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Lesson Plans

Meaning: Tolstoy (long)

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
brenda jones (oxydol)
Thu, 04 Mar 1999 22:00:15 -0600

I asked two of my classes to respond to the following quote found in the
Philosopher's Forum: Tolstoy's quot of 1898: "To say that a work of art is
good, but incomprehensibe to the majority of men, is the same as saying of
some kind of food that it is very good but that most people can't eat it." One
class was all freshmen and the other class all juniors and seniors.
My freshmen students responded essentially in agreement to the quote. A great
many of them felt that public works should be realistic and look as though a
significant amount of effort took place to complete the work. They were pretty
sure that the work should enhance the environment in which it was placed and
should not distract and along the same lines, it should actually have to do
with the environment (example given that a sculpture of a bear made since in a
zoo surrounding, but that a surfer on top of Mt. St. Helen's would make little
sense). For the most part, they felt that the work should be accessible
(understandable) to the viewing public. Finally, it should be made to last.

I asked my junior and senior class to consider the quote of Tolstoy and and
asked them if they agreed with the quote and whether or not they felt that
public art should be primarily realistic or even accessible to the majority.
They got into a lively (and loud) debate. A few of the thoughts:
Public art should reach out on the edge as much as any other art (i.e.,
Impressionism or Dada at the times that they were created.)
Public art should make people think.
Public art should, at least sometimes, be more abstract because it will not be
so tied into the specific time and culture and could then transcend time a
little better, whereas realistic art too often is tied to the specific period.
Public art (or the artist(s) of a public work) does have a responsibility to
the community in which it is created. This statement lead to a lengthy debate
about this comment: if enough people don't want it, then it should not be
there, because it is public... with the response from another student: "oh
yeah, consensus = truth (cynically stated"
So, I described the Titled Arc to them and the trial, along with the comments
by George Will in Times magazine at the time, etc. They agreed that since most
people did not like the arc, probably it should have been removed. (they, at
that point seemed to agree with the Tolstoy quote) I then showed them a
picture of it from "Shock of the New". At that point, they replied that they
really thought it was pretty neat looking and that it shouldn't have been
removed. Make people walk around it and if they didn't like it , get over it.
They really became defensive of the work.
Obviously, my student's thoughts don't necessarily stand the test of time
(even ten minutes)! Anyway, it was a fun debate and some students from a
journalism class were in my room at the same time working on the
computers.They were surprised to listen to their peers get so worked up about
art. It was fun and they had a lot more to say than what is listed here.