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Must art be representational?

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eriatarka
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<this topic was split off from another thread by a moderator, I didnt create this thead>

Where exactly did she say this? To the best of my knowledge, she never said such a thing.

I dont have a copy of the Romantic Manifesto here but Im pretty sure I remember some attacks on abstract art in it, perhaps in the "Art and Cognition" chapter. But in any case, since art is an artist's "selective representation of reality" it would follow that non-representational works arent art. And you cant really say that Ayn Rands dislike of non-representational art is a just personal value judgement, because its a consequene of her belief about the nature of art, which I assume is part of Objectivism.

Edited by eriatarka
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I dont have a copy of the Romantic Manifesto here but Im pretty sure I remember some attacks on abstract art in it, perhaps in the "Art and Cognition" chapter. But in any case, since art is an artist's "selective representation of reality" it would follow that non-representational works arent art. And you cant really say that Ayn Rands dislike of non-representational art is a just personal value judgement, because its a consequene of her belief about the nature of art, which I assume is part of Objectivism.

Nope, it only follows that they are not "good" art.

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I dont have a copy of the Romantic Manifesto here but Im pretty sure I remember some attacks on abstract art in it, perhaps in the "Art and Cognition" chapter. But in any case, since art is an artist's "selective representation of reality" it would follow that non-representational works arent art. And you cant really say that Ayn Rands dislike of non-representational art is a just personal value judgement, because its a consequene of her belief about the nature of art, which I assume is part of Objectivism.

The issue that I was getting at is this: I don't recall ever seeing Rand classify a particular work or movement of art as 'objective' or 'non-objective.' I don't even know what classifying an art as such means.

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And you cant really say that Ayn Rands dislike of non-representational art is a just personal value judgement, because its a consequene of her belief about the nature of art, which I assume is part of Objectivism.
Rand did say the following:

... it is not a contradiction to say: "This is a great work of art, but I don't like it, "
As for what she considered art, I don't think it was that different from what would be considered art by most people. I don't think she was radical in that way. Her definition for art may be radical, and her specific distinction between Romanticism and Naturalism might be unique, but I don't think she was looking at some radically different set of existents in reality when she used the concept "art".
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The issue that I was getting at is this: I don't recall ever seeing Rand classify a particular work or movement of art as 'objective' or 'non-objective.' I don't even know what classifying an art as such means.

I dont have RM here so cant check :/ But Peikoff does mention "non-objective art" in his list of 'inherently dishonest ideas' in the Fact and Value essay linked earlier, although he doesnt say if he's referring to abstract ar or something else.

Now we must note that falsehood does not necessarily imply vice; honest errors of knowledge are possible. But such errors are not nearly so common as some people wish to think, especially in the field of philosophy. In our century, there have been countless mass movements dedicated to inherently dishonest ideas—e.g., Nazism, Communism, non-objective art, non-Aristotelian logic, egalitarianism, nihilism, the pragmatist cult of compromise, the Shirley MacLaine types, who “channel” with ghosts and recount their previous lives; etc. In all such cases, the ideas are not merely false; in one form or another, they represent an explicit rebellion against reason and reality
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I dont have RM here so cant check :/

Is this the quote for which you are looking?

As a re-creation of reality, a work of art has to be representational; its freedom of stylization is limited by the requirement of intelligibility; if it does not present an intelligible subject, it ceases to be art.

I guess the next question is: Do the works of Jackson Pollack, et al. present an intelligible subject?

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I consider high quality abstract art to be equivalent to classical music or movie scores in that they invoke emotions and subtle abstractions as opposed to specific concretes, but I must draw a line between good abstract art, which uses colors and shapes and assorted images to evoke emotion... and the idiot I once saw at an art festival charging three hundred dollars for poorly done canvas paintings of silver squares outlined in blue.

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I guess the next question is: Do the works of Jackson Pollack, et al. present an intelligible subject?
I guess the question back to you would be: what do those works mean to you and also what did they meant to the artist.

Some of his stuff looks quite like my five-year old's finger-painting. Is a five-year old's finger painting "art"? Not so, in my opinion. If a professional house painter has a white board where he tested his spray gun, and -- for fun -- made a few lines while doing so, he might end up with some stuff that looks like a Pollack painting. That would not be art either.

Even so, Pollack's work may be construed as art, if we assume it was done honestly and with the intent at creating something meaningful. I think that to assume so requires a leap of faith, but I'm, personally open to an explanation.

Added: I should add that the question as to whether something is art or not is not really important, compared to whether it is good art or not. At least, I cannot think of a context where it would be.

Edited by softwareNerd
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Even so, Pollack's work may be construed as art, if we assume it was done honestly and with the intent at creating something meaningful.

I think this is what Peikoff means when he speaks of non-objective art--the view that a given canvas with paint on it is art if it was intended as being "meaningful", i.e. the definition of art is anything an "artist" creates.

I am not well-versed enough to provide a compelling argument at this point for why art must be representational. However, since art as representation is founded in Aristotelianism, whereas art as form is founded in Kantianism, I should think it pertinent to study the particular works of these two individuals to evaluate both sides of the issue.

Edited by adrock3215
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Is this the quote for which you are looking?
I wasnt thinking of any quote in particular but yeah thats close to what I remember her views being, thanks.

I guess the next question is: Do the works of Jackson Pollack, et al. present an intelligible subject?
Well I dont like Pollock so dont feel comfortable defending his work. But to take the case of Kandinsky, I think a lot of his works do contain objects, albeit sharply-defined geometrical ones (such as in this painting or this). There obviously isnt any 'representation' in the traditional sense and none of the shapes are intended to correspond to anything in the real world, but an emotional effect is created by the interplay of geometrical forms and colours. I'm not sure if this constitutes 'intelligibility' though. Edited by eriatarka
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I guess the question back to you would be: what do those works mean to you and also what did they meant to the artist.

They mean nothing to me. I'm not sure why, but I am far more emotionally moved by even simple music than any form of visual art. I am also almost completely uneducated on painting, so I have to be careful not to be too rash in judging it.

That being said, I have no appreciation of splatter-painting because:

1) It has no emotional effect on me (indifference is a lack of emotion).

2) I don't get a picture of the artist's sense of life (unless it is that life is random and meaningless).

3) I can't discern any "technique" which Pollock or others have executed better than an untrained 5-yr old (or ape) could have. This last point is the one I must temper with the fact that I lack an artistic education. Even if there is some technical nature to the balance of colors and/or white space on his canvases, I'd have trouble calling his work anything more than a technical doodle.

I've made quite a few technical doodles myself, but I wouldn't call them art:

I don't want to clog up the thread with images. Here, here, and here are three if you're interested.

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Guest ArenaMan
I consider high quality abstract art to be equivalent to classical music or movie scores in that they invoke emotions and subtle abstractions as opposed to specific concretes, but I must draw a line between good abstract art, which uses colors and shapes and assorted images to evoke emotion... and the idiot I once saw at an art festival charging three hundred dollars for poorly done canvas paintings of silver squares outlined in blue.

I have never considered this idea before... I think it deserves some inspection. I personally haven't seen any abstract art that I felt this way about, but why couldn't there be?

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I consider high quality abstract art to be equivalent to classical music or movie scores in that they invoke emotions and subtle abstractions as opposed to specific concretes, but I must draw a line between good abstract art, which uses colors and shapes and assorted images to evoke emotion... and the idiot I once saw at an art festival charging three hundred dollars for poorly done canvas paintings of silver squares outlined in blue.

This is the payment I demand. Not many can afford it. I don't mean your enjoyment, I don't mean your emotion--emotions be damned!--I mean your understanding and the fact that your enjoyment was the same nature as mine, that it came from the same source: from your intelligence, from the conscious judgment of a mind able to judge my work by the standard of the same values went to write it--I mean, not the fact that you felt, but that you felt what I wished you to feel, not the fact that you admire my work, but that you admire it for the things I wished to be admired.
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I don't think the above quote from AS necessarily says that abstract can't be art. Let's say, for example, that Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water house was instead just a sculpture sitting on a pedastal (I am using this hypothetical given Rand's unique position of architecture as utilitarian art) In that case, I would still find it incredibly beautiful art and would want to buy it even though it would basically just be an abstract, geometric sculpture.

Edited by KevinDW78
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I don't think the above quote from AS necessarily says that abstract can't be art. Let's say, for example, that Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water house was instead just a sculpture sitting on a pedastal (I am using this hypothetical given Rand's unique position of architecture as utilitarian art) In that case, I would still find it incredibly beautiful art and would want to buy it even though it would basically just be an abstract, geometric sculpture.

The introduction of Halley's quote from AS was necessary to respond to Nyronous' claim that art can be evaluated based on emotion. Indeed, the purpose of much abstract art (and most post-Kantian art from the Realists on) is to evoke and "play with" the emotional responses of the beholder. For instance, Marcel Duchamp's toilet placed in an art exhibition is an attempt to surprise the beholder by envoking an emotional response along the lines of: "What the hell? That doesn't belong here". A second instance is the color field painting of Mark Rothko, the acknowledged objective of which was to experiment with color and the ways which it can evoke emotion. Rand's claim is that the evaluation of art is not based on some sort of experienced emotion, rather the "conscious judgment of a mind able to judge [a] work by the standard of the same values [that] went to write it."

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This is one quote of which I could not make much sense. I understand the point Rand would have in wording it that way - emotions be damned, intelligence is virtuous, etc. But wording alone cannot replace actual content and understanding. She doesn't go into any detail about what exactly he means by what he says. Rand even says the following with regard to music:

Until a conceptual vocabulary is discovered and defined, no objectively valid criterion of esthetic judgment is possible in the field of music

So I don't understand her purpose in putting this quote in the book, if there is currently no objective method for characterizing music. Dagny cannot show that Halley's music represents her values. They can simply compare their values, say "hey, we value the same things" and then Dagny has to assume that Halley's music is a representation of her values.

Whenever I read that Halley quote, I feel like I'm reading a Sartre quote that cannot be broken down and understood, but serves simply to invoke a "deer in the headlights" wonderment in the reader. No content is being transmitted to the readers. Halley is simply assuming that Dagny has some means by which she can judge his music according to her values, even though Rand says no means currently exist for doing so.

In short: Halley's quote contradicts Rand's quote (ie, Rand contradicts herself). (of course, I could always be wrong...)

Edited by brian0918
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Brian,

I don't think it's rare -- perhaps it is even the norm -- for an artist to want his audience to understand his work, in the sense that the audience "gets" what the artist is trying to say. Have you ever had the experience of writing something you consider really good, and then someone reads it and tells you they love it, but then goes on with more explanation and you realize that they didn't get it at all? Either they concentrated on something incidental, or they misunderstood what you were trying to say, and actually liked that!

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Brian,

I don't think it's rare -- perhaps it is even the norm -- for an artist to want his audience to understand his work

Of course they want that, but what I am saying, and what Rand says in her quote, is that it's currently objectively possible in the case of music (and maybe abstract art as well). Fans can say "this music makes me feel X, but that music makes me feel Y", but until a language is developed and the reasons for these feelings are understood, people can't objectively compare their musical tastes based on their values.

Edited by brian0918
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The introduction of Halley's quote from AS was necessary to respond to Nyronous' claim that art can be evaluated based on emotion. Indeed, the purpose of much abstract art (and most post-Kantian art from the Realists on) is to evoke and "play with" the emotional responses of the beholder. For instance, Marcel Duchamp's toilet placed in an art exhibition is an attempt to surprise the beholder by envoking an emotional response along the lines of: "What the hell? That doesn't belong here". A second instance is the color field painting of Mark Rothko, the acknowledged objective of which was to experiment with color and the ways which it can evoke emotion. Rand's claim is that the evaluation of art is not based on some sort of experienced emotion, rather the "conscious judgment of a mind able to judge [a] work by the standard of the same values [that] went to write it."

Perhaps I should clarify what I meant. One of the purposes of art, as stated by Rand if I remember (I've yet to read TRM, I'm drawing on memory and general knowledge, so if I am wrong, tell me), is that art was to represent something. To metaphysically express the values of an artist. Sculpture, Architecture, and Painting all follow a chain of observation, cognition, emotion. You see it, understand it, and reaspond. Music, on the other hand, follows a chain of observation, emotion, then cognition. You hear it, react, then come to an understanding. Music often lacks a concrete message without lyrics. Abstract art is like lyric-less music. It lacks concretes and as such can only evoke emotion. I remember one story from an art class I took in high-school. One painter had trouble selling his pieces and suppousedly, in his anger, took buckets of paint and sticks and the like and just went to town on his canvas, putting his anger into the act. The "painting" or whatever it was, was to convey his frustration and rage. If I remember the tale correctly, it worked, and sold well. I don't remember his name and as such couldn't tell you what to look for.

So, in closing, an abstract painter could make "art" if he so chose. If he could, through color and form alone, evoke in other people concepts and emotions, then he could be considered an artist. I will say that this is probably a rare case in the field of modern art. I often have a far great appreciation for the skill and meaning of pieces crafted on the internet just to "look cool" than most of the stuff I have seen linked in this thread (note my snide comments about the man at the art show). I may be operating from a different definition of "abstract art" than other people though. I, like Jake, have very little experience with art, particularly hand painting. To invoke the cliche "I don't know art, but I know what I like." That might not be quite right, but I am, admittedly, a novice. I was merely positing an idea based on my limited observations and knowledge.

Oh well, carry on.

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Fans can say "this music makes me feel X, but that music makes me feel Y", but until a language is developed and the reasons for these feelings are understood, people can't objectively compare their musical tastes based on their values.
Okay, but I'm trying to explore how this relates to Halley's comment. If Halley composes a symphony that he intends to be (say) "light-hearted" and "carefree", should he expect that many listeners will find it scary or tragic instead? Or, if he composes some "tense" music for a dramatic movie, should he expect many to find it light-hearted?
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Why does it even matter if you enjoy the piece the way that the creator 'meant' for you to enjoy it, as long as you still enjoy it? To take an example, I imagine that a lot of people who listen to Shostakovich symphonies miss the 'irony' that his biographers claim is present, and hence dont take the pieces the way he would probably have wanted them to - but if they still like the music then does this matter? Knowing the artist's intention can be interesting and it may inform your interpretation of the piece, but I'm not sure why agreeing with it is essential. Bach intended his music to be a hymn to God - does this mean that atheists cant fully appreciate it? Do we fail to understand Renaissance religious painting because we arent taking it the way that the creators wanted us to?

Edited by eriatarka
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Okay, but I'm trying to explore how this relates to Halley's comment. If Halley composes a symphony that he intends to be (say) "light-hearted" and "carefree", should he expect that many listeners will find it scary or tragic instead? Or, if he composes some "tense" music for a dramatic movie, should he expect many to find it light-hearted?

No, but that is not all that is contained within Halley's comment. He doesn't simply say that people should feel a certain way because of his music. Certainly many people will think his light-hearted pieces feel light-hearted, but emotions be damned. What he cares about are the values that brought about his music, and Dagny's ability to judge his music based on an understanding of and agreement with those values and how they translate into the music. But Rand says such a thing is impossible. That is why I see a contradiction.

Basically, Halley says that Dagny is able to do the following:

1. Listen to the music

2. Objectively determine from the music exactly what values went into the creation of that piece

3. Compare those values to her values

It is step #2 that Rand says is currently impossible.

Edited by brian0918
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Bach intended his music to be a hymn to God.

I've always wondered about this. Were his fugues written for God, or for himself? I haven't read a biography about him, so I've never known if his contatas, etc. were just to pay the bills, or if he was truly religious.

I will say that my knowledge of his motivation will never change my appreciation for his music.

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