Defence of reality as against fantasy, the endeavour to prove that works of art cannot possibly stand comparison with living reality – such is the essence of this essay. But does not what the author says degrade art? Yes, if showing that art stands lower than real life in the artistic perfection of its works means degrading art. But protesting against panegyrics does not mean disparagement. Science does not claim to stand higher than reality, but it has nothing to be ashamed of in that. Art, too, must not claim to stand higher than reality; that would not be degrading for it. Science is not ashamed to say that its aim is to understand and explain reality and then to use its explanation for the benefit of man. Let not art be ashamed to admit that its aim is to compensate man in case of absence of opportunity to enjoy the full aesthetic pleasure afforded by reality by, as far as possible, reproducing this precious reality, and by explaining it for the benefit of man.
Let art be content with its lofty, splendid mission of being a substitute for reality in case of its absence, and of being a textbook of life for man.
Reality stands higher than dreams, and essential purpose stands higher than fantastic claims.
N.G. Chernyshevsky, ‘The Aesthetic Relation of Art to Reality’, MA thesis, 1855, in Selected Philosophical Essays, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1953, 379
Part one/to be continued…