Me? Or, like, the philosophical idea of "Art"? If the latter, then I think we first have to have a discussion about what, exactly, Art is and--equally as important--what Art isn't. If we're going to have a discussion of that nature here, we should all be someone on the same page, so as I primer, I propose everyone who wants to take part read Tolstoy's "What is Art". Here's the first chapter, I'll post the next 19 chapters as the discussions evolves and I'm sure everyone has read this part.
Pick up any newspaper of our time, and in every one of them you will find a section on theatre and music; in almost every issue you will find a description of some exhibition or other, or of some particular painting, and in every one you will find reports on newly appearing books of an artistic nature - poetry, stories, novels.
Immediately after the event, a detailed description is published of how this or that actress or actor played this or that role in such and such a drama, comedy or opera, and what merits they displayed, and what the contents of the new drama, comedy or opera were, and its merits or shortcomings. With the same detail and care they describe how such-and-such an artist sang such-and-such a piece, or performed it on the piano or the violin, and what the shortcomings or merits of the piece and of the performance were. In every large town there will always be, if not several, then certainly one exhibi tion of new paintings, whose merits and shortcomings are analyzed with the greatest profundity by critics and connoisseurs. Almost every day new novels and poems appear, separately or in magazines, and the newspapers consider it their duty to give their readers detailed reports on these works of art.
To support art in Russia, where only a hundredth part of what would be needed to provide all the people with the opportunity of learning is spent on popular education, the government gives mil lions in subsidies to academies, conservatories and theatres. In France eight millions are allotted to art, and the same in Germany and England. In every large town huge buildings are constructed for museums, academies, conservatories, dramatic schools, and for per formances and concerts. Hundreds of thousands of workers - carpen ters, masons, painters, joiners, paper-hangers, tailors, hairdressers, jewelers, bronze founders, typesetters - spend their whole lives in hard labor to satisfy the demands of art, so that there is hardly another human activity, except the military, that consumes as much effort as this.
But it is not only that such enormous labor is expended on this activity - human lives are also expended on it directly, as in war: from an early age, hundreds of thousands of people devote their entire lives to learning how to twirl their legs very quickly (dancers); others (musicians) to learning how to finger keys or strings very quickly; still others (artists) to acquiring skill with paint and to depicting all they see; a fourth group to acquiring skill in twisting every phrase in all possible ways and finding a rhyme for every word. And these people, often very kind, intelligent, capable of every sort of useful labor, grow wild in these exceptional, stupefy ing occupations and become dull to all serious phenomena of life, one-sided and self-complacent specialists, knowing only how to twirl their legs, tongues or fingers.
But this, too, is not all. I recall attending once a rehearsal of one of the most ordinary new operas, such as are produced in all European and American theatres.
I arrived when the first act had already begun. To enter the auditorium I had to pass backstage. I was led through dark under ground corridors and passages of the enormous building, past immense machines for the changing of sets and lighting, where in darkness and dust I saw people working at something. One of the workers, his face grey and thin, wearing a dirty blouse, with dirty workman’s hands, the fingers sticking out, obviously tired and displeased, walked past me, angrily reproaching another man for something. Going up a dark stairway, I came out backstage. Amid piled-up sets, curtains, some poles, there were dozens, if not hun dreds, of painted and costumed people standing or milling around, the men in costumes closely fitted to their thighs and calves, and the women, as usual, with their bodies bared as much as possible. These were all singers, male and female chorus-members, or ballet dancers, awaiting their turns. My guide led me across the stage, over a plank bridge through the orchestra, where sat about a hundred musicians of all sorts, and into the dark stalls. On an elevation between two lamps with reflectors, in an armchair with a music-stand in front of it, baton in hand, sat the director of the musical part, who conducted the orchestra and singers and the overall production of the entire opera.
When I arrived, the performance had already begun, and a procession of Indians bringing home a bride was being presented on stage. Besides the costumed men and women, two other men in short jackets were running and fussing about the stage: one was the director of the dramatic part, and the other, who stepped with extraordinary lightness in his soft shoes as he ran from place to place, was the dancing master, who received more pay per month than ten workers in a year.
These three directors were trying to bring together the singing, the orchestra and the procession. The procession, as usual, was done in pairs, with tinfoil halberds on their shoulders. They all started from one place and went around, and around again, and then stopped. For a long time the procession did not go right: first the Indians with halberds came out too late, then too early, then they came out on time but crowded together too much as they exited, then they did not crowd but failed to take their proper places at the sides of the stage, and each time everything stopped and was started over again. The procession began with a recitative by a man dressed up like some sort of Turk, who, opening his mouth strangely, sang: ‘I accompany the bri-i-ide.’ He would sing it and wave his arm - bare, of course - from under his mantle. And the procession would start. But right away the French horn does something wrong at the end of the recitative, and the conductor, recoiling as if some disaster has taken place, raps on the music-stand with his baton. Everything stops, and the conductor, turning to the orchestra, falls upon the French horn, abusing him in the rudest terms, of the sort that coachmen use, for having played a wrong note. And again every thing starts over. The Indians with halberds again come out, stepping softly in their strange shoes; again the singer sings: ‘I accompany the bri-i-ide.’ But this time the pairs stand too close together. Again the rapping of the baton, the abuse, and it starts over. Again, ‘I accompany the bri-i-ide,’ again the same gesture with the bare arm from under the mantle, and the pairs, again stepping softly, halberds on their shoulders, some with serious and sad faces, some exchanging remarks and smiling, take their places in a circle and begin to sing. All is well, it seems; but again the baton raps, and the conductor, in a suffering and spiteful voice, begins to scold the male and female chorus-members: it turns out that they fail to raise their arms from time to time while singing, as a sign of animation. ‘Have you all died, or what? Cows! If you’re not dead, why don’t you move?’ Again it starts, again ‘I accompany the bri-i-ide,’ again the female chorus-members sing with sad faces, now one and now another of them raising an arm. But two of the female chorus-members exchange remarks - again a more vehement rap ping of the baton. ‘What, have you come here to talk? You can gossip at home. You there, in the red trousers, move closer. Look at me. From the beginning.’ Again, ‘I accompany the bri-i-ide.’ And so it continues for one, two, three hours. The whole of such a rehearsal continues for six hours on end. The rapping of the baton, the repetitions, the positionings, the correctings of the singers, the orchestra, the processions, the dancing, all of it seasoned with angry abuse. The words ‘asses, fools, idiots, swine’ I heard addressed to the musicians and singers a good forty times in the course of one hour. And the unfortunate, physically and morally crippled person - flautist, horn player, singer - to whom the abuse is addressed, keeps silent and does what is demanded, repeats ‘I accompany the bri-i-ide’ twenty times over, sings one and the same phrase twenty times over, and again marches about in his yellow shoes with a halberd on his shoulder. The conductor knows that these people are so crippled as to be no longer fit for anything except blowing a horn or walking about with a halberd in yellow shoes, and at the same time they are accustomed to a sweet, luxurious life and will put up with anything only so as not to be deprived of this sweet life - and therefore he calmly gives himself up to his rudeness, the more so in that he has seen it all in Paris and Vienna and knows that the best conductors behave that way, that it is the musical tradition of great artists, who are so enthralled by their great artistic feat that they have no time to sort out the feelings of the performers.
It is hard to imagine a more repulsive sight. I have seen one worker scold another for not supporting the weight piled on him while unloading goods, or a village elder at haymaking abuse a worker for not building a proper rick, and the worker would be obediently silent. But however unpleasant it was to see, the unpleasantness was softened by awareness of the fact that some neces sary and important task was being done, that the mistake for which the superior scolded the worker might have ruined something necessary.
What, then, was being done here, and why, and for whom? It was quite possible that he, the conductor, was also worn out, like that worker; one could even see that he was indeed worn out; but who told him to suffer? And on account of what was he suffering? The opera they were rehearsing was of the most ordinary kind, for those who are accustomed to them, but made up of the greatest absurdities one could imagine: an Indian king wants to get married, a bride is brought to him, he disguises himself as a minstrel, the bride falls in love with the sham minstrel and is in despair, but then learns that the minstrel is the king himself, and everyone is very pleased.
That there never were and never could be any such Indians, and that what was portrayed bore no resemblance not only to Indians but to anything else in the world, except other operas - of that there can be no doubt. That no one speaks in recitative, or expresses their feelings in a quartet, standing at a set distance and waving their arms, that nowhere except in a theatre does anyone walk that way, with tinfoil halberds, in slippers, by pairs, that no one ever gets angry that way, is moved that way, laughs that way, cries that way, and that no one in the world can be touched by such a performance - of that there can also be no doubt.
Involuntarily, a question comes to mind: for whom is this being done? Who can like it? If there are occasional pretty tunes in the opera, which it would be pleasant to hear, they could be sung simply, without those stupid costumes, processions, recitatives and waving arms. As for the ballet, in which half-naked women make voluptuous movements, intertwining in various sensual garlands, it is a downright depraved performance. So that one simply fails to understand for whom it is intended. For a cultivated man it is unbearable, tiresome; to a real working man it is totally incomprehensible. It might be pleasing, and then just barely, to some depraved artisans who have picked up a gentlemanly spirit but have not yet been satiated with gentlemanly pleasures, and who want to give testimony of their civilization, or else to young lackeys.
And all this vile stupidity is produced not only with no kindly merriment, with no simplicity, but with spite and beastly cruelty.
It is said that this is done for the sake of art, and that art is a very important thing. But is it true that this is art, and that art is such an important thing that such sacrifices should be offered to it? This question is particularly important because art, for the sake of which the labor of millions of people, and the very lives of people, and, above all, love among people, are offered in sacrifice, this very art is becoming something more and more vague and indefinite in people’s minds.
Criticism, in which lovers of art used to find support for their judgments of art, has lately become so contradictory that, if we should exclude from the realm of art all that the critics of various schools deny the right of belonging to art, almost no art would be left.
Like theologians of various trends, so artists of various trends exclude and destroy each other. Listen to the artists of the present-day schools and you will see in all branches of art one set of artists denying the others: in poetry, the old romantics deny the Parnassians and decadents; the Parnassians deny the romantics and the decadents; the decadents deny all their predecessors and the symbolists; the symbolists deny all their predecessors and les mages,  while les mages simply deny all their predecessors; in the novel, naturalists, psychologists and naturists deny each other. And it is the same in drama, painting and music. So that art, which consumes enormous amounts of human labor and of human lives, and breaks down love among people, not only is not anything clearly and firmly defined, but is understood in such contradictory ways by its lovers, that it is difficult to say what generally is understood as art, and particularly as good, useful art, in the name of which such sacrifices as are offered to it may rightly be offered