Tolstoy once wrote this:
“The business of art lies just in this—to make that understood and felt which, in the form of an argument, might be incomprehensible and inaccessible….
“And such has always been the nature of good, supreme art; the ‘Iliad, the ‘Odyssey,”… the Hebrew prophets, the gospel parables, and the hymns of the Vedas; all transmit very elevated feelings and are nevertheless comprehensible to us now, educated and uneducated; as they were comprehensible to the men of the times long ago who were even less educated than our laborers…”
Great art, Tolstoy goes on to say, flows from a writer who expresses the highest understanding of life of his time by simply telling what he feels.
What wisdom! When you think of timeless works of art—paintings, music, books—they all have the power to move us now, just as they moved people for whom they were first written. That power is undimmed by time. Undimmed by the outpouring of art long after they’ve been created. Like beacons, they shine and help light our way through life by showing us what matters, what is true and unchanging.
So often I find myself reading books that try too hard. They strive to “transmit very elevated feelings,” and yet, they somehow fall short because they confuse and complexify instead of simplifying and revealing. In the end, the writer’s style seems to get in the way of the truths or understanding he or she is trying to convey.
Have you found this to be true in your own reading? I’d love to hear what you think as we all write on!
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