Art and Authenticity

The words—they no longer come to me like they used to.

I really want to get back, to that part of me that can write, that part of me that was tender enough to feel and tough enough to risk it.

I do not want it to be loud, or rife with pretension.

I want it to be the truth. Though quiet, I want it unmistakable in its authenticity.

I want it straight out and simple.

*  *  *

Tolstoy believed that the function of art is to communicate emotion. Art is genuine art, he said, only if it infects the recipient with the same feeling the artist himself had experienced and consequently expressed in his art. This ‘infectiousness of art,’ Tolstoy argued, is the only definite sign that sets apart real from phony art, and “the degree of this infectiousness is also the sole measure of excellence in art.”1 This degree of infectiousness, in turn, is determined by three conditions:

  1. individuality,
  2. clearness of expression, and
  3. sincerity.

The third condition, sincerity, is said to be the most important of the three.

“But most of all is the degree of infectiousness of art increased by the degree of sincerity in the artist. As soon as the spectator, hearer, or reader, feels that the artist is infected by his own production and writes, sings, or plays, for himself, and not merely to act on others, this mental condition of the artist infects the recipient; and, on the contrary, as soon as the spectator, reader, or hearer, feels that the author is not writing, singing, or playing, for his own satisfaction—does not himself feel what he wishes to express, but is doing it for him, the recipient—resistance immediately springs up, and the most individual and the newest feelings and the cleverest technique not only fail to produce any infection but actually repel.

I have mentioned three conditions of contagion in art, but they may all be summed up into one, the last, sincerity; that is, that the artist should be impelled by an inner need to express his feeling. That condition includes the first; for if the artist is sincere he will express the feeling as he experienced it. And as each man is different from everyone else, his feeling will be individual for everyone else; and the more individual it is—the more the artist has drawn it from the depths of his nature—the more sympathetic and sincere will it be. And this same sincerity will impel the artist to find clear expression for the feeling which he wishes to transmit.

Therefore this third condition—sincerity—is the most important of the three. It is always complied with in peasant art, and this explains why such art always acts so powerfully; but it is a condition almost entirely absent from our upper-class art, which is continually produced by artists actuated by personal aims of covetousness or vanity.

Such are the three conditions which divide art from its counterfeits, and which also decide the quality of every work of art considered apart from its subject matter.

The absence of any one of these conditions excludes a work from the category of art and relegates it to that of art’s counterfeits. If the work does not transmit the artist’s peculiarity of feeling and is therefore not individual, if it is unintelligibly expressed, or if it has not proceeded from the author’s inner need for expression—it is not a work of art. If all these conditions are present even in the smallest degree, then the work even if a weak one is yet a work of art.” –Leo Tolstoy, What is Art?

*  *  *

I have always been fascinated with the creative process, and the drive that compels people to create. I admire the ability to create art, but not just any art, but art that moves people. Art that makes you feel things. Sense a connection. Travel through time or have it stand still, here. Now.

And such works of art, I recognize now—the thread common to all of them is sincerity.

It is something I want my own writing to possess, and when I cannot be sincere, I find writing very difficult. Of late, I’ve been unable to write entirely, and my guess is that it is because I am afraid again. To feel things. To say things. To be wrong. To be vulnerable.

And sincerity can never thrive when fear dominates, for sincerity takes courage.

I used to be able to risk it, but now I feel stifled by fear.

I am still seeking the remedy to this.

And when I hit publish for this post, I hope it helps.

· • ♥ • ·

1 Tolstoy, L. (1930). What is Art? trans. by Aylmer Maude. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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4 thoughts on “Art and Authenticity

  1. Wonderful post ~ I think you can alleviate many of your fears as this post hold everything you have mentioned above. Being hit by the extreme of wanting writing to be perfect, to hit the gold standard you’ve set for yourself ~ I believe it to be the worst thing. And what you’ve done here is so great to read (for me as well as others I am sure), you bring it out in the open…and it is a glorious read.

    • Thank you; your comment made me smile. Although, I do feel the need to point out that most of the post was really Tolstoy’s excellent ideas on what art is and what its function is. I highly recommend you also read the entirety of his essay (if you haven’t already). 🙂

      • Thank you, and I will read more of his essay in entirety as it is fascinating ~ strong and clear thoughts of Tolstoy. It causes me to reflect back on my writing… for the writer’s “inner need for expression”. Only through sincerity is it possible to express the feelings/emotion of the topic honestly and clearly – the difficulty of writing (where you mention “sincerity can never thrive when fear dominates.”).

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