Re: Rand and Romanticism

Technotranscendence (
Sat, 23 Oct 1999 16:17:51 -0700

On Saturday, October 23, 1999 10:28 AM Natasha Vita-More < wrote:
> >I agree. I just mean that often a conscious doctrine inhibits
> >especially when the artists (and wannabes) try to follow the doctrine.
> First I would question why someone might sit down with a compass and
> sextant to follow any doctrine! -:)

I don't claim to understand it much either... Though let me try to offer an explanation. People want the effects of great things, but don't want to put together all the causes of them. It's easy to dream you're, e.g., Michael Jordan than to work to be as good as him on the court. (I'm not into basketball, but it's the first example that came to mind.:) For instance, it easier for someone to read a book on topology than to try to come up with topology just from a few postulates. No doubt, it can be done, and that is historically how the field first gelled into a separate area of mathematical study.

With art, people might read Rand, be blown away -- most of us have met the type -- by her ideas and her no holds barred writing style, then want to go out and achieve the same. So, the imitate her. What's worse is Rand provided a lot of explicit tips on how to create art, what art is, and what are the better works. Rather than go on a journey of self-discovery, which would require questioning her ideas and tastes, it's much easier to sit back and try to follow her maxims. This is the kind of thing too many Objectivist artists do.

Of course, the ones who eventually do produce good works -- Kay Nolte Smith is one example of a novelist who seemed able to take from Rand without becoming Rand -- are few and typically go through the above stage. Those who can't just wind up being Ayn Rand Lite.

> People who find a line of thinking
> that is in sync with their own enjoy it and implement it into their lives,
> but this doesn't make them blinded to their own lives. A person who
> inhibits or restrains his creativity is usually because of his own
> emotional ups and downs, financial woos, or a creative block.

I agree, though if they embrace a doctrine that comes to them whole -- as Objectivism comes to many people, i.e., as a total system -- they might be overwhelmed. They might take their inner talent and try to remold it into a shape which it does not well fit. The Objectivist movement, to borrow from its own mythology, is full of Peter Keatings (imitators) and not Howard Roarks (originators). That's kind of sad, since this is supposed to be the opposite of what they are for. Hence, my saying it's "backfired." (It's not alone in this, which is why I gave examples of several other movements which fizzled out because of similar problems.)

> Some Romantic Realistic are not objectivists but paint romantically
> Impressionistic images, and others portray an illustrative image which
> appears to be in the spirit of Rand's fiction. But, here I am not
> knowledgeable enough to comment fully.

But, even so, you are correct.

> Romantic Realism was not mentioned
> in any of my art history curriculum in undergrad or grad schools. I don't
> seem to have reference to it in my library of art books. I did view some
> pieces on the Internet and I thought they were fine art, but I didn't see
> any or other electronic art (videos or robotics).

I don't think it will be for a while. Maybe once Torres and Kamhi come out with thier _What Art Is_, a critical book on Rand's esthetic theories, that will change. Romantic Realism as a term is something Rand created. She meant by it art that portrays heroicism without irrationalism. She aimed to combine reason and emotion in her art -- not as a hodge podge of discordants parts, but as a harmonious whole.

> Romanticism was an established art genre long before Rand's time.

I don't think Rand or any Objectivist would disagree. Her book on esthetics, _The Romantic Manifesto_, shows she knew that.:)

> In that
> Rand did not appreciate modern art or abstract expressionism, she held
> Romanticism up as pretty much the only worthwhile art form.

Not too far from my understanding, though I'd say Rand did more than just "not appreciate" those types of art. She was vehemently against them. She saw them as destructive; she saw them as counter to the actual need for art in humans. See her book for more on why she believed this.

> It was safe.
> (Romanticism was an "art and intellectual movement originating in Europe
> in the late 18th century and characterized by a heightened interest in
> nature, emphasis on the individual's expression of emotion and
> departure from the attitudes and forms of classicism, and rebellion
> established social rules and conventions.")

I don't think it was because of safety that Rand choose Romanticism. Nor do I think Romanticism as a movement was or is safe. After all, in Romantic art, especially the novels, we get a questioning of social roles and an overthrow of a lot of prior esthetic rules (in all arts). One might almost claim that Modernism is just the latest experiment of Romanticism.

> >However, as you say, the good ones do learn and I don't want to reject
> >Objectivist artists. Some are good, though most are bad.
> I hope we have the scrutiny recognize what doesn't work and the aesthetics
> to cherish what does work.

Naturally. I hope all of us can do that, though such a hope is a long way from realization. Maybe with nanotech... Just kidding!:)


Daniel Ust

For more on esthetics, see my site!