Aolib.comFragment of Photochrom print of the front of Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany (ca. 1897)

On the Significance of Science and Art »


By graf Leo Tolstoy

Defenders of science say: “Pedagogy is even now proving of advantage to the people, but give it a chance to develop, and then it will do still better.” Yes, if it does develop, and instead of twenty schools in a district there are a hundred, and all scientific, and if the people support these schools, they will grow poorer than ever, and they will more than ever need work for their children’s sake. “What is to be done?” they say to this. The government will build the schools, and will make education obligatory, as it is in Europe; but again, surely, the money is taken from the people just the same, and it will be harder to work, and they will have less leisure for work, and there will be no education even by compulsion. Again the sole salvation is this: that the teacher should live under the conditions of the working—men, and should teach for that compensation which they give him freely and voluntarily.

Such is the false course of science, which deprives it of the power of fulfilling its obligation, which is, to serve the people.

But in nothing is this false course of science so obviously apparent, as in the vocation of art, which, from its very significance, ought to be accessible to the people. Science may fall back on its stupid excuse, that science acts for science, and that when it turns out learned men it is laboring for the people; but art, if it is art, should be accessible to all the people, and in particular to those in whose name it is executed. And our definition of art, in a striking manner, convicts those who busy themselves with art, of their lack of desire, lack of knowledge, and lack of power, to be useful to the people.

The painter, for the production of his great works, must have a studio of at least such dimensions that a whole association of carpenters (forty in number) or shoemakers, now sickening or stifling in lairs, would be able to work in it. But this is not all; he must have a model, costumes, travels. Millions are expended on the encouragement of art, and the products of this art are both incomprehensible and useless to the people. Musicians, in order to express their grand ideas, must assemble two hundred men in white neckties, or in costumes, and spend hundreds of thousands of rubles for the equipment of an opera. And the products of this art cannot evoke from the people–even if the latter could at any time enjoy it–any thing except amazement and ennui.

Writers–authors–it appears, do not require surroundings, studios, models, orchestras, and actors; but it then appears that the author needs (not to mention comfort in his quarters) all the dainties of life for the preparation of his great works, travels, palaces, cabinets, libraries, the pleasures of art, visits to theatres, concerts, the baths, and so on. If he does not earn a fortune for himself, he is granted a pension, in order that he may compose the better. And again, these compositions, so prized by us, remain useless lumber for the people, and utterly unserviceable to them.

And if still more of these dealers in spiritual nourishment are developed further, as men of science desire, and a studio is erected in every village; if an orchestra is set up, and authors are supported in those conditions which artistic people regard as indispensable for themselves,–I imagine that the working—classes will sooner take an oath never to look at any pictures, never to listen to a symphony, never to read poetry or novels, than to feed all these persons.

And why, apparently, should art not be of service to the people? In every cottage there are images and pictures; every peasant man and woman sings; many own harmonicas; and all recite stories and verses, and many read. It is as if those two things which are made for each other–the lock and the key–had parted company; they have sprung so far apart, that not even the possibility of uniting them presents itself. Tell the artist that he should paint without a studio, model, or costumes, and that he should paint five—kopek pictures, and he will say that that is tantamount to abandoning his art, as he understands it. Tell the musician that he should play on the harmonica, and teach the women to sing songs; say to the poet, to the author, that he ought to cast aside his poems and romances, and compose song—books, tales, and stories, comprehensible to the uneducated people,–they will say that you are mad.

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