Re: ART: What Art Is

From: phil osborn (
Date: Sun May 28 2000 - 01:30:28 MDT

>From: Natasha Vita-More <>>Subject: Re: ART: What
>Art Is
>Date: Sat, 27 May 2000 21:40:14 -0700
>At 08:58 PM 5/27/00 -0700, Daniel wrote:
> >"Cultural icon Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was known as much for her philosophy
> >for her fiction. Her original theory of esthetics, which attacks many
> >"masterpieces" of modernist art, is as combative and controversial as any
> >her work, but until now has received little serious scrutiny. In What Art
> >Is, the authors demonstrate that Rand's ideas are supported by evidence
> >other academic fields."
>Rand's lack of appreciation for art and the arts outside her own personal
>opinion (however, she called it objective) was more due to her inability to
>understand and appreciate knowledge outside her own sphere. Her rigidity
>and lack of experience in Contemporary Art seems to be reflective of the
>rigidity in her psychology and her need for control. This behavior runs
>contrary to the open mindedness and curious attitude which can be aroused
>by fluidity and uncertainty. Such reactions as feelings of fluidity and
>uncertainty stem are emotions experienced form contemporary art and which
>art modes. Rand did not have the intellectual flexibility to understand
>such freeness of intelligent thinking, and such she disregarded as
>Although an "intellectual", she lacked a necessary ingredient of an
>intellectual thinker -- ability to develop knowledge and understanding from
>areas of thought outside one's one sphere of expertise.

To the contrary, Rand was noted for being able to grasp the essense of
information and theory far outside her expertise - i.e., theoretical physics
- in minutes, in areas where many people cannot pick it up at all, even with
years of study. Rand was NOT stupid. However, like so many extremely
intelligent creative geniuses, she developed some extremely effective and
powerful information filters, which she used as mental shortcuts to get at
the essense of things.

As I have noted elsewhere in this discussion group, one of the techniques
for improving signal to noise ratio is regenerative feedback. Regenerative
feedback, however, always introduces distortion, generally in the form of
maintaining wave forms past their original decay period. When you turn up
the regeneration too much, the feedback completely overcomes the input
signal and becomes a self-sustaining feedback loop - the unmistakeable
feedback squeal. The kind of intense focus that Rand was notorious for
easilly lends itself to this very problem.

The feedback squeal, however, represents the parts of the receiving system
that you try to keep invisable. It no longer has anything to do with the
triggering signal - just the harmonics of the receiver. To avoid this, you
try to detune the receiver, or introduce - in modern high-end P.A. systems -
smart detection and auto-dampening of such feedback. This corresponds in
one sense, roughly, to the Zen concept of the empty vessel for enlightenment
- combined, let's say, with systematic mental tricks for self-criticism.

I.e., you try to disengage your emotional attachment to ideas. Any
emotional attachment to an idea is a block to truth anyway. But Rand never
seems to have caught on to this. In fact, most of her characters in her
novels clearly have major emotional ties to particular beliefs - and Rand
seems to applaud this! I suspect that she sabotaged her own intellectual
integrity via this flaw in her thinking process - a flaw which was so
intimately tied to her very creative power!

I think that something of this sort happened to Rand, especially in her
later years as age and the disappointments of many of her personal and
professional relationships took their psychic toll. Then is when we started
seeing more and more the hateful intolerance.
> >>From the Back Cover (also as
> >"A groundbreaking alternative to this view is provided by
> >philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand (1905 1982). Best known as the author of
> >Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, Rand also created an original and
> >illuminating theory of art, which confirms the widespread view that much
> >today's purported art is really not art at all.
>Narrow, limited, uninformed. This is as ridiculous as claiming that
>today's purported science is really not science at all. The subjective
>aspect of art is whatever the artists chooses his art to be. the objective
>aspect of art is represented in the outcome of the artist's ideas -- the
>I find that art today is so fascinating -- so beyond anything ever thought
>of years ago -- it's just different. This evening, I was watching a
>program on TV with Ray Kurzweil and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and four other
>creative thinkers on the subject of "Creativity." I loved it. The
>consensus was that there are no boundaries on creativity and that a most
>necessary element of creativity is to allow oneself to explore an open
>range of possibilities, to make mistakes, to rearrange ideas, etc. If the
>only worthwhile art, as Rand preferred, was the Romantic period and artists
>kept making the same plays, fiction, music paintings and sculpture with the
>same ol' tools, there would never have been challenge to artististic
>creativity. How contrary to her own values!
But the process of creativity is not just one of freeing ones mind of
constraints. There is also the deliberate creating of constraints in the
formulation of the final artistic product. Art is, by its nature, a
_selective_ recreation of aspects of reality. The selection may in large
part be unconscious at the moment of the selection itself, but it is
certainly not random. That something is a real work of art reflects that it
successfully captured some essense in a way that we cannot or will not allow
ourselves to see in everyday experience, otherwise the concept is
meaningless. An artist is someone who has the capacity to identify or
perceive essences AND recreate them on canvas or in music, etc.

I disagree that Romantic art is the only worthwhile art. Art can capture an
essential mental process that we do not even have a name for, and we may
have no idea - conceptually - why we are drawn to it. It can capture our
darkest, bleakest moments and feelings just as easilly as our best and
brightest. Nevertheless it exists and works through and by capturing and
isolating essences. It abstracts the essential in an experience and makes
what would otherwise only normally be an abstraction into a concrete that
can be experienced directly.

Most of what I have been saying could almost be quotes from Rand on art, as
best I recall her work. What I believe was the essence of her legitimate
objection to "modern" art was that it rejected the essence of art itself.
That art is whatever an "artist" proclaims it to be, for example. Not all
that is claimed to be art does in fact capture anything essential. Some of
it is pure sensationalist crap. Something either is or isn't art - or else
the word has no meaning. If not everything is art, then there are
characteristics that can be used to identify it. That's objectivism.

However, just because the artist is otherwise a nihilistic jerk that goes
around spouting subjectivist nonsense doesn't mean that he or she may not be
capable of real art. I think that Rand tended to jump the gun from personal
critique and comdemnation to concluding that someone wasn't an artist at

> >"The authors apply Rand's theory to a debunking of the work of prominent
> >modernists and postmodernists from Mondrian, Jackson Pollock, and Samuel
> >Beckett to John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and other highly regarded
> >postmodernist figures. Finally, they explore the implications of Rand's
> >ideas for the issues of government and corporate support of the arts, art
> >law, and arts education."
>Oh my. This paragraph is painful to read. Pollock (painter), Cage
>(musician), Cunningham (dancer/choreographer) were brilliant artists whose
>*innovative* abilities shook the very foundation of the old-world
>stifling-stamp on what society thought art was supposed to be. Their
>visionary approach to creativity helped society to break free of
>intellectual and emotional constraints.
Sorry, maybe your appreciation is just more refined in certain areas - I
recall having to learn to like "Night on Bald Mountain" as a kid with no
experience with dissonance or minor keys, and once I overcame my own blocks
to recognize the artistic idiom, it became one of my favorites - but I found
Cage, as best I recall after spending considerable time trying to listen and
appreciate him, mostly without merit, as with much modern dance - and I love
many kinds of dance.

>Natasha Vita-More:
>To Order the book: Create/Recreate: The 3rd Millennial Culture
>Extropic Art & Transhumanist Arts Center:
>Transhuman Culture InfoMark:

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