Sunday, April 20, 2014

Art in Tolstoy's World

           Art may not get many pages in Anna Karenina but it still has a presence. What caught my eye was how the only two times art has been described and discussed in detail have been in the aristocracy or in another country. The interesting part is how there does not seem to be much art inspired by Russian culture and history. We have one Russian painter featured but he does not get aid or support from the Russian government. Obviously, the novel has art being produced in Russia. However, the art featured gains its influence and inspiration from European ideals with no real hint of uniquely Russian culture included. 
           We've already discussed in class how it was trendy for the Russian aristocracy to emulate European ideals, but is that all there is to the lack of Russian art in Anna Karenina? I think that the way art is treated suggests that the reason for this lack is not just from seeking European culture and customs but also from the socioeconomic situation of 1870's Russia. Tolstoy treats the peasant as being the heart of Russia but there's no way peasants could afford to take the time and effort to create art. Another part of it could be that the aristocracy is portrayed as being more interested in how art should be defined and analyzed rather than in its creation. In both sections of the novel that focus on art, there is someone trying to imitate or define art. Vronsky would rather imitate other painters and follow classic styles than attempt to be original and develop a new idea. At the concert, Levin is unable to appreciate the show he just saw due to his confusion and instead argues with Pestsov that art forms should not be mixed. Any thoughts on this?


  1. Alex, this is a great post! I had not spent much time thinking about art beyond Anna's portrait. It's absence, whether Russian or not, also becomes more apparent when compared with "War and Peace." Natasha was constantly singing and dancing. Art, even in this simple form, does not appear in "Anna Karenina." Your post also inspires me to consider where in "Anna Karenina" would Russian art have a space. In most of the circles, such as Anna's and Karenin's crowd, they seem to old and serious to be singing. It seems as if Kitty and Levin are the only spaces where Russian art could occur. It is not difficult for me to re-imagine the scene of Natasha dancing the Russian piece in Levin's country estate. I completely agree that Russian art is absent from this novel and I'm starting to believe it is because there is no space for it.

    1. I'm not sure if I agree that the lack of Russian art is necessarily due to a lack of space. However, Im really glad you brought up art in "War and Peace" because I didn't really consider it when I wrote this post. Considering the time that "War and Peace" was set in compared to "Anna Karenina", I wonder if Tolstoy is suggesting that Russia is losing its culture due to modernization.

  2. I think your post gets at an important underlying current in Anna Karenina, Alex. Although Tolstoy's discussions of art in Anna Karenina are relatively few, they're pretty noticeable. I agree with you that Tolstoy seems consistently to point out the theoretical excesses of those involved with art in the novel; Vronsky's paintings and the show Levin watches both seem overly concerned with emulating certain styles, creating novelties such as "unified works of art," and filling the work of art with cultural references. It seems then that Tolstoy in these passages is advocating a more direct and emotional, and less intellectual approach to art, a view of art as "substance" rather than "form," so to speak.