Leo Tolstoy’s view on art


In his book What is art?, Leo Tolstoy demonstrates that art is the manifestation of beauty and that the sole aim of art is moral perfection, as “the ideal of beauty is a beautiful soul in a beautiful body” (Tolstoy, 1897). The aim of art is to infect people with a feeling experienced by an artist. To create art, the artist has to understand and stand above the highest outlook of the world during his time to portray its core aspects. Said artist would have to have a talent in some kind of art to transmit this to the world (Tolstoy, 1897).

Art is one of two vehicles of mankind’s progress. Through images, art communicates with the people by using feelings and emotions. It can influence generations and is a powerful tool that elevates human consciousness: “Art is not pleasure, consolation, or amusement; art is a great thing. Art is an organ of mankind’s life, which transmutes people’s reasonable consciousness into feeling” (Tolstoy, 1897; 189).


Alexander McQueen F/W 1998 “Joan”

If we were to skip forward to the 1990s, we could pick one example to understand the influence fashion could have on a generation, in the same way that a painting or a music genre could. The 90s were the epitome of rapid social, economic and technological change, which in turn carried quite a lot of social anxiety. ‘Heroin Chic’ and Alexander McQueen brought to light this intersection of sex, drugs and death, all three a fascination for the generation (Evans, 2003). More of Alexander McQueen’s work will be discussed in a case study in a different section.

▽ Quick roundup

This section offers a diversity of opinions on the philosophies of art and aesthetics. While moving away from Plato’s original and straight-forward idea that art is imitation and has to be pleasing to the eye, we now live in a world where it is very hard to pinpoint a definite answer to the ultimate question of what is considered art. The beauty of philosophy lies in the divergence of ideas and the constant discussions and texts being released that challenge our perception and understanding of particular subjects. In the case of art, it has become increasingly dependent on the viewer, and not only on the artist: art is experienced through the senses; it does not rest on appreciation, but rather on how it makes the viewer feel; it carries a certain mood, personality and conveys a present or past time, and it influenced generations and civilisations.

Philosophers might not agree on one idea, but they have given the world different views that could be used and applied to human disciplines, and it is by understanding these philosophies that one can ask: is fashion art?


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