit to have so lost the capacity of being 
infected by art, that not only can it witness this stupid 
sham without being revolted, but can even take delight 
in it. 

In Bayreuth, where these performances were first 
given, people who consider themselves finely cultured 
assembled from the ends of the earth, spent, say one 
hundred pounds each, to see this performance, and for 
four days running they went to see and hear this non- 
sensical rubbish, sitting it out for six hours each day. 

But why did people go, and why do they still go to 
these performances, and why do they admire them? 
The question naturally presents itself : How is the suc- 
cess of Wagner's works to be explained ? 

That success I explain to myself in this way : thanks 
to his exceptional position in having at his disposal the 
resources of a king, Wagner was able to command all 
the methods for counterfeiting art which have been de» 



WHAT IS ART? 121 

veloped by long usage, and, employing these methods 
with great ability, he produced a model work of coun- 
terfeit art. The reason why I have selected his work 
for my illustration is, that in no other counterfeit of art 
known to me are all the methods by which art is coun- 
terfeited — namely, borrowings, imitation, effects, and 
interestingness — so ably and powerfully united. 

From the subject, borrowed from antiquity, to the 
clouds and the risings of the sun and moon, Wagner, in 
this work, has made use of all that is considered poeti- 
cal. We have here the sleeping beauty, and nymphs, 
and subterranean fires, and gnomes, and battles, and 
swords, and love, and incest, and a monster, and singing- 
birds — the whole arsenal of the poetical is brought into 
action. 

Moreover, everything is imitative; the decorations 
are imitated, and the costumes are imitated. All are just 
as, according to the data supplied by archaeology, they 
would have been in antiquity. The very sounds are imi- 
tative; for Wagner, who was not destitute of musical 
talent, invented just such sounds as imitate the strokes 
of a hammer, the hissing of molten iron, the singing of 
birds, etc. 

Furthermore, in this work everything is in the high- 
est degree striking in its effects and in its peculiarities : 
its monsters, its magic fires, and its scenes under water ; 
the darkness in which the audience sit, the invisibility 
of the orchestra, and the hitherto unemployed combina- 
tions of harmony. 

And besides, it is all interesting. The interest lies 
not only in the question who will kill whom, and who 
will marry whom, and who is whose son, and what will 
happen next? — the interest lies also in the relation of 
the music to the text. The rolling waves of the Rhine 
— now how is that to be expressed in music ? An evil 
gnome appears — how is the music to express an evil 
gnome? — and how is it to express the sensuality of 
this gnome ? How will bravery, fire, or apples be ex- 
pressed in music ? How are the leit-motiv of the people 
speaking to be interwoven with the leit-motiv of the 



122 WHAT IS ART? 

people and objects about whom they speak ? Besides, 
the music has a further interest. It diverges from all 
formerly accepted laws, and most unexpected and totally 
new modulations crop up (as is not only possible, but 
even easy in music having no inner law of its being) ; 
the dissonances are new, and are allowed in a new way 
— and this, too, is interesting. 

And it is this poeticality, imitativeness, effectfulness, 
and interestingness which, thanks to the peculiarities of 
Wagner's talent, and to the advantageous position in 
which he was placed, are in these productions carried 
to the highest pitch of perfection, that so act on the 
spectator, hypnotizing him as one would be hypnotized 
who should listen for several consecutive hours to the 
ravings of a maniac pronounced with great oratorical 
power. 

People say : " You cannot judge without having seen 
Wagner performed at Bayreuth : in the dark, where the 
orchestra is out of sight concealed under the stage, and 
where the performance is brought to the highest per- 
fection." And this just proves that we have here no 
question of art, but one of hypnotism. It is just what 
the spiritualists say. To convince you of the reality of 
their apparitions they usually say, " You cannot judge ; 
you must try it, bo present at several seances/' i.e. come 
and sit silent in the dark for hours together in the same 
room with semi-sane people, and repeat this some ten 
times over, and you shall see all that we see. 

Yes, naturally ! Only place yourself in such condi- 
tions, and you may see what you will. But this can be 
still more quickly attained by getting drunk or smoking 
opium. It is the same when listening to an opera of 
Wagner's. Sit in the dark for four days in company 
with people who are not quite normal, and, through the 
auditory nerves, subject your brain to the strongest ac- 
tion of the sounds best adapted to excite it, and you 
will no doubt be reduced to an abnormal condition, and 
be enchanted by absurdities. But to attain this end you 
do not even need four days ; the five hours during which 
one " day " is enacted, as in Moscow, are quite enough. 



WHAT IS ART? 123 

Nor are five hours needed ; even one hour is enough 
for people who have no clear conception of what art 
should be, and who have come to the conclusion in ad- 
vance that what they are going to see is excellent, and 
that indifference or dissatisfaction with this work will 
serve as a proof of their inferiority and lack of culture. 

I observed the audience present at this representa- 
tion. The people who led the whole audience and gave 
the tone to it were those who had previously been hyp- 
notized, and who again succumbed to the hypnotic influ- 
ence to which they were accustomed. These hypnotized 
people, being in an abnormal condition, were perfectly 
enraptured. Moreover, all the art critics, who lack the 
capacity to be infected by art and therefore always 
especially prize works like Wagner's opera where it is 
all an affair of the intellect, also, with much profundity, 
expressed their approval of a work affording such ample 
material for ratiocination. And following these two 
groups went that large city crowd (indifferent to art, with 
their capacity to be infected by it perverted and partly 
atrophied), headed by the princes, millionaires, and 
art patrons, who, like sorry harriers, keep close to those 
who most loudly and decidedly express their opinion. 

" Oh, yes, certainly ! What poetry ! Marvelous ! Es- 
pecially the birds ! " " Yes, yes ! I am quite vanquished ! " 
exclaim these people, repeating in various tones what they 
have just heard from men whose opinion appears to 
them authoritative. 

If some people do feel insulted by the absurdity and 
spuriousness of the whole thing, they are timidly silent, 
as sober men are timid and silent when surrounded by 
tipsy ones. 

And thus, thanks to the masterly skill with which it 
counterfeits art while having nothing in common with it, a 
meaningless, coarse, spurious production finds acceptance 
all over the world, costs millions of roubles to produce, 
and assists more and more to pervert the taste of people 
of the upper classes and their conception of what is art 



i2 4 WHAT IS ART? 



CHAPTER XIV 

I know that most men — not only those considered 
clever, but even those who are very clever, and capable 
of understanding most difficult scientific, mathematical, 
or philosophic problems — can very seldom discern even 
the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as to 
oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have 
formed, perhaps with much difficulty — conclusions of 
which they are proud, which they have taught to others, 
and on which they have built their lives. And therefore 
I have little hope that what I adduce as to the perversion 
of art and taste in our society will be accepted or even 
seriously considered. Nevertheless, I must state fully 
the inevitable conclusion to which my investigation into 
the question of art has brought me. This investigation 
has brought me to the conviction that almost all that 
our society considers to be art, good art, and the whole 
of art, far from being real and good art, and the whole 
of art, is not even art at all, but only a counterfeit of it 
This position, I know, will seem very strange and para- 
doxical ; but if we once acknowledge art to be a human 
activity by means of which some people transmit their 
feelings to others (and not a service of Beauty, nor a 
manifestation of the Idea, and so forth), we shall inevi- 
tably have to admit this further conclusion also. If it 
is true that art is an activity by means of which one 
man, having experienced a feeling, intentionally transmits 
it to others, then we have inevitably to admit further, 
that of all that among us is termed the art of the upper 
classes — of all those novels, stories, dramas, comedies, 
pictures, sculptures, symphonies, operas, operettas, bal- 
lets, etc., which profess to be works of art — scarcely 
one in a hundred thousand proceeds from an emotion 
felt by its author, all the rest being but manufactured 
counterfeits of art, in which borrowing, imitating, effects, 
and interestingness replace the contagion of feeling. 
That the proportion of real productions of art is to the 
counterfeits as one to some hundreds of thousands or 



WHAT IS ART? 125 

even more, may be seen by the following calculation. 
I have read somewhere that the artist painters in Paris 
alone number 30,000 ; there will probably be as many 
in England, as many in Germany, and as many in Russia, 
Italy, and the smaller states combined. So that in all 
there will be in Europe, say, 120,000 painters ; and there 
are probably as many musicians and as many literary 
artists. If these 360,000 individuals produce three works 
a year each (and many of them produce ten or more), 
then each year yields over a million so-called works of 
art. How many, then, must have been produced in the 
last ten years, and how many in the whole time since 
upper-class art broke off from the art of the whole 
people ? Evidently millions. Yet who of all the con- 
noisseurs of art has received impressions from all these 
pseudo works of art ? Not to mention all the laboring 
classes who have no conception of these productions, 
even people of the upper classes cannot know one in a 
thousand of them all, and cannot remember those they 
have known. These works all appear under the guise of 
art, produce no impression on any one (except when they 
serve as pastimes for the idle crowd of rich people), and 
vanish utterly. 

In reply to this it is usually said that without this 
enormous number of unsuccessful attempts we should 
not have the real works of art But such reasoning is 
as though a baker, in reply to a reproach that his bread 
was bad, were to say that if it were not for the hundreds 
of spoiled loaves there would not be any well-baked ones. 
It is true that where there is gold there is also much 
sand ; but that cannot serve as a reason for talking a 
lot of nonsense in order to say something wise. 

We are surrounded by productions considered artis- 
tic. Thousands of verses, thousands of poems, thousands 
of novels, thousands of dramas, thousands of pictures, 
thousands of musical pieces, follow one after another. 
All the verses describe love, or nature, or the author's 
state of mind, and in all of them rhyme and rhythm 
are observed. All the dramas and comedies are splen- 
didly mounted and are performed by admirably trained 



1*6 WHAT IS ART? 

actors. All the novels are divided into chapters; all 
of them describe love, contain effective situations, and 
correctly describe the details of life. All the symphonies 
contain allegro, andante, scherzo, and finale ; all consist 
of modulations and chords, and are played by highly 
trained musicians. All the pictures, in gold frames, 
saliently depict faces and sundry accessories. But 
among these productions in the various branches of art, 
there is in each branch one among hundreds of thou- 
sands, not only somewhat better than the rest, but 
differing from them as a diamond differs from paste. 
The one is priceless, the others not only have no value, 
but are worse than valueless, for they deceive and per- 
vert taste. And yet, externally, they are, to a man 
of perverted or atrophied artistic perception, precisely 
alike. 

In our society the difficulty of recognizing real works 
of art is further increased by the fact that the external 
quality of the work in false productions is not only no 
worse, but often better, than in real ones ; the counter- 
feit is often more effective than the real, and its subject 
more interesting. How is one to discriminate ? How 
is one to find a production in no way distinguished in 
externals from hundreds of thousands of others inten- 
tionally made to imitate it precisely ? 

For a country peasant of unperverted taste this is as 
easy as it is for an animal of unspoilt scent to follow 
the trace he needs among a thousand others in wood 
or forest. The animal unerringly finds what he needs. 
So also the man, if only his natural qualities have not 
been perverted,- will, without fail, select from among 
thousands of objects the real work of art he requires, — 
that infecting him with the feeling experienced by the 
artist. But it is not so with those whose taste has been 
perverted by their education and life. The receptive 
feeling for art of these people is atrophied, and in valu- 
ing artistic productions they must be guided by discus- 
sion and study, which discussion and study completely 
confuse them. So that most people in our society are 
quite unable to distinguish a work of art from the 



WHAT IS ART? 127 

grossest counterfeit. People sit for whole hours in 
concert-rooms and theaters listening to the new com- 
posers, consider it a duty to read the novels of the 
famous modern novelists, and to look at pictures repre- 
senting either something incomprehensible, or just the 
very things they see much better in real life ; and, above 
all, they consider it incumbent on them to be enraptured 
by all this, imagining it all to be art, while at the same 
time they will pass real works of art by, not only with- 
out attention, but even with contempt, merely because, 
in their circle, these works are not included in the list of 
works of art. 

A few days ago I was returning home from a walk 
feeling depressed, as occurs sometimes. On nearing 
the house I heard the loud singing of a large choir 
of peasant women. They were welcoming my daughter, 
celebrating her return home after her marriage. In this 
singing, with its cries and clanging of scythes, such a 
definite feeling of joy, cheerfulness, and energy was 
expressed, that, without noticing how it infected me, 
I continued my way toward the house in a better mood, 
and reached home smiling, and quite in good spirits. 
That same evening, a visitor, an admirable musician, 
famed for his execution of classical music, and particu- 
larly of Beethoven, played us Beethoven's sonata, Opus 
10 1. For the benefit of those who might otherwise 
attribute my judgment of that sonata of Beethoven 
to non-comprehension of it, I should mention that, what- 
ever other people understand of that sonata and of 
other productions of Beethoven's later period, I, being 
very susceptible to music, equally understood. For 
a long time I used to attune myself so as to delight 
in those shapeless improvisations which form the subject' 
matter of the works of Beethoven's later period, but I 
had only to consider the question of art seriously, and 
to compare the impression I received from Beethoven's 
later works with those pleasant, clear, and strong mu- 
sical impressions which are transmitted, for instance, by 
the melodies of Bach (his arias), Haydn, Mozart, Chopin, 
(when his melodies are not overloaded with complica- 



128 WHAT IS ART? 

tions and ornamentation), and of Beethoven himself in 
his earlier period, and, above all, with the impressions 
produced by folk-songs, — Italian, Norwegian, or Rus- 
sian, — by the Hungarian tzardas, and other such simple, 
clear, and powerful music, and the obscure, almost 
unhealthy excitement from Beethoven's later pieces that 
I had artificially evoked in myself was immediately 
destroyed. 

On the completion of the performance (though it was 
noticeable that every one had become dull) those present, 
in the accepted manner, warmly praised Beethoven's 
profound production, and did not forget to add that 
formerly they had not been able to understand that last 
period of his, but that they now saw that he was really 
then at his very best. And when I ventured to com- 
pare the impression made on me by the singing of the 
peasant women — an impression which had been shared 
by all who heard it — with the effect of this sonata, 
the admirers of Beethoven only smiled contemptuously, 
not considering it necessary to reply to such strange 
remarks. 

But, for all that, the song of the peasant women was 
real art, transmitting a definite and strong feeling ; while 
the ioist sonata of Beethoven was only an unsuccessful 
attempt at art, containing no definite feeling, and there- 
fore not infectious. 

For my work on art I have this winter read diligently, 
though with great effort, the celebrated novels and 
stories, praised by all Europe, written by Zola, Bourget, 
Huysmans, and Kipling. At the same time I chanced 
on a story in a child's magazine, and by a quite unknown 
writer, which told of the Easter preparations in a poor 
widow's family. The story tells how the mother man- 
aged with difficulty to obtain some wheat-flour, which 
she poured on the table ready to knead. She then went 
out to procure some yeast, telling the children not to 
leave the hut, and to take care of the flour. When the 
mother had gone, some other children ran shouting near 
the window, calling those in the hut to come to play. The 
children forgot their mother's warning, ran into the 



WHAT IS ART? 129 

street, and were soon engrossed in the game. The 
mother, on her return with the yeast, finds a hen on the 
table throwing the last of the flour to her chickens, who 
were busily picking it out of the dust of the earthen 
floor. The mother, in despair, scolds the children, who 
cry bitterly. And the mother begins to feel pity for 
them — but the white flour has all gone. So to mend 
matters she decides to make the Easter cake with sifted 
rye-flour, brushing it over with white of egg, and sur- 
rounding it with eggs. " Rye-bread which we bake is 
akin to any cake," says the mother, using a rhyming 
proverb to console the children for not having an 
Easter cake made with white flour. And the children, 
quickly passing from despair to rapture, repeat the prov- 
erb and await the Easter cake more merrily even than 
before. 

Well ! the reading of the novels and stories by Zola, 
Bourget, Huysmans, Kipling, and others, handling the 
most harrowing subjects, did not touch me for one 
moment, and I was provoked with the authors all the 
while, as one is provoked with a man who considers you 
so natve that he does not even conceal the trick by 
which he intends to take you in. From the first lines 
you see the intention with which the book is written, 
and the details all become superfluous, and one feels 
dull. Above all, one knows that the author had no 
other feeling all the time than a desire to write a story 
or a novel, and so one receives no artistic impression. 
On the other hand, I could hot tear myself away from 
the unknown author's tale of the children and the 
chickens, because I was at once infected by the feeling 
which the author had evidently experienced, reevoked in 
himself, and transmitted. 

Vasnetsoff is one of our Russian painters. He has 
painted ecclesiastical pictures in Kieff Cathedral, and 
every one praises him as the founder of some new, ele- 
vated kind of Christian art. He worked at those 
pictures for ten years, was paid tens of thousands 
of roubles for them, and they are all simply bad imi- 
tations of imitations of imitations, destitute of any 



130 WHAT IS ART? 

spark of feeling. And this same Vasnetsoff drew a 
picture for TourgeniefFs story, " The Quail" (in which 
it is told how, in his son's presence, a father killed 
a quail and felt pity for it), showing the boy asleep 
with pouting upper lip, and above him, as a dream 
the quail. And this picture is a true work of art. 

In the English Academy of 1897 two pictures wen* 
exhibited together; one of which, by J. C. Dolman, 
was the temptation of St Anthony. The saint is en 
his knees praying. Behind him stands a naked woman 
and animals of some kind. It is apparent that the 
naked woman pleased the artist very much, but that 
Anthony did not concern him at all ; and that, so far 
from the temptation being terrible to him (the artist) 
it is highly agreeable. And therefore if there be any 
art in this picture, it is very nasty and false. Next in 
the same book of academy pictures comes a picture by 
Langley, showing a stray beggar-boy, who has evi- 
dently been called in by a woman who has taken pity 
on him. The boy, pitifully drawing his bare feet 
under the bench, is eating; the woman is looking on, 
probably considering whether he will not want some 
more ; and a girl of about seven, leaning on her arm, 
is carefully and seriously looking on, not taking her 
eyes from the hungry boy, and evidently understand- 
ing for the first time what poverty is, and what in- 
equality among people is, and asking herself why she 
has everything provided for her while this boy goes 
barefoot and hungry ? She feels sorry, and yet pleased. 

And she loves both the boy and goodness And one 

feels that the artist loved this girl, and that she too loves. 
And this picture, by an artist who, I think, is not very 
widely known, is an admirable and true work of art. 

I remember seeing a performance of "Hamlet" by 
Rossi. Both the tragedy itself and the performer who 
took the chief part are considered by our critics to 
represent the climax of supreme dramatic art. And 
yet, both from the subject-matter of the drama and 
from the performance, I experienced all the time that 
peculiar suffering which is caused by false imitations 



WHAT IS ART? 131 

of works of art And I lately read of a theatrical 
performance among the savage tribe, the Voguls. A 
spectator describes the play. A big Vogul and a little 
one, both dressed in reindeer skins, represent a rein- 
deer-doe and its young. A third Vogul, with a bow, 
represents a huntsman on snow-shoes, and a fourth 
imitates with his voice a bird that warns the reindeer 
of their danger. The play is that the huntsman fol- 
lows the track that the doe with its young one has 
traveled. The deer run off the scene, and again re- 
appear. (Such performances take place in a small 
tent-house.) The huntsman gains more and more on 
the pursued. The little deer is tired, and presses 
against its mother. The doe stops to draw breath. 
The hunter comes up with them and draws his bow. 
But just then the bird sounds its note, warning the 
deer of their danger. They escape. Again there is 
a chase, and again the hunter gains on them, catches 
them, and lets fly his arrow. The arrow strikes the 
young deer. Unable to run, the little one presses 
against its mother. The mother licks its wound. The 
hunter draws another arrow. The audience, as the 
eye-witness describes them, are paralyzed with sus- 
pense ; deep groans and even weeping is heard among 
them. And, from the mere description, I felt that 
this was a true work of art. 

What I am saying will be considered irrational para- 
dox, at which one can only be amazed ; but for all that 
I must say what I think; namely, that people of our cir- 
cle, of whom some compose verses, stories, novels, operas, 
symphonies, and sonatas, paint all kinds of pictures and 
make statues, while others hear and look at these things, 
and again others appraise and criticize it all, discuss, con- 
demn, triumph, and raise monuments to one another, 
generation after generation, — that all these people, with 
very few exceptions, artists, and public, and critics, have 
never (except in childhood and earliest youth, before 
hearing any discussions on art) experienced that simple 
feeling familiar to the plainest man and even to a child, 
that sense of infection with another's feeling, — compel 



^m J 



132 WHAT IS ART? 

ling us to joy in another's gladness, to sorrow at an- 
other's grief, and to mingle souls with another, — which 
is the very essence of art. And therefore these people 
not only cannot distinguish true works of art from coun- 
terfeits, but continually mistake for real art the worst 
and most artificial, while they do not even perceive works 
of real art, because the counterfeits are always more 
ornate, while true art is modest. 



CHAPTER XV 

Art, in our society, has been so perverted that not 
only has bad art come to be considered good, but even 
the very perception of what art really is has been lost. In 
order to be able to speak about the art of our society, it 
is, therefore, first of all necessary to distinguish art from 
counterfeit art. 

There is one indubitable indication distinguishing real 
art from its counterfeit, namely, the infectiousness of 
art. If a man, without exercising effort and without 
altering his standpoint, on reading, hearing, or seeing 
another man's work, experiences a mental condition 
which unites him with that man and with other people 
who also partake of that work of art, then the object 
evoking that condition is a work of art. And however 
poetical, realistic, eff ectf ul, or interesting a work may be, 
it is not a work of art if it does not evoke that feeling 
(quite distinct from all other feelings) of joy, and of 
spiritual union with another (the author) and with others 
(those who are also infected by it). 

It is true that this indication is an internal one, and 
that there are people who have forgotten what the action 
of real art is, who expect something else from art (in our 
society the great majority are in this state), and that 
therefore such people may mistake for this aesthetic feel- 
ing the feeling of divertisement and a certain excitement 
which they receive from counterfeits of art. But though 
it is impossible to undeceive these people, just as it is 
impossible to convince a man suffering from " Dalton- 



WHAT IS ART? 133 

ism " that green is not red, yet, for all that, this indica- 
tion remains perfectly definite to those whose feeling for 
art is neither perverted nor atrophied, and it clearly dis- 
tinguishes the feeling produced by art from all other 
feelings. 

The chief peculiarity of this feeling is that the receiver 
of a true artistic impression is so united to the artist that 
he feels as if the work were his own and not some one 
else's, — as if what it expresses were just what he had 
long been wishing to express. A real work of art de- 
stroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separa- 
tion between himself and the artist ; nor that alone, but 
also between himself and all whose minds receive this 
work of art. In this freeing of our personality from its 
separation and isolation, in this uniting of it with others, 
lies the chief characteristic and the great attractive force 
of art. 

If a man is infected by the author's condition of soul, 
if he feels this emotion and this union with others, then 
the object which has effected this is art ; but if there be 
no such infection, if there be not this union with the au- 
thor and with others who are moved by the same work 
— then it is not art. And not only is infection a sure 
sign of art, but the degree of infectiousness is also the 
sole measure of excellence in art 

The stronger the infection the better is the art ; as art, 
speaking now apart from its subject-matter, i.e. not 
considering the quality of the feelings it transmits. 

And the degree of the infectiousness of art depends 
on three conditions : — 

(1) On the greater or lesser individuality of the feel- 
ing transmitted ; (2) on the greater or lesser clearness 
with which the feeling is transmitted ; (3) on the sin- 
cerity of the artist, i.e. on the greater or lesser force with 
which the artist himself feels the emotion he transmits. 

The more individual the feeling transmitted the more 
strongly does it act on the receiver ; the more individual 
the state of soul into which he is transferred the more 
pleasure does the receiver obtain, and therefore the more 
readily and strongly does he join in it 



134 WHAT IS ART? 

The clearness of expression assists infection, because 
the receiver, who mingles in consciousness with the au- 
thor, is the better satisfied the more clearly the feeling 
is transmitted, which, as it seems to him, he has long 
known and felt, and for which he has only now found 
expression. 

But most of all is the degree of infectiousness of art 
increased by the degree of sincerity in the artist. As 
soon as the spectator, hearer, or reader feels that the 
artist is infected by his own production, and writes, sings, 
or plays for himself, and not merely to act on others, this 
mental condition of the artist infects the receiver ; and, 
contrariwise, as soon as the spectator, reader, or hearer 
feels that the author is not writing, singing, or playing 
for his own satisfaction, — does not himself feel what 
he wishes to express, — but is doing it for him, the re- 
ceiver, a resistance immediately springs up, and the most 
individual and the newest feelings and the cleverest tech- 
nique not only fail to produce any infection, but actually 
repel. 

I have mentioned three conditions of contagiousness 
in art, but they may be all summed up into one, the last, 
sincerity, i.e. that the artist should be impelled by an in- 
ner need to express his feeling. That condition includes 
the first ; for if the artist is sincere he will express the 
feeling as he experienced it And as each man is dif- 
ferent from every one else, his feeling will be individual 
for every one else; and the more individual it is, — the 
more the artist has drawn it from the depths of his na- 
ture, — the more sympathetic and sincere will it be. 
And this same sincerity will impel the artist to find 
a clear expression of the feeling which he wishes to 
transmit. 

Therefore this third condition — sincerity — is the 
most important of the three. It is always complied with 
in peasant art, and this explains why such art always 
acts so powerfully ; but it is a condition almost entirely 
absent from our upper-class art, which is continually 
produced by artists actuated by personal aims of covet- 
ousness or vanity. 



WHAT IS ART? 135 

Such are the three conditions which divide art from 
its counterfeits, and which also decide the quality of 
every work of art apart from its subject-matter. 

The absence of any one of these conditions excludes 
a work from the category of art and relegates it to that 
of art's counterfeits. If the work does not transmit the 
artist's peculiarity of feeling, and is therefore not indi- 
vidual, if it is unintelligibly expressed, or if it has not 
proceeded from the author's inner need for expression 
— it is not a work of art. If all these conditions are 
present, even in the smallest degree, then the work, 
even if a weak one, is yet a work of art. 

The presence in various degrees of these three con- 
ditions — individuality, clearness, and sincerity — decides 
the merit of a work of art, as art, apart from subject- 
matter. All works of art take rank of merit according 
to the degree in which they fulfil the first, the second, 
and the third of these conditions. In one the individu- 
ality of the feeling transmitted may predominate; in 
another, clearness of expression ; in a third, sincerity ; 
while a fourth may have sincerity and individuality, but 
be deficient in clearness ; a fifth, individuality and clear- 
ness, but less sincerity; and so forth, in all possible 
degrees and combinations. 

Thus is art divided from not art, and thus is the qual- 
ity of art, as art, decided, independently of its subject- 
matter, i.e. apart from whether the feelings it transmits 
are good or bad. 

But how are we to define good and bad art with ref- 
erence to its subject-matter? 



CHAPTER XVI 

How in art are we to decide what is good and what 
is bad in subject-matter ? 

Art, like speech, is a means of communication, and 
therefore of progress, i.e. of the movement of humanity 
forward toward perfection. Speech renders accessible 
to men of the latest generations all the knowledge dis 



136 WHAT IS ART? 

covered by the experience and reflection, both of pre- 
ceding generations and of the best and foremost men 
of their own times; art renders accessible to men of 
the latest generations all the feelings experienced by 
their predecessors, and those also which are being felt 
by their best and foremost contemporaries. And as 
the evolution of knowledge proceeds by truer and more 
necessary knowledge dislodging and replacing what is 
mistaken and unnecessary, so the evolution of feeling 
proceeds through art, — feelings less kind and less need- 
ful for the well-being of mankind are replaced by others 
kinder and more needful for that end. That is the pur- 
pose of art. And, speaking now of its subject-matter, 
the more art fulfils that purpose the better the art, and 
the less it fulfils it the worse the art. 

And the appraisement of feelings {i.e. the acknowl- 
edgment of these or those feelings as being more or less 
good, more or less necessary for the well-being of man- 
kind) is made by the religious perception of the age. 

In every period of history, and in every human soci- 
ety, there exists an understanding of the meaning of 
life which represents the highest level to which men of 
that society have attained, — an understanding defining 
the highest good at which that society aims. And this 
understanding is the religious perception of the given 
time and society. And this religious perception is 
always clearly expressed by some advanced men, and 
more or less vividly perceived by all the members of 
the society. Such a religious perception and its cor- 
responding expression exists always in every society. 
If it appears to us that in our society there is no reli- 
gious perception, this is not because there really is none, 
but only because we do not want to see it. And we 
often wish not to see it because it exposes the fact that 
our life is inconsistent with that religious perception. 

Religious perception in a society is like the direction 
of a flowing river. If the river flows at all, it must have 
a direction. If a society lives, there must be a religious 
perception indicating the direction in which, more or 
less consciously, all its members tend. 



WHAT IS ART? 137 

And so there always has been, and there is, a religious 
perception in every society. And it is by the standard 
of this religious perception that the feelings transmitted 
by art have always been estimated. Only on the basis 
of this religious perception of their age have men always 
chosen from the endlessly varied spheres of art that art 
which transmitted feelings making religious perception 
operative in actual life. And such art has always been 
highly valued and encouraged ; while art transmitting 
feelings already outlived, flowing from the antiquated 
religious perceptions of a former age, has always been 
condemned and despised. All the rest of art, trans- 
mitting those most diverse feelings by means of which 
people commune together, was not condemned, and was 
tolerated, if only it did not transmit feelings contrary to 
religious perception. Thus, for instance, among the 
Greeks, art transmitting the feeling of beauty, strength, 
and courage (Hesiod, Homer, Phidias) was chosen, ap- 
proved, and encouraged ; while art transmitting feelings 
of rude sensuality, despondency, and effeminacy was 
condemned and despised. Among the Jews, art trans- 
mitting feelings of devotion and submission to the God 
of the Hebrews and to His will (the epic of Genesis, the 
prophets, the Psalms) was chosen and encouraged, while 
art transmitting feelings of idolatry (the golden calf) was 
condemned and despised. All the rest of art — stories, 
songs, dances, ornamentation of houses, of utensils, and 
of clothes — which was not contrary to religious percep- 
tion, was neither distinguished nor discussed. Thus, 
in regard to its subject-matter, has art been appraised 
always and everywhere, and thus it should be appraised; 
for this attitude toward art proceeds from the funda- 
mental characteristics of human nature, and those char- 
acteristics do not change. 

I know that according to an opinion current in our 
times religion is a superstition which humanity has out- 
grown, and that it is therefore assumed that no such 
thing exists as a religious perception, common to us all, 
by which art, in our time, can be estimated. I know 
that this is the opinion current in the pseudo-cultured 



138 WHAT IS ART* 

circles of to-day. People who do not acknowledge 
Christianity in its true meaning because it undermines 
all their social privileges, and who, therefore, invent all 
kinds of philosophic and aesthetic theories to hide from 
themselves the meaninglessness and wrongness of their 
lives, cannot think otherwise. These people intention- 
ally, or sometimes unintentionally, confusing the concep- 
tion of a religious cult with the conception of religious 
perception, think that by denying the cult they get rid 
of religious perception. But even the very attacks on 
religion, and the attempts to establish a life-conception 
contrary to the religious perception of our times, most 
clearly demonstrate the existence of a religious percep- 
tion condemning the lives that are not in harmony 
with it. 

If humanity progresses, i.e. moves forward, there 
must inevitably be a guide to the direction of that move- 
ment. And religions have always furnished that guide. 
All history shows that the progress of humanity is ac- 
complished not otherwise than under the guidance of 
religion. But if the race cannot progress without the 
guidance of religion, — and progress is always going on, 
and consequently also in our own times, — then there 
must be a religion of our times. So that, whether it 
pleases or displeases the so-called cultured people of to- 
day, they must admit the existence of religion, — not of 
a religious cult, Catholic, Protestant, or another, but of 
religious perception, — which, even in our times, is the 
guide always present where there is any progress. And 
if a religious perception exists amongst us, then our art 
should be appraised on the basis of that religious per- 
ception ; and, as has always and everywhere been the 
case, art transmitting feelings flowing from the religious 
perception of our time should be chosen from all the 
indifferent art, should be acknowledged, highly esteemed, 
and encouraged ; while art running counter to that per- 
ception should be condemned and despised, and all the 
remaining indifferent art should neither be distinguished 
nor encouraged. 

The religious perception of our time, in its widest 



WHAT IS ART? 139 

and most practical application, is the consciousness 
that our well-being, both material and spiritual, indi- 
vidual and collective, temporal and eternal, lies in the 
growth of brotherhood among all men — in their loving 
harmony with one another. This perception is not 
only expressed by Christ and all the best men of past 
ages, it is not only repeated in the most varied forms 
and from most diverse sides by the best men of our 
own times, but it already serves as a clue to all the 
complex labor of humanity, consisting as this labor 
does, on the one hand, in the destruction of physical 
and moral obstacles to the union of men, and, on the 
other hand, in establishing the principles common to 
all men which can and should unite them into one uni- 
versal brotherhood. And it is on the basis of this 
perception that we should appraise all the phenomena 
of our life, and, among the rest, our art also ; choosing 
from all its realms whatever transmits feelings flowing 
from this religious perception, highly prizing and en- 
couraging such art, rejecting whatever is contrary to 
this perception, and not attributing to the rest of art 
an importance not properly pertaining to it. 

The chief mistake made by people of the uppei 
classes of the time of the so-called Renaissance — a 
mistake which we still perpetuate — was not that they 
ceased to value and to attach importance to religious 
art (people of that period could not attach importance 
to it, because, like our own upper classes, they could 
not believe in what the majority considered to be re- 
ligion), but their mistake was that they set up in place 
of religious art, which was lacking, an insignificant art 
which aimed only at giving pleasure, i.e. they began 
to choose, to value, and to encourage, in place of 
religious art, something which, in any case, did not 
deserve such esteem and encouragement. 

One of the Fathers of the Church said that the great 
evil is, not that men do not know God, but that they 
have set up, instead of God, that which is not God. So 
also with art. The great misfortune of the people of 
the upper classes of our time is not so much that they 



i 4 o WHAT IS ART? 

are without a religious art, as that, instead of a supreme 
religious art, chosen from all the rest as being specially 
important and valuable, they have chosen a most in- 
significant and, usually, harmful art, which aims at 
pleasing certain people, and which, therefore, if only 
by its exclusive nature, stands in contradiction to that 
Christian principle of universal union which forms the 
religious perception of our time. Instead of religious 
art, an empty and often vicious art is set up, and this 
hides from men's notice the need of that true religious 
art which should be present in life in order to improve 
it. 

It is true that art which satisfies the demands of the 
religious perception of our time is quite unlike former 
art, but, notwithstanding this dissimilarity, to a man who 
does not intentionally hide the truth from himself, it is 
very clear and definite what does form the religious art 
of our age. In former times, when the highest religious 
perception united only some people (who, even if they 
formed a large society, were yet but one society sur- 
rounded by others — Jews, or Athenian or Roman citi- 
zens), the feelings transmitted by the art of that time 
flowed from a desire for the might, greatness, glory, and 
prosperity of that society, and the heroes of art might be 
people who contributed to that prosperity by strength, 
by craft, by fraud, or by cruelty (Ulysses, Jacob, David, 
Samson, Hercules, and all the heroes). But the religious 
.perception of our times does not select any one society 
of men ; on the contrary, it demands the union of all, — 
absolutely of all people without exception, — and above 
every other virtue it sets brotherly love to all men. And, 
therefore, the feelings transmitted by the art of our time 
not only cannot coincide with the feelings transmitted 
by former art, but must run counter to them. 

Christian, truly Christian, art has been so long in estab- 
lishing itself, and has not yet established itself, just be- 
cause the Christian religious perception was not one of 
those small steps by which humanity advances regularly, 
but was an enormous revolution, which, if it has not 
already altered, must inevitably alter the entire life-con- 



WHAT IS ART? 141 

ception of mankind, and, consequently, the whole in- 
ternal organization of their life. It is true that the life 
of humanity, like that of an individual, moves regularly ; 
but in that regular movement come, as it were, turning- 
points, which sharply divide the preceding from the 
subsequent life. Christianity was such a turning-point ; 
such, at least, it must appear to us who live by the Chris- 
tian perception of life. Christian perception gave an- 
other, a new, direction to all human feelings, and 
therefore completely altered both the contents and the 
significance of art. The Greeks could make use of 
Persian art and the Romans could use Greek art, or, 
similarly, the Jews could use Egyptian art, — the funda- 
mental ideals were one and the same. Now the ideal 
was the greatness and prosperity of the Persians, now 
the greatness and prosperity of the Greeks, now that of 
the Romans. The same art was transferred into other 
conditions, and served new nations. But the Christian 
ideal changed and reversed everything, so that, as the 
gospel puts it, "That which was exalted among men 
has become an abomination in the sight of God." The 
ideal is no longer the greatness of Pharaoh or of a Roman 
emperor, not the beauty of a Greek, nor the wealth of 
Phoenicia, but humility, purity, compassion, love. The 
hero is no longer Dives, but Lazarus the beggar ; not 
Mary Magdalene in the day of her beauty, but in the 
day of her repentance ; not those who acquire wealth, 
but those who have abandoned it ; not those who dwell 
in palaces, but those who dwell in catacombs and huts ;' 
not those who rule over others, but those who acknowl- 
edge no authority but God's. And the greatest work 
of art is no longer a cathedral of victory x with statues of 
conquerors, but the representation of a human soul so 
transformed by love that a man who is tormented and 
murdered yet pities and loves his persecutors. 

And the change is so great that men of the Christian 
world find it difficult to resist the inertia of the heathen 
art to which they have been accustomed all their lives. 

1 There is in Moscow a magnificent " Cathedral of our Saviour," erected 
to commemorate the defeat of the French in the war of 18x2. — T&. 



142 WHAT IS ART? 

The subject-matter of Christian religious art is so new 
to them, so unlike the subject-matter of former art, that 
it seems to them as though Christian art were a denial 
of art, and they cling desperately to the old art. But 
this old art, having no longer, in our day, any source in 
religious perception, has lost its meaning, and we shall 
have to abandon it whether we wish to or not 

The essence of the Christian perception consists in 
the recognition by every man of his sonship to God, and 
of the consequent union of men with God and with one 
another, as is said in the gospel (John xvii. 21 1 ). There- 
fore the subject-matter of Christian art is such feeling 
as can unite men with God and with one another. 

The expression unite men with God and with one 
another may seem obscure to people accustomed to the 
misuse of these words which is so customary, but the 
words have a perfectly clear meaning nevertheless. 
They indicate that the Christian union of man (in con- 
tradiction to the partial, exclusive union of only some 
men) is that which unites all without exception. 

Art, all art, has this characteristic, that it unites peo- 
ple. Every art causes those to whom the artist's feeling 
is transmitted to unite in soul with the artist, and also 
with all who receive the same impression. But non- 
Christian art, while uniting some people together, makes 
that very union a cause of separation between these 
united people and others ; so that union of this kind is 
often a source, not only of division, but even of enmity 
toward others. Such is all patriotic art, with its 
anthems, poems, and monuments; such is all Church 
art, i.e. the art of certain cults, with their images, statues, 
processions, and other local ceremonies. Such art is 
belated and non-Christian art, uniting the people of one 
cult only to separate them yet more sharply from the 
members of other cults, and even to place them in rela- 
tions of hostility to each other. Christian art is only 
such as tends to unite all without exception, either by 
evoking in them the perception that each man and all 

1 "That they may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me and I in 
thee ; that they also may be in us." 



WHAT IS ART? 143 

men stand in like relation toward God and toward 
their neighbor, or by evoking in them identical feelings, 
which may even be the very simplest, provided only that 
they are not repugnant to Christianity and are natural 
to every one without exception. 

Good Christian art of our time may be unintelligible 
to people because of imperfections in its form, or because 
men are inattentive to it, but it must be such that all men 
can experience the feelings it transmits. It must be the 
art, not of some one group of people, nor of one class, 
nor of one nationality, nor of one religious cult ; that is, 
it must not transmit feelings which are accessible only to 
a man educated in a certain way, or only to an aristocrat, 
or a merchant, or only to a Russian, or a native of Japan, 
or a Roman Catholic, or a Buddhist, etc., but it must 
transmit feelings accessible to every one. Only art of 
this kind can be acknowledged in our time to be good 
art, worthy of being chosen out from all the rest of art 
and encouraged. 

Christian art, i.e. the art of our time, should be catholic 
in the original meaning of the word, i.e. universal, and 
therefore it should unite all men. And only two kinds 
of feeling do unite all men : first, feelings flowing from 
the perception of our sonship to God and of the brother- 
hood of man ; and next, the simple feelings of common 
life, accessible to every one without exception — such as 
the feeling of merriment, of pity, of cheerfulness, of 
tranquillity, etc. Only these two kinds of feelings can 
now supply material for art good in its subject-matter. 

And the action of these two kinds of art, apparently 
so dissimilar, is one and the same. The feelings flow- 
ing from perception of our sonship to God and of the 
brotherhood of man — such as a feeling of sureness in 
truth, devotion to the will of God, self-sacrifice, respect 
for and love of man — evoked by Christian religious per- 
ception ; and the simplest feelings — such as a softened 
or a merry mood caused by a song or an amusing jest 
intelligible to every one, or by a touching story, or a 
drawing, or a little doll : both alike produce one and the 
same effect, — the loving union of man with man. Some- 



144 WHAT IS ART? 

times people who are together are, if not hostile to one 
another, at least estranged in mood and feeling, till per- 
chance a story, a performance, a picture, or even a 
building, but oftenest of all, music, unites them all as by 
an electric flash, and, in place of their former isolation 
or even enmity, they are all conscious of union and 
mutual love. Each is glad that another feels what he 
feels; glad of the communion established, not only 
between him and all present, but also with all now liv- 
ing who will yet share the same impression ; and more 
than that, he feels the mysterious gladness of a com- 
munion which, reaching beyond the grave, unites us 
with all men of the past who have been moved by the 
same feelings, and with all men of the future who will 
yet be touched by them. And this effect is produced 
both by the religious art which transmits feelings of love 
to God and one's neighbor, and by universal art, trans- 
mitting the very simplest feelings common to all men. 

The art of our time should be appraised differently from 
former art chiefly in this, that the art of our time, i.e. 
Christian art (basing itself on a religious perception which 
demands the union of man), excludes from the domain of 
art good in subject-matter everything transmitting exclu- 
sive feelings, which do not unite but divide men. It 
relegates such work to the category of art bad in its 
subject-matter, while, on the other hand, it includes in 
the category of art good in subject-matter a section not 
formerly admitted to deserve to be chosen out and re- 
spected, namely, universal art, transmitting even the 
most trifling and simple feelings if only they are access- 
ible to all men without exception, and therefore unite 
them. Such art cannot, in our time, but be esteemed 
good, for it attains the end which the religious percep- 
tion of our time, i.e. Christianity, sets before humanity. 

Christian art either evokes in men those feelings which, 
through love of God and of one's neighbor, draw them 
to greater and ever greater union, and make them ready 
for and capable of such union ; or evokes in them those 
feelings which show them that they are already united in 
the joys and sorrows of life. And therefore the Christian 



WHAT IS ART? 145 

art of our time can be and is of two kinds : (1) art trans- 
mitting feelings flowing from a religious perception of 
man's position in the world in relation to God and to his 
neighbor — religious art in the limited meaning of the 
term ; and (2) art transmitting the simplest feelings of 
common life, but such, always, as are accessible to all men 
in the whole world — the art of common life — the art of 
a people — universal art Only these two kinds of art 
can be considered good art in our time. 

The first, religious art, — transmitting both positive 
feelings of love to God and one's neighbor, and negative 
feelings of indignation and horror at the violation of 
love, — manifests itself chiefly in the form of words, and 
to some extent also in painting and sculpture : the second 
kind (universal art), transmitting feelings accessible to 
all, manifests itself in words, in painting, in sculpture, 
in dances, in architecture, and, most of all, in music. 

If I were asked to give modern examples of each of 
these kinds of art, then, as examples of the highest art, 
flowing from love of God and man (both of the higher, 
positive, and of the lower, negative kind), in literature 
I should name, "The Robbers/' by Schiller; Victor 
Hugo's " Les Pauvres Gens " and " Les Mis^rables " ; the 
novels and stories of Dickens, — " The Tale of Two 
Cities," "The Christmas Carol," "The Chimes," and 
others; " Uncle Tom's Cabin ; " Dostoievsky's works — 
especially his "Memoirs from the House of Death"; 
and "Adam Bede," by George Eliot. 

In modern painting, strange to say, works of this kind, 
directly transmitting the Christian feeling of love of God 
and of one's neighbor, are hardly to be found, especially 
among the works of the celebrated painters. There are 
plenty of pictures treating of the gospel stories ; they, 
however, depict historical events with great wealth of 
detail, but do not, and cannot, transmit religious feeling 
not possessed by their painters. There are many pic- 
tures treating of the personal feelings of various people, 
but of pictures representing great deeds of self-sacrifice 
and of Christian love there are very few, and what there 
are, are principally by artists who are not celebrated, 



146 WHAT IS ART? 

and are, for the most part, not pictures, but merely 
sketches. Such, for instance, is the drawing by Kram- 
skoy (worth many of his finished pictures), showing a 
drawing-room with a balcony, past which troops are 
marching in triumph on their return from the war. On 
the balcony stands a wet-nurse holding a baby and a boy. 
They are admiring the procession of the troops, but the 
mother, covering her face with a handkerchief, has fallen 
back on the sofa, sobbing. Such also is the picture by 
Walter Langley, to which I have already referred, and 
such again is a picture by the French artist Morion, de- 
picting a lifeboat hastening, in a heavy storm, to the relief 
of a steamer that is being wrecked. Approaching these 
in kind are pictures which represent the hard-working 
peasant with respect and love. Such are the pictures 
by Millet, and, particularly, his drawing, " The Man with 
the Hoe"; also pictures in this style by Jules Breton, 
L'Hermitte, Defregger, and others. As examples of 
pictures evoking indignation and horror at the violation 
of love to God and man, Gay's picture, "Judgment," 
may serve, and also Leizen-Mayer's, " Signing the Death 
Warrant." But there are also very few of this kind. 
Anxiety about the technique and the beauty of the picture 
for the most part obscures the feeling. For instance, 
G6r6me's " Pollice Verso " expresses, not so much horror 
at what is being perpetrated as attraction by the beauty 
of the spectacle. 1 

To give examples, from the modern art of our upper 
classes, of art of the second kind, good universal art or 
even of the art of a whole people, is yet more difficult, 
especially in literary art and music. If there are some 
works which by their inner contents might be assigned 
to this class (such as " Don Quixote," Moltere's comedies, 
" David Copper field " and " The Pickwick Papers " 
by Dickens, Gogol's and Pushkin's tales, and some 
things of Maupassant's), these works are for the most 
part — from the exceptional nature of the feelings they 

1 In this picture the spectators in the Roman Amphitheater are turning 
down their thumbs to show that they wish the vanquished gladiator to be 
killed.— Tr. 



WHAT IS ART? 147 

transmit, and the superfluity of special details of time 
and locality, and, above all, on account of the poverty 
of their subject-matter in comparison with examples of 
universal ancient art (such, for instance, as the story of 
Joseph) — comprehensible only to people of their own 
circle. That Joseph's brethren, being jealous of his 
father's affection, sell him to the merchants ; that Poti- 
phar's wife wishes to tempt the youth ; that having at- 
tained the highest station, he takes pity on his brothers, 
including Benjamin, the favorite, — these and all the rest 
are feelings accessible alike to a Russian peasant, a Chi- 
nese, an African, a child, or an old man, educated or un- 
educated ; and it is all written with such restraint, is so 
free from any superfluous detail, that the story may be 
told to any circle and will be equally comprehensible and 
touching to every one. But not such are the feelings of 
Don Quixote or of Moltere's heroes (though Moli&re is 
perhaps the most universal, and therefore the most excel- 
lent, artist of modern times), nor of Pickwick and his 
friends. These feelings are not common to all men, but 
very exceptional ; and therefore, to make them infectious, 
the authors have surrounded them with abundant details 
of time and place. And this abundance of detail makes 
the stories difficult of comprehension to all people not liv- 
ing within reach of the conditions described by the author. 
The author of the novel of Joseph did not need to 
describe in detail, as would be done nowadays, the 
blood-stained coat of Joseph, the dwelling and dress 
of Jacob, the pose and attire of Potiphar's wife, and 
how, adjusting the bracelet on her left arm, she said, 
" Come to me," and so on, because the subject-matter 
of feelings in this novel is so strong that all details, 
except the most essential, — such as that Joseph went 
out into another room to weep, — are superfluous, and 
would only hinder the transmission of feelings. And 
therefore this novel is accessible to all men, touches 
people of all nations and classes, young and old, and 
has lasted to our times, and will yet last for thou- 
sands of years to come. But strip the best novels of 
our times of their details, and what will remain? 



H8 what is art? 

It is therefore impossible in modern literature to in* 
dicate works fully satisfying the demands of univer- 
sality. Such works as exist are, to a great extent, 
spoilt by what is usually called "realism," but would 
be better termed " provincialism/ ' in art. 

In music the same occurs as in verbal art, and for 
similar reasons. In consequence of the poorness of 
the feeling they contain, the melodies of the modern 
composers are amazingly empty and insignificant. 
And to strengthen the impression produced by these 
empty melodies, the new musicians pile complex mod- 
ulations on to each trivial melody, not only in their 
own national manner, but also in the way charac- 
teristic of their own exclusive circle and particular 
musical school. Melody — every melody — is free, and 
may be understood of all men ; but as soon as it is 
bound up with a particular harmony, it ceases to be 
accessible except to people trained to such harmony, 
and it becomes strange, not only to common men of 
another nationality, but to all who do not belong to 
the circle whose members have accustomed themselves 
to certain forms of harmonization. So that music, like 
poetry, travels in a vicious circle. Trivial and exclu- 
sive melodies, in order to make them attractive, are 
laden with harmonic, rhythmic, and orchestral com- 
plications, and thus become yet more exclusive; and, 
far from being universal, are not even national, i.e. 
they are not comprehensible to the whole people but 
only to some people. 

In music, besides marches and dances by various 
composers, which satisfy the demands of universal art, 
one can indicate very few works of this class : Bach's 
famous violin aria y Chopin's nocturne in E-flat major, 
and perhaps a dozen bits (not whole pieces, but parts) 
selected from the works of Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, 
Beethoven, and Chopin. 1 

1 While offering as examples of art those that seem to me the best, I 
attach no special importance to my selection ; for, besides being in- 
sufficiently informed in all branches of art, I belong to the class of 
people whose taste has, by false training, been perverted. And there- 



WHAT IS ART? 149 

Although in painting the same thing is repeated as 
in poetry and music, — namely, that in order to make 
them more interesting, works weak in conception are 
surrounded by minutely studied accessories of time and 
place, which give them a temporary and local interest 
but make them less universal, — still, in painting, more 
than in the other spheres of art, may be found works 
satisfying the demands of universal Christian art; 
that is to say, there are more works expressing feelings 
in which all men may participate. 

In the arts of painting and sculpture, all pictures and 
statues in so-called genre style, depictions of animals, 
landscapes and caricatures with subjects comprehensi- 
ble to every one, and also all kinds of ornaments, are 
universal in subject-matter. Such productions in paint- 
ing and sculpture are very numerous {e.g. china dolls), 
but for the most part such objects (for instance, orna- 
ments of all kinds) are either not considered to be art 
or are considered to be art of a low quality. In reality 
all such objects, if only they transmit a true feeling 
experienced by the artist and comprehensible to every 
one (however insignificant it may seem to us to be) are 
works of real good Christian art. 

I fear it will here be urged against me that having 
denied that the conception of beauty can supply a 
standard for works of art, I contradict myself by ac- 
knowledging ornaments tq be works of good art. The 
reproach is unjust, for the subject-matter of all kinds of 
ornamentation consists not in the beauty, but in the feel- 
ing (of admiration of, and delight in, the combination of 
lines and colors) which the artist has experienced and 
with which he infects the spectator. Art remains what 

fore my old, inured habits may cause me to err, and I may mistake for 
absolute merit the impression a work produced on me in my youth. My 
only purpose in mentioning examples of works of this or that class is to 
make my meaning clearer, and to show how, with my present views, I 
understand excellence in art in relation to its subject-matter. I must, 
moreover, mention that I consign my own artistic productions to the 
category of bad art, excepting the story " God sees the Truth," which 
seeks a place in the first class, and M The Prisoner of the Caucasus," which 
belongs to the second. 



ISO WHAT IS ART? 

it was and what it must be : nothing but the infection by 
one man of another, or of others, with the feelings ex- 
perienced by the infector. Among those feelings is the 
feeling of delight at what pleases the sight. Objects 
pleasing the sight may be such as please a small or 
a large number of people, or such as please all men. 
And ornaments for the most part are of the latter kind. 
A landscape representing a very unusual view, or a 
genre picture of a special subject, may not please every 
one, but ornaments, from Yakutsk ornaments to Greek 
ones, are intelligible to every one and evoke a similar 
feeling of admiration in all, and therefore this despised 
kind of art should, in Christian society, be esteemed far 
above exceptional, pretentious pictures and sculptures. 

So that there are only two kinds of good Christian 
art : all the rest of art not comprised in these two divi- 
sions should be acknowledged to be bad art, deserving 
not to be encouraged, but to be driven out, denied, and 
despised, as being art not uniting but dividing people. 
Such, in literary art, are all novels and poems which 
transmit Church or patriotic feelings, and also exclusive 
feelings pertaining only to the class of the idle rich; 
such as aristocratic honor, satiety, spleen, pessimism, 
and refined and vicious feelings flowing from sex-love 
— quite incomprehensible to the great majority of man- 
kind. 

In painting we must similarly place in the class of 
bad art all the Church, patriotic, and exclusive pictures; 
all the pictures representing the amusements and allure- 
ments of a rich and idle life ; all the so-called symbolic 
pictures, in which the very meaning of the symbol is 
comprehensible only to the people of a certain circle ; 
and, above all, pictures with voluptuous subjects — all 
that odious female nudity which fills all the exhibitions 
and galleries. And to this class belongs almost all the 
chamber and opera music of our times, — beginning 
especially from Beethoven (Schumann, Berlioz, Liszt, 
Wagner), by its subject-matter devoted to the expres- 
sion of feelings accessible only to people who have 
developed in themselves an unhealthy, nervous irrita- 



WHAT IS ART? 151 

tion evoked by this exclusive, artificial, and complex 
music. 

"What! the i Ninth Symphony' not a good work of 
art ! " I hear exclaimed by indignant voices. 

And I reply, Most certainly it is not All that I 
have written I have written with the sole purpose of 
finding a clear and reasonable criterion by which to 
judge the merits of works of art. And this criterion, 
coinciding with the indications of plain and sane sense, 
indubitably shows me that that symphony by Beethoven 
is not a good work of art. Of course, to people edu- 
cated in the adoration of certain productions and of 
their authors, to people whose taste has been perverted 
just by being educated in such adoration, the acknowl- 
edgment that such a celebrated work is bad is amazing 
and strange. But how are we to escape the indications 
of reason and of common sense ? 

Beethoven's " Ninth Symphony " is considered a great 
work of art To verify its claim to be such, I must first 
ask myself whether this work transmits the highest 
religious feeling ? I reply in the negative, for music in 
itself cannot transmit those feelings; and therefore I 
ask myself next, Since this work does not belong to the 
highest kind of religious art, has it the other character- 
istic of the good art of our time, — the quality of uniting 
all men in one common feeling: does it rank as Christian 
universal art ? And again I have no option but to reply 
in the negative ; for not only do I not see how the feel- 
ings transmitted by this work could unite people not 
specially trained to submit themselves to its complex 
hypnotism, but I am unable to imagine to myself a 
crowd of normal people who could understand anything 
of this long, confused, and artificial production, except 
short snatches which are lost in a sea of what is incom- 
prehensible. And therefore, whether I like it or not, I 
am compelled to conclude that this work belongs to the 
rank of bad art. It is curious to note in this connection, 
that attached to the end of this very symphony is a 
poem of Schiller's which (though somewhat obscurely) 
expresses this very thought, namely, that feeling (Schil 



152 WHAT IS ART? 

ler speaks only of the feeling of gladness) unites people 
and evokes love in them. But though this poem is sung 
at the end of the symphony, the music does not accord 
with the thought expressed in the verses ; for the music 
is exclusive and does not unite all men, but unites only 
a few, dividing them off from the rest of mankind. 

And just in this same way, in all branches of art, 
many and many works considered great by the upper 
classes of our society will have to be judged. By 
this one sure criterion we shall have to judge the cele- 
brated " Divine Comedy " and " Jerusalem Delivered," 
and a great part of Shakespear's and Goethe's works, 
and in painting every representation of miracles, includ- 
ing Raphael's "Transfiguration," etc. 

Whatever the work may be and however it may have 
been extolled, we have first to ask whether this work is 
one of real art or a counterfeit. Having acknowledged, 
on the basis of the indication of its infectiousness even 
to a small class of people, that a certain production be- 
longs to the realm of art, it is necessary, on the basis of 
the indication of its accessibility, to decide the next ques- 
tion, Does this work belong to the category of bad, 
exclusive art, opposed to religious perception, or to 
Christian art, uniting people? And having acknowl- 
edged an article to belong to real Christian art, we must 
then, according to whether it transmits the feelings flow- 
ing from love to God and man, or merely the simple 
feelings uniting all men, assign it a place in the ranks of 
religious art or in those of universal art. 

Only on the basis of such verification shall we find it 
possible to select from the whole mass of what, in our 
society, claims to be art, those works which form real, 
important, necessary spiritual food, and to separate them 
from all the harmful and useless art, and from the coun- 
terfeits of art which surround us. Only on the basis of 
such verification shall we be able to rid ourselves of the 
pernicious results of harmful art and to avail ourselves 
of that beneficent action which is the purpose of true 
and good art, and which is indispensable for the spiritual 
life of man and of humanity, 



WHAT IS ART? 153 



CHAPTER XVII 

Art is one of two organs of human progress. By 
words man interchanges thoughts, by the forms of art 
he interchanges feelings, and this with all men, not only 
of the present time, but also of the past and the future. 
It is natural to human beings to employ both these 
organs of intercommunication, and therefore the per- 
version of either of them must cause evil results to the 
society in which it occurs. And these results will be of 
two kinds: first, the absence, in that society, of the 
work which should be performed by the organ; and 
secondly, the harmful activity of the perverted organ. 
And just these results have shown themselves in our 
society. The organ of art has been perverted, and 
therefore the upper classes of society have, to a great 
extent, been deprived of the work that it should have 
performed. The diffusion in our society of enormous 
quantities of, on the one hand, those counterfeits of art 
which only serve to amuse and corrupt people, and, on 
the other hand, of works of insignificant, exclusive art, 
mistaken for the highest art, have perverted most men's 
capacity to be infected by true works of art, and have 
thus deprived them of the possibility of experiencing 
the highest feelings to which mankind has attained, and 
which can only be transmitted from man to man by 
art. 

All the best that has been done in art by man remains 
strange to people who lack the capacity to be infected 
by art, and is replaced either by spurious counterfeits 
of art or by insignificant art, which they mistake for 
real art. People of our time and of our society are 
delighted with Baudelaires, Verlaines, Mor^ases, Ibsens, 
and Maeterlincks in poetry ; with Monets, Manets, Puvis 
de Chavannes, Burne-Joneses, Stucks, and Bocklins in 
painting ; with Wagners, Liszts, Richard Strausses, in 
music; and they are no longer capable of compre- 
hending either the highest or the simplest art. 

In the upper classes, in consequence of this loss of 



154 WHAT IS ART? 

capacity to be infected by works of art, people grow 
up, are educated, and live, lacking the fertilizing, im- 
proving influence of art, and therefore not only do not 
advance toward perfection, do not become kinder, but, 
on the contrary, possessing highly developed external 
means of civilization, they yet tend to become con- 
tinually more savage, more coarse, and more cruel. 

Such is the result of the absence from our society of 
the activity of that essential organ — art. But the 
consequences of the perverted activity of that organ 
are yet more harmful And they are numerous. 

The first consequence, plain for all to see, is the 
enormous expenditure of the labor of working people 
on things which are not only useless, but which, for 
the most part, are harmful; and more than that, the 
waste of priceless human lives on this unnecessary and 
harmful business. It is terrible to consider with what 
intensity, and amid what privations, millions of people 
— who lack time and opportunity to attend to what 
they and their families urgently require — labor for 10, 
12, or 14 hours on end, and even at night, setting the 
type for pseudo-artistic books which spread vice among 
mankind, or working for theaters, concerts, exhibitions, 
and picture-galleries, which, for the most part, also 
serve vice; but it is yet more terrible to reflect that 
lively, kindly children, capable of all that is good, are 
devoted from their early years to such tasks as these : 
that for 6, 8, or 10 hours a day, and for 10 or 15 years, 
some of them should play scales and exercises ; others 
should twist their limbs, walk on their toes, and lift 
their legs above their heads; a third set should sing 
solfeggios ; a fourth set, showing themselves off in all 
manner of ways, should pronounce verses ; a fifth set 
should draw from busts or from nude models and paint 
studies; a sixth set should write compositions accord- 
ing to the rules of certain periods ; and that in these 
occupations, unworthy of a human being, which are 
often continued long after full maturity, they should 
waste their physical and mental strength and lose all 
perception of the meaning of life. It is often said that 



WHAT IS ART? 155 

it is horrible and pitiful to see little acrobats putting 
their legs over their necks, but it is not less pitiful to 
see children of 10 giving concerts, and it is still worse 
to see school-boys of 10 who, as a preparation for 
literary work, have learnt by heart the exceptions to 
the Latin grammar. These people not only grow 
physically and mentally deformed, but also morally 
deformed, and become incapable of doing anything 
really needed by man. Occupying in society the rdle 
of amusers of the rich, they lose their sense of human 
dignity, and develop in themselves such a passion for 
public applause that they are always a prey to an in- 
flated and unsatisfied vanity which grows in them to 
diseased dimensions, and they expend their mental 
strength in efforts to obtain satisfaction for this passion. 
And what is most tragic of all is that these people, who 
for the sake of art are spoilt for life, not only do not 
render service to this art, but, on the contrary, inflict 
the greatest harm on it. They are taught in academies, 
schools, and conservatoires how to counterfeit art, and 
by learning this they so pervert themselves that they 
quite lose the capacity to produce works of real art, and 
become purveyors of that counterfeit, or trivial, or de- 
praved art which floods our society. This is the first 
obvious consequence of the perversion of the organ of 
art. 

The second consequence is that the productions of 
amusement-art, which are prepared in such terrific 
quantities by the armies of professional artists, enable 
the rich people of our times to live the lives they do, 
lives not only unnatural, but in contradiction to the hu- 
mane principles these people themselves profess. To 
live as do the rich, idle people, especially the women, 
far from nature and from animals, in artificial conditions, 
with muscles atrophied or misdeveloped by gymnastics, 
and with enfeebled vital energy, would be impossible 
were it not for what is called art — for this occupation 
and amusement which hides from them the meaning- 
lessness of their lives, and saves them from the dullness 
that oppresses them. Take from all these people the 



156 WHAT IS ART? 

theaters, concerts, exhibitions, piano-playing, songs, and 
novels with which they now fill their time, in full confi- 
dence that occupation with these things is a very refined, 
aesthetical, and therefore good occupation; take from 
the patrons of art who buy pictures, assist musicians, 
and are acquainted with writers, their rdlfe of protectors 
of that important matter art, and they will not be able 
to continue such a life, but will all be eaten up by ennui 
and spleen, and will become conscious of the meaning- 
lessness and wrongness of their present mode of life. 
Only occupation with what, among them, is considered 
art renders it possible for them to continue to live on, 
infringing all natural conditions, without perceiving the 
emptiness and cruelty of their lives. And this support 
afforded to the false manner of life pursued by the rich 
is the second consequence, and a serious one, of the 
perversion of art. 

The third consequence of the perversion of art is the 
perplexity produced in the minds of children and of 
plain folk. Among people not perverted by the false 
theories of our society, among workers and children, 
there exists a very definite conception of what people 
may be respected and praised for. In the minds of 
peasants and children the ground for praise or eulogy 
can only be either physical strength : Hercules, the 
heroes and conquerors; or moral, spiritual, strength: 
Sakya Muni giving up a beautiful wife and a kingdom 
to save mankind, Christ going to the cross for the truth 
he professed, and all the martyrs and the saints. Both 
are understood by peasants and children. They under- 
stand that physical strength must be respected, for it 
compels respect; and the moral strength of goodness 
an unperverted man cannot fail to respect, because all 
his spiritual being draws him toward it. But these 
people, children, and peasants, suddenly perceive that 
besides those praised, respected, and rewarded for 
physical or moral strength, there are others who are 
praised, extolled, and rewarded much more than the 
heroes of strength and virtue, merely because they sing 
well, compose verses, or dance. They see that singers, 



WHAT IS ART? 157 

composers, painters, ballet-dancers, earn millions of rou* 
bles and receive more honor than the saints do: and 
peasants and children are perplexed. 

When fifty years had elapsed after Pushkin's death, 
and, simultaneously, the cheap edition of his works be- 
gan to circulate among the people and a monument was 
erected to him in Moscow, I received more than a dozen 
letters from different peasants asking why Pushkin was 
raised to such dignity. And only the other day a liter- 
ate l man from Saratoff called on me who had evidently 
gone out of his mind over this very question. He was 
on his way to Moscow to expose the clergy for having 
taken part in raising a " monament " to Mr. Pushkin. 

Indeed, one need only imagine to oneself what the 
state of mind of such a man of the people must be 
when he learns, from such rumors and newspapers as 
reach him, that the clergy, the Government officials, 
and all the best people in Russia are triumphantly un- 
veiling a statue to a great man, the benefactor, the 
pride of Russia — Pushkin, of whom till then he had 
never heard. From all sides he reads or hears about 
this, and he naturally supposes that if such honors are 
rendered to any one, then without doubt he must have 
done something extraordinary ^— either some feat of 
strength or of goodness. He tries to learn who Push- 
kin was, and having discovered that Pushkin was neither 
a hero nor a general, but was a private person and a 
writer, he comes to the conclusion that Pushkin must 
have been a holy man and a teacher of goodness, and 
he hastens to read or to hear his life and works. But 
what must be his perplexity when he learns that Push- 
kin was a man of more than easy morals, who was killed 
in a duel, i.e. when attempting to murder another man, 
and that all his service consisted in writing verses about 
love, which were often very indecent. 

That a hero, or Alexander the Great, or Genghis 

1 In Russian it is customary to make a distinction between literate and 
illiterate people, i.e. between those who can and those who cannot read. 
Literate in this sense does not imply that the man would speak or write 
correctly. — Te. 



158 WHAT IS ART? 

Khan, or Napoleon were great, he understands, be- 
cause any one of them could have crushed him and a 
thousand like him; that Buddha, Socrates, and Christ 
were great he also understands, for he knows and feels 
that he and all men should be such as they were ; but 
why a man should be great because he wrote verses 
about the love of women he cannot make out. 

A similar perplexity must trouble the brain of a Breton 
or Norman peasant who hears that a monument, " une 
statue " (as to the Madonna), is being erected to Baude- 
laire, and reads, or is told, what the contents of his 
" Fleurs du Mai " are ; or, more amazing still, to Ver- 
laine, when he learns the story of that man's wretched, 
vicious life, and reads his verses. And what confusion 
it must cause in the brains of peasants when they learn 
that some Patti or Taglioni is paid ;£ 10,000 for a sea- 
son, or that a painter gets as much for a picture, or 
that authors of novels describing love-scenes have 
received even more than that. 

And it is the same with children. I remember how I 
passed through this stage of amazement and stupefac- 
tion, and only reconciled myself to this exaltation of 
artists to the level of heroes and saints by lowering in 
my own estimation the importance of moral excellence, 
and by attributing a false, unnatural meaning to works of 
art. And a similar confusion must occur in the soul of 
each child and each man of the people when he learns 
of the strange honors and rewards that are lavished on 
artists. This is the third consequence of the false rela- 
tion in which our society stands toward art. 

The fourth consequence is that people of the upper 
classes, more and more frequently encountering the con- 
tradictions between beauty and goodness, put the ideal 
of beauty first, thus freeing themselves from the de- 
mands of morality. These people, reversing the rdles, 
instead of admitting, as is really the case, that the art 
they serve is an antiquated affair, allege that morality is 
an antiquated affair, which can have no importance for 
people situated on that high plane of development on 
which they opine that they are situated. 



WHAT IS ART? 159 

This result of the false relation to art showed itself 
in our society long ago ; but recently, with its prophet 
Nietzsche and his adherents, and with the decadents 
and certain English aesthetes who coincide with him, 
it is being expressed with especial impudence. The 
decadents, and aesthetes of the type at one time rep- 
resented by Oscar Wilde, select as a theme for their 
productions the denial of morality and the laudation 
of vice. 

This art has partly generated, and partly coincides 
with, a similar philosophic theory. I recently received 
from America a book entitled, "The Survival of the 
Fittest: Philosophy of Power," 1896, by Ragnar Red- 
beard, Chicago. The substance of this book, as it is 
expressed in the editor's preface, is that to measure 
"right" by the false philosophy of the Hebrew prophets 
and " weepf ul " Messiahs is madness. Right is not the 
offspring of doctrine, but of power. All laws, com- 
mandments, or doctrines as to not doing to another 
what you do not wish done to you, have no inherent 
authority whatever, but receive it only from the club, 
the gallows, and the sword. A man truly free is under 
no obligation to obey any injunction, human or divine. 
Obedience is the sign of the degenerate. Disobedience 
is the stamp of the hero. Men should not be bound 
by moral rules invented by their foes. The whole world 
is a slippery battlefield. Ideal justice demands that the 
vanquished should be exploited, emasculated, and scorned. 
The free and brave may seize the world. And, there- 
fore, there should be eternal war for life, for land, for 
love, for women, for power, and for gold. (Something 
similar was said a few years ago by the celebrated and 
refined academician, Vogu6.) The earth and its treas- 
ures is "booty for the bold." 

The author has evidently by himself, independently 
of Nietzsche, come to the same conclusions which are 
professed by the new artists. 

Expressed in the form of a doctrine these positions 
startle us. In reality they are implied in the ideal of 
art serving beauty. The art of our upper classes has 



160 WHAT IS ART? 

educated people in this ideal of the over-man, 1 — which 
is, in reality, the old ideal of Nero, Stenka Razin, 2 Gen- 
ghis Khan, Robert Macaire, 8 or Napoleon, and all their 
accomplices, assistants, and adulators — and it supports 
this ideal with all its might. 

It is this supplanting of the ideal of what is right by 
the ideal of what is beautiful, i.e. of what is pleasant, 
that is the fourth consequence, and a terrible one, of 
the perversion of art in our society. It is fearful to 
think of what would befall humanity were such art to 
spread among the masses of the people. And it already 
begins to spread. 

Finally, the fifth and chief result is, that the art which 
flourishes in the upper classes of European society has 
a directly vitiating influence, infecting people with the 
worst feelings and with those most harmful to humanity, 
— superstition, patriotism, and, above all, sensuality. 

Look carefully into the causes of the ignorance of the 
masses, and you may see that the chief cause does not 
at all lie in the lack of schools and libraries, as we are 
accustomed to suppose, but in those superstitions, both 
ecclesiastical and patriotic, with which the people are 
saturated, and which are unceasingly generated by all 
the methods of art. Church superstitions are supported 

1 The over-man (Uebermensch), in the Nietzschean philosophy, is that 
superior type of man whom the struggle for existence is to evolve, and who 
will seek only his own power and pleasure, will know nothing of pity, and 
will have the right, because he will possess the power, to make ordinary 
people serve him. — Tr. 

2 Stenka Razin was by origin a common Cossack. His brother was 
hung for a breach of military discipline, and to this event Stenka Razin's 
hatred of the governing classes has been attributed. He formed a robber 
band, and subsequently headed a formidable rebellion, declaring himself 
in favor of freedom for the serfs, religious toleration, and the abolition of 
taxes. Like the government he opposed, he relied on force, and, though 
he used it largely in defense of the poor -against the rich, he still held to 

u The good old rule, the simple plan, 
That they should take who have the power, 
And they should keep who can." 

Like Robin Hood, he is favorably treated in popular legends. — Tr. 

8 Robert Macaire is a modern type of adroit and audacious rascality, 
He was the hero of a popular play produced in Paris in 1834. — Tr. 



WHAT IS ART? 161 

and produced by the poetry of prayers, hymns, painting, 
by the sculpture of images and of statues, by singing, by 
organs, by music, by architecture, and even by dramatic 
art in religious ceremonies. Patriotic superstitions are 
supported and produced by verses and stories, which 
are supplied even in schools, by music, by songs, by 
triumphal processions, by royal meetings, by martial 
pictures, and by monuments. 

Were it not for this continual activity in all depart- 
ments of art, perpetuating the ecclesiastical and patriotic 
intoxication and embitterment of the people, the masses 
would long ere this have attained to true enlighten- 
ment. 

But it is not only in Church matters and patriotic 
matters that art depraves; it is art in our time that 
serves as the chief cause of the perversion of people in 
the most important question of social life, — in their sex- 
ual relations. We nearly all know by our own experi- 
ence, and those who are fathers and mothers know in 
the case of their grown-up children also, what fearful 
mental and physical suffering, what useless waste of 
strength, people suffer merely as a consequence of dis- 
soluteness in sexual desire. 

Since the world began, since the Trojan war, which 
sprang from that same sexual dissoluteness, down to and 
including the suicides and murders of lovers described in 
almost every newspaper, a great proportion of the suf- 
ferings of the human race have come from this source. 

And what is art doing ? All art, real and counterfeit, 
with very few exceptions, is devoted to describing, depict- 
ing, and inflaming sexual love in every shape and form. 
When one remembers all those novels and their lust- 
kindling descriptions of love, from the most refined to 
the grossest, with which the literature of our society 
overflows ; if one only remembers all those pictures and 
statues representing women's naked bodies, and all sorts 
of abominations which are reproduced in illustrations 
and advertisements ; if one only remembers all the filthy 
operas and operettas, songs, and romances with which 
our world teems, involuntarily it seems as if existing art 



1 62 WHAT IS ART? 

had but one definite aim, — to disseminate vice as widely 
as possible. 

Such, though not all, are the most direct consequences 
of that perversion of art which has occurred in our society. 
So that what in our society is called art not only does 
not conduce to the progress of mankind, but, more than 
almost anything else, hinders the attainment of goodness 
in our lives. 

And therefore the question which involuntarily pre- 
sents itself to every man free from artistic activity and 
therefore not bound to existing art by self-interest, the 
question asked by me at the beginning of this work : Is 
it just that to what we call art, to a something belonging 
to but a small section of society, should be offered up 
such sacrifices of human labor, of human lives, and of 
goodness as are now being offered up? receives the 
natural reply : No ; it is unjust, and these things should 
not be ! So also replies sound sense and unperverted 
moral feeling. Not only should these things not be, not 
only should no sacrifices be offered up to what among us 
is called art, but, on the contrary, the efforts of those 
who wish to live rightly should be directed toward the 
destruction of this art, for it is one of the most cruel of 
the evils that harass our section of humanity. So that, 
were the question put : Would it be preferable for our 
Christian world to be deprived of all that is now esteemed 
to be art, and, together with the false, to lose all that is 
good in it ? I think that every reasonable and moral man 
would again decide the question as Plato decided it for 
his " Republic," and as all the Church Christian and Mo- 
hammedan teachers of mankind decided it, i.e. would 
say, " Rather let there be no art at all than continue the 
depraving art, or simulation of art, which now exists." 
Happily, no one has to face this question, and no one 
need adopt either solution. All that man can do, and 
that we — the so-called educated people, who are so 
placed that we have the possibility of understanding the 
meaning of the phenomena of our life — can and should 
do, is to understand the error we are involved in, and 
not harden our hearts in it, but seek for a way of escape. 



WHAT IS ART? 163 



CHAPTER XVIII 

The cause of the lie into which the art of our society 
has fallen was that people of the upper classes, having 
ceased to believe in the Church teaching (called Chris- 
tian), did not resolve to accept true Christian teaching 
in its real and fundamental principles of sonship to God 
and brotherhood to man, but continued to live on with- 
out any belief, endeavoring to make up for the absence 
of belief — some by hypocrisy, pretending still to believe 
in the nonsense of the Church creeds ; others by boldly 
asserting their disbelief ; others by refined agnosticism ; 
and others, again, by returning to the Greek worship of 
beauty, proclaiming egotism to be right, and elevating it 
to the rank of a religious doctrine. 

The cause of the malady was the non-acceptance of 
Christ's teaching in its real, i.e. its full, meaning. And 
the only cure for the illness lies in acknowledging that 
teaching in its full meaning. And such acknowledg- 
ment in our time is not only possible, but inevitable. 
Already to-day a man, standing on the height of the 
knowledge of our age, whether he be nominally a Catho- 
lic or a Protestant, cannot say that he really believes in 
the dogmas of the Church : in God being a Trinity, in 
Christ being God, in the scheme of redemption, and so 
forth ; nor can he satisfy himself by proclaiming his un- 
belief or skepticism, nor by relapsing into the worship 
of beauty and egotism. Above all, he can no longer 
say that we do not know the real meaning of Christ's 
teaching. That meaning has not only become accessible 
to all men of our times, but the whole life of man to-day 
is permeated by the spirit of that teaching, and, con- 
sciously or unconsciously, is guided by it. 

However differently in form people belonging to our 
Christian world may define the destiny of man ; whether 
they see it in human progress in whatever sense of the 
words, in the union of all men in a socialistic realm, or 
in the establishment of a commune ; whether they look 
forward to the union of mankind under the guidance of 



164 WHAT IS ART? 

one universal Church, or to the federation of the world, 
— however various in form their definitions of the desti- 
nation of human life may be, all men in our times already 
admit that the highest well-being attainable by men is 
to be reached by their union with one another. 

However people of our upper classes (feeling that 
their ascendancy can only be maintained as iong as they 
separate themselves — the rich and learned — from the 
laborers, the poor, and the unlearned) may seek to devise 
new conceptions of life by which their privileges may 
be perpetuated, — now the ideal of returning to antiquity, 
now mysticism, now Hellenism, now the cult of the su- 
perior person (over-man-ism), — they have, willingly or 
unwillingly, to admit the truth which is elucidating itself 
from all sides, voluntarily and involuntarily, namely, that 
our welfare lies only in the unification and the brother- 
hood of man. 

Unconsciously this truth is confirmed by the construc- 
tion of means of communication, — telegraphs, telephones, 
the press, and the ever increasing attainability of material 
well-being for every one, — and consciously it is affirmed 
by the destruction of superstitions which divide men, by 
the diffusion of the truths of knowledge, and by the 
expression of the ideal of the brotherhood of man in the 
best works of art of our time. 

Art is a spiritual organ of human life which cannot 
be destroyed, and therefore, notwithstanding all the 
efforts made by people of the upper classes to conceal 
the religious ideal by which humanity lives, that ideal is 
more and more clearly recognized by man, and even in 
our perverted society is more and more often partially 
expressed by science and by art. During the present 
century works of the higher kind of religious art have 
appeared more and more frequently, both in literature 
and in painting, permeated by a truly Christian spirit, as 
also works of the universal art of common life, accessible 
to all. So that even art knows the true ideal of our 
times, and tends toward it. On the one hand, the best 
works of art of our times transmit religious feelings urg- 
ing toward the union and the brotherhood of man (such 



N 



WHAT IS ART? 165 

are the works of Dickens, Hugo, Dostoievsky ; and in 
painting, of Millet, Bastien Lepage, Jules Breton, 
L'Hermitte, and others); on the other hand, they strive 
toward the transmission, not of feelings which are 
natural to people of the upper classes only, but of such 
feelings as may unite every one without exception. There 
are as yet few such works, but the need of them is already 
acknowledged. In recent times we also meet more and 
more frequently with attempts at publications, pictures, 
concerts, and theaters for the people. All this is still 
very far from accomplishing what should be done, but 
already the direction in which good art instinctively 
presses forward to regain the path natural to it can be 
discerned. 

The religious perception of our time — which consists 
in acknowledging that the aim of life (both collective 
and individual) is the union of mankind — is already so 
sufficiently distinct that people have now only to reject 
the false theory of beauty, according to which enjoyment 
is considered to be the purpose of art, and religious per- 
ception will naturally take its place as the guide of the 
art of our time. 

And as soon as the religious perception, which already 
unconsciously directs the life of man, is consciously ac- 
knowledged, then immediately and naturally the division 
of art, into art for the lower and art for the upper classes, 
will disappear. There will be one common, brotherly, 
universal art ; and first, that art will naturally be rejected 
which transmits feelings incompatible with the religious 
perception of our time, — feelings which do not unite, 
but divide men, — and then that insignificant, exclusive 
art will be rejected to which an importance is now at- 
tached to which it has no right 

And as soon as this occurs, art will immediately cease 
to be what it has been in recent times, — a means of 
making people coarser and more vicious; and it will 
become, what it always used to be and should be, a 
means by which humanity progresses toward unity and 
blessedness. 

Strange as the comparison may sound, what has hap 



1 66 WHAT IS ART? 

pened to the art of our circle and time is what happens 
to a woman who sells her womanly attractiveness, 
intended for maternity, for the pleasure of those who 
desire such pleasures. 

The art of our time and of our circle has become a 
prostitute. And this comparison holds good even in 
minute details. Like her it is not limited to certain 
times, like her it is always adorned, like her it is always 
salable, and like her it is enticing and ruinous. 

A real work of art can only arise in the soul of an 
artist occasionally as the fruit of the life he has lived, 
just as a child is conceived by its mother. But counter- 
feit art is produced by artisans and handicraftsmen con- 
tinually, if only consumers can be found. 

Real art, like the wife of an affectionate husband, 
needs no ornaments. But counterfeit art, like a prosti- 
tute, must always be decked out. 

The cause of the production of real art is the artist's 
inner need to express a feeling that has accumulated, just 
as for a mother the cause of sexual conception is love. 
The cause of counterfeit art, as of prostitution, is gain. 

The consequence of true art is the introduction of a new 
feeling into the intercourse of life, as the consequence 
of a wife's love is the birth of a new man into life. 

The consequences of counterf eit art are the perversion 
of man, pleasure which never satisfies, and the weaken- 
ing of man's spiritual strength. 

And this is what people of our day and of our circle 
should understand, in order to avoid the filthy torrent of 
depraved and prostituted art with which we are deluged. 



CHAPTER XIX 

People talk of the art of the future, meaning by "art 
of the future " some especially refined, new art, which, 
as they imagine, will be developed out of that exclusive 
art of one class which is now considered the highest art 
But no such new art of the future can or will be found 
Our exclusive art, that of the upper classes of Christen' 



WHAT IS ART? 167 

dom, has found its way into a blind alley. The direction 
in which it has been going leads nowhere. Having once 
let go of that which is most essential for art (namely, the 
guidance given by religious perception), that art has be- 
come ever more and more exclusive, and therefore ever 
more and more perverted, until, finally, it has come to 
nothing. The art of the future, that which is really com- 
ing, will not be a development of present-day art, but 
will arise on completely other and new foundations, hav- 
ing nothing in common with those by which our present 
art of the upper classes is guided. 

Art of the future, that is to say, such part of art as 
will be chosen from among all the art diffused among 
mankind, will consist, not in transmitting feelings access- 
ible only to members of the rich classes, as is the case 
to-day, but in transmitting such feelings as embody the 
highest religious perception of our times. Only those 
productions will be considered art which transmit feel- 
ings drawing men together in brotherly union, or such 
universal feelings as can unite all men. Only such art 
will be chosen, tolerated, approved, and diffused. But 
art transmitting feelings flowing from antiquated, worn- 
out religious teaching, — Church art, patriotic art, volup- 
tuous art, transmitting feelings of superstitious fear, of 
pride, of vanity, of ecstatic admiration of national heroes, 
— art exciting exclusive love of one's own people, or 
sensuality, will be considered bad, harmful art, and will 
be censured and despised by public opinion. All the 
rest of art, transmitting feelings accessible only to a sec- 
tion of people, will be considered unimportant, and will 
be neither blamed nor praised. And the appraisement 
of art in general will devolve, not, as is now the case, on 
a separate class of rich people, but on the whole people ; 
so that for a work to be esteemed good, and to be ap- 
proved of and diffused, it will have to satisfy the demands, 
not of a few people living in identical and often unnat- 
ural conditions, but it will have to satisfy the demands 
of all those great masses of people who are situated in 
the natural conditions of laborious life. 

And the artists producing art will also not be, as now, 



1 68 WHAT IS ART? 

merely a few people selected from a small section of the 
nation, members of the upper classes or their hangers- 
on, but will consist of all those gifted members of the 
whole people who prove capable of, and are inclined 
toward, artistic activity. 

Artistic activity will then be accessible to all men. It 
will become accessible to the whole people, because, in 
the first place, in the art of the future, not only will that 
complex technique, which deforms the productions of the 
art of to-day and requires so great an effort and expendi- 
ture of time, not be demanded, but, on the contrary, the 
demand will be for clearness, simplicity, and brevity — 
conditions mastered, not by mechanical exercises, but by 
the education of taste. And secondly, artistic activity 
will become accessible to all men of the people because, 
instead of the present professional schools which only 
some can enter, all will learn music and depictive art 
(singing and drawing) equally with letters in the elemen- 
tary schools, and in such a way that every man, having 
received the first principles of drawing and music, and 
feeling a capacity for, and a call to, one or other of the 
arts, will be able to perfect himself in it 

People think that if there are no special art schools 
the technique of art will deteriorate. Undoubtedly, if 
by technique we understand those complications of art 
which are now considered an excellence, it will deterio- 
rate ; but if by technique is understood clearness, beauty, 
simplicity, and compression in works of art, then, even 
if the elements of drawing and music were not to be 
taught in the national schools, the technique will not 
only not deteriorate, but, as is shown by all peasant art, 
will be a hundred times better. It will be improved, be- 
cause all the artists of genius now hidden among the 
masses will become producers of art and will give models 
of excellence, which (as has always been the case) will 
be the best schools of technique for their successors. 
For every true artist, even now, learns his technique, 
chiefly, not in the schools, but in life, from the examples 
of the great masters ; then — when the producers of art 
will be the best artists of the whole nation, and there 



WHAT IS ART? 169 

will be more such examples, and they will be more ac- 
cessible — such part of the school training as the future 
artist will lose will be a hundredfold compensated for by 
the training he will receive from the numerous examples 
of good art diffused in society. 

Such will be one difference between present and fu- 
ture art. Another difference will be that art will not be 
produced by professional artists receiving payment for 
their work and engaged on nothing else besides their 
art. The art of the future will be produced by all the 
members of the community who feel the need of such 
activity, but they will occupy themselves with art only 
when they feel such need. 

In our society people think that an artist will work 
better, and produce more, if he has a secured mainte- 
nance. And this opinion would serve once more to show 
clearly, were such demonstration still needed, that what 
among us is considered art is not art, but only its counter- 
feit. It is quite true that for the production of boots or 
loaves division of labor is very advantageous, and that 
the bootmaker or baker who need not prepare his own 
dinner or fetch his own fuel will make more boots or 
loaves than if he had to busy himself about these mat- 
ters. But art is not a handicraft ; it is the transmission 
of feeling the artist has experienced. And sound feel- 
ing can only be engendered in a man when he is living 
on all its sides the life natural and proper to mankind. 
And therefore security of maintenance is a condition 
most harmful to an artist's true productiveness, since it 
removes him from the condition natural to all men, — 
that of struggle with nature for the maintenance of both 
his own life and that of others, — and thus deprives him 
of opportunity and possibility to experience the most 
important and natural feelings of man. There is no 
position more injurious to an artist's productiveness than 
that position of complete security and luxury in which 
artists usually live in our society. 

The artist of the future will live the common life of 
man, earning his subsistence by some kind of labor. 
The fruits of that highest spiritual strength which passes 



x 7 o WHAT IS ART? 

through him he will try to share with the greatest pos- 
sible number of people, for in such transmission to others 
of the feelings that have arisen in him he will find his 
happiness and his reward. The artist of the future will 
be unable to understand how an artist, whose chief de- 
light is in the wide diffusion of his works, could give 
them only in exchange for a certain payment. 

Until the dealers are driven out, the temple of art will 
not be a temple. But the art of the future will drive 
them out. 

And therefore the subject-matter of the art of the 
future, as I imagine it to myself, will be totally unlike 
that of to-day. It will consist, not in the expression of 
exclusive feelings : pride, spleen, satiety, and all possible 
forms of voluptuousness, available and interesting only 
to people who, by force, have freed themselves from the 
labor natural to human beings ; but it will consist in the 
expression of feelings experienced by a man living 
the life natural to all men and flowing from the religious 
perception of our times, or of such feelings as are open 
to all men without exception. 

To people of our circle who do not know and cannot 
or will not understand the feelings which will form the 
subject-matter of the art of the future, such subject- 
matter appears very poor in comparison with those sub- 
tleties of exclusive art with which they are now occupied. 
"What is there fresh to be said in the sphere of the 
Christian feeling of love of one's fellow-man ? The feel- 
ings common to every one are so insignificant and mo- 
notonous," think they. And yet, in our time, the really 
fresh feelings can only be religious, Christian feelings, 
and such as are open, accessible, to all. The feelings 
flowing from the religious perception of our times, Chris- 
tian feelings, are infinitely new and varied, only not in 
the sense some people imagine, — not that they can be 
evoked by the depiction of Christ and of gospel episodes, 
or by repeating in new forms the Christian truths of 
unity, brotherhood, equality, and love, — but in that all 
the oldest, commonest, and most hackneyed phenomena 
of life evoke the newest, most unexpected, and touching 



WHAT IS ART? 171 

emotions as soon as a man regards them from the Chris- 
tian point of view. 

What can be older than the relations between married 
couples, of parents to children, of children to parents ; 
the relations of men to their fellow-countrymen and to 
foreigners, to an invasion, to defense, to property, to 
the land, or to animals ? But as soon as a man regards 
these matters from the Christian point of view, endlessly 
varied, fresh, complex, and strong emotions immediately 
arise. 

And, in the same way, that realm of subject-matter 
for the art of the future which relates to the simplest 
feelings of common life open to all will not be narrowed, 
but widened. In our former art only the expression of 
feelings natural to people of a certain exceptional posi- 
tion was considered worthy of being transmitted by art, 
and even then only on condition that these feelings were 
transmitted in a most refined manner, incomprehensible 
to the majority of men ; all the immense realm of folk- 
art, and children's art — jests, proverbs, riddles, songs, 
dances, children's games, and mimicry — was not es- 
teemed a domain worthy of art. 

The artist of the future will understand that to com- 
pose a fairy-tale, a little song which will touch, a lul- 
laby or a riddle which will entertain, a jest which will 
amuse, or to draw a sketch which will delight dozens 
of generations or millions of children and adults, is 
incomparably more important and more fruitful than 
to compose a novel or a symphony, or paint a picture 
which will divert some members of the wealthy classes 
for a short time, and then be forever forgotten. The 
region of this art of the simple feelings accessible to 
all is enormous, and it is as yet almost untouched. 

The art of the future, therefore, will not be poorer, 
but infinitely richer in subject-matter. And the form 
of the art of the future will also not be inferior to the 
present forms of art, but infinitely superior to them. 
Superior, not in the sense of having a refined and 
complex technique, but in the sense of the capacity 
briefly, simply, and clearly to transmit, without any 



172 WHAT IS ART? 

superfluities, the feeling which the artist has experi- 
enced and wishes to transmit. 

I remember once speaking to a famous astronomer 
who had given public lectures on the spectrum analy- 
sis of the stars of the Milky Way, and saying it would 
be a good thing if, with his knowledge and masterly 
delivery, he would give a lecture merely on the forma- 
tion and movements of the earth, for certainly there 
were many people at his lecture on the spectrum 
analysis of the stars of the Milky Way, especially 
among the women, who did not well know why night 
follows day and summer follows winter. The wise 
astronomer smiled as he answered, " Yes, it would be a 
good thing, but it would be very difficult. To lecture on 
the spectrum analysis of the Milky Way is far easier." 

And so it is in art. To write a rhymed poem deal- 
ing with the times of Cleopatra, or paint a picture of 
Nero burning Rome, or compose a symphony in the 
manner 6f Brahms or Richard Strauss, or an opera 
like Wagner's, is far easier than to tell a simple story 
without any unnecessary details, yet so that it should 
transmit the feelings of the narrator, or to draw a 
pencil-sketch which should touch or amuse the be- 
holder, or to compose four bars of clear and simple 
melody, without any accompaniment, which should 
convey an impression and be remembered by those 
who hear it. 

" It is impossible for us, with our culture, to return 
to a primitive state," say the artists of our time. " It 
is impossible for us now to write such stories as that 
of Joseph or the ' Odyssey/ to produce such statues as 
the Venus of Milo, or to compose such music as the 
folk-songs." 

And indeed, for the artists of our society and day, 
it is impossible, but not for the future artist, who will 
be free from all the perversion of technical improve- 
ments hiding the absence of subject-matter, and who, 
not being a professional artist and receiving no pay- 
ment for his activity, will only produce art when he 
feels impelled to do so by an irresistible inner impulse. 



WHAT IS ART? 173 

The art of the future will thus be completely dis- 
tinct, both in subject-matter and in form, from what 
is now called art. The only subject-matter of the art 
of the future will be either feelings drawing men 
toward union, or such as already unite them ; and the 
forms of art will be such as will be open to every 
one. And therefore, the ideal of excellence in the 
future will not be the exclusiveness of feeling, access- 
ible only to some, but, on the contrary, its universality. 
And not bulkiness, obscurity, and complexity of form, 
as is now esteemed, but, on the contrary, brevity, 
clearness, and simplicity of expression. Only when 
art has attained to that, will art neither divert nor de- 
prave men as it does now, calling on them to expend 
their best strength on it, but be what it should be, — 
a vehicle wherewith to transmit religious, Christian 
perception from the realm of reason and intellect into 
that of feeling, and really drawing people in actual 
life nearer to that perfection and unity indicated to 
them by their religious perception. 



CHAPTER XX 

THE CONCLUSION 

I have accomplished, to the best of my ability, this 
work which has occupied me for fifteen years, on a sub- 
ject near to me — that of art. By saying that this subject 
has occupied me for fifteen years, I do not mean that 
I have been writing this book fifteen years, but only 
that I began to write on art fifteen years ago, thinking 
that when once I undertook the task I should be able 
to accomplish it without a break. It proved, however, 
that my views on the matter then were so far from clear 
that I could not arrange them in a way that satisfied 
me. From that time I have never ceased to think on 
the subject, and I have recommenced to write on it six 
or seven times ; but each time, after writing a consider- 
able part of it, I have found myself unable to bring the 



174 WHAT IS ART? 

work to a satisfactory conclusion, and have had to put 
it aside. Now I have finished it ; and however badly 
I may have performed the task, my hope is that my 
fundamental thought as to the false direction the art 
of our society has taken and is following, as to the 
reasons of this, and as to the real destination of art, is 
correct, and that therefore my work will not be without 
avail. But that this should come to pass, and that art 
should really abandon its false path and take the new 
direction, it is necessary that another equally important 
human spiritual activity, — science, — in intimate de- 
pendence on which art always rests, should abandon the 
false path which it too, like art, is following. 

Science and art are as closely bound together as the 
lungs and the heart, so that if one organ is vitiated the 
other cannot act rightly. 

True science investigates and brings to human per- 
ception such truths and such knowledge as the people 
of a given time and society consider most important. 
Art transmits these truths from the region of perception 
to the region of emotion. Therefore, if the path chosen 
by science be false, so also will be the path taken by art. 
Science and art are like a certain kind of barge with 
kedge-anchors which used to ply on our rivers. Science, 
like the boats which took the anchors up-stream and made 
them secure, gives direction to the forward movement ; 
while art, like the windlass worked on the barge to draw 
it toward the anchor, causes the actual progression. 
And thus a false activity of science inevitably causes a 
correspondingly false activity of art. 

As art in general is the transmission of every kind of 
feeling, but in the limited sense of the word we only call 
that art which transmits feelings acknowledged by us to 
be important, so also science in general is the trans- 
mission of all possible knowledge; but in the limited 
sense of the word we call science that which transmits 
knowledge acknowledged by us to be important. 

And the degree of importance, both of the feelings 
transmitted by art and of the information transmitted by 
science, is decided by the religious perception of the given 



WHAT IS ART? 175 

time and society, ue. by the common understanding of 
the purpose of their lives possessed by the people of 
that time or society. 

That which most of all contributes to the fulfilment 
of that purpose will be studied most ; that which con- 
tributes less will be studied less ; that which does not 
contribute at all to the fulfilment of the purpose of hu- 
man life will be entirely neglected, or, if studied, such 
study will not be accounted science. So it always has 
been, and so it should be now ; for such is the nature of 
human knowledge and of human life. But the science 
of the upper classes of our time, which not only does 
not acknowledge any religion, but considers every reli- 
gion to be mere superstition, could not and cannot make 
such distinctions. 

Scientists of our day affirm that they study everything 
impartially ; but as everything is too much (is in fact an 
infinite number of objects), and as it is impossible to 
study all alike, this is only said in the theory, while in 
practice not everything is studied, and study is applied 
far from impartially, only that being studied which, on 
the one hand, is most wanted by, and on the other hand, 
is pleasantest to, those people who occupy themselves 
with science. And what the people, belonging to the 
upper classes, who are occupying themselves with science 
most want is the maintenance of the system under which 
those classes retain their privileges ; and what is pleas- 
antest are such things as satisfy idle curiosity, do not de- 
mand great mental efforts, and can be practically applied. 

And therefore one side of science, including theology 
and philosophy adapted to the existing order, as also 
history and political economy of the same sort, are 
chiefly occupied in proving that the existing order is 
the very one which ought to exist ; that it has come into 
existence and continues to exist by the operation of im- 
mutable laws not amenable to human will, and that all 
efforts to change it are therefore harmful and wrong. 
The other part, experimental science, — including mathe- 
matics, astronomy, chemistry, physics, botany, and all 
the natural sciences, — is exclusively occupied with 



176 WHAT IS ART? 

things that have no direct relation to human life : with 
what is curious, and with things of which practical ap- 
plication advantageous to people of the upper classes 
can be made. And to justify that selection of objects 
of study which (in conformity to their own position) the 
men of science of our times have made, they have de- 
vised a theory of science for science's sake, quite similar 
to the theory of art for art's sake. 

As by the theory of art for art's sake it appears that 
occupation with all those things that please us — is art, 
so, by the theory of science for science's sake, the study 
of that which interests us — is science. 

So that one side of science, instead of studying how 
people should live in order to fulfil their mission in life, 
demonstrates the righteousness and immutability of the 
bad and false arrangements of life which exist around 
us; while the other part, experimental science, occu- 
pies itself with questions of simple curiosity or with 
technical improvements. 

The first of these divisions of science is harmful, not 
only because it confuses people's perceptions and gives 
false decisions, but also because it exists, and occupies 
the ground which should belong to true science. It 
does this harm, that each man, in order to approach the 
study of the most important questions of life, must first 
refute these erections of lies which have during ages 
been piled around each of the most essential questions 
of human life, and which are propped up by all the 
strength of human ingenuity. 

The second division — the one of which modern sci- 
ence is so particularly proud, and which is considered 
by many people to be the only real science — is harmful 
in that it diverts attention from the really important 
subjects to insignificant subjects, and is also directly 
harmful in that, under the evil system of society which 
the first division of science justifies and supports, a great 
part of the technical gains of science are turned, not to 
the advantage, but to the injury of mankind. 

Indeed, it is only to those who are devoting their lives 
to such study that it seems as if all the inventions which 



WHAT IS ART? 177 

are made in the sphere of natural science were very 
important and useful things. And to these people it 
seems so only when they do not look around them and 
do not see what is really important. They only need 
tear themselves away from the psychological micro- 
scope under which they examine the objects of their 
study, and look about them, in order to see how insig- 
nificant is all that has afforded them such narve pride, 
all that knowledge not only of geometry of ^-dimensions, 
spectrum analysis of the Milky Way, the form of atoms, 
dimensions of human skulls of the Stone Age, and simi- 
lar trifles, but even our knowledge of micro-organisms, 
X-rays, etc., in comparison with such knowledge as we 
have thrown aside and handed over to the perversions 
of the professors of theology, jurisprudence, political 
economy, financial science, etc. We need only look 
around us to perceive that the activity proper to real 
science is not the study of whatever happens to interest 
us, but the study of how man's life should be established, 
— the study of those questions of religion, morality, and 
social life, without the solution of which all our knowl- 
edge of nature will be harmful or insignificant. 

We are highly delighted and very proud that our 
science renders it possible to utilize the energy of a 
waterfall and make it work in factories, or that we have 
pierced tunnels through mountains, and so forth. But 
the pity of it is that we make the force of the waterfall 
labor, not for the benefit of the workmen, but to enrich 
capitalists who produce articles of luxury or weapons 
of man-destroying war. The same dynamite with which 
we blast the mountains to pierce tunnels we use for 
wars, from which latter we not only do not intend to 
abstain, but which we consider inevitable, and for which 
we unceasingly prepare. 

If we are now able to inoculate preventatively with 
diphtheritic microbes, to find a needle in a body by 
means of X-rays, to straighten a hunched-back, cure 
syphilis, and perform wonderful operations, we should 
not be proud of these acquisitions either (even were 
they all established beyond dispute) if we fully under* 



i 7 8 WHAT IS ART? 

stood the true purpose of real science. If but one-tenth 
of the efforts now spent on objects of pure curiosity or 
of merely practical application were expended on real 
science organizing the life of man, more than half the 
people now sick would not have the illnesses from which 
a small minority of them now get cured in hospitals. 
There would be no poor-blooded and deformed children 
growing up in factories, no death-rates, as now, of fifty 
per cent among children, no deterioration of whole gen- 
erations, no prostitution, no syphilis, and no murdering 
of hundreds of thousands in wars, nor those horrors of 
folly and of misery whidh our present science considers 
a necessary condition of human life. 

We have so perverted the conception of science that 
it seems strange to men of our day to allude to sciences 
which should prevent the mortality of children, prostitu- 
tion, syphilis, the deterioration of whole generations, and 
the wholesale murder of men. It seems to us that 
science is only then real science when a man in a labora- 
tory pours liquids from one jar into another, or analyzes 
the spectrum, or cuts up frogs and porpoises, or weaves 
in a specialized, scientific jargon an obscure network 
of conventional phrases — theological, philosophical, his- 
torical, juridical, or politico-economical — semi-intelligible 
to the man himself, and intended to demonstrate that 
what now is, is what should be. 

But science, true science, — such science as would 
really deserve the respect which is now claimed by the 
followers of one (the least important) part of science, — 
is not at all such as this : real science lies in knowing 
what we should and what we should not believe, in 
knowing how the associated life of man should and 
should not be constituted ; how to treat sexual relations, 
how to educate children, how to use the land, how to 
cultivate it oneself without oppressing other people, how 
to treat foreigners, how to treat animals, and much more 
that is important for the life of man. 

Such has true science ever been and such it should be. 
And such science is springing up in our times ; but, on 
the one hand, such true science is denied and refuted by 



WHAT IS ART? 179 

all those scientific people who defend the existing order 
of society, and, on the other hand, it is considered 
empty, unnecessary, unscientific science by those who 
are engrossed in experimental science. 

For instance, books and sermons appear, demonstrat- 
ing the antiquatedness and absurdity of Church dog- 
mas, as well as the necessity of establishing a reasonable 
religious perception suitable to our times, and all the 
theology that is considered to be real science is only 
engaged in refuting these works and in exercising human 
intelligence again and again to find support and justifi- 
cation for superstitions long since outlived, and which 
have now become quite meaningless. Or a sermon 
appears showing that land should not be an object of 
private possession, and that the institution of private 
property in land is a chief cause of the poverty of the 
masses. Apparently science, real science, should wel- 
come such a sermon and draw further deductions from 
this position. But the science of our times does nothing 
of the kind : on the contrary, political economy demon- 
strates the opposite position ; namely, that landed prop- 
erty, like every other form of property, must be more 
and more concentrated in the hands of a small number 
of owners. Again, in the same way, one would suppose 
it to be the business of real science to demonstrate the 
irrationality, unprofitableness, and immorality of war and 
of executions; or the inhumanity and harmfulness . of 
prostitution ; or the absurdity, harmfulness, and immo- 
rality of using narcotics or of eating animals; or the 
irrationality, harmfulness, and antiquatedness of patriot- 
ism. And such works exist, but are all considered 
unscientific ; while works to prove that all these things 
ought to continue, and works intended to satisfy an idle 
thirst for knowledge lacking any relation to human life, 
are considered to be scientific. 

The deviation of the science of our time from its 
true purpose is strikingly illustrated by those ideals 
which are put forward by some scientists, and are not 
denied, but admitted, by the majority of scientific men. 

These ideals are expressed not only in stupid, fashion- 



180 WHAT IS ART? 

able books, describing the world as it will be in iooo 
or 3000 years' time, but also by sociologists who 
consider themselves serious men of science. These 
ideals are that food, instead of being obtained from the 
land by agriculture, will be prepared in laboratories 
by chemical means, and that human labor will be almost 
entirely superseded by the utilization of natural forces. 

Man will not, as now, eat an egg laid by a hen he has 
kept, or bread grown on his field, or an apple from 
a tree he has reared and which has blossomed and 
matured in his sight ; but he will eat tasty, nutritious, 
food which will be prepared in laboratories by the con- 
joint labor of many people in which he will take a small 
part. Man will hardly need to labor, so that all men 
will be able to yield to idleness as the upper, ruling 
classes now yield to it. 

Nothing shows more plainly than these ideals to what 
a degree the science of our times has deviated from the 
true path. 

The great majority of men in our times lack good and 
sufficient food (as well as dwellings and clothes and all 
the first necessaries of life). And this great majority 
of men is compelled, to the injury of its well-being, to 
labor continually beyond its strength. Both these evils 
can easily be removed by abolishing mutual strife, 
luxury, and the unrighteous distribution of wealth, in a 
word, by the abolition of a false and harmful order and 
the establishment of a reasonable, human manner of 
life. But science considers the existing order of things 
to be as immutable as the movements of the planets, 
and therefore assumes that the purpose of science is — 
not to elucidate the falseness of this order and to arrange 
a new, reasonable way of life — but, under the existing 
order of things, to feed everybody and enable all to 
be as idle as the ruling classes, who live a depraved 
life, now are. 

And, meanwhile, it is forgotten that nourishment with 
corn, vegetables, and fruit raised from the soil by one's 
own labor is the pleasantest, healthiest, easiest, and most 
natural nourishment, and that the work of using one's 



WHAT IS ART? 181 

muscles is as necessary a condition of life as is the 
oxidation of the blood by breathing. 

To invent means whereby people might, while con- 
tinuing our false division of property and labor, be well 
nourished by means of chemically prepared food, and 
might make the forces of nature work for them, is like 
inventing means to pump oxygen into the lungs of 
a man kept in a closed chamber, the air of which is bad, 
when all that is needed is to cease to confine the man 
in the closed chamber. 

In the vegetable and animal kingdoms a laboratory 
for the production of food has been arranged, such as 
can be surpassed by no professors, and to enjoy the 
fruits of this laboratory, and to participate in it, man 
has only to yield to that ever joyful impulse to labor, 
without which man's life is a torment. And lo and 
behold ! the scientists of our times, instead of employ- 
ing all their strength to abolish whatever hinders man 
from utilizing the good things prepared for him, ac- 
knowledge the conditions under which man is deprived 
of these blessings to be unalterable, and instead of 
arranging the life of man so that he might work joyfully 
and be fed from the soil, they devise methods which will 
cause him to become an artificial abortion. It is like 
not helping a man out of confinement into the fresh air, 
but devising means, instead, to pump into him the neces- 
sary quantity of oxygen and arranging so that he may 
live in a stifling cellar instead of living at home. 

Such false ideals could not exist if science were not 
on a false path. 

And yet the feelings transmitted by art grow up on 
the bases supplied by science. 

But what feelings can such misdirected science evoke ? 
One side of this science evokes antiquated feelings, 
which humanity has used up, and which, in our times, 
are bad and exclusive. The other side, occupied with 
the study of subjects unrelated to the conduct of human 
life, by its very nature cannot serve as a basis for art. 

So that art in our times, to be art, must either open 
up its own road independently of science, or must take 



1 82 WHAT IS ART? 

direction from the unrecognized science which is de- 
nounced by the orthodox section of science. And this 
is what art, when it even partially fulfils its mission, is 
doing. 

It is to be hoped that the work I have tried to perform 
concerning art will be performed also for science — that 
the falseness of the theory of science for science's sake 
will be demonstrated; that the necessity of acknowl- 
edging Christian teaching in its true meaning will be 
clearly shown, that on the basis of that teaching a re- 
appraisement will be made of the knowledge we possess, 
and of which we are so proud ; that the secondariness 
and insignificance of experimental science, and the 
primacy and importance of religious, moral, and social 
knowledge will be established ; and that such knowledge 
will not, as now, be left to the guidance of the upper 
classes only, but will form a chief interest of all free, 
truth-loving men, such as those who, not in agreement 
with the upper classes, but in their despite, have always 
forwarded the real science of life. 

Astronomical, physical, chemical, and biological sci- 
ence, as also technical and medical science, will be 
studied only in so far as they can help to free mankind 
from religious, juridical, or social deceptions, or can 
serve to promote the well-being of all men, and not of 
any single class. 

Only then will science cease to be what it is now, — on 
the one hand a system of sophistries, needed for the 
maintenance of the existing worn-out order of society, 
and, on the other hand, a shapeless mass of miscella- 
neous knowledge, for the most part good for little or 
nothing, — and become a shapely and organic whole, 
having a definite and reasonable purpose comprehensible 
to all men; namely, the purpose of bringing to the 
consciousness of men the truths that flow from the reli- 
gious perception of our times. 

And only then will art, which is always dependent on 
science, be what it might and should be, an organ co- 
equally important with science for the life and progress 
of mankind. 



WHAT IS ART? 183 

Art is not a pleasure, a solace, or an amusement ; art 
is a great matter. Art is an organ of human life, trans- 
mitting man's reasonable perception into feeling. In 
our age the common religious perception of men is the 
consciousness of the brotherhood of man — we know 
that the well-being of man lies in union with his fellow- 
men. True science should indicate the various methods 
of applying this consciousness to life. Art should trans- 
form this perception into feeling. 

The task of art is enormous. Through the influence 
of real art, aided by science guided by religion, that 
peaceful cooperation of man which is now obtained by 
external means — by our law-courts, police, charitable 
institutions, factory inspection, etc. — should be obtained 
by man's free and joyous activity. Art should cause 
violence to be set aside. 

And it is only art that can accomplish this. 

All that now, independently of the fear of violence 
and punishment, makes the social life of man possible 
(and already now this is an enormous part of the order 
of our lives) — all this has been brought about by art. 
If by art it has been inculcated how people should treat 
religious objects, their parents, their children, their wives, 
their relations, strangers, foreigners; how to conduct 
themselves to their elders, their superiors, to those who 
suffer, to their enemies, and to animals ; and if this has 
been obeyed through generations by millions of people, 
not only unenforced by any violence, but so that the 
force of such customs can be shaken in no way but by 
means of art — then, by the same art, other customs, 
more in accord with the religious perception of our time, 
may be evoked. If art has been able to convey the 
sentiment of reverence for images, for the eucharist, and 
for the king's person ; of shame at betraying a comrade, 
devotion to a flag, the necessity of revenge for an insult, 
the need to sacrifice one's labor for the erection and 
adornment of churches, the duty of defending one's 
honor or the glory of one's native land — then that 
same art can also evoke reverence for the dignity of 
every man and for the life of every animal ; can make 



i8 4 WHAT IS ART? 

men ashamed of luxury, of violence, of revenge, or of 
using for their pleasure that of which others are in need ; 
can compel people freely, gladly, and without noticing it, 
to sacrifice themselves in the service of man. 

The task for art to accomplish is to make that feel- 
ing of brotherhood and love of one's neighbor, now 
attained only by the best members of society, the 
customary feeling and the instinct of all men. By 
evoking, under imaginary conditions, the feeling of 
brotherhood and love, religious art will train men to ex- 
perience those same feelings under similar circumstances 
in actual life ; it will lay in the souls of men the rails 
along which the actions of those whom art thus educates 
will naturally pass. And universal art, by uniting the 
most different people in one common feeling, by destroy- 
ing separation, will educate people to union, will show 
them, not by reason, but by life itself, the joy of universal 
union reaching beyond the bounds set by life. 

The destiny of art in our time is to transmit from the 
realm of reason to the realm of feeling the truth that 
well-being for men consists in being united together, and 
to set up, in place of the existing reign of force, that 
kingdom of God, i.e. of love, which we all recognize to 
be the highest aim of human life. 

Possibly, in the future, science may reveal to art yet 
newer and higher ideals, which art may realize ; but, in 
our time, the destiny of art is clear and definite. The 
task for Christian art is to establish brotherly union 
among men. 



APPENDIX I 

This is the first page of Mallarm^s book, " Divaga- 
tions" : — 

LE PHENOMENE FUTUR 

Un ciel pale, sur le monde qui finit de decrepitude, va peut- 
fetre partir avec les nuages : les lambeaux de la pourpre us£e 
des couchants d£teignent dans une rivi&re dormant k l'horizon 



x 



WHAT IS ART? 185 

submerge de rayons et d'eau. Les arbres s'ennuient, et, sous 
leur feuillage blanchi (de la poussiere du temps plutdt que 
celle des chemins) monte la maison en toile de Montreur de 
choses Passes : maint reVerb&re attend le cr£puscule et ravive 
les visages d'une malheureuse foule, vaincue par la maladie im- 
mortelle et le p£che* des siecles, d'horames pres de leurs che* tives 
complices enceintes des fruits mis£rables avec lesquels p6rira 
la terre. Dans le silence inquiet de tous les yeux suppliant la- 
bas le soleil qui, sous Peau, s'enfonce avec le ctesespoir d'un cri, 
voici le simple boniment : " Nulle enseigne ne vous regale du 
spectacle int£rieur, car il n'est pas maintenant un peintre capa- 
ble d'en donner une ombre triste. J'apporte, vivante (et pr6- 
serv£e a travers les ans par la science souveraine) une Ferame 
d'autrefois. Quelque folie, originelle et naive, une extase d'or, 
je ne sais quoi ! par elle nomine" sa chevelure, se ploie avec la 
grace des 6toffes autour d'un visage qu* 6claire la nudity san- 
glante de ses levres. A la place du vetement vain, elle a un 
corps ; et les yeux, semblables aux pierres rares ! ne valent pas 
ce regard qui sort de sa chair heureuse : des seins lev6s comme 
s'ils Itaient pleins d'un lait kernel, la pointe vers le del, les 
jambes lisses qui gardent le sel de la mer premiere." Se rap- 
pelant leurs pauvres Spouses, chauves, morbides et pleines 
d'horreur, les maris se pressent : elles aussi par curiosity mi- 
lancoliques, veulent voir. 

Quand tous auront contempt la noble creature, vestige de 
quelque Spoque d£ja maudite, les uns indiflfcrents, car ils n'au- 
ront pas eu la force de comprendre, mais d'autres navr£s et la 
paupiere humide de larmes r6sign6es, se regarderont; tandis 
que les poetes de ces temps, sentant se rallumer leur yeux 
6teints, s'achemineront vers leur larape, le cerveau ivre un in- 
stant d'une gloire confuse, hant^s du Rythme et dans l'oubli 
d'exister k une Ipoque qui survit k la beauts. 

THE FUTURE PHENOMENON— by Mallarm^. 

A pale sky, above the world that is ending through decrepitude, 
going, perhaps, to pass away with the clouds : shreds of worn-out 
purple of the sunsets wash off their color in a river sleeping on the 
horizon, submerged with rays and water. The trees are weary and, 
beneath their foliage, whitened (by the dust of time rather than that 
of the roads), rises the canvas house of " Showman of things Past. 11 
Many a lamp awaits the gloaming, and brightens the feces of a 
miserable crowd vanquished by the immortal illness and the sin of 
ages, of men by the sides of their puny accomplices pregnant with 



1 86 WHAT IS ART? 

the miserable fruit with which the world will perish. In the anxious 
silence of all the eyes supplicating the sun there, which sinks under 
the water with the desperation ofa cry, this is the plain announce- 
ment : " No sign-board now regales you with the spectacle that is 
inside, for there is no painter now capable of giving even a shadow 
of it. I bring living (and preserved by sovereign science through 
the years) a Woman of other days. Some kind of folly, naive and 
original, an ecstasy of gold, I know not what, by her called her hair, 
clings with the grace of some material round a face brightened by 
the blood-red nudity of her lips. In place of vain clothing, she has 
a body; and her eyes, resembling precious stones! are not worth 
that look, which comes from her happy flesh : breasts raised as if 
full of eternal milk, the points toward the sky ; the smooth legs, that 
keep the salt of the first sea." Remembering their poor spouses, 
bald, morbid, and full of horrors, the husbands press forward : the 
women, too, from curiosity, gloomily wish to see. 

When all shall have contemplated the noble creature, vestige of 
some epoch already damned, some indifferently, for they will not 
have had strength to understand, but others, broken-hearted, and 
with eyelids wet with tears of resignation, will look at each other ; 
while the poets of those times, feeling their dim eyes rekindled, will 
make their way toward their lamp, their brain for an instant drunk 
with confused glory, haunted by Rhythm, and forgetful that they 
exist at an epoch which has survived beauty. 



APPENDIX II 1 

No. i 

The following verses are by Viete-Griffin, from page 
28 of a volume of his Poems : — 

OISEAU BLEU COULEUR DU TEMPS 



Sait-tu l'oubli O chante-moi 

D'un vain doux rfeve, Ta folle gamme, 

Oiseau moqueur Car j'ai dorrai 

De la foret ? Ce jour durant ; 

Le jour palit, Le lache emoi 

La nuit se leve, Ou fut mon ame 

Et dans mon coeur Sanglote ennui 

L'ombre a pleure* ; Le jour mourant .... 

1 The translations in Appendices I., II., and IV., are by Louise Maude. 
The aim of these renderings has been to keep as close to the originals as 



WHAT IS ART? 



187 



Sais-tu le chant 
De sa parole 
Et de sa voix, 
Toi qui redis 
Dans le couchant 
Ton air frivole 
Comme autrefois 
Sous les midis ? 



O chante alors 
La melodie 
De son amour, 
Mon fol espoir, 
Parmi les ors 
Et Pincendie 
Du vain doux jour 
Qui meurt ce soir. 

Francis Viei^-Griffin. 



BLUE BIRD 



Canst thou forget, 
In dreams so vain, 
Oh, mocking bird 
Of forest deep? 
The day doth set. 
Night comes again, 
My heart has heard 
The shadows weep; 



That music sweet, 
Ah, do you know 
Her voice and speech? 
Your airs so light 
You who repeat 
In sunset's glow, 
As you sang, each, 
At noonday's height. 



Thy tones let' flow 
In maddening scale, 
For I have slept 
The livelong day ; 
Emotions low 
In me now wail, 
My soul they 've kept : 
Light dies away .... 



Of my desire, 
My hope so bold, 
Her love — up, sing, 
Sing, 'neath this light, 
This flaming fire, 
And all the gold 
The eve doth bring 
Ere comes the night 



No. 2 

And here are some verses by the esteemed young 
poet Verhaeren, which I also take from page 28 of his 
Works : — 



the obscurity of meaning allowed. The sense (or absence of sense) has 
therefore been more considered than the form of the verses. 



188 WHAT IS ART? 



ATTIRANCES 

Lointainement, et si 6trangement pareils, 

De grands masques d'argent que la brume recule, 

Vaguent, au jour tombant, autour des vieux soleils. 

Les doux lointaines I — et comrae, au fond du cr^puscule. 
Ds nous fixent le coeur, immensSment le coeur, 
Avec les yeux defunts de leur visage d'ame. 

C'est toujours du silence, k moins, dans la pileur 
Du soir, un jet de feu sondain, un cri de flamme, 
Un depart de lumi&re inattendu vers Dieu. 

On se laisse charmer et troubler de mystfere, 
Et Ton dirait des morts qui taisent un adieu 
Trop mystique, pour Stre 6cout6 par la terre ! 

Sont-ils le souvenir materiel et clair 

Des Sphfcbes chrStiens couches aux catacombes 

Parmi les lys? Sont-ils leur regard et leur chair? 

Ou seul, ce qui survit de merveilleux aux tombes 
De ceux qui sont partis, vers leurs rfeves, un soir, 
Conqu6rir la folie k l'assaut des nu6es? 

Lointainement, combien nous les sentons vouloir 
Un peu d'amour pour leurs oeuvres destitutes, 
Pour leur errance et leur tristesse aux horizons. 

Toujours I aux horizons du coeur et des pensdes, 
Alors que les vieux soirs 6clatent en blasons 
Soudains, pour les gloires noires et angoissSes. 

£mile Verhaeren, 
Pobmes. 



ATTRACTIONS 

Large masks of silver, by mists drawn away, 

So strangely alike, yet so far apart, 

Float round the old suns when faileth the day* 



WHAT IS ART? 189 

They transfix our heart, so immensely our heart. 
Those distances mild, in the twilight deep, 
Looking out of dead faces with their spirit eyes. 

All around is now silence, except when there leap 
In the pallor of evening, with fiery cries, 
Some fountains of flame that God-ward do fly. 

Mysterious trouble and charms us infold, 

You might think that the dead spoke a silent good-by f 

Oh ! too mystical far on earth to be told 2 

Are they the memories, material and bright, 
Of the Christian youths that in catacombs sleep 
'Mid the lilies? Are they their flesh or their sight i 

Or the marvel alone that survives, in the deep, 
Of those that, one night, returned to their dream 
Of conquering folly by assaulting the skies? 

For their destitute works — we feel it seems, 

For a little love their longing cries 

From horizons far — for their errings and pain* 

In horizons ever of heart and thought, 
While the evenings old in bright blaze wane 
Suddenly, for black glories anguish fraught. 



No. 3 

And the following is a poem by Mor£as, evidently 
ari admirer of Greek beauty. It is from page 28 of a 
volume of his Poems : — 

ENONE AU CLAIR VISAGE 

Enone, j'avais cru qu'en aimant ta beaute* 
Ou Time avec le corps trouvent leur unite\ 
J'allais, m'affermissant et le coeur et Pesprit, 
Monter jusqu'a cela qui jamais ne pe'rit, 
N'ayant 6t£ cre'e, qui n'est froideur ou feu, 
Qui n'est beau quelque part et laid en autre lieu ; 
Et me flattais encor' d'une belle harmonie 
Que j'eusse compose* du meilleur et du pire, 



190 WHAT IS ART? 

Ainsi que le chanteur qui ch£rit Polimnie, 

En accordant le grave avec l'aigu, retire 

Un son bien 6\ev6 sur les nerfe de sa lyre. 

Mais mon courage, h£las ! se pamant comme mort, 

M'enseigna que le trait qui m'avait fait amant 

Ne fat pas de cet arc que courbe sans effort 

La V6nus qui naquit du male seulement, 

Mais que j'avais souffert cette V6nus derni&re, 

Qui a le cceur couard, n£ d'une faible mfcre. 

Et pourtant, ce mauvais garcon, chasseur habile, 

Qui charge son carquois de sagette subtile, 

Qui secoue en riant sa torche, pour un jour, 

Qui ne pose jamais que sur de tendres fleurs, 

C'est sur un teint charmant qu'il essuie les pleurs, 

Et c'est encore un Dieu, Enone, cet Amour. 

Mais, laisse, les oiseaux du printemps sont partis, 

Et je vois les rayons du soleil amortis. 

Enone, ma douleur, harraonieux visage, 

Superbe humility, doux honnete langage, 

Hier me remirant dans cet 6tang glac£ 

Qui au bout du jardin se couvre de feuillage, 

Sur ma face je vis que les jours ont pass6. 

Jean Mor£as. 



ENONE 

Enone, in loving thy beauty, I thought, 

Where the soul and the body to union are brought, 

That mounting by steadying my heart and my mind, 

In that which can't perish, myself I should find. 

For it ne'er was created, is not ugly and fair ; 

Is not coldness in one part, while on fire it is there. 

Yes, I flattered myself that a harmony fine 

I 'd succeed to compose of the worst and the best, 

Like the bard who adores Polyhymnia divine, 

And mingling sounds different from the nerves of his lyre^ 

From the grave and the smart draws melodies higher. 

But, alas! my courage, so faint and nigh spent. 

The dart that has struck me proves without fail 

Not to be from that bow which is easily bent 

By the Venus that 's born alone of the male. 

No, 't was that other Venus that caused me to smart, 

Born of frail mother with cowardly heart. 

And yet that naughty lad, that little hunter bold, 



WHAT IS ART? 191 

Who laughs and shakes his flowery torch just for a day, 

Who never rests but upon tender flowers and gay, 

On sweetest skin who dries the tears his eyes that fill, 

Yet oh, Enone mine, a God 's that Cupid still. 

Let it pass ; for the birds of the Spring are away, 

And dying I see the sun's lingering ray. 

Enone, my sorrow, oh, harmonious face, 

Humility grand, words of virtue and grace, 

I looked yestere'en in the pond frozen fast, 

Strewn with leaves at the end of the garden's fair space, 

And I read in my face that those days are now past. 



No. 4 

And this is also from page 28 of a thick book, full 
of similar poems, by M. Montesquiou. 

BERCEUSE D'OMBRE 

Des formes, des formes, des formes 
Blanche, bleue, et rose, et d'or 
Descendront du haut des ormes 
Sur Penfant qui se rendort. 
Des formes ! 

Des plumes, des plumes, des plumes 
Pour composer un doux nid. 
Midi sonne : les enclumes 
Cessent ; la rumeur finit .... 
Des plumes 1 

Des roses, des roses, des roses 
Pour embaumer son sommeil, 
Vos pStales sont moroses 
Pres du sourire vermeil. 
O roses 1 

Des ailes, des ailes, des ailes 
Pour bourdonner a son front, 
Abeilles et demoiselles, 
Des rythmes qui berceront. 
Des ailes ! , 



192 WHAT IS ART? 

Des branches, des branches, des branches 
Pour tresser un pavilion. 
Par ou des clart£s moins franches 
Descendront sur Poisillon. 
Des branches 1 

Des songes, des songes, des songes 
Dans ses pensers entr* ouverts 
Glissez un peu de mensonges 
A voir le vie au travers 
Des songes ! 

Des tees, des f£es, des tees 
Pour filer leurs 6cheveaux 
Des mirages, de bounces 
Dans tous ces petits cerveaux. 
Des f£es 1 

Des anges, des anges, des anges 
Pour emporter dans lather 
Les petits enfants Stranges 
Qui ne veulent pas rester .... 
Nos anges ! 

Comtb Robert de Montesquiou-FezensaC, 
Les Hortensias Bleus. 



THE SHADOW LULLABY 

Oh forms, oh forms, oh forms 
White, blue, and gold, and red 
Descending from the elm trees. 
On sleeping baby's head. 

a! 



Oh forms! 

Oh feathers, feathers, feathers 
To make a cozy nest. 
Twelve striking : stops the clamor ; 
The anvils are at rest .... 
Oh feathers ! 

Oh roses, roses, roses 
To scent his sleep awhile, 



WHAT IS ART? 193 

Pale are your fragrant petals 
Beside his ruby smile. 
Oh roses ! 

Oh wings, oh wings, oh wings 
Of bees and dragon-flies, 
To hum around his forehead, 
And lull him with your sighs. 
Oh wings' ! 

Branches, branches, branches 
A shady bower to twine, 
Through which, oh daylight, faintly 
Descend on birdie mine. 
Branches ! 

Oh dreams, oh dreams, oh dreams 
Into his opening mind, 
Let in a little falsehood 
With sights of life behind. 
Dreams! 

Oh fairies, fairies, fairies 
To twine and twist their threads 
With puffs of phantom visions 
Into these little heads. 
Fairies! 

Angels, angels, angels 
To the ether far away, 
Those children strange to carry 
That here don't wish to stay .... 
Our angels ! 



APPENDIX III 

These are the contents of "The Nibelung's Ring" :— 
The first part tells that the nymphs, the daughters of 
the Rhine, for some reason guard gold in the Rhine, 
and sing: Weia, Waga, Woge du Welle, Walle zur 
Wiege, Wagala-weia, Wallala, Weiala, Weia, and so 
forth. 

These singing nymphs are pursued by a gnome (a 
nibelung) who desires to seize them. The gnome can- 
not catch any of them. Then the nymphs guarding 



i 9 4 WHAT IS ART? 

the gold tell the gnome just what they ought to keep 
secret, namely, that whoever renounces love will be 
able to steal the gold they are guarding. And the 
gnome renounces love, and steals the gold. This 
ends the first scene. 

In the second scene a god and a goddess lie in a 
field in sight of a castle which giants have built for 
them. Presently they wake up and are pleased with 
the castle, and they relate that in payment for this 
work they must give the goddess Freia to the giants. 
The giants come for their pay. But the god Wotan 
objects to parting with Freia. The giants get angry. 
The gods hear that the gnome has stolen the gold, 
promise to confiscate it, and to pay the giants with it. 
But the giants won't trust them, and seize the goddess 
Freia in pledge. 

The third scene takes place underground. The 
gnome Alberich, who stole the gold, for some reason 
beats a gnome, Mime, and takes from him a helmet 
which has the power both of making people invisible 
and of turning them into other animals. The gods, 
Wotan and others, appear and quarrel with one an- 
other and with the gnomes, and wish to take the gold, 
but Alberich won't give it up, and (like everybody 
all through the piece) behaves in a way to insure his 
own ruin. He puts on the helmet, and becomes first 
a dragon and then a toad. The gods catch the toad, 
take the helmet off it, and carry Alberich away with 
them. 

Scene IV. The gods bring Alberich to their home, 
and order him to command his gnomes to bring them 
all the gold. The gnomes bring it. Alberich gives up 
the gold, but keeps a magic ring. The gods take the 
ring. So Alberich curses the ring, and says it is to bring 
misfortune on any one who has it. The giants appear ; 
they bring the goddess Freia, and demand her ransom. 
They stick up staves of Freia's height, and gold is poured 
in between these staves : this is to be the ransom. There 
is not enough gold, so the helmet is thrown in, and they 
also demand the ring. Wotan refuses to give it up, but 



WHAT IS ART? 195 

the goddess Erda appears and commands him to do so, 
because it brings misfortune. Wotan gives it up. Freia 
is released. The giants, having received the ring, fight, 
and one of them kills the other. This ends the Prelude, 
and we come to the First Day. 

The scene shows a house in a tree. Siegmund runs 
in tired, and lies down. Sieglinda, the mistress of the 
house (and wife of Hunding), gives him a drugged 
draught, and they fall in love with each other. Sieg- 
linda' s husband comes home, learns that Siegmund be- 
longs to a hostile race, and wishes to fight him next 
day; but Sieglinda drugs her husband, and comes to 
Siegmund. Siegmund discovers that Sieglinda is his 
sister, and that his father drove a sword into the tree 
so that no one can get it out. Siegmund pulls the 
sword out, and commits incest with his sister. 

Act II. Siegmund is to fight with Hunding. The 
gods discuss the question to whom they shall award the 
victory. Wotan, approving of Siegmund's incest with 
his sister, wishes to spare him, but, under pressure from 
his wife, Fricka, he orders the Valkyrie Briinnhilda to 
kill Siegmund. Siegmund goes to fight; Sieglinda 
faints. Briinnhilda appears and wishes to slay Sieg- 
mund. Siegmund wishes to kill Sieglinda also, but 
Briinnhilda does not allow it ; so he fights with Hund- 
ing. Briinnhilda defends Siegmund, but Wotan defends 
Hunding. Siegmund's sword breaks, and he is killed. 
Sieglinda runs away. 

Act III. The Valkyries (divine Amazons) are on the 
stage. The Valkyrie Briinnhilda arrives on horseback, 
bringing Siegmund's body. She is flying from Wotan, 
who is chasing her for her disobedience. Wotan catches 
her, and as a punishment dismisses her from her post 
as a Valkyrie. He casts a spell on her, so that she has 
to go to sleep and to continue asleep until a man wakes 
her. When some one wakes her she will fall in love 
with him. Wotan kisses her; she falls asleep. He 
lets off fire, which surrounds her. 

We now come to the Second Day. The gnome Mime 
forges a sword in a wood. Siegfried appears. He is a 



io6 WHAT IS ART? 

son born from the incest of brother with sister (Sieg 
mund with Sieglinda), and has been brought up in this 
wood by the gnome. In general the motives of the 
actions of everybody in this production are quite unin- 
telligible. Siegfried learns his own origin, and that the 
broken sword was his father's. He orders Mime to 
reforge it, and then goes off. Wotan comes in the 
guise of a wanderer, and relates what will happen : that 
he who has not learnt to fear will forge the sword, and 
will defeat everybody. The gnome conjectures that 
this is Siegfried, and wants to poison him. Siegfried 
returns, forges his father's sword, and runs off, shout- 
ing, Heiho! heiho! heiho! Ho! ho! Aha! oho! aha! 
Heiaho! heiaho! heiaho! Ho! ho! Hahei! hoho! 
hahei ! 

And we get to Act II. Alberich sits guarding a 
giant, who, in form of a dragon, guards the gold he has 
received. Wotan appears, and for some unknown rea- 
son foretells that Siegfried will come and kill the dragon. 
Alberich wakes the dragon, and asks him for the ring, 
promising to defend him from Siegfried. The dragon 
won't give up the ring. Exit Alberich. Mime and 
Siegfried appear. Mime hopes the dragon will teach 
Siegfried to fear. But Siegfried does not fear. He 
drives Mime away and kills the dragon, after which he 
puts his finger, smeared with the dragon's blood, to his 
lips. This enables him to know men's secret thoughts, 
as well as the language of birds. The birds tell him 
where the treasure and the ring are, and also that Mime 
wishes to poison him. Mime returns, and says out loud 
that he wishes to poison Siegfried. This is meant to 
signify that Siegfried, having tasted dragon's blood, 
understands people's secret thoughts. Siegfried, hav- 
ing learnt Mime's intentions, kills him. The birds tell 
Siegfried where Briinnhilda is, and he goes* to find her. 

Act III. Wotan calls up Erda. Erda prophesies to 
Wotan, and gives him advice. Siegfried appears, 
quarrels with Wotan, and they fight Suddenly Sieg- 
fried's sword breaks Wotan's spear, which had been 
more powerful than anything else. Siegfried goes into 



WHAT IS ART? 197 

the fire to Briinnhilda : kisses her; she wakes up, 
abandons her divinity, and throws herself into Sieg- 
fried's arms. 

Third Day. Prelude. Three Norns plait a golden 
rope, and talk about the future. They go away. 
Siegfried and Briinnhilda appear. Siegfried takes leave 
of her, gives her the ring, and goes away. 

Act I. By the Rhine. A king wants to get married, 
and also to give his sister in marriage. Hagen, the 
king's wicked brother, advises him to marry Briinnhilda 
and to give his sister to Siegfried. Siegfried appears ; 
they give him a drugged draught, which makes him 
forget all the past and fall in love with the king's sister, 
Gutrune. So he rides off with Gunther, the king, to 
get Briinnhilda to be the king's bride. The scene 
changes. Briinnhilda sits with the ring. A Valkyrie 
comes to her and tells her that Wotan's spear is broken, 
and advises her to give the ring to the Rhine nymphs. 
Siegfried comes, and by means of the magic helmet 
turns himself into Gunther, demands the ring from 
Briinnhilda, seizes it, and drags her off to sleep with 
him. 

Act II. By the Rhine. Alberich and Hagen discuss 
how to get the ring. Siegfried comes, tells how he has 
obtained a bride for Gunther and spent the night with 
her, but put a sword between himself and her. Briinn- 
hilda- rides up, recognizes the ring on Siegfried's hand, 
and declares that it was he, and not Gunther, who was 
with her. Hagen stirs everybody up against Siegfried, 
and decides to kill him next day when hunting. 

Act III. Again the nymphs in the Rhine relate what 
has happened. Siegfried, who has lost his way, ap- 
pears. The nymphs ask him for the ring, but he won't 
give it up. Hunters appear. Siegfried tells the story 
of his life. Hagen then gives him a draught, which 
causes his memory to return to him. Siegfried relates 
how he aroused and obtained Briinnhilda, and every one 
is astonished. Hagen stabs him in the back, and the 
scene is changed. Gutrune meets the corpse of Sieg- 
fried. Gunther and Hagen quarrel about the ring, and 



198 WHAT IS ART? 

Hagen kills Gunther. Brunnhilda cries. Hagen wishes 
to take the ring from Siegfried's hand, but the hand 
of the corpse raises itself threateningly. Brunnhilda 
takes the ring from Siegfried's hand, and when Sieg- 
fried's corpse is carried to the pyre, she gets on to a 
horse and leaps into the fire. The Rhine rises, and 
the waves reach the pyre. In the river are three 
nymphs. Hagen throws himself into the fire to get 
the ring, but the nymphs seize him and carry him off. 
One of them holds the ring ; and that is the end of the 
matter. 

The impression obtainable from my recapitulation is, 
of course, incomplete. But however incomplete it may 
be, it is certainly infinitely more favorable than the im- 
pression which results from reading the four booklets in 
which the work is printed. 



APPENDIX IV 

Translations of French poems and prose quoted in 
Chapter X. 

BAUDELAIRE'S "FLOWERS OF EVIL* 
No. XXIV 

I adore thee as much as the vaults of night, 

vase full of grief, taciturnity great, 

And I love thee the more because of thy flight. 
It seemeth, my night's beautifier, that you 
Still heap up those leagues — yes ! ironically heap I 
That divide from my arms the immensity blue. 

1 advance to attack, I climb to assault, 

Like a choir of young worms at a corpse in the vault; 

Thy coldness, oh cruel, implacable beast I 

Yet heightens thy beauty, on which my eyes feast I 



WHAT IS ART? 199 

BAUDELAIRE'S "FLOWERS OF EVIL* 
No. XXXVI 

DUELLUM 

Two warriors come running, to fight they begin, 
With gleaming and blood tney bespatter the air j 
These games, and this clatter of arms, is the din 
Of youth that 's a prey to the surgings of love. 

The rapiers are broken ! and so is our youth, 
But the dagger's avenged, dear! and so is the sword, 
By the nail that is steeled and the hardened tooth. 
Oh, the fury of hearts aged and ulcered by love! 

In the ditch, where the ounce and the pard have their lair, 

Our heroes have rolled in an angry embrace ; 

Their skin blooms on brambles that erewhile were bare. 

That ravine is a friend-inhabited hell! 
Then let us roll in, oh woman inhuman, 
To immortalize hatred that nothing can quell! 

FROM BAUDELAIRE'S PROSE WORK ENTITLED 
"LITTLE POEMS" 

THE STRANGER 

Whom dost thou love best? say, enigmatical man — thy father, 
thy mother, thy brother, or thy sister? 

" I have neither father, nor mother, nor sister, nor brother." 

Thy friends? 

"You there use an expression the meaning of which till now 
remains unknown to me." 

Thy country ? 

u I ignore in what latitude it is situated." 

Beauty? 

" I would gladly love her, goddess and immortal." 

Gold? 

" I hate it as you hate God." 

Then what do you love, extraordinary stranger? 

" I love the clouds.... the clouds that pass.... there... .the man 
velous clouds! " 



aoo WHAT IS ART? 



BAUDELAIRE'S PROSE POEM 

THE SOUP AND THE CLOUDS 

Mv beloved little silly was giving me my dinner, and I was con- 
templating, through the open window of the dining-room, those 
moving architectures which God makes out of vapors, the marvel- 
ous constructions of the impalpable. And I said to myself amid 
mv contemplations, " All these phantasmagoria are almost as beauti- 
ful as the eyes of mv beautiful beloved, the monstrous little silly 
with the green eyes." 

Suddenly 1 felt the violent blow of a fist on my back, and I heard 
a harsh, charming voice, an hysterical voice, as it were hoarse with 
brandy, the voice of my dear little well-beloved, saying, "Are you 
going to eat your soup soon, you d b of a dealer in clouds? " 



BAUDELAIRE'S PROSE POEM 

THE GALLANT MARKSMAN 

As the carriage was passing through the forest, he ordered it to be 
stopped near a shooting-gallery, saying that he wished to shoot off 
a few bullets to kill Time. To kill this monster, is it not the most 
ordinary and the most legitimate occupation of every one? And he 
gallantly offered his arm to his dear, delicious, and execrable wife — 
that mysterious woman to whom he owed so much pleasure, so much 
pain, and perhaps also a large part of his genius. 

Several bullets struck far from the intended mark — one even 
penetrated the ceiling ; and as the charming creature laughed madly, 
mocking her husband's awkwardness, he turned abruptly toward 
her and said, " Look at that doll there on the right with the haughty 
mien and her nose in the air ; well, dear angel, / imagine to myself 
that it is you!" And he closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. 
The doll was neatly decapitated. 

Then, bowing toward his dear one, his delightful, execrable wife, 
his inevitable pitiless muse, and kissing her hand respectfully, he 
added, "Ah! my dear angel, how 1 thank you for my skill!" 

VERLAINE'S "FORGOTTEN AIRS" 

No. I 

u The wind in the plain 
Suspends its breath."— FAVAB& 

T is ecstasy languishing, 

Amorous fatigue, 

Of woods all the shudderings 



WHAT IS ART? aoi 

Embraced by the breeze, 
T is the choir of small voices 
Toward the gray trees. 

Oh, the frail and fresh murmuring t 

The twitter and buzz. 

The soft cry resembling 

That 's expired by the grass ..•• 

Oh, the roll of the pebbles 

'Neath waters that pass ! 

Oh, this soul that is groaning 
In sleepy complaint ! 
In us is it moaning ? 
In me and in you? 
Low anthem exhaling 
While soft falls the dew. 



VERLAINE'S "FORGOTTEN AIRS* 

No. VIII 

In the unending 
Dullness of this land, 
Uncertain the snow 
Is gleaming like sand* 

No kind of brightness 
In copper-hued sky, 
The moon you might see 
Now live and now die. 

Gray float the oak trees— 
Cloudlike they seem — 
Of neighboring forests. 
The mists in between. 

Wolves hungry and lean, 
And famishing crow, 
What happens to you 
When acid winds blow? 

In the unending 
Dullness of this land, 
Uncertain the snow 
Is gleaming like sand. 



aoa WHAT IS ART? 



SONG BY MAETERLINCK 

When he went away, 
{Then I heard the door) 
When he went away, 
On her lips a smile there lay — . 

Back he came to her, 
(Then I heard the lamp) 
Back he came to her, 
Someone else was there ..- 

It was death I met, 
(And I heard her soul) 
It was death I met, 
For her he 's waiting yet •••• 

Someone came to say, 
(Child, I am afraid) 
Someone came to say 
That he would go away ••- 

With my lamp alight^ 
(Child, I am afraid) 
With my lamp alight, 
Approached I in affright •_• ^ 

To one door I came, 
(Child, I am afraid) 
To one door I came, 
A shudder shook the flame •— 

At the second door, 
{Child, I am afraid) 
At the second door 
Forth words of flame did poor. 

To the third I came, 
(Child, I am afraid) 
To the third I came, 
Then died the little flame... 

Should he one day return 
Then what shall we say? 
Waiting, tell him, one 
And dying for him lay •••• 



WHAT IS ART? 203 

If he asks for you, 
Say what answer then? 
Give him my gold ring 
And answer not a thing .... 

Should he question me 
Concerning the last hour? 
Say I smiled for fear 
That he should shed a tear—. 

Should he question more 
Without knowing me ? 
Like a sister speak ; 
Suffering he may be •••• 

Should he question why 
Empty is the hall? 
Show the gaping door, 
The lamp alight no mofe~~