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

But, from whatever cause this has come about, the fact remains, that sciences and arts have always existed among mankind, and, when they really did exist, they were useful and intelligible to all the people. But we practise something which we call science and art, but it appears that what we do is unnecessary and unintelligible to man. And hence, however beautiful may be the things that we accomplish, we have no right to call them arts and sciences.


“But you only furnish a different definition of arts and sciences, which is stricter, and is incompatible with science,” I shall be told in answer to this; “nevertheless, scientific and artistic activity does still exist. There are the Galileos, Brunos, Homers, Michael Angelos, Beethovens, and all the lesser learned men and artists, who have consecrated their entire lives to the service of science and art, and who were, and will remain, the benefactors of mankind.”

Generally this is what people say, striving to forget that new principle of the division of labor, on the basis of which science and art now occupy their privileged position, and on whose basis we are now enabled to decide without grounds, but by a given standard: Is there, or is there not, any foundation for that activity which calls itself science and art, to so magnify itself?

When the Egyptian or the Grecian priests produced their mysteries, which were unintelligible to any one, and stated concerning these mysteries that all science and all art were contained in them, I could not verify the reality of their science on the basis of the benefit procured by them to the people, because science, according to their assertions, was supernatural. But now we all possess a very simple and clear definition of the activity of art and science, which excludes every thing supernatural: science and art promise to carry out the mental activity of mankind, for the welfare of society, or of all the human race.

The definition of scientific science and art is entirely correct; but, unfortunately, the activity of the present arts and sciences does not come under this head. Some of them are directly injurious, others are useless, others still are worthless,–good only for the wealthy. They do not fulfil that which, by their own definition, they have undertaken to accomplish; and hence they have as little right to regard themselves as men of art and science, as a corrupt priesthood, which does not fulfil the obligations which it has assumed, has the right to regard itself as the bearer of divine truth.

And it can be understood why the makers of the present arts and sciences have not fulfilled, and cannot fulfil, their vocation. They do not fulfil it, because out of their obligations they have erected a right.

Scientific and artistic activity, in its real sense, is only fruitful when it knows no rights, but recognizes only obligations. Only because it is its property to be always thus, does mankind so highly prize this activity. If men really were called to the service of others through artistic work, they would see in that work only obligation, and they would fulfil it with toil, with privations, and with self—abnegation.

The thinker or the artist will never sit calmly on Olympian heights, as we have become accustomed to represent them to ourselves. The thinker or the artist should suffer in company with the people, in order that he may find salvation or consolation. Besides this, he will suffer because he is always and eternally in turmoil and agitation: he might decide and say that that which would confer welfare on men, would free them from suffering, would afford them consolation; but he has not said so, and has not presented it as he should have done; he has not decided, and he has not spoken; and to—morrow, possibly, it will be too late,–he will die. And therefore suffering and self—sacrifice will always be the lot of the thinker and the artist.

Not of this description will be the thinker and artist who is reared in an establishment where, apparently, they manufacture the learned man or the artist (but in point of fact, they manufacture destroyers of science and of art), who receives a diploma and a certificate, who would be glad not to think and not to express that which is imposed on his soul, but who cannot avoid doing that to which two irresistible forces draw him,–an inward prompting, and the demand of men.

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