and Understanding Art
This is an abridged version.
The entire essay is available in the Russian language only.
once asked his dad:
What is good
and what is bad?”
tend to foist their tastes on others. It is neither bad nor good.
It is a cold fact.
I could not resist the temptation either and wrote this small
essay. It describes my basic ideas about art and the role it
plays in our lives.
The purpose of this text is neither to convince you nor to open
you eyes to reality. Instead, I suggest you reflect on the theme.
Feel free to develop your own approaches. After all, a better understanding
of the problem will be our mutual reward.
Why do people create pieces of art?
answer is simple. Creative work is a bare necessity of life like
food, oxygen, etc. People have both the need for practical things
and the need for beauty.
people think that art serves for communication purposes, because
it can convey feelings from one person to another. To a certain
extent that is true, but this function is secondary. We will
discuss this idea a little bit later.
could not exist without creating pieces of art, and they create
them mainly for themselves, because during creation something
important and valuable happens to them. They understand that
the society can reject their works. Sometimes they even do not
intend to demonstrate their works to the others. Still, they
continue creating pieces of art. The explanation to this is as
follows — the process of creation means approaching perfection,
while perfection is the final purpose of human beings. Let alone
the idea that striving for perfection can be very practical.
any person produces pieces of art not for other people, but mainly
Sending messages and feelings by means of art
I mentioned above, art can serve communication purposes. An author
can send his feelings to the audience and share his impressions
with them. However, two questions remain:
Why does he want to share his feelings with the others?
to receive his feelings?
have already answered those questions in the previous Section:
an artist produces art because something
induces him to do that, and he cannot resist the urge.
the other hand, we must admit that the function of social contacts
is secondary because this form of communication is far from being
art conveys something that cannot be expressed with words, then
how can the author be certain that his ideas and
feelings are understood by the audience correctly? Of course,
he cannot be certain, because he cannot accept the feedback
in the form of words, for in this case words are useless.
some feelings can be expressed with words, but the author transforms
them into, for example, music to emphasize the emotions. Such
a behavior is rather risky. Using music instead of words may
result in a complete misunderstanding.
imperfection was always understood by many people. Feodor Tyutchev,
a famous Russian poet, once wrote:
can your heart itself express?
Can others understand or guess
exactly what life means to you?
A thought you’ve spoken is untrue.”
(Translation by F. Jude)
I believe the communication function exists, but it is secondary.
I would say, any instrument can be used for
many purposes. And the same thing is with
art. It can perform lots of operations. Still, its main purpose is
to improve the artist himself.
Irrationality and subjectivity
his famous book What is Art? Leo Tolstoy wrote: “To define
art, we must stop considering it as a source of delight.” He
believed art served only to convey feelings from one person to
another. Such an approach did not take irrationality and subjectivity
into account. Although I agree with Tolstoy that treating art
as a source of positive emotions is not a good basis for analysis,
I still think that the role of irrationality is great.
Art is a source of many feelings, and those feelings cannot be
explained rationally. If I like tea and you like coffee, we
are unlikely to change each other’s preferences. That is absolutely
normal. Moreover, had all people been absolutely identical, no
progress and no evolution would have ever taken place. And finally
I must say that I love the world where different tastes coexist.
Many people admit that any explanation of their feelings is defective.
Words often kill both the essence of feelings and
Thus, any piece of art is always appreciated in an irrational
manner by both an artist and an audience.
Can one learn how to create a masterpiece?
I have already said, people are constantly creating pieces
of art. But typically those are not masterpieces. I will
define the term ‘masterpiece’ in the next Section,
while here I am going to say a couple of words on learning.
Like many others, I believe nobody can be taught to produce
a masterpiece. That is why masterpieces are so rare. But
if learning does not lead to great results, why should
we learn? The answer is simple. The learning does not guarantee
a positive result, but the absence of learning is often
main cause of negative outcomes.
According to Karl Bryulov, a famous Russian painter, the real
art becomes apparent
in subtle details. This subtlety is beyond understanding
Art of perception and art of understanding
the need to create pieces of art, human beings have the primordial
need to consume pieces of art created by other people. Again,
this need is not primarily aimed at bringing positive emotions.
Delight is a reward, but it is not a cause.
my opinion, people need other people’s art for self-improvement.
The pieces of art help them to achieve self-perfection, i.e. they
improve their souls. People do not try to understand the author — first
of all, they try to understand themselves. Any piece of art is
born twice. It is born for the first time, when the author finishes
creating it. It is born for the second time in the souls and minds
of the audience. In this sense, perception can be considered as
message may be understood or it may remain without an interpretation.
It is not very important, because this
factor is secondary. When the process of creation is completed,
a piece of art starts to exist independently. First, it helps other
people to understand themselves. Second, it helps them to understand
A true masterpiece is not a piece of art with a clear message
from its author. What actually matters is the fact that a masterpiece
can help a large number of people to understand themselves and
each other. A crucial factor is versatility. If a piece of art
is versatile, it can help more people to improve themselves. A
genius is a person who creates pieces of art that are helpful and
useful for many different people during lengthy periods of time.
Further, creation and perception can be multi-step processes.
For example, a playwright writes a play. Then a director from a
theater interprets the play and tries to create his own piece of
art on that basis. There are also many other participants who help
the director (decorators, musicians, actors, etc.) To a certain
extent, they can also be considered as independent co-creators.
It would be funny to suppose that the audience has to decode a
lot of different messages (or feelings) from all those people.
Of course, it is not so. The audience is primarily concentrated
on their own feelings.
On the other
hand, a man’s attitude towards a piece of art
can be very unstable. If a picture lost its attractiveness for
somebody, it does not mean the picture is bad. It does not mean
that the person is bad either. This situation is absolutely normal.
It means that right at the moment that piece of art can not help
that particular person to improve himself.
Again, we see
that it is the perception by the audience that really matters.
At the same time, it means that no piece of art can be
considered defective or bad without bias. This idea was perfectly
expressed by Samuel Beckett who said “There is no painting,
there are only pictures; as these are not sausages they are neither
good nor bad."
judgements can exist only within the limits of many cultural
and statistical restrictions. In other words, universal unbiased
judgements in art simply do not exist.
Relativity and the Absolute Beauty
I have already said, both the author and the audience have the
right to put their own multiple interpretations on any piece
of art. Does it mean that there is no Absolute Beauty? Not necessarily
The idea about Absolute Beauty can perfectly coexist with my approach.
At any given moment, a person can sense only a tiny part of the
Absolute Beauty. And different people may get access to different
parts of it, which gives way to multiple interpretations.
does not contradict the idea about Absolute Beauty.
it is time to sum up the main ideas of this article.
The author creates pieces of art mainly for himself, not for the
other people. He simply cannot exist without the process of creation.
Then his piece
of art starts its independent existence in the world where different
people can put a lot of their interpretations
on it. In a sense, they are co-creators of that piece of art, because
they create the images of it in their minds. They may understand
the author’s idea or they may fail to understand it. It is
not that important. What really matters is their attitude towards
that piece of art. That is all.
1. Do not force yourself to create pieces of art. Better results
are typically achieved when the creator can not help but create.
Leo Tolstoy formulated a more categorical statement. He said
any professionalism plays a bad role, because it makes a person
to create art even when he does not want to create. Well, I do
not think professionalism is so bad. Still, in part I have to
agree with the famous Russian writer.
2. Do not neglect
learning. Learning does not always lead to great results,
but the absence of learning always lead
learning remember that there are no strict rules in art. Therefore,
do not always follow
recommendations from other people.
3. Do not be upset if somebody does not properly understand
the idea of your work. The audience has the right to put their
own interpretations. Recall how you interpret pieces of art
by other authors. Can you always understand what other people
wanted to say by their works? Respect other people’s
4. Do not pay much attention to what professional critics say.
Your feelings and your opinions are much more important.
I managed to convince you, I am very glad. If I failed to convince
you, I am also very glad, because it means you can feel and judge
in your own manner; and that is yet another proof of my theory*.
I believe, not every idea should be and can be explained. Art,
like the life itself, is a miracle to a certain extent. I
like the following lines from a poem by David Samoilov:
and me do not trust in miracles,
That is why they don’t happen to us”.
it were a profound work on aesthetics, I would have to prepare
a long list of references. However, in this small essay I ask
for your indulgence.
I would like to recommend you to read an interesting book — What
is Art? by Leo Tolstoy. Neither you nor I are likely to
agree with all ideas of Tolstoy. But unanimity is not required.
book is interesting. Second, it makes a reader to think over problems
of aesthetics. I wish you happy reading.
* It is very likely that I am not the first to develop such an
approach. If you know any other similar materials, please send
me a link or a reference.