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What Is Art? Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample What Is Art?, by Leo Tolstoy Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (639 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Leo Tolstoy Narrator: Geoffrey Blaisdell Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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What Is Art? is the result of fifteen years’ reflection on the nature and purpose of art.

Tolstoy claims that all good art is related to the authentic life of the broader community and that the aesthetic value of a work of art is not independent of its moral content. The book is noteworthy not only for its famous iconoclasm and compelling attacks on the aestheticist notion of “art for art’s sake” but even more for its wit, its lucid and beautiful prose, and its sincere expression of the deepest social conscience.

Tolstoy is an author critics typically rank alongside Shakespeare and Homer. A sustained consideration of the cultural import of art by someone who was himself an artist of the highest stature will always remain relevant and fascinating to anyone interested in the place of art and literature in society.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Eccentric and lucid, cranky and brilliant, funny and fierce.”

    New Criterion

  • “The effectiveness of What Is Art? lies not so much in its positive assertions as in its rejection of much that was taken for granted in the aesthetic theories of the time.”

    John Bayley, literary critic and former Warton Professor of English at Oxford

  • What Is Art? itself is a work of science, though many passages, and even some whole chapters, appeal to us as works of art and we feel the contagion of the author’s hope, his anxiety to serve the cause of truth and love, his indignation (sometimes rather sharply expressed) with whatever blocks the path of advance, and his contempt for much that the ‘cultured crowd,’ in our erudite, perverted society, have persuaded themselves, and would fain persuade others, is the highest art.”

    Aylmer Maude, translator

  • “Infuriating, irresistible, aesthetically unaesthetic.”

    E. Lampert, New Essay on Tolstoy

Listener Reviews

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Review by Michael | 1/12/2014

    " Great look at the history of art. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Review by Ann M | 11/21/2013

    " A communist, yet still bourgeois view of artists as egocentric and parasitic. He raises good questions, such as how to recognize art, but seems to think that the inability to answer them is the fault of art and artists. I did like his definition of art as spiritual union. But what does that say about people who love reality TV? "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Review by Brian | 10/4/2013

    " Tolstoy raised some very interesting points and - as Kandinsky, Rothko, and others afterwards - he assaulted this self-indulgent notion of artists who created "art for art's sake" and devoid of any type of meaning to the individual (ie. Wagner, Baudeaire, Beethoven, etc. ...) I believe it to be one of the most important philosophical works stemming from the late 19th-century and have used this work in tandem with Kivy's "A Philosophy of Music" when teaching aesthetics and philosophy. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Review by Jim Hahn | 9/23/2013

    " Tolstoy, thank you for writing this-- I now know most of what we call Art we should call Not Art. I know John Gardner thanks you as well, had you not written this he would have never pulled off _On Moral Fiction_. What is next for Team Tolstoy? Let's do brunch. "

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About the Author
Author Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) was born about two hundred miles from Moscow. His mother died when he was two, his father when he was nine. His parents were of noble birth, and Tolstoy remained acutely aware of his aristocratic roots, even when he later embraced doctrines of equality and the brotherhood of man. After serving in the army in the Caucasus and Crimea, where he wrote his first stories, he traveled and studied educational theories. In 1862 he married Sophia Behrs and for the next fifteen years lived a tranquil, productive life, finishing War and Peace in 1869 and Anna Karenina in 1877. In 1879 he underwent a spiritual crisis; he sought to propagate his beliefs on faith, morality, and nonviolence, writing mostly parables, tracts, and morality plays. Tolstoy died of pneumonia in 1910 at the age of eighty-two.

About the Narrator

Geoffrey Blaisdell is a professional actor who has appeared on and off Broadway, in Broadway national tours, and in regional theater.