Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Objectivist Theory of Music

Rate this topic


Jonathan13
 Share

Recommended Posts

*** Mod's note: Split from a related topic on Kant's influence on modern art. - sN ***

OK, I'll bite. What is the Objectivist theory of music? As opposed to the Objectivist theory of art. A reference would be handy.

The Objectivist theory is that music is art, despite not complying with Rand's definition and requirements of art.

I asked:

Shouldn't music be removed from the realm of legitimate art forms until the time that there is a theory of music which meets the Objectivist requirements for all art forms, i.e., a theory that is a least as objective and detailed as, say, Kandinsky's theory of color?

Kendall replied:

Only if you're a rationalist, and definitions determine reality.

Why would a person be a "rationalist" if he expected music to fit within the Objectivist definition of art and to comply with Rand's statements about which characteristics something must have in order to qualify as art according to Objectivism?

Music is pretty ostensibly an art form.

"Pretty ostensibly"? Does that mean that music is "seemingly" or "superficially" an art form?

It's issue is how it functions as representational.

Now you seem to be using the word "representational" in a different way than what Objectivism uses it as the basis for rejecting abstract visual art. Objectivism considers abstract paintings and other forms of abstract art to be non-art because they are not representational in the sense that they do not contain semblances of identifiable objects.

Representational paintings contain images of objects and people. Representational novels include descriptions of people, things and events. There is no need to assert that people will some day discover in what way such art forms "function as representational." No future research and exploration is required.

On the other hand, music and abstract paintings do not contain such semblances of identifiable objects, and, therefore, are not representational, and they will never become representational in the same sense that art works which contain semblences of identifiable objects are representational.

If music gets a break in the name of future discoveries which will explain how music affects us, then abstract art should get the same break (and, as I've been saying, about one hundred years ago Kandinsky had already been much more objective and detailed in exploring the "language" of abstract color and form than any Objectivist, or anyone else, has been in exploring the "language" of music).

This is a bit like claiming that goats should be removed from the classification of valid animal forms until such time as we've mapped it's genome.

No. The Objecivist position that music and architecture are valid art forms, and that abstract painting and sculpture are not, is like defining "goat" as "a horned, bearded, cloven-hoofed mammal," and then claiming that a horse is a type of goat despite its not having horns, a beard or cloven hooves, and asserting that it will be up to future zoologists to discover why horses are goats, and then saying that a donkey is most definitely not a type goat, since it doesn't have horns, a beard or cloven hooves, and anyone who thinks that a donkey is a type of goat is accepting a contradiction, trying to destroy man's mind, and he's doing so because Kant was the father of modern biological taxonomy.

J

Edited by softwareNerd
Added 'split-topic' notice
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Before getting into Objectivism view of art and music, consider it from a layperson's viewpoint...

We look at things like painting, sculpture, literature and music and there appears to be a connection. They are things that people do "creatively" (which opens a pandora's box, but let's assume that -- at this stage -- we're operating at some level of vagueness). They also are things that we do for fun, but differ from things we call "games". In a sense, they are things which seem pointless if we take a materialistic view of what affects they achieve, and yet they can make people respond with great emotions of delight, or rapture, or sadness -- prima facie evidence that they have some meaning to us.

There is something about these things that is similar. Even a child starts to grasp that without being able to verbalize what is common. Traditionally, these things have been grouped into a concept called "art". Rand does not dispute this traditional concept. There are definitely fringe questions about whether a certain field is art or has elements of art, and there may be fringe questions about when something ceases to be art. However, this type of thing is true of all concepts: the so-called "borderline" issue, of when "blue" is no longer blue. In fundamental terms, though, Objectivism's notion of what types of things are art is no different from the commonplace view. Rand did not try to draw fundamentally new lines of classification here.

The definition that Objectivism uses is another issue. For instance, a scientist might have a technical definition of what constitutes Homo Sapiens or Man; it might be framed in terms of genes or something similar. A priest might use a different definition, e.g. "the living creature that God made in his own image". Yet, these two are pointing to the same men. Leaving aside borderline cases (say, a fetus) the scientist and the priest would agree on whether a particular biped they see is a man. Where they differ is in what they see as the defining element of that group of entities.

I assume you also think of music as being art. If so, then you agree with Rand on that score, and you're really asking about how she chose that description as being a fundamental one. The question is better framed thus: is " 'selective recreation of reality' the definition of art; and, if so, how does such a definition encompass music?

(Of course if you think music is not art, then one would have to pursue a different avenue.)

Folks, I realize it will be a bit messy, but I'm going to move two of the posts about Kandinsky back to the other (art) thread. I'd really like to keep the music discussion separate.

Edited by softwareNerd
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Objectivist theory is that music is art, despite not complying with Rand's definition and requirements of art.

That is not a theory. That is an assertion. I told you it wasn't a theory. You need it to be so to knock down the straw man.

Rest of discussion rendered irrelevant.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That is not a theory. That is an assertion. I told you it wasn't a theory. You need it to be so to knock down the straw man.

Rest of discussion rendered irrelevant.

Oh, I'm sorry. You were looking for a more detailed summary of Rand's theory of music than what I gave? Okay, then, I'll get back to you when I have a little time.

J

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh, I'm sorry. You were looking for a more detailed summary of Rand's theory of music than what I gave?

No, as I said, that actually wasnt the summary of anything that could be called a theory. I'm not looking for a summary. Still searching for a theory.

Look dude, come on the board, make assertions, and then expect others to do your homework for you. It's plain rude. You want other people to engage you, then be an engaging sort of person. Differentiate yourself from the average yahoo that shows up and thinks he knows something.

You first.

Edited by KendallJ
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Has anyone ever read "The Romantic Manifesto" by Ayn Rand? If one is searching for the Objectivist take on music and art in general, go ahead, find it, buy it, read it. It's $7.99. I'll give a summary (using quotes), although it will not substitute "The Romantic Manifesto" by any means.

"Man’s profound need of art lies in the fact that his cognitive faculty is conceptual, i.e., that he acquires knowledge by means of abstractions, and needs the power to bring his widest metaphysical abstractions into his immediate, perceptual awareness. Art fulfills this need: by means of a selective re-creation, it concretizes man’s fundamental view of himself and of existence."

Music is art because a composer selects certain "sounds produced by the periodic vibrations of a sonorous body, and evokes man’s sense-of-life emotions" (from TRM), he concretizes man's fundamental view of himself and of existence.

Rand distinguished art from other art forms (Literature, Painting, Sculpture, Architecture) in this way:

"The fundamental difference between music and the other arts lies in the fact that music is experienced as if it reversed man’s normal psycho-epistemological process.

The other arts create a physical object (i.e., an object perceived by man’s senses, be it a book or a painting) and the psycho-epistemological process goes from the perception of the object to the conceptual grasp of its meaning, to an appraisal in terms of one’s basic values, to a consequent emotion. The pattern is: from perception—to conceptual understanding—to appraisal—to emotion.

The pattern of the process involved in music is: from perception—to emotion—to appraisal—to conceptual understanding.

Music is experienced as if it had the power to reach man’s emotions directly."

Music concretizes man's emotions into a perceptual form--similar to how literature, painting, sculpture concretizes abstractions into a perceptual form. So in a way... Literature, painting, sculpture is the more intellectual side of man, whereas music is more the emotional side...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yeah I've read TRM. But the question is why instrumental music can be accepted as a legitimate art-form even though it is non-representational, whereas abstract painting gets labelled 'non-objective' for the same reason. I agree music can stimulate the emotions directly without any need to directly refer to real-world objects. But so can abstract painting. Neither a Kandinsky painting nor a Beethoven string quartet make any direct reference to reality - instead their raw materials have been chosen in a way which evokes certain emotions through direct sensory stimulation. Kandinsky realised that portraying real objects wasnt necessary for a painting to have emotional content, because the same effects could be created through the manipulate of colour and geometrical forms, in a similar way to how Renaissance musicians realised that representational content (eg lyrics or programmatic meaning) wasnt necessary to music.

In my opinion, the only real argument for denying abstract painting the status of 'art' would be that it operates only on a sensory level rather than having a conceptual element. Classical music, like most European art, has always been about the relationship between the universal (the overarching structure/form - sonata/rondo/fugue/etc) and the particulars (individual themes/phrases) whereas abstract painting is often only about particulars and immediacy. An individual theme from a Beethoven string quartet isnt considered high art just because it sounds pretty- it gets its status as 'art' through its place in the work as a whole. And abstract painting doesnt really have this formal dimension - although there are many pieces which do give the impression of being highly structured and almost mathematical (eg this), theres no real theory underlying it and the structure of each piece is unique to that piece.

The main problem for abstract painting is the lack of any principled way of saying that the work of people like Kandinsky/Miro/Williams is 'art', whereas the pattern on my wallpaper isnt, even though it looks pretty and may stimulate me emotionally. And I think this problem is partly a function of this lack of any formal theory for abstract painting. But this issue has nothing to do with its lack of representation as such, and similar problems do exist in music as soon as you look outside the classical world and start asking whether jazz/rock can be art - the question is whether evoking emotions is sufficient for a work to be art, or whether formal qualities are also necessary.

Despite this, I have no hesitation about calling abstract painting art, because when it comes to non-representional art-forms I think the most important factor is the degree to which they can communicate emotions. And I've never found any other painters (abstract or representational) who's work affects me in the same way that Kandinsky's does.

On a side note, I'm not sure whether splitting this thread off from the other one was a good idea, because its not about music on its own, its about the relationship between music and abstract painting. It probably works fine as a separate thread but the thread title is a bit misleading just now.

Edited by eriatarka
Link to comment
Share on other sites

To make an extra distinction, although I dont think theres any general theory of abstract painting, there are still abstract pieces which give the impression of having their own unique structure and internal logic (the works of Kandinsky/Malevich/Mondrian come to mind). But there's also abstract paintings which seems to have no structure/logic at all and which are basically just a mash of colour - Rothko and Pollock for example. And I would be much less inclined to call this stuff art.

Similarly in music, I wouldnt class many New Age pieces as art (even though they can be very pretty and are 'colourful' in terms of sound) because they are often lacking in meaningful structure and come across as too wishy-washy. I'm not sure if thats just my personal taste though - I do think that a piece needs to have a sufficient amount of internal logic in order to be 'art', but I would find it difficult in many cases to justify why I think one piece has this logic, whereas another doesnt.

Did Ayn Rand say in TRM why she never considered the 'tiddly-wink' music she liked to be high art? I dont remember.

Edited by eriatarka
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...