Britney or Shakespeare: Will the Real Artist Please Stand Up?

Summertime brings the same problem to bloggers to it does to the networks. What to do when you’re out of fresh material, or the writers need a vacation just as bloggers do. By the time you’re reading this, Hubby and I will be on a car trip from here to Montanna, Washington, Oregon, and down the coastline to California, and possibly through Las Vegas before turning back home. We’ll be visiting family and old friends at points along the way. Maybe I’ll have a lot to talk about after we get back. I know I’ll have lots of photographs. In the meantime I’ll be posting some re-runs–just like the networks do–along with a few pre-posted items of interest (I hope) so that Wintersong remains “active” even while the author is not. We’ll be taking out laptop, and I hope to keep up with my blog reading whenever we have hookup available. And remember–if you’re out there on the highways–drive safely! The life you save may be mine and Hubby’s.


Today I had to make a big decision. I’d just gotten home chock full of ideas from a class on the clash and culture of religion, but as usual my head was swimming with so many different thoughts and ideas that I was having difficulty deciding exactly what I wanted to say. So I decided instead to go to a different kind of web than that spinning around the grey matter of my brain and getting more and more entangled. Thinking it might help clear my mind of religion, and because the question has plagued me for quite a time as I struggle with my own attempts at “art,” I went online and typed into a search field the words What is Art? Voila! I couldn’t even begin to count the number of responses that came up, but– hoping for some sort of divine inspiration–began randomly opening pages.

One of the first places my eyes landed was on a website made up completely of excerpts of essays on art by Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). Up to now I was unaware that Tolstoy had written extensively on art as well as history and religion. And I must say that I also considered him above my head; the only literary work coming to mind being WAR & PEACE (which I never managed to read, but I did see the movie). I apologize for their length in advance but here, three of my favorites quoted from the website itself, are the ones that spoke directly to me in my continual struggle to figure out what is art for me:

In order correctly to define art, it is necessary, first of all, to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure and to consider it as one of the conditions of human life. Viewing it in this way we cannot fail to observe that art is one of the means of intercourse between man and man.

Art begins when one person, with the object of joining another or others to himself in one and the same feeling, expresses that feeling by certain external indications. To take the simplest example: a boy, having experienced, let us say, fear on encountering a wolf, relates that encounter; and, in order to evoke in others the feeling he has experienced, describes himself, his condition before the encounter, the surroundings, the woods, his own lightheartedness, and then the wolf’s appearance, its movements, the distance between himself and the wolf, etc. All this, if only the boy, when telling the story, again experiences the feelings he had lived through and infects the hearers and compels them to feel what the narrator had experienced is art.

We are accustomed to understand art to be only what we hear and see in theaters, concerts, and exhibitions, together with buildings, statues, poems, novels. . . . But all this is but the smallest part of the art by which we communicate with each other in life. All human life is filled with works of art of every kind – from cradlesong, jest, mimicry, the ornamentation of houses, dress, and utensils, up to church services, buildings, monuments, and triumphal processions. It is all artistic activity. So that by art, in the limited sense of the word, we do not mean all human activity transmitting feelings, but only that part which we for some reason select from it and to which we attach special importance.

The very next click took me to one of those interesting pages from THE PHILOSOPHER’S MAGAZINE ONLINE where you’re asked to take part in a survey of what constitutes (for the public at least) real art. I could not resist taking it even though I’m lacking with real education in the field of any art, whether music, painting & other art mediums, or literature. If you’d like to take the same test, go to TPM Online, which asks opinions of artists of various genres such as writers (Jane Austen, T.S. Elliott, Stephen King, William Shakespeare), musicians (Miles Davis, Kurt Cobain [Nirvana], Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Britney Spears) and to one we traditionally think of as definition of “real” artists, Michelangelo.

Limiting your choices to two artists, you’re asked to compare and judge them by: technical ability, enjoyment, conveys feelings of the artist, conveys moral lessons or helps us live better lives, formal features are harmonious and/or beautifu, provides insight into reality.I chose Shakespeare and Mozart as the two top artists. I gave (unknowingly, but according to survey) 62 points to Shakespeare, and 52 to Mozart. Interestingly enough, however, when it came to the question of which you’d prefer to be stranded on an island with, my choice was hands down Mozart. The reason? I think that anybody would have to be crazy to paint a chapel ceiling lying on his back for months (or was it years?). . . and I’m not sure I would able to handle being alone on an island with a crazy man. On the other hand, since I saw the movie about Mozart made a few years back, and he seemed like quite an earthy but funloving man who made beautiful music if you can believe movies, well you can see how I made my choice.

Now to end this rather worthless diatribe, and to give you an opportunity to create your own art and continue to ponder “what makes something a great work of art” (now that you’ve read Tolstoy’s excerpts) you should go to this final website to try your hand at splash painting a la Jackson Pollock style. Above all, don’t forget the “art” of having fun!

1 thought on “Britney or Shakespeare: Will the Real Artist Please Stand Up?

  1. I hope your trip is as wonderful as it sounds. That is one of our very most favorite routes to take when we really want to relax and enjoy ourselves. Your art work is really good!

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