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No, I did not mean that "personal preferences" in judging art are objective rather than subjective." Nor did I mean that "personal preferences" in judging art are subjective rather than objective. Nor did I say any such thing...I never presented a "method" (alchemy) by which the subjective becomes the objective or by which the objective becomes the subjective.

Here's what you wrote in post #37:

Let me ask: If one person says that he likes vanilla ice cream but does not like chocolate ice cream, yet his friend says that he likes chocolate ice cream but does not like vanilla ice cream, are those what you would call subjective views or preferences or elements?

I myself would call them "personal" preferences, not subjective, but objective (factual) personal preferences.

You were clearly stating that such preferences were "not subjective, but objective," and the reasoning that you then gave for your opinion (in the next paragraphs of that post) was your equating the fact that a person has made a judgment with the judgment itself. And now you say that that isn't your position (while telling me that I'm the one who is confused)! Reread your post #37. It conflicts with what you're now saying.

We're still talking at cross purposes because the terms "objective" and "subjective" are being used in an inconsistent manner. That's what I've been trying to clear up, in contrast to you.

Not only am I trying to clear it up, but I think I'm being very generous and patient in response to your confusion, your alternating positions and backpedaling, and to some of the snarky attitude that you're giving me.

Well, they are not consistent with Miss Rand's views on the subject. I believe that I've shown how. At best they muddle the distinction between the two terms.

I don't think you've shown any such thing. I think what you've done instead is to give the definitions that I posted a hostile reading. It's as if you were looking to misinterpret them and falsely paint me as a subjectivist. My identifying subjective judgments as being subjective is not an act of subjectivity.

So, IF Reality is What It Is, then I, or anyone else, should be able to look at Parrish's work and determine whether or not it is "trash" without any understanding of what "trash" is in the relevant sense.

Don't words have meaning to you? Does "trash" somehow mean something other than "trash" to you in some instances?

And the same with Capuletti's work. Without any understanding of what "sheer perfection of workmanship" means or is in the relevant sense, anyone should be able to look at Capuletti's work and determine whether or not it exemplifies "sheer perfection of workmanship."

Are you saying that you don't understand what terms like "sheer perfection of workmanship," "tour de force" and "virtuoso technique" mean? Are you suggesting that Rand may have had drastically different definitions of those terms than their common meaning? If so, it sounds as if we're headed toward a situation of infinite regress: If Rand were to have given her own personal definitions of what those terms meant to her, then we still couldn't judge whether or not her judgments represented objectively accurate appraisals of reality as it exists because we'd have to then get her to define each of the words that she used in the definitions, and then we'd have to get her to define each of the words she used to define each of the words used to define each of the words used to define each of the words used to define each of the words...

Therefore, if anyone cannot do that, then: Reality is NOT What It Is. That is your subjectivistic payoff!

Actually my "payoff" is the opposite. My "payoff" is not that "reality is not what it is," but that by any objective standard, Parrish's work is not trash, and Capuletti's is not a tour de force of sheer perfection of workmanship.

If there are no objective standards, then yes, I would agree, so-called "abstract art" should be treated as an epistemologically subjective matter.

Great! Then we agree that music and abstract art share the same status. Both are art forms which currently have no objective standards by which to judge them as art, and both should be treated as an epistemologically subjective matter.

"Good" or "bad" by what standard?

Let's use Rand's stated objective standards! Take Parrish's work and Capuletti's and "evaluate the purely esthetic elements of the work, the technical mastery (or lack of it)." So, since Parrish's work is technically masterful, and Capuletti's is far from masterful, Parrish's work is not trash, and Capuletti's is not sheer perfection of workmanship.

There are objective standards of health and illness.

What if I ask you: Don't you have all of the facts to objectively determine if any given person is healthy or ill, irrespective of anyone else's opinions?

You seem to equate "objective" with omniscience.

The Objectivist view is that all one needs to do in order to objectively judge a work of art is to look at it and appraise it. What more facts do you need? It's not as if you need an X-ray machine or a blood lab as you would in objectively determining a person's health.

I think that I've identified your fundamental error. Call it a tentative hypothesis. For conceptual knowledge to be objective, in your view, it must be self-evident, as with perception. No context, no hierarchy, just open one's eyes and one can see and know what is "trash" and what is "sheer perfection of workmanship." Little wonder then that you think that such judgements are all subjective.

Have you not read my posts? In my last post, I listed several criteria upon which a person could objectively judge visual art, including the artist's mastery (or lack thereof) of perspective, anatomy, color theory, etc. Parrish was a master of all of those aspects, where Capuletti was not. There are no objective grounds on which to judge Capluletti's work as great and Parrish's as trash.

J

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I've seen photos online of several of his works, but I've never seen one in person. Likewise with Parrish's work. Have you ever seen photos of a work of art and then seen the originals, perhaps in a museum? There can be a big difference, if you have never noticed. I'm not saying that is the key here. Just noting that it is the case.

Indeed, there's a difference between originals and online scans. I've seen high-quality, art-reproduction prints of both Capuletti's work and Parrish's, and I've also seen a couple of Capuletti's orignials and many of Parrish's. Btw, do you think that Rand saw Parrish's originals before making her judgment? Do you think seeing originals was important to her? I doubt that she saw all of the originals of all of the artworks that she praised or condemned during her lifetime.

Interesting that you think that anything can be made beautiful? Can the ugly be made beautiful? I mean in the same sense that it is ugly. If it's made beautiful, is it still ugly? I'm just puzzled by the idea.

No, I do not believe that something which is ugly can be beautiful at the same time and in the same sense that it is ugly. My point was only that I think that something which I think is ugly can be made to be beatiful.

And I still do not know what Miss Rand meant by "trash" or why she judged Parrish's work as "trash." Nor do I know what she meant by "sheer perfection of workmanship" or why she judged Capuletti's work to be "sheer perfection of workmanship." Do you?

Yes, I think I do know what she meant by "trash." I think that she meant that it was trash. And by "sheer perfection of workmanship," she meant that she believed that Capuletti was an exceptionally skilled artist, which he was not. As for why, yes, I know why: she subjectively reacted positively to Capuletti's work despite its objectively poor quality, and she subjectively reacted negatively to Parrish's work, despite its objectively masterful quality.

To your aside, you seem to make a big deal about her use of "you": "You would not believe that it could be made beautiful - beautiful and inspiring by the sheer perfection of workmanship; neither did I until I saw it." I think you are reaching. Oops. Am I speaking for you?

I didn't make a "big deal" out of it. It was an aside -- a minor tangential comment. But if you want to see me make a "big deal" of something, maybe I should post more of Rand's comments on Capuletti and other artists where she claims to know their senses of life through their paintings, and contrast those comments to ones she made elsewhere in which she stated that one can't know another's sense of life from such limited exposure to them or their art.

But of course. It is all a matter of subjective preferences, after all. Well, with a few exceptions.

Yes, it is indeed a subjective preference for Loomis or anyone else to value details over proportional consistency, or vice versa. But you disagree? Okay, then, you tell me, which of those two aspects is it "objective" to value the most, details or proportional consistency?

So, the reasons she preferred "bold, pure colors," clean, precise details, clarity and distinctly "discernible boundaries" were? Oh yes, it was subjective.

Yes, those preferences are indeed subjective. Clearly you don't like the fact that they are subjective. However, your disliking it doesn't change the fact that they are subjective preferences.

Let's see. All preferences are subjective, in your view...

Did I say that all preferences are subjective? I don't remember having done so.

...so yes, to be objective in judging a work of art, we have to leave all of those out. We then focus only on the measurable aspects, like perspectvie, anatomy, color theory, proportion, composition, expression (?) and color/value modulation.

If you want to make a truly objective judgment, then yes, it follows that you would leave out subjective preferences and comment only on the objective elements. Sorry it that upsets you, but that's what it means in reality to be objective. One doesn't begin with liking certain colors and sharp outlines, and then say that a painting is objectively great because it contains certain colors and sharp outlines. In other words, I agree with Rand's stated position that one need not enjoy an artist's work in order to objectively evaluate it, and so much so that I wish she would have practiced what she preached when judging Parrish and Capuletti, as well as other artists.

Are there any other objective aspects to artworks, namely paintings given that Parrish and Capuletti were painters? All that is left, beyond those measurable aspects which you've listed, is subjective? (I think that I know your answer, but I'm certainly willing to read otherwise.)

There are many objective grounds on which to judge art. My point is simply that it is an act of subjectivity to prefer one set of objective grounds over another. Does a viewer prefer expressiveness of character over compositional expressiveness? If so, that's a subjective preference. Does he prefer a painting because it includes tight perspective but a disorganized color scheme over another painting which includes sloppy perspective but a very organized color scheme? If so, that's a subjective preference.

Out of curiosity, do you know anything about how Parrish actually worked in creating his paintings? Or Capuletti"

Yes, I do some things about how they painted. Capuletti often used the common technique of value contouring and was often pretty clumsy at it. Something that was quite different about Parrish is that he sometimes painted in a manner similar to four-color reproduction process in which he laid down a cyan tone first and then transparent layers of magenta and yellow, which is a process that requires a lot of knowledge and awareness of what one is doing -- it takes a lot of mental effort to hold all of the necessary visual information in one's mind at the same time.

J

Edited by Jonathan13
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Here's what you wrote in post #37:

You were clearly stating that such preferences were "not subjective, but objective," and the reasoning that you then gave for your opinion (in the next paragraphs of that post) was your equating the fact that a person has made a judgment with the judgment itself. And now you say that that isn't your position (while telling me that I'm the one who is confused)! Reread your post #37. It conflicts with what you're now saying.

No, what I said is not contradictory. Yes, you are confused. Worse than confused.

Not only am I trying to clear it up, but I think I'm being very generous and patient in response to your confusion, your alternating positions and backpedaling, and to some of the snarky attitude that you're giving me.

No, you're not trying to clear up the fundamental disagreement. Generous and patient? BS. Alternating positions and backpedaling? More BS. Snarky attitude? Hey, you drew "first blood."

I don't think you've shown any such thing. I think what you've done instead is to give the definitions that I posted a hostile reading. It's as if you were looking to misinterpret them and falsely paint me as a subjectivist. My identifying subjective judgments as being subjective is not an act of subjectivity.

You don't know what you're talking about.

Don't words have meaning to you? Does "trash" somehow mean something other than "trash" to you in some instances?

Yes, of course words have meaning. Problem is, just because someone, Miss Rand or you, uses a word, like "trash," I don't know what their meaning is. It is remarkable that a subjectivist would claim to know.

Are you saying that you don't understand what terms like "sheer perfection of workmanship," "tour de force" and "virtuoso technique" mean? Are you suggesting that Rand may have had drastically different definitions of those terms than their common meaning? If so, it sounds as if we're headed toward a situation of infinite regress: If Rand were to have given her own personal definitions of what those terms meant to her, then we still couldn't judge whether or not her judgments represented objectively accurate appraisals of reality as it exists because we'd have to then get her to define each of the words that she used in the definitions, and then we'd have to get her to define each of the words she used to define each of the words used to define each of the words used to define each of the words used to define each of the words...

Someone declares that something is "trash." That tells me very little. On the face of it, all I have is that they think it is "trash." To understand them, I would have to ask them to explain what they mean by "trash" and what is the basis for which they have judged that something is "trash." Apparently you "think" otherwise.

Actually my "payoff" is the opposite. My "payoff" is not that "reality is not what it is," but that by any objective standard, Parrish's work is not trash, and Capuletti's is not a tour de force of sheer perfection of workmanship.

You mean subjective-objective standard.

Great! Then we agree that music and abstract art share the same status. Both are art forms which currently have no objective standards by which to judge them as art, and both should be treated as an epistemologically subjective matter.

No, Jonathan. You and I don't agree on much of anything.

Let's use Rand's stated objective standards! Take Parrish's work and Capuletti's and "evaluate the purely esthetic elements of the work, the technical mastery (or lack of it)." So, since Parrish's work is technically masterful, and Capuletti's is far from masterful, Parrish's work is not trash, and Capuletti's is not sheer perfection of workmanship.

I'm not a mind reader. Perhaps subjectivists believe they have the ability. Wouldn't surprise me.

The Objectivist view is that all one needs to do in order to objectively judge a work of art is to look at it and appraise it. What more facts do you need? It's not as if you need an X-ray machine or a blood lab as you would in objectively determining a person's health.

What else, besides looking and appraising? An objective standard.

Have you not read my posts? In my last post, I listed several criteria upon which a person could objectively judge visual art, including the artist's mastery (or lack thereof) of perspective, anatomy, color theory, etc. Parrish was a master of all of those aspects, where Capuletti was not. There are no objective grounds on which to judge Capluletti's work as great and Parrish's as trash.

I have not not read your posts. Yes, you did list several criteria, which I take to be your subjective-objective criteria.

Why did Miss Rand judge Parrish's work to be "trash"? What did she mean by "trash"? And why did she judge Parrish's work to be "trash"? Same with Capuletti's work? I still do not know.

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Indeed, there's a difference between originals and online scans. I've seen high-quality, art-reproduction prints of both Capuletti's work and Parrish's, and I've also seen a couple of Capuletti's orignials and many of Parrish's. Btw, do you think that Rand saw Parrish's originals before making her judgment? Do you think seeing originals was important to her? I doubt that she saw all of the originals of all of the artworks that she praised or condemned during her lifetime.

Do I think that Miss Rand saw Parrish's originals before making her judgement?

Think? What do you mean by "think"? Know? Believe? Speculate? Wonder? On what basis could I draw a certain conclusion or know one way or the other for certain? I can only speculate.

Do I think that seeing originals was important to her? Same answer. I do not know. I would guess that it would be. And I would guess that she had the opportunity to see many original works of art in person.

I understand that you doubt that she saw all of the originals of all of the artworks that she praised or condemned during her lifetime. What can I conclude from your doubt? Did she, or did she not?

My guess, and it is only a guess, would be that she had seen originals by both Capuletti and Parrish. Given her high praise of Capuletti's work and her dismissal of Parrish's work as "trash," I assume that she did, but I do not know. I still do not know the basis of her judgements of the two artist's works.

With respect to what she said, as you quoted, about that one work by Capuletti, I assume that she saw that work in person. Perhaps she even owned the original. Miss Rand praised Capuletti's skill in depicting the plaster expanse of the wall in that painting. That is the kind of observation and praise that would lead me to assume that she had seen that painting in person.

No, I do not believe that something which is ugly can be beautiful at the same time and in the same sense that it is ugly. My point was only that I think that something which I think is ugly can be made to be beatiful.

Makeup can indeed do wonders, but there are limits. As Scott Christensen said in one of his videos, it's one thing to be ugly [which might pass relatively unnoticed in a small painting], but its another thing to be big and ugly.

Yes, I think I do know what she meant by "trash." I think that she meant that it was trash. And by "sheer perfection of workmanship," she meant that she believed that Capuletti was an exceptionally skilled artist, which he was not. As for why, yes, I know why: she subjectively reacted positively to Capuletti's work despite its objectively poor quality, and she subjectively reacted negatively to Parrish's work, despite its objectively masterful quality.

Well then, I do not know what Miss Rand meant by "trash," and I do not know what you mean by "trash." Nor do I know if what Miss Rand meant by "trash" is the same thing you mean by "trash."

Of course you "think" she was only subjectively reacting to their respective work. It's a foregone conclusion with you. It's your subjectivism talking.

I didn't make a "big deal" out of it. It was an aside -- a minor tangential comment. But if you want to see me make a "big deal" of something, maybe I should post more of Rand's comments on Capuletti and other artists where she claims to know their senses of life through their paintings, and contrast those comments to ones she made elsewhere in which she stated that one can't know another's sense of life from such limited exposure to them or their art.

What's your subjective preference?

Yes, it is indeed a subjective preference for Loomis or anyone else to value details over proportional consistency, or vice versa. But you disagree? Okay, then, you tell me, which of those two aspects is it "objective" to value the most, details or proportional consistency?

More of your subjectivism. So of course it is a foregone conclusion.

As to your question of me, it's too early, assuming that I have any desire to continue this discussion with you (I do not), for me to present any claims of objective value in relation to details and proportional consistency. You and I do not even agree on the meaning of "objective" and "subjective."

Yes, those preferences are indeed subjective. Clearly you don't like the fact that they are subjective. However, your disliking it doesn't change the fact that they are subjective preferences.

More or your subjectivism. And again, a foregone conclusion.

Did I say that all preferences are subjective? I don't remember having done so.

What's the difference between the subjective-subjective and the subjective-objective? Who cares?

If you want to make a truly objective judgment, then yes, it follows that you would leave out subjective preferences and comment only on the objective elements. Sorry it that upsets you, but that's what it means in reality to be objective. One doesn't begin with liking certain colors and sharp outlines, and then say that a painting is objectively great because it contains certain colors and sharp outlines. In other words, I agree with Rand's stated position that one need not enjoy an artist's work in order to objectively evaluate it, and so much so that I wish she would have practiced what she preached when judging Parrish and Capuletti, as well as other artists.

But of course, if one is to make an objective judgement, then one has to leave out subjective preferences. Problem is, you and I have no common understanding of the two concepts, "objective" and "subjective." To put it another way, you keep wanting to jump past the fundamental requirement of objectively identifying and defining the two terms, "objective" and "subjective," and instead go right to using them, blindly.

There are many objective grounds on which to judge art. My point is simply that it is an act of subjectivity to prefer one set of objective grounds over another. Does a viewer prefer expressiveness of character over compositional expressiveness? If so, that's a subjective preference. Does he prefer a painting because it includes tight perspective but a disorganized color scheme over another painting which includes sloppy perspective but a very organized color scheme? If so, that's a subjective preference.

I see. Any person's "objective grounds on which to judge art" is but their subjective preference. More confused thinking and assertions due to your failure to objectively identify and define the terms "objective" and "subjective." The subjectively-objective.

Yes, I do some things about how they painted. Capuletti often used the common technique of value contouring and was often pretty clumsy at it. Something that was quite different about Parrish is that he sometimes painted in a manner similar to four-color reproduction process in which he laid down a cyan tone first and then transparent layers of magenta and yellow, which is a process that requires a lot of knowledge and awareness of what one is doing -- it takes a lot of mental effort to hold all of the necessary visual information in one's mind at the same time.

Or good photo references to copy. Chuck Close is a master of detail.

You bore me, Jonathan. This "discussion" is a waste of my time.

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1 = A ("dress") - has great possibility

2 = C ("pipe") - has great possibility

3 = E ("buttons") - still has possibility

4 = B ("top-center") - still has possibility

5 = D ("the remaining one") - verges on those awful drawings in public places

By the way, are you willing to share your reasoning for your selections, Tyler?

Okay. Here are my (very untrained) assessments, in order of preference:

A: My favorite of the bunch. I'm impressed with the hair, which doesn't overcomplicate but clearly suggests blond curls. As compared to the others there's a fair amount of detail. I like the nose and mouth, which I find expressive. The neck also seems well done in a cartoony sort of style. Reminds me somewhat of Peanuts. There's a "breeziness" to the style that I appreciate.

C: Similarly detailed to A, though I don't find the details as engaging (expression is a little blank). I note a similarity between A and C in their posture, and it makes me wonder whether there was any kind of modelling, but I'm still interested in the choice to present a profile view like this. I like that there does seem to be choice of some kind on display. It's not just hair, but a partially balding man. He's not just smiling, but is smoking. Details aside, I guess I'm taken with just the fact of someone making decisions about what I'm supposed to be looking at. This isn't just a stick figure, but is a drawing of some person. There are buttons on the sleeves -- that comes from somewhere. And in terms of execution, it's at least as good as B, D, or E (or better), if not so good as A. Something "too careful" here, maybe.

E: B and D have dots for eyes, but there are irises/pupils here. Okay. He's crosseyed... but maybe that was intended? And the ears are a little mismatched too... hmm maybe Alfred E. Neuman? Seems friendly enough -- he's smiling with his hand extended. Or maybe he's walking forward with one foot, like the ancient Kouroi? (I'll choose that interpretation over a mistake in leg size.)

I get a sense of character here. Strange character, but something I can put into terms -- nutty, friendly, etc.

B: Nearly as good as E, though less detailed. There's a sense of movement. The sectioning of the body recognizes a bit of truth among chest/belly/hips, and he alone has functioning knees. The nose is distinctive and abstract in a pleasing way, and the simple smile conveys gentle contentment. It's nothing I'd hang on my refrigerator (unless it was my own kid, of course), but there's nothing wrong with it either.

D: My least favorite. While most of the other drawings suffer from shared "defects" with this one, this one seems to have them all and a few more too. There's something shaky and unfocused about it; it lacks confidence, perhaps. While the legs are rendered like B, the lines don't seem as neat or as meaningful. There's no articulation to the body outside of fingers, and we might be one shy of those on the left hand. No neck. No clothes. And yes, there's a smile, but I don't feel much from it -- no "character."

I'll be interested in what the experts have to say! :)

Do a Google image search for Jose Manuel Capuletti to see samples of his work.

If you want me to be more specific, his painting El Muro is one which Rand raved about and claimed that it was a tour de force which contained sheer perfection of workmanship:

"(El Muro) is a tour de force: it is a still life featuring a solid expanse of old, peeling, blotched, cracked plaster wall. If ever there was a subject for the modern cults of decay and degradation, this was it. You would not believe that it could be made beautiful - beautiful and inspiring by the sheer perfection of workmanship; neither did I until I saw it."

[Aside: "You" would not believe that it could be made beautiful? How does Rand know what others would or not believe possible? Personally, I think that anything can be made beautiful. And also, I don't think that Capuletti succeeded in making the wall "beautiful and inspiring." I think it's student-grade work.]

As for Rand's opinion of Parrish's work, according to Ayn Rand Answers—the Best of her Q & A, she was asked at the Ford Hall Forum in 1977:

"What do you think of the works of the artist Maxfield Parrish?"

And she offered only one word:

"Trash."

So, clearly she was being asked about his entire body of works -- his overall representative talents as a renowned artist -- and she gave her opinion.

Here are examples of some of Parrish's most famous paintings which should serve as being representative of his abilities:

http://www.goodart.org/mpallah.jpg

http://www.artsycraf...mp_daybreak.jpg

http://www.goodart.org/mpfanta.jpg

http://www.artsycraf...ing_beauty.html

http://www.americani...parrish/001.jpg

http://www.goodart.org/mprever.jpg

http://www.goodart.org/mpbirch.jpg

Now, compare Capuletti to Parrish, and if you still can't decide if Rand was giving subjective opinions about the two, then I think that you're demonstrating my point of just how much subjectivity can be involved in such judgments by being very subjective yourself.

Having looked at the links you've provided, I must say that I like all of it. Of course, you've seen what I've done with kids' drawings, so you know what my assessments are worth! ;)

But apart from the simple observation that "liking these works is objectively true of me," does anyone wish to suggest that I'm wrong, or have a defective sense of life, or anything like that, on the basis of finding none of that artwork "trash"? Just curious.

Actually my "payoff" is the opposite. My "payoff" is not that "reality is not what it is," but that by any objective standard, Parrish's work is not trash, and Capuletti's is not a tour de force of sheer perfection of workmanship.

Okay, so I'm curious:

Are you arguing then that there is no possible standard by which artworks like these can be objectively measured?

Or are you saying that Ayn Rand's standard (or perhaps her application of it) was obviously flawed, because she erred in her judgement of Parrish and Capuletti?

If you're saying the first... how could you demonstrate that by appealing to other peoples' opinions of these artworks? Aren't you relying on them -- or Trebor specifically -- to agree with you that Parrish is obviously not trash, as you say? Doesn't that seem to rely on some sort of objective standard for measuring such things?

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It's both amusing and pathetic how far certain people will go to deny reality. In this case, the reality is rather harmless -- that in judging a couple of artists' works, "Miss Rand" didn't follow her stated method of objective aesthetic judgment, but instead gave subjective opinions. She subjectively liked a mediocre artist's work and therefore gave it a very high rating, and she subjectively disliked a great artist's work and therefore gave it a very low rating. She made the mistake of letting her feelings distort her judgments. Not a big deal, at least not as far as I'm concerned. But, oh, the pretzels that certain people will bend themselves into in order to avoid accepting such a harmless truth! Simply because I've objectively identified the fact that "Miss Rand" gave some subjective opinions, I must be smeared as a "subjectivist!"

Hilarious.

J

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BTW, in a very recent podcast Peikoff talks about how he’s taking Jazz lessons. Nothing particularly insightful, and his list of favorites doesn’t jibe with mine (Miles, Trane, Monk, Mingus). Chacun à son goût.

http://www.peikoff.c...-most-about-it/

I haven’t been following this thread, and the debate has gone beyond my level of interest so I won’t be joining in, but it did make me think of an example Peikoff used in his ‘76 course, I wonder if anyone remembers the context? Maybe it was intrinsicism vs. subjectivism. Anyway, here it is, best I remember:

4 or 5 different people are shown a projector slide of some red blobs. The first person is a caveman, and he’s just bewildered. The second is an art critic, and thinks it’s a Kandinsky, and either likes or loathes it. The third is a scientist, and he’s elated because it has led him to finally discover the cure for cancer. The fourth is a doctor, and he’s sad because, knowing this comes from his patient/friend, he sees that it’s incurable cancer. I think there was one more viewer, I forget. So the context the person brings to it determines their reaction, emotionally and/or intellectually.

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Okay, so I'm curious:

Are you arguing then that there is no possible standard by which artworks like these can be objectively measured?

No, I believe that there are objective standards by which artworks, or at least aspects of artworks, can be measured and judged. In fact, in previous posts I've listed such criteria -- perspective, proportion, color modulation, etc.

But, as I said in an earlier post, I think that judgments of art are a combination of objective and subjective elements -- evaluating how good or bad a work of art is as a whole inevitably involves both objective and subjective judgments. If you believe otherwise, please show me an overall evaluative judgment of a work of art as a whole which contains no subjectivity. I've never seen one, including from Rand.

Or are you saying that Ayn Rand's standard (or perhaps her application of it) was obviously flawed, because she erred in her judgement of Parrish and Capuletti?

I'm saying that Rand's judgments of art, like everyone else's, were a combination of subjectivity and objectivity. I'm saying that I think it can be a good thing to try to be as objective as possible when evaluating a work of art, but that Rand didn't even come close to following her own stated formula of what one must do to make a truly objective aesthetic judgment.

If you're saying the first... how could you demonstrate that by appealing to other peoples' opinions of these artworks? Aren't you relying on them -- or Trebor specifically -- to agree with you that Parrish is obviously not trash, as you say? Doesn't that seem to rely on some sort of objective standard for measuring such things?

Yes, I'm relying on Trebor to recognize that by any objective standard that can be brought to judging visual art, Parrish's work is not "trash" and Capuletti's is far from being a "tour de force" of "sheer perfection of workmanship."

J

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No, I believe that there are objective standards by which artworks, or at least aspects of artworks, can be measured and judged. In fact, in previous posts I've listed such criteria -- perspective, proportion, color modulation, etc.

But, as I said in an earlier post, I think that judgments of art are a combination of objective and subjective elements -- evaluating how good or bad a work of art is as a whole inevitably involves both objective and subjective judgments. If you believe otherwise, please show me an overall evaluative judgment of a work of art as a whole which contains no subjectivity. I've never seen one, including from Rand.

Hmm... I dunno. It seems to me that there are "overall evaluative judgments" and then there are "overall evaluative judgments." Can I attempt to explain?

You and I are agreed that any individual's reaction to a given piece of art will include some "subjective" elements. I don't think that we approach art with a consciously-held checklist of "what constitutes good art," intellectually recognize what does or does not meet our criteria, and then emote consequently. I think we have a complex reaction based on the totality of who we are, including preferences on the order of 'chocolate or vanilla', and preferences based on our specific individual history, and then through analysis are able to understand key aspects of our reaction perhaps -- but not necessarily identify the totality. I think it would be a mistake to believe that rational people will assess a work of art in an identical fashion, or that they should.

That said.

I've written a handful of one act plays over my life. I don't mind telling you that they're not very good. If I were to imagine a rational person comparing my work to Shakespeare, I have to believe that they will consider my work inferior. Moreover, I believe that my work is inferior, markedly and obviously. (Though I have it in mind to improve; I'm comin' for you, Will!) While I can imagine that some given person might find my work appealing for some reason -- my mother thinks quite highly of it, for instance -- if anyone were to tell me that I'd outstripped Shakespeare, I wouldn't be pleased to hear it, but curious about the person who said so. :)

So what am I saying? If someone were to attempt to explain their full reaction to Shakespeare's plays, or to my own, I would expect that their full judgment would rely, in part, upon certain individual preferences and truths that we're agreed are "subjective" in orientation, in that they are personal (though it remains true, speaking to what I believe to be Trebor's point, that their reactions aren't arbitrary; if they have a preference for vanilla over chocolate, that is objectively true of them). However, I think that we'd still be able to recognize as an objective truth that Shakespeare's plays are superior to my own -- that his are "good," and mine do not measure up. In terms of plot, character, language -- those things that apart from vanilla versus chocolate, and whether or not your father happened to be a Danish king, and therefore you hate (or love the more) Hamlet; those things that constitute the art of play writing -- his are just better.

I'm saying that Rand's judgments of art, like everyone else's, were a combination of subjectivity and objectivity. I'm saying that I think it can be a good thing to try to be as objective as possible when evaluating a work of art, but that Rand didn't even come close to following her own stated formula of what one must do to make a truly objective aesthetic judgment.

Aside from Rand's personal or prescribed methodology, I think it's an interesting question as to whether or not a person should try to be "as objective as possible when evaluating a work of art"...

If I react strongly to something on the basis of my preference of vanilla to chocolate -- react in a way that I can't expect others to, necessarily -- am I doing something wrong? If I can't abide Hamlet because my dear old dad was similarly murdered by his brother, do I need to try to "see past" that, somehow? Or is it sufficient for me to try to understand the origin of my own reaction? Perhaps if I were to tell someone, "I hate Hamlet," I would need to asterisk it in some way (or maybe not?). And if I were to say that "Hamlet is bad," it would be important to provide some sort of disclosure if I thought that my personal history was a strong part of my judgment.

But can I force myself to like Hamlet? Can I honestly say that "Hamlet is good" if I don't experience any of what I associate with "goodness" when I encounter it, in terms of my own reactions? If I take no pleasure from its plot, or characters, or etc? I don't know.

If I were to encounter another, new work, and I dislike it immensely, but I try to ferret out the source of my own reactions and am unable -- let's say that according to "what I know" about objective measures of quality it "should work" -- what then? Do I say, "it's good... but I don't like it?" Do I leave open the possibility that there is some yet unknown (or un-understood) objective standard the work doesn't meet, which accounts for my reaction? Do I assume that there must be some subjective/personal component of myself at play? Obviously greater introspection and examination of the work would be in order. But upon what grounds, and at what point, would I be justified in coming to a conclusion as to the quality of the work? Would that conclusion be based on my intellectual/objective assessment in spite of my strong "gut reaction" to the contrary? Should it?

I don't know, but in all cases I would be loathe to pronounce something "good" if I felt that way about it. (Or "bad" if I strongly enjoyed it.) Is that wrong of me?

Yes, I'm relying on Trebor to recognize that by any objective standard that can be brought to judging visual art, Parrish's work is not "trash" and Capuletti's is far from being a "tour de force" of "sheer perfection of workmanship."

Okay, well, I obviously can't be Trebor for you. :) But I can say for myself that none of the work you linked out to looked like "trash" to me. Actually, that calls to mind that "documentary" brianleepainter linked out to, as I believe there was speculation on "works of art" thrown out with garbage, and what we'd immediately know to save, and what we wouldn't be able to identify as being different from the garbage.

At any rate, Parrish's work doesn't seem to be "trash-like" in any way to me. (I feel much more confident in saying that, than in commenting on Capuletti and whether his is a "tour de force," etc. It's better than I could do, I know that.)

That said (and although you may feel I'm playing some sort of game with this, but I swear I'm not), I don't know that I'm in a position to say that "Rand was wrong" on this subject. Because: I really don't know what she had in mind. I mean, suppose fifteen years ago I heard a quote from Rand that said something like "altruism is evil." Well! I surely would have thought something like "that's ridiculous!" But in that case I would have been making a mistake, because when I did eventually hear Rand's theory on the subject, and how she arrived at such a thing, it made perfect sense to me.

I don't know why Rand considered that work to be "trash." And it may well be that if I did know what she had in mind, I would disagree with her. (Since I primarily "enjoy" dealing with those aspects of Objectivism which are unsettled for me, I think you'll already find from my other posts here that I've no fear of disagreeing with Rand, or anyone else.) But since I don't really know what was meant, I can only say that it doesn't look like "trash" to me, according to what I would mean by that term. It's a courtesy I would extend to you, too, in a similar situation.

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Okay. Here are my (very untrained) assessments, in order of preference:

A: My favorite of the bunch. I'm impressed with the hair, which doesn't overcomplicate but clearly suggests blond curls. As compared to the others there's a fair amount of detail. I like the nose and mouth, which I find expressive. The neck also seems well done in a cartoony sort of style. Reminds me somewhat of Peanuts. There's a "breeziness" to the style that I appreciate.

C: Similarly detailed to A, though I don't find the details as engaging (expression is a little blank). I note a similarity between A and C in their posture, and it makes me wonder whether there was any kind of modelling, but I'm still interested in the choice to present a profile view like this. I like that there does seem to be choice of some kind on display. It's not just hair, but a partially balding man. He's not just smiling, but is smoking. Details aside, I guess I'm taken with just the fact of someone making decisions about what I'm supposed to be looking at. This isn't just a stick figure, but is a drawing of some person. There are buttons on the sleeves -- that comes from somewhere. And in terms of execution, it's at least as good as B, D, or E (or better), if not so good as A. Something "too careful" here, maybe.

E: B and D have dots for eyes, but there are irises/pupils here. Okay. He's crosseyed... but maybe that was intended? And the ears are a little mismatched too... hmm maybe Alfred E. Neuman? Seems friendly enough -- he's smiling with his hand extended. Or maybe he's walking forward with one foot, like the ancient Kouroi? (I'll choose that interpretation over a mistake in leg size.)

I get a sense of character here. Strange character, but something I can put into terms -- nutty, friendly, etc. B: Nearly as good as E, though less detailed. There's a sense of movement. The sectioning of the body recognizes a bit of truth among chest/belly/hips, and he alone has functioning knees. The nose is distinctive and abstract in a pleasing way, and the simple smile conveys gentle contentment. It's nothing I'd hang on my refrigerator (unless it was my own kid, of course), but there's nothing wrong with it either.

D: My least favorite. While most of the other drawings suffer from shared "defects" with this one, this one seems to have them all and a few more too. There's something shaky and unfocused about it; it lacks confidence, perhaps. While the legs are rendered like B, the lines don't seem as neat or as meaningful. There's no articulation to the body outside of fingers, and we might be one shy of those on the left hand. No neck. No clothes. And yes, there's a smile, but I don't feel much from it -- no "character."

Tyler, thank you for posting your analysis of the five drawings. I knew it would be interesting when you first listed them as you accessed them.

My monitor died a couple of hours after my last post here, and I have only just gotten a replacement, a used one that seems okay so far. Of course, "died" tells you everything there is to know about my old monitor and what exactly went wrong. Right.

By the way, I don't know why, but when I selected the "Quote" button to reply to your post, all of your text was in one long run-on "paragraph." No returns at all. Strange, but thought I would mentioned it. It's the first time it's happened. Perhaps you've changed something? (I've reformatted what I've quoted from you (above).)

The reason I first mentioned these drawings and Mr. Loomis' own assessment of them was to draw an analogy to what J13 had done with respect to the works of Parrish and Capuletti and Miss Rand's quoted and respective assessments of their works, at least some of their works.

J13 was asking for the impossible of me. He wanted me to tell him whether or not Miss Rand's assessments were true or false, objective or subjective. I can (and have and do) make my own assessments of those two artist's works (which are irrelevant to the issue), yet I cannot even attempt to say whether or not Miss Rand's judgement was true or false, objective or subjective. Not only do J13 and I not agree on the meaning of such terms, I simply do not have the data I would need. The meaning of concepts and phrases like "trash" and "sheer perfection of workmanship," regardless of J13's insistence, are not self-evident.

So, thinking that it might clear up that issue, I scanned that page from Mr. Loomis' book, Fun with a Pencil, removed all of what Mr. Loomis said but for his assessments, and I also rearranged the five drawings, removing Mr. Loomis' numbering of them as well. I then asked J13 to do what it was he was asking me to do with respect to Miss Rand's judgement of one, at least, of Capuletti's works and some unspecified (by Miss Rand) works by Mr. Parrish. He had the images and he had Mr. Loomis' assessments (judgements), all that I had with respect to Miss Rand's assessments of Parrish and Capuletti. Could he do with what I had provide him what he was asking me to do with respect to Miss Rand's assessments of Parrish's and Capuletti's work(s)? [i had also mentioned that I viewed Miss Rand as having an "account of credibility," which I explained - not as warranting taking anything she said on faith - and compared to Mr. Loomis, who likewise has an "account of credibility" to me.]

Then you posted your own basic assessments of the five drawings. You know the rest.

As I said I would earlier, I will now attach another image, cropped from that same scanned page, showing the five drawings as they are seen in Mr. Loomis book, on the right hand side or margin, vertical, numbered 1 through 5, top to bottom. Now you can see which drawings Mr. Loomis was referring to in his own comments.

You'll notice that Mr. Loomis' assessments differ significantly from your own, which, I think, is to be expected given that you do not know the standard of Mr. Loomis' judgements. Of course, you still don't really know the basis for Mr. Loomis' assessments with this additional image. That's in the remainder of the text on that page, and I'll post the entire scan soon, later today or in the next day or two, if I can. Even with that, with your being able to read the entirety of Mr. Loomis' text, it may not be enough to be convincing that Mr. Loomis' assessments are valid or objective, etc. All of that goes towards to point I attempted to make in my decision to post the image(s) in the first place.

Anyway, for now:

post-4290-0-30241000-1325020727_thumb.jp

Edited by Trebor
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You'll notice that Mr. Loomis' assessments differ significantly from your own, which, I think, is to be expected given that you do not know the standard of Mr. Loomis' judgements.

Well isn't that fascinating?! I'm not sure that "differ significantly" quite captures the variance between his selections and my own; they appear to be perfectly inverted! :)

It's enough to make me speculate on Loomis' reasoning (though I look forward to your next scan, which will present it). I wonder if he's concerned that some of these drawings indicate that the artist has "bought into" a particular aesthetic, which is perhaps bad (in his view) for a budding artist to do...? I dunno, but I'm plenty interested to see where it goes. Thanks for this exercise!

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I haven’t been following this thread, and the debate has gone beyond my level of interest so I won’t be joining in, but it did make me think of an example Peikoff used in his ‘76 course, I wonder if anyone remembers the context? Maybe it was intrinsicism vs. subjectivism. Anyway, here it is, best I remember:

4 or 5 different people are shown a projector slide of some red blobs. The first person is a caveman, and he’s just bewildered. The second is an art critic, and thinks it’s a Kandinsky, and either likes or loathes it. The third is a scientist, and he’s elated because it has led him to finally discover the cure for cancer. The fourth is a doctor, and he’s sad because, knowing this comes from his patient/friend, he sees that it’s incurable cancer. I think there was one more viewer, I forget. So the context the person brings to it determines their reaction, emotionally and/or intellectually.

This was in his discussion on emotions. With emotions there are four things that must occur:

Perception

Identification

Evaluation

Emotional response.

With emotions, we are typically aware of only the first and the last, of perceiving something and then having an emotional response. So it can seem as though the object perceived causes the emotion. But the other two, Identification and Evaluation, are required. They, however, are subconsciously held and automatized, and occur within an instant. That is why, were someone to be about to cut you with a knife, you would not need anything more than to see that such is what they are doing to feel life-threatening fear. Emotions depend upon our automatized, subconsciously held (retained) identifications and evaluations.

In his example, several different people view a slide under a microscope, and they each have differing emotional responses. They all perceive the very same object, but their emotions vary greatly.

From my old notes:

Six men look at a slide under a microscope. The first is a savage fresh from the jungle. He looks and sees some eerie movements and experiences a superstitious fear. The second is an average civilized man of today, and he sees it and yawns with bored indifference. The third is a representational painter, and he sees what reminds him of the contortions of colors of a Kandinsky. He feels revulsion. Then the fourth man, Augustine, looks and decries that this is evidence of pagan science and he feels the anger of a blasphemy. Fifth, a doctor looks and is deeply saddened because he sees evidence that his good friend has a fatal disease. And last, an ivory tower researcher looks and he recognizes it as some long-sought discovery, and he feels euphoric elation.

Not the same issue as subjectivism vs. intrinsicism.

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Well isn't that fascinating?! I'm not sure that "differ significantly" quite captures the variance between his selections and my own; they appear to be perfectly inverted! :)

I noticed that as well.

It's enough to make me speculate on Loomis' reasoning (though I look forward to your next scan, which will present it). I wonder if he's concerned that some of these drawings indicate that the artist has "bought into" a particular aesthetic, which is perhaps bad (in his view) for a budding artist to do...? I dunno, but I'm plenty interested to see where it goes. Thanks for this exercise!

You're welcome, Tyler. I wasn't certain when you would get to read my post, and I wanted to give you a chance to see the difference between your assessments and Mr. Loomis'. Given that you've already seen the post and image and have replied, I'll now post the original scan, page 52 in Andrew Loomis' Fun with a Pencil:

post-4290-0-00292100-1325024104_thumb.jp

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Given that you've already seen the post and image and have replied, I'll now post the original scan, page 52 in Andrew Loomis' Fun with a Pencil:

So yeah, when I saw Loomis' ordering, I was able to guess a bit of his rationale. I think he's ultimately saying, not that his #1 is a better drawing than his #5, as such, but that in being less detailed (and typical of a younger artist), there is more hope for the artist of #1 to turn into someone who doesn't make #5. In other words, he likes (or dislikes) these for the same reasons, but inversely: the fewer details for him (or the more "essentialized"), the greater the potential for something better to eventually emerge than the kinds of details actualized in the "worse" drawings.

After all, when he says of #5 that it "verges on those awful drawings in public places," what does he mean? Does he mean graffiti? Or museum art? Or closer to what I meant when I mentioned that the drawing reminded me of Peanuts art? Perhaps he judges it to be derivative? Or thinks that there's something lost in "essentials" when there is also hair and a dress and etc.?

I dunno, but if Loomis were here and ready to discuss it, I'd sure like to argue it out! ;)

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Aside from Rand's personal or prescribed methodology, I think it's an interesting question as to whether or not a person should try to be "as objective as possible when evaluating a work of art"...

Notice that I did not say that "a person should try to be" as objective as possible when evaluating a work of art. Instead, I said that I think it "can be" a good thing to try to be as objective as possible when evaluating a work of art. What I meant is that the importance of trying to be as objective as possible would depend on the context. Are you casually discussing a work of art with friends over drinks? If so, it's probably not all that important to objectively determine where the art would rank in quality compared to great artworks produced throughout history. Saying that you really liked it and that you thought it was good or totally cool would probably suffice. But if you were writing a review for the New York Times or for an Objectivist philosophical publication, I think that bringing a lot of objectivity to your review would be much more important.

If you've created a philosophy which values objectivity and generally disdains subjectivity, including in the arts, and you plan on publishing a review in which you state that an artist's work is a "tour de force" and "sheer perfection of workmanship," etc., rather than that you merely had a very positive, subjective, emotional reaction to it, then I think that you had better understand that words mean things to your readers, and that what you're saying is that this artist's work is an exceptional achievement unlikely to be equaled. You should understand that if you're saying such things about a mediocre artist, the impression left by your alleged "objective" judgments will be that you don't know what you're talking about, and that you're confusing your own subjective excitement over the art with its actual objective quality. That would be a rather unfortunate and self-undermining thing to do in a publication dedicated to objectivity.

And don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say that Rand should not have been excited about any work or art that turned her crank, regardless of it's low quality. More power to her, I say. I'm just not going to accept the idea that someone is being "objective" in preferring a mediocre artist over a great one. The same would be true of any profession -- I wouldn't need to hear someone's personal definitions and reasoning if she stated that Mike Phipps was the greatest overall quarterback that the NFL has ever known and that Montana, Marino, Farve, Manning, Brees and Rodgers are (or were) "trash" as quarterbacks. There are no objective grounds on which to make such a statement.

At any rate, Parrish's work doesn't seem to be "trash-like" in any way to me. (I feel much more confident in saying that, than in commenting on Capuletti and whether his is a "tour de force," etc. It's better than I could do, I know that.)

I'm sure that Capuletti's work was also better than what Rand could have done. But is being better than a non-painter the standard by which one objectively judges an artist to be an exceptional talent of unequaled ability?

That said (and although you may feel I'm playing some sort of game with this, but I swear I'm not), I don't know that I'm in a position to say that "Rand was wrong" on this subject. Because: I really don't know what she had in mind. I mean, suppose fifteen years ago I heard a quote from Rand that said something like "altruism is evil." Well! I surely would have thought something like "that's ridiculous!" But in that case I would have been making a mistake, because when I did eventually hear Rand's theory on the subject, and how she arrived at such a thing, it made perfect sense to me.

It sounds as if you're saying that your inability to judge whether Rand was right or wrong, and objective or subjective, is due to the fact that she often had her own personal vocabulary. Is that what you mean? When she spoke of things like "altruism" and "selfishness," etc., she meant something other than what everyone else meant, so therefore when she called something "trash," she might have had her own special personal meaning where "trash" perhaps meant that it just wasn't as great as others were saying? And perhaps "tour de force" didn't mean "an exceptional achievement unlikely to be equaled," but "student-grade painting that's better than what a novelist could do"?

I don't know why Rand considered that work to be "trash." And it may well be that if I did know what she had in mind, I would disagree with her. (Since I primarily "enjoy" dealing with those aspects of Objectivism which are unsettled for me, I think you'll already find from my other posts here that I've no fear of disagreeing with Rand, or anyone else.) But since I don't really know what was meant, I can only say that it doesn't look like "trash" to me, according to what I would mean by that term. It's a courtesy I would extend to you, too, in a similar situation.

That's interesting. Would you also extend the same courtesy to everyone? For example, would you say that we can't judge whether or not Kant or Derrida was right or wrong, or objective or subjective, because, in reading their work on extremely complex subjects, there's a lot of room for misunderstanding, and that we can't really know what they meant unless we can interview them and ask them to precisely define each of the words that they used?

J

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Notice that I did not say that "a person should try to be" as objective as possible when evaluating a work of art. Instead, I said that I think it "can be" a good thing to try to be as objective as possible when evaluating a work of art. What I meant is that the importance of trying to be as objective as possible would depend on the context. Are you casually discussing a work of art with friends over drinks? If so, it's probably not all that important to objectively determine where the art would rank in quality compared to great artworks produced throughout history. Saying that you really liked it and that you thought it was good or totally cool would probably suffice. But if you were writing a review for the New York Times or for an Objectivist philosophical publication, I think that bringing a lot of objectivity to your review would be much more important.

Agreed.

If you've created a philosophy which values objectivity and generally disdains subjectivity, including in the arts, and you plan on publishing a review in which you state that an artist's work is a "tour de force" and "sheer perfection of workmanship," etc., rather than that you merely had a very positive, subjective, emotional reaction to it, then I think that you had better understand that words mean things to your readers, and that what you're saying is that this artist's work is an exceptional achievement unlikely to be equaled. You should understand that if you're saying such things about a mediocre artist, the impression left by your alleged "objective" judgments will be that you don't know what you're talking about, and that you're confusing your own subjective excitement over the art with its actual objective quality. That would be a rather unfortunate and self-undermining thing to do in a publication dedicated to objectivity.

Okay. Is the context of the appraisals we're discussing a published review? Because I would assume, if that were the case, that Rand would have spelled her reasoning out at some greater length than just a summary statement like "trash" or "tour de force." That's what I would expect in a formal review (from anyone).

And don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say that Rand should not have been excited about any work or art that turned her crank, regardless of it's low quality. More power to her, I say. I'm just not going to accept the idea that someone is being "objective" in preferring a mediocre artist over a great one.

Objectivity would require recognizing greatness for what it is and mediocrity for what it is. Or at least that would be the goal, though I'm sure we could allow a person to be mistaken in their assessment.

And I thought that we were approaching agreement that in any person's reaction to a given artwork, there is going to be something of a blend of objective and subjective (meaning: individual) bases for that reaction. Even if there's no "rational basis" for preferring vanilla to chocolate -- or no rational basis we're aware of -- that doesn't mean that the person who therefore prefers a vanilla cake of mediocre construction to a chocolate cake made greatly is irrational.

The same would be true of any profession -- I wouldn't need to hear someone's personal definitions and reasoning if she stated that Mike Phipps was the greatest overall quarterback that the NFL has ever known and that Montana, Marino, Farve, Manning, Brees and Rodgers are (or were) "trash" as quarterbacks. There are no objective grounds on which to make such a statement.

It happens that I would need to hear about all of that, because I don't follow pro football. Perhaps the NBA would be a better common ground?

I'm sure that Capuletti's work was also better than what Rand could have done. But is being better than a non-painter the standard by which one objectively judges an artist to be an exceptional talent of unequaled ability?

No. But it is somewhat reflective of my ability to judge a tour-de-force, as I see it.

Look, this example may do as much for you as the NFL does for me, but have you ever played the board game Go? (If not, I highly recommend it.) One interesting aspect of Go is that there is a huge separation in skill between the very best and the very worst, or beginning. I'm told much more so than Chess. In my experience, "Go masters" (or what passes for mastery among the groups I've known) can play someone of lower skill and identify quickly about how good their opponent is, within one or two ranks.

When someone of low skill plays someone of high skill, however? Typically they have no clue how skillful the master is. A few ranks above, or by several more, it all appears to be a sort of undifferentiated "better than me."

And that's how I feel when trying to gauge the mastery of this kind of work. I'm not knowledgeable enough to feel like I can say "tour-de-force" or not. Another arena where I'm more comfortable, like television? I feel more confident in my opinions. But fine art? Is beyond me at present.

It sounds as if you're saying that your inability to judge whether Rand was right or wrong, and objective or subjective, is due to the fact that she often had her own personal vocabulary. Is that what you mean? When she spoke of things like "altruism" and "selfishness," etc., she meant something other than what everyone else meant, so therefore when she called something "trash," she might have had her own special personal meaning where "trash" perhaps meant that it just wasn't as great as others were saying? And perhaps "tour de force" didn't mean "an exceptional achievement unlikely to be equaled," but "student-grade painting that's better than what a novelist could do"?

This is what I'm saying: I don't know what Ayn Rand meant. I don't know what she had in mind. I can tell you what I think and feel when I look at those paintings, and I have done somewhat, but I can't defend Rand's opinions on this subject because I don't believe that I understand her opinions, or their basis, or this subject sufficiently to do so.

Just as I don't feel that I can defend Rand's opinions on this subject, neither do I feel as though I can disagree with them. Without knowing her rationale, they are essentially arbitrary to me. It's as though if you were to name me your Top-10 All-Time List of NFL Wide Receivers. What should I do with such a thing? I'd have no basis of agreeing with you, or disagreeing with you, unless I had some better idea of the players, and the criteria upon which you'd decided that a wide receiver is great or otherwise. I would have to understand your rationale along with your results.

If we do move this to the NBA, it was not so long ago that I read Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball, wherein he tried to identify his idea of a proper Hall of Fame roster (as opposed to the actual one), and he found it necessary to introduce his rubric, as it were, and to argue for every selection. Some of his choices could conventionally be considered "controversial" (how's that for alliteration!?), but it's neither here nor there whether or not I eventually agreed or disagreed, player for player. The point is that, had he simply produced a list of names without that argument -- without that book that he wrote to demonstrate his argument -- it would be rather empty for me to "agree or disagree" with his list, and that's despite the fact that I know far more about the NBA than either the NFL or fine art.

Ayn Rand alone could argue for her opinions, and often did, and typically with merit and unconventional thinking. So absent her argument, why would I dismiss her opinion out-of-hand without feeling confident that 1) I understood her, and 2) I understood the relevant subject in question?

By the way, if you think I'm also telling you what you should do, you're wrong. If you think you do understand these things well enough to come to your own conclusion, that's fantastic. And if you think it's worthwhile to explain these paintings, and what Rand believed about them, and the objective criteria against which Rand went afoul, and etc., I'll be happy to receive that instruction. Make that case, and I might well agree with you. But absent that case -- absent my understanding -- I can't simply agree with you that Rand didn't know what she was talking about, because I just don't know that to be true.

That's interesting. Would you also extend the same courtesy to everyone? For example, would you say that we can't judge whether or not Kant or Derrida was right or wrong, or objective or subjective, because, in reading their work on extremely complex subjects, there's a lot of room for misunderstanding, and that we can't really know what they meant unless we can interview them and ask them to precisely define each of the words that they used?

"Everyone" sounds big and intimidating. I'll shy away from that, at present. Neither does your example -- that I couldn't judge whether Kant or Derrida was right or wrong without a personal interview and a complete glossary -- sound like what I mean.

But how's this. I wouldn't dismiss Kant's arguments, or Derrida's arguments until I believed that I understood their arguments sufficiently to recognize them as faulty. At present? I know that Rand didn't think highly of Kant. What should I make of that? I don't know; I've never read him. Since we're talking about this, it was in this precise manner that I came to read Rand. I was presented with a summary of some of her viewpoints, as an argument against me, but I felt that there was no justice in my dismissing them without a proper hearing. So I read The Virtue of Selfishness, to get it from the horse's mouth.

And again, I don't know if that's a courtesy I'd extend to everyone. Probably it isn't. I did read Mein Kampf, but not because I believed Hitler deserved the same kind of hearing out. But in this case? Yeah, I think I'd like to understand what Rand meant before placing myself on one side of the line or the other. And I recognize that you find it patently obvious what she meant, and equally obvious that she was wrong. I respect that, and if I believed as you do, I would say so.

I've already said that "Parrish's work doesn't seem to be 'trash-like' in any way to me," and I stand by that. It frankly looks great. Perhaps that's enough for you to believe that I do disagree with Rand, but am afraid to say so? The difference, to me, lies in this: if I were at a cocktail party with Rand (or better, a dinner, because I don't really drink), and she said, "Parrish's work is trash," my response would not be, "you're wrong," but, "what do you mean?"

I don't know how near or far we'd be at that point from my feeling justified in saying something like "you're wrong." It's just not where I'd start. It isn't where I am now. Does that make any sense?

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Objectivity would require recognizing greatness for what it is and mediocrity for what it is. Or at least that would be the goal, though I'm sure we could allow a person to be mistaken in their assessment.

Would you say that it is objective and rational for someone who knows little to nothing about visual arts techniques to go around publicly making statements in formal intellectual fora ranking visual artists' technical abilities?

And I thought that we were approaching agreement that in any person's reaction to a given artwork, there is going to be something of a blend of objective and subjective (meaning: individual) bases for that reaction.

Yes, I think that we are quite close to agreement. Sorry if I've given you the opposite impression.

Even if there's no "rational basis" for preferring vanilla to chocolate -- or no rational basis we're aware of -- that doesn't mean that the person who therefore prefers a vanilla cake of mediocre construction to a chocolate cake made greatly is irrational.

I agree. But the problem is in how the evaluation is phrased. Is the evaluator recognizing that her statement is subjective, and therefore phrasing her statement accordingly, such as by saying "I like this," or "To me, this vanilla cake tastes great"? Or is she couching her subjective statements in the language of objectivity, and therefore falsely stating things which are not objective facts, such as "The chef who created this vanilla cake is a superior baker, and a master of virtuoso pâtissier techniques, where the so-called 'chef' who created that chocolate abomination is a filthy savage who is beneath contempt"?

Look, this example may do as much for you as the NFL does for me, but have you ever played the board game Go? (If not, I highly recommend it.) One interesting aspect of Go is that there is a huge separation in skill between the very best and the very worst, or beginning. I'm told much more so than Chess. In my experience, "Go masters" (or what passes for mastery among the groups I've known) can play someone of lower skill and identify quickly about how good their opponent is, within one or two ranks.

When someone of low skill plays someone of high skill, however? Typically they have no clue how skillful the master is. A few ranks above, or by several more, it all appears to be a sort of undifferentiated "better than me."

And that's how I feel when trying to gauge the mastery of this kind of work. I'm not knowledgeable enough to feel like I can say "tour-de-force" or not. Another arena where I'm more comfortable, like television? I feel more confident in my opinions. But fine art? Is beyond me at present.

I think that your admission that you don't know visual art and pro football, and thus your avoiding commenting on those subjects as if you're an expert, is an example of someone being objective and rational.

This is what I'm saying: I don't know what Ayn Rand meant. I don't know what she had in mind. I can tell you what I think and feel when I look at those paintings, and I have done somewhat, but I can't defend Rand's opinions on this subject because I don't believe that I understand her opinions, or their basis, or this subject sufficiently to do so.

Just as I don't feel that I can defend Rand's opinions on this subject, neither do I feel as though I can disagree with them. Without knowing her rationale, they are essentially arbitrary to me. It's as though if you were to name me your Top-10 All-Time List of NFL Wide Receivers. What should I do with such a thing? I'd have no basis of agreeing with you, or disagreeing with you, unless I had some better idea of the players, and the criteria upon which you'd decided that a wide receiver is great or otherwise. I would have to understand your rationale along with your results.

If we do move this to the NBA, it was not so long ago that I read Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball, wherein he tried to identify his idea of a proper Hall of Fame roster (as opposed to the actual one), and he found it necessary to introduce his rubric, as it were, and to argue for every selection. Some of his choices could conventionally be considered "controversial" (how's that for alliteration!?), but it's neither here nor there whether or not I eventually agreed or disagreed, player for player. The point is that, had he simply produced a list of names without that argument -- without that book that he wrote to demonstrate his argument -- it would be rather empty for me to "agree or disagree" with his list, and that's despite the fact that I know far more about the NBA than either the NFL or fine art.

If I were to say that I saw Randy Breuer play basketball when he was in high school, and that I was blown away by how good he was, and that I rate him as the greatest player to have ever played the game, would you really need to hear more from me about my reasons for rating him so highly? Would you think that I might have objective criteria that you're not aware of and which would justify my statement?

And if someone were to then ask me what I thought of Robert Parish's abilities as a basketball player, and I answered, "Crap," would you realize that I wasn't being objective in my judgments of both Breuer and Parish, and that I really didn't know what I was talking about?

I've already said that "Parrish's work doesn't seem to be 'trash-like' in any way to me," and I stand by that. It frankly looks great. Perhaps that's enough for you to believe that I do disagree with Rand, but am afraid to say so? The difference, to me, lies in this: if I were at a cocktail party with Rand (or better, a dinner, because I don't really drink), and she said, "Parrish's work is trash," my response would not be, "you're wrong," but, "what do you mean?"

I don't think that my response would be to say "you're wrong," but to say "you're giving a subjective opinion disguised as an objective fact: you're saying that the work is trash when what you actually mean is that you don't like it."

I don't know how near or far we'd be at that point from my feeling justified in saying something like "you're wrong." It's just not where I'd start. It isn't where I am now. Does that make any sense?

Yes, it makes sense -- you're saying that you don't have the knowledge to judge whether or not Parrish or Capuletti's work is trash or perfection of workmanship. My only difference with you is that you seem to believe that you'd need to hear Rand's reasoning in order to decide, where I think that your becoming informed on the visual arts would provide you with enough knowledge to judge Parrish and Capuletti, and therefore to also judge Rand's statements about them, just as anyone could become informed on the subject of basketball in order to judge the objectivity/rationality of my hypothetical statements about Breuer and Parish, and they wouldn't need to hear any reasoning that I might offer.

J

Edited by Jonathan13
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Would you say that it is objective and rational for someone who knows little to nothing about visual arts techniques to go around publicly making statements in formal intellectual fora ranking visual artists' technical abilities?

That doesn't sound like a wise thing to do, no. As it applies to what we've been discussing, do you mean to say that I'm in a position to determine whether Rand knew "little to nothing about visual arts techniques"?

I agree. But the problem is in how the evaluation is phrased. Is the evaluator recognizing that her statement is subjective, and therefore phrasing her statement accordingly, such as by saying "I like this," or "To me, this vanilla cake tastes great"? Or is she couching her subjective statements in the language of objectivity, and therefore falsely stating things which are not objective facts, such as "The chef who created this vanilla cake is a superior baker, and a master of virtuoso pâtissier techniques, where the so-called 'chef' who created that chocolate abomination is a filthy savage who is beneath contempt"?

I agree with you completely. Perhaps this was just misunderstanding on my part, but I was reacting to your use of the word "prefer." I think that a person could "be objective" in preferring a mediocre artist over a great one, in the same way he could prefer a mediocre cake over a great one, accounting to his individual preference of vanilla to chocolate.

Indeed, I would account it questionable for such a man to declare that he "prefers" the chocolate cake, when it tastes awful to him, in recognition of its "greatness." His preference should take into account the fact that he prefers the taste of vanilla to chocolate, which is no less meaningful for not being universal.

But I understand your use of "prefer" now just to mean one's recognition of objective greatness. And we're also agreed, I believe, that a person writing reviews of bakers must be on guard against allowing their preference for vanilla to color their judgement of which chef baked the better cake. (How difficult this would be for a person who loved the taste of vanilla and despised the taste of chocolate is an interesting question...)

If I were to say that I saw Randy Breuer play basketball when he was in high school, and that I was blown away by how good he was, and that I rate him as the greatest player to have ever played the game, would you really need to hear more from me about my reasons for rating him so highly? Would you think that I might have objective criteria that you're not aware of and which would justify my statement?

And if someone were to then ask me what I thought of Robert Parish's abilities as a basketball player, and I answered, "Crap," would you realize that I wasn't being objective in my judgments of both Breuer and Parish, and that I really didn't know what I was talking about?

In the first place, I have to say that I'm very appreciative of your selecting Parish (for Parrish) -- well done. :)

Now I have to be careful, and in the interest of full disclosure tell you that I grew up on the 80s Celts, so if I have anything like a vanilla over chocolate here, the Chief probably speaks to it. Bill Simmons, early in the book I'd referenced, did likewise in admitting his potential for bias as an unrepentant fan of an earlier-era Celtics. And actually, if a pastry reviewer who hated chocolate (which, now that I think about it, seems unlikely :) ) got stuck reviewing a baker on the basis of his chocolate cake, I'd expect him to talk about his personal dislike for chocolate immediately, to give the recipient of his review that context for evaluation purposes.

That said, I do not believe that my individual preferences will render me incapable of telling the difference between Parish and Breuer, or that Simmons' background makes his stated criteria flawed. Indeed, it is the great advantage of providing such criteria and reasoning that we can examine Simmons' claims, and evidence, and reach our own conclusions as to his evaluations -- to determine whether they are truly objective, or whether they may be reflective of his individual tastes (which are also helpful to know).

But that's precisely what's missing here with respect to this hypothetical praise of Randy Breuer and dismissal of Parish, or Rand's evaluations.

I know that you think a claim like Breuer over Parish is so absurd on its face as to guarantee that it sources from some individual history which is inapplicable to determining objective "greatness." But the truth is -- and so far as I can tell, I mean this, and am not merely speaking rhetorically or out of fidelity to "my side of the debate" -- if you were to make those very claims regarding Breuer and Parish, I would immediately ask you to explain your rationale. Maybe you don't have one, and sputter in the face of my question? Maybe you start talking about your childhood in Minnesota, which gives me an idea as to where your opinions really come from. But I would want to hear you out as a part of my process of evaluation. I would want to feel like I understood you.

Oh, to be sure, I'd be immediately suspect, and it would certainly occur to me that you might be speaking out of some kind of ignorance or fan's passion. Depending on the context, I would also believe that you're seeking controversy in your claim, which can cut a couple of different ways. But often when someone says something apparently outrageous, they do have some point that they're trying to convey. This again reminds me of Rand and her intentionally provocative title "The Virtue of Selfishness." How many people in my life have dismissed Rand on that, or a similar, basis? So if you were to make a seemingly preposterous observation regarding basketball, I would be prepared to reject your claim... but in some respects, I would also initially take the very absurdity of your claim as a challenge, and as a suggestion that you might have some hidden perspective. And so I'd demand your reasoning.

With this as background, what more would I accord Bill Simmons if he were to make that same claim? Now ultimately, I don't care who Bill Simmons is; his opinions on basketball will stand or fall on their own merit, and without respect to the "authorities" which hold to them. But so long as he generally strikes me as intelligent and knowledgeable regarding basketball -- which he does -- I would want to give even his outrageous basketball claims a full hearing.

Yes, it makes sense -- you're saying that you don't have the knowledge to judge whether or not Parrish or Capuletti's work is trash or perfection of workmanship. My only difference with you is that you seem to believe that you'd need to hear Rand's reasoning in order to decide, where I think that your becoming informed on the visual arts would provide you with enough knowledge to judge Parrish and Capuletti, and therefore to also judge Rand's statements about them, just as anyone could become informed on the subject of basketball in order to judge the objectivity/rationality of my hypothetical statements about Breuer and Parish, and they wouldn't need to hear any reasoning that I might offer.

I think that two things need to be understood. 1) The subject matter. And you're right in that I beg off in part on that grounds alone. But really our debate is over 2) The claim being made. Before we evaluate the claim being made against the subject matter, I believe it is important to understand that claim. (And to clarify, I don't just mean "Rand's statements." The words we use point to our meaning, but sometimes there is an error in communication -- as I believe happened above when I mistook your use of the word "prefer." So I seek to understand what Rand meant, more than just "what she said.")

And where Rand says "trash," I believe that you consider your understanding complete (or at least sufficient). But for myself, I do not.

Trust me, I get it. You've seen Parrish's artwork, and it's not trash. So anyone who claims that it is must be wrong, and of course Ayn Rand is not exempt from "anyone." Come to this, we're agreed. Even though I'm a novice where painting is concerned, I feel that I know enough to say that Parrish's artwork isn't trash at all. And I think that when we say these things, we are probably in basic concord; while I'll stipulate that you know much more than I about art, I'd bet that we have a similar understanding of what "trash" means (though I look forward greatly to one day engaging you on the subject of abstract art; I miss your conversation with Brian). And if I were convinced that Rand was making a claim contrary to the precise sense which I mean when I say, "this artwork is not trash," then I wouldn't hesitate to assert that she's wrong and attempt to back up my claim.

However, Ayn Rand was a philosopher by trade and one of great experience and insight. Apart from my specific knowledge of Objectivism, generally I'll just recognize that she's developed her own aesthetic theories, and that many of her theories run counter to "common understanding." Like Bill Simmons, I finally have no plans on deferring my judgement to Rand, or to any other. I'm prepared to evaluate her claims as ruthlessly as she would do to mine. But I do want to know what she specifically meant by "trash" prior to that evaluation, and I'm not satisfied that I do understand sufficiently for that task.

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Why did she adore Capuletti? Because she subjectively preferred what she saw as "bold, pure colors," clean, precise details, clarity and distinctly "discernible boundaries," and she had a subjective distaste for soft edges, toned down color palettes, and what she called "messy" brushstrokes.

To better express my position as regards yours, I thought I'd backtrack a moment to this.

Let's suppose that, for the purpose of discussion, we adopted the reasons you give for Rand's assessment of Capuletti -- bold colors, clarity, precise details, etc. -- and likewise that Parrish is termed "trash" due to soft edges, toned down color, and so on.

Now imagine that I did whatever work necessary, in terms of studying art in general, to have a good understanding of color, brushstroke, and etc., so that I could recognize and assess them (and say "that brushstroke is messy, but that other one is precise"), and then better familiarized myself with Capuletti and Parrish's work.

At that point, I would have to take seriously the idea that boldness in color matters, and assess the role of the brushstroke, and so on. In other words, I would have to take it fairly as an argument and weigh it. If instead I were to consign it all to "subjective preferences" without that consideration, I would be begging the question. If Rand were to say that "bold colors are preferable to toned down colors," I guess I would have to entertain the notion. Why, after all, does she claim that? And if you, or Trebor, or someone else took up Rand's argument (since she can't), we could hash it out.

Maybe I would finally conclude that the boldness of color is equivalent to one's taste preference from chocolate to vanilla. And on that basis, I would deem Rand's preference subjective, and that she was therefore wrong to pronounce Parrish's work "trash" as opposed to just saying something like "I don't like it."

Or at any rate, I might conclude that "Rand was wrong, if that was her rationale." (And maybe it was, and maybe even that could be demonstrated to my satisfaction even without her personal participation in the conversation.) But the point is that my evaluation of her opinion would come at the end of a process by which I would come to understand her position.

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Maybe I would finally conclude that the boldness of color is equivalent to one's taste preference from chocolate to vanilla. And on that basis, I would deem Rand's preference subjective, and that she was therefore wrong to pronounce Parrish's work "trash" as opposed to just saying something like "I don't like it."

[my bold]

Tyler, what do you mean by "subjective"? (And by "objective" for that matter?)

I don't understand what you mean by "from chocolate to vanilla," so I'll use, assuming that it is what you may have meant, "chocolate over vanilla," and ask, in what sense is a taste preference for chocolate over vanilla subjective?

If "subjective" is to be used to mean personal preferences (any and all) as such, and if personal preferences can be either subjective or objective, then there are subjective-subjective preferences and subjective-objective preferences, all subjective in one sense of the term, yet either subjective or not in another sense of the term. The equivocation leads only to confusion.

Given that you say that maybe you would conclude that a preference for boldness of color is equivalent to a taste preference "from chocolate to vanilla" which, again, I'm assuming to be a preference for the taste of chocolate over the taste of vanilla, and that on that basis you would deem Miss Rand's preference (for boldness of color, etc.) to be subjective, it seems that you do indeed view sensory experiences (such as the taste of vanilla or chocolate, etc.) as subjective.

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Tyler, what do you mean by "subjective"? (And by "objective" for that matter?)

I don't understand what you mean by "from chocolate to vanilla," so I'll use, assuming that it is what you may have meant, "chocolate over vanilla," and ask, in what sense is a taste preference for chocolate over vanilla subjective?

If "subjective" is to be used to mean personal preferences (any and all) as such, and if personal preferences can be either subjective or objective, then there are subjective-subjective preferences and subjective-objective preferences, all subjective in one sense of the term, yet either subjective or not in another sense of the term. The equivocation leads only to confusion.

Given that you say that maybe you would conclude that a preference for boldness of color is equivalent to a taste preference "from chocolate to vanilla" which, again, I'm assuming to be a preference for the taste of chocolate over the taste of vanilla, and that on that basis you would deem Miss Rand's preference (for boldness of color, etc.) to be subjective, it seems that you do indeed view sensory experiences (such as the taste of vanilla or chocolate, etc.) as subjective.

It's not quite clear to me what you're trying to ascertain, but here's the issue:

If I prefer vanilla to chocolate -- which we can regard as a fact -- ought I on that basis proclaim vanilla to be "superior" to chocolate?

Because I think that's precisely what Jonathan believes underlies Rand's claim with this art: that she has certain aesthetic personal preferences that are true of her, like a person's preference for vanilla, and on that basis pronounces one artist as great and another as trash.

What I'm saying is that, if he is correct -- if Rand's preference for boldness of color is as personal to her and as non-reasoned as a taste preference for vanilla -- and if it was upon that basis (or similar) that she came to pronounce Parrish's work trash, then we may regard that pronouncement as "subjective," and I believe wrong to make. In such a case, it would be more proper to say that "I don't like" a thing, rather than "it's trash."

Now, I don't think Jonathan's proven any of that, so we're that far away from any such conclusion, but I present it as the type of case he would have to make (and prove) for me to agree with the conclusion he's after. Or at least, it's the kind of reasoning I would have to do on my own to feel justified in agreeing with him.

Does that clarify? Do you disagree?

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It's not quite clear to me what you're trying to ascertain, but here's the issue:

What is the purpose of a definition?

A definition, in identifying the specific meaning of a concept, isolates the facts of reality to which the concept refers and of which the concept is a mental integration. Thus, the purpose of defining one's terms is to afford oneself the inestimable benefit of knowing what one is talking about.

Nathaniel Branden, The Objectivist Newsletter, January 1963 p. 3, "Intellectual Ammunition Department"

If I prefer vanilla to chocolate -- which we can regard as a fact -- ought I on that basis proclaim vanilla to be "superior" to chocolate?

Superior, by what standard?

If you prefer vanilla to (over) chocolate, the taste of vanilla ice cream over the taste of chocolate ice cream, there's a "reason" (not a process of reasoning) or a cause for its tasting better or more favorable to you than chocolate, a cause for your liking that flavor or taste (vanilla) over other flavors or tastes (like chocolate). Your preference is based on direct sensory experience. It is not a choice but an experience, a favorable, pleasing or pleasant experience as compared to one that is less favorable, pleasing or pleasant.

The point may not be apparent when distinguishing between the tastes of vanilla ice cream and chocolate ice cream because the difference in the tastes are relatively minor as compared with the difference between, say, the taste of vanilla ice cream and the taste of raw sewage, for example, or anything else which tastes truly awful. Such a preference (for vanilla over chocolate or raw sewage) is on the level of feelings of pleasure and pain, not pleasurable or painful emotions (which derive from our conceptual, fallible, level of awareness).

"Yum!" and "Yuck!" on the sensory-perceptual level are not choices but experiences (positive and negative), and they are, when considering the taste of vanilla and chocolate or anything else, caused by the interaction between the thing tasted and your means of tasting, your sense of taste, literal taste (not taste in the extended sense, such as one's taste in art).

Epistemologically, "subjective" and "objective" are concepts that are required on and dependent on the conceptual level of awareness, not on the sensory or perceptual level of awareness. They do not apply and would never arise on the sensory or perceptual level of awareness or consciousness. Our sensory experiences and our perceptions are direct awareness of and even evaluations of existence. They are not, nor can they be, true or false, right or wrong, objective or subjective. They are simply valid by virtue of their being direct awareness of existence.

The subjective (epistemologically) is the arbitrary and implies the primacy of consciousness, the view that consciousness determines (as opposed to identifies) what is real.

The objective (epistemologically) is that which corresponds with reality, identifications and evaluations which correspond or correctly identify and evaluate the facts of reality.

The subjective-objective distinction applies on the conceptual level of awareness, the level in which we are not automatically correct in our efforts to identify and evaluate things, the level in which we are attempting to ensure that our ideas, our identifications and evaluations, do indeed correspond with reality.

To conflate this important distinction by using the term "subjective" for sensory experiences or even personal preferences of any kind (which, on the conceptual level, may be either subjective or objective), is to cause only confusion.

What I'm saying is that, if he is correct -- if Rand's preference for boldness of color is as personal to her and as non-reasoned as a taste preference for vanilla -- and if it was upon that basis (or similar) that she came to pronounce Parrish's work trash, then we may regard that pronouncement as "subjective," and I believe wrong to make. In such a case, it would be more proper to say that "I don't like" a thing, rather than "it's trash."

Because I think that's precisely what Jonathan believes underlies Rand's claim with this art: that she has certain aesthetic personal preferences that are true of her, like a person's preference for vanilla, and on that basis pronounces one artist as great and another as trash.

Now, I don't think Jonathan's proven any of that, so we're that far away from any such conclusion, but I present it as the type of case he would have to make (and prove) for me to agree with the conclusion he's after. Or at least, it's the kind of reasoning I would have to do on my own to feel justified in agreeing with him.

Does that clarify?

No, it does not clarify.

You say: 'What I'm saying is that, if he is correct -- if Rand's preference for boldness of color is as personal to her and as non-reasoned as a taste preference for vanilla -- and if it was upon that basis (or similar) that she came to pronounce Parrish's work trash, then we may regard that pronouncement as "subjective," and I believe wrong to make. In such a case, it would be more proper to say that "I don't like" a thing, rather than "it's trash."'

According to you then, if Miss Rand's preference for boldness of color is just like a preference for the taste of vanilla, then it is "subjective" because it is "as personal to her and as non-reasoned as a taste for vanilla."

In other words, if her preference for boldness of color is just like something (a preference for vanilla) which is not subjective, then it is subjective.

Do you disagree?

No, I do not disagree. J13 had not proven his conclusion(s). And instead of proving his assertions, he typically resorts, ultimately, to accusing and insulting those who disagree with him of blind (not thinking for themselves) adherence to Miss Rand's claims.

This whole discussion remains undermined by a lack of clear definitions, leading to inevitable confusions.

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What is the purpose of a definition?

A definition, in identifying the specific meaning of a concept, isolates the facts of reality to which the concept refers and of which the concept is a mental integration. Thus, the purpose of defining one's terms is to afford oneself the inestimable benefit of knowing what one is talking about.

Nathaniel Branden, The Objectivist Newsletter, January 1963 p. 3, "Intellectual Ammunition Department"

I apologize, but that doesn't quite speak to what I'd intended. I wasn't asking you what the purpose of a definition was. Instead I was indicating that I'm not sure what you're trying to ascertain, which remains true. Let me tell you, rather, what I'm attempting to do at present, and in my last post: convey the meaning of the question that Jonathan has been asking, as a context for my reply to him.

I think that what once might have been a productive discussion has degenerated into an angry quibble over terminology, and I'd like to avoid that happening again if possible.

Superior, by what standard?

I wasn't suggesting any standard for "superior," and actually the question of one's standard for such things is precisely what's at issue. Apparently Rand pronounced the artwork of a particular artist "trash." The question is: by what standard? Jonathan's contention (I believe) is that there is no standard by which it could be pronounced trash, except that Rand may have had a personal distaste for it on the order of one's taste for vanilla or chocolate.

To make the meaning clear, Jonathan demonstrated that if you personally disliked the flavor of chocolate, you wouldn't therefore dub the baker of a chocolate cake a "bad baker."

If you prefer vanilla to (over) chocolate, the taste of vanilla ice cream over the taste of chocolate ice cream, there's a "reason" (not a process of reasoning) or a cause for its tasting better or more favorable to you than chocolate, a cause for your liking that flavor or taste (vanilla) over other flavors or tastes (like chocolate). Your preference is based on direct sensory experience. It is not a choice but an experience, a favorable, pleasing or pleasant experience as compared to one that is less favorable, pleasing or pleasant.

Of course. None of this is at issue.

Epistemologically, "subjective" and "objective" are concepts that are required on and dependent on the conceptual level of awareness, not on the sensory or perceptual level of awareness.

Okay, and where does one's evaluation of a painter's work (i.e. "trash") lie?

Jonathan is contending that Rand's evaluation of Parrish applies only to her, and to those who also have the particular personal reaction she experiences when looking at his artwork. That another person may find Parrish "great" due to having other particular personal reactions. And that these personal reactions, while attributable to a "reason, not a process of reasoning," (like flavor) are not governed by any universal standard by which men in general may deem art "great" or otherwise.

Were this the case, the greatness of an artist like Parrish would be "subject" to who you, as the viewer, are; Parrish's artwork would be both "trash," and "great," depending on who you ask.

The subjective (epistemologically) is the arbitrary and implies the primacy of consciousness, the view that consciousness determines (as opposed to identifies) what is real.

The objective (epistemologically) is that which corresponds with reality, identifications and evaluations which correspond or correctly identify and evaluate the facts of reality.

Well, excellent. I don't think that Jonathan would be upset to proceed based on this -- I think he'd ask whether Parrish's artwork is "trash" in the sense that this is an "identification and evaluation which corresponds or correctly identifies and evaluates the facts of reality"? To put it simply: is Parrish's work trash?

To conflate this important distinction by using the term "subjective" for sensory experiences or even personal preferences of any kind (which, on the conceptual level, may be either subjective or objective), is to cause only confusion.

Nobody aims to cause any confusion, and actually I feel I'm working overtime to eliminate confusion, so I hope that this assists.

The question of whether Parrish's-work-as-trash is an objective assessment or a subjective assessment is the question before us. The argument is that if the assessment is based upon personal preferences like one's personal preference for chocolate over vanilla, that it would be a subjective assessment. Jonathan believes that this must be the source, because: Parrish's work is not trash.

According to you then, if Miss Rand's preference for boldness of color is just like a preference for the taste of vanilla, then it is "subjective" because it is "as personal to her and as non-reasoned as a taste for vanilla."

In other words, if her preference for boldness of color is just like something (a preference for vanilla) which is not subjective, then it is subjective.

Not quite. Rather, if Rand's preference for boldness of color is just like a preference for the taste of vanilla, and if it forms the basis for her opinion of Parrish's artwork, then her pronouncing Parrish's artwork "trash" is "subjective."

Preferring vanilla over chocolate in itself is not "subjective." But pronouncing all vanilla-based desserts good and all chocolate-based desserts bad, in terms of quality, on that basis, is.

J13 had not proven his conclusion(s).

I agree.

And instead of proving his assertions, he typically resorts, ultimately, to accusing and insulting those who disagree with him of blind (not thinking for themselves) adherence to Miss Rand's claims.

I don't think that this is necessarily so. I'm doing my best to avoid that kind of conversation -- I am staunch in my belief that people of goodwill can discuss difficult topics, and even those upon which they disagree, without such accusations and insults.

I do not expect him to insult me.

This whole discussion remains undermined by a lack of clear definitions, leading to inevitable confusions.

There may be confusion at times, but I disagree that this is an issue of "clear definitions." I believe that if we all make an effort to understand one another, and if we're equally committed to the kind of conversation that I insist is both preferable and achievable, that we will succeed.

All that said, I feel I've done too much in trying to "speak for Jonathan," and so I'd ask him to kindly clarify or correct wherever I may have misspoken.

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I apologize, but that doesn't quite speak to what I'd intended. I wasn't asking you what the purpose of a definition was. Instead I was indicating that I'm not sure what you're trying to ascertain, which remains true. Let me tell you, rather, what I'm attempting to do at present, and in my last post: convey the meaning of the question that Jonathan has been asking, as a context for my reply to him.

I know that you weren't asking me what the purpose of a definition is. I had asked you to define the term "subjective" (as well as "objective"). You didn't, so I posted the quote from Mr. Branden to stress the importance of definitions.

I think that what once might have been a productive discussion has degenerated into an angry quibble over terminology, and I'd like to avoid that happening again if possible.

I'm not certain as to why you say that. Did you take my post to be one out of anger towards you? It certainly wasn't made in anger.

As to a "quibble over terminology," I wouldn't characterize it as such. Definitions are critical. And the definitions of "subjective" and "objective" are central to this discussion about Miss Rand's judgements of Mr. Parrish's and Mr. Capuletti's respective works.

I wasn't suggesting any standard for "superior," and actually the question of one's standard for such things is precisely what's at issue. Apparently Rand pronounced the artwork of a particular artist "trash." The question is: by what standard? Jonathan's contention (I believe) is that there is no standard by which it could be pronounced trash, except that Rand may have had a personal distaste for it on the order of one's taste for vanilla or chocolate.

Yes, I agree, the question is: by what standard? That's why I asked.

Yes, I agree with your assessment of J's contention. I also agree with what you've said previously, that you would need to know just what Miss Rand meant by "trash" and why she therefore judged Mr. Parrish's work to be "trash." That's my own position as well.

To make the meaning clear, Jonathan demonstrated that if you personally disliked the flavor of chocolate, you wouldn't therefore dub the baker of a chocolate cake a "bad baker."

No argument.

Of course. None of this [why someone prefers vanilla over chocolate] is at issue.

So far, I'm not so certain of that. A preference for the taste of vanilla over chocolate is being used as an analogy for tastes in art, especially subjective tastes in art. My point is that the preference for vanilla is not subjective and that therefore using it as an analogy confuses the issue.

Okay, and where does one's evaluation of a painter's work (i.e. "trash") lie?

One would have to define the "esthetic" term "trash" objectively, then apply it objectively to any particular works. I'm at a loss with respect to the term because I don't know what Miss Rand meant by it or why she called Mr. Parrish's work "trash." I'd like to know, but it seems that is out of the question.

Jonathan is contending that Rand's evaluation of Parrish applies only to her, and to those who also have the particular personal reaction she experiences when looking at his artwork. That another person may find Parrish "great" due to having other particular personal reactions. And that these personal reactions, while attributable to a "reason, not a process of reasoning," (like flavor) are not governed by any universal standard by which men in general may deem art "great" or otherwise.

Yes, I understand that to be his contention. I don't agree that flavor is not governed by any universal standard, and I still contend that it's a bad analogy to be using with respect to tastes in art, which may or may not be, unlike tastes with respect to sensory qualities, subjective or objective.

Were this the case, the greatness of an artist like Parrish would be "subject" to who you, as the viewer, are; Parrish's artwork would be both "trash," and "great," depending on who you ask.

I agree.

Well, excellent. [with respect to my definitions of "subjective" and "objective"] I don't think that Jonathan would be upset to proceed based on this -- I think he'd ask whether Parrish's artwork is "trash" in the sense that this is an "identification and evaluation which corresponds or correctly identifies and evaluates the facts of reality"? To put it simply: is Parrish's work trash?

What is the standard, the definition of "trash" with respect to artworks? That's the question. The other question, on which this discussion revolves, is whether or not Miss Rand's assessment of Parrish's works to be "trash" is subjective or objective. I think that you and I agree that it's not possible to answer that without knowing what Miss Rand meant by "trash" in that regard and why exactly she regarded Mr. Parrish's works as "trash." I have no means of answering the question: is Miss Rand's judgement true or false, right or wrong, objective or subjective?

Nobody aims to cause any confusion, and actually I feel I'm working overtime to eliminate confusion, so I hope that this assists.

I wasn't contending that anyone is purposefully aiming to cause confusion. I was, again, just making the point that defining the term "subjective (and "objective") is critical to this discussion, that without clear and agreed upon definitions, confusion was/is bound to pervade it.

The question of whether Parrish's-work-as-trash is an objective assessment or a subjective assessment is the question before us. The argument is that if the assessment is based upon personal preferences like one's personal preference for chocolate over vanilla, that it would be a subjective assessment. Jonathan believes that this must be the source, because: Parrish's work is not trash.

Yes, and that's the analogy I take issue with. A personal preference for chocolate over vanilla is not subjective. The concept "subjective" is not relevant to such tastes, though it is relevant to "tastes" in art. I read your statement, and my reaction is, no, that makes no sense: if the assessment of artworks is based upon a personal preference like one's personal preference for chocolate over vanilla, then, given that a preference for chocolate over vanilla is not subjective, it doesn't follow that a similarly non-subjective assessment of Parrish's work would be subjective. I'm just saying that the analogy is confusing.

Why do you think that a preference for chocolate over vanilla is subjective? (And see, we're back to the importance of defining the term "subjective" - not a simple quibble over terminology.)

Not quite. Rather, if Rand's preference for boldness of color is just like a preference for the taste of vanilla, and if it forms the basis for her opinion of Parrish's artwork, then her pronouncing Parrish's artwork "trash" is "subjective."

Same thing. I contend that the analogy is poor. If a preference for the taste of vanilla is subjective, what then is objective?

Preferring vanilla over chocolate in itself is not "subjective." But pronouncing all vanilla-based desserts good and all chocolate-based desserts bad, in terms of quality, on that basis, is.

Yes, as I understand your point, going from "I like vanilla more than chocolate" is not a basis for declaring that vanilla-based desserts are good and chocolate-based desserts are bad. Good and bad are different judgements and require a standard beyond "I like."

I don't think that this is necessarily so. I'm doing my best to avoid that kind of conversation -- I am staunch in my belief that people of goodwill can discuss difficult topics, and even those upon which they disagree, without such accusations and insults.

I agree.

There may be confusion at times, but I disagree that this is an issue of "clear definitions." I believe that if we all make an effort to understand one another, and if we're equally committed to the kind of conversation that I insist is both preferable and achievable, that we will succeed.

The issue is, I agree, not one about "clear definitions," but it depends upon clear definitions. That's my only point with respect to asking for definitions of "subjective" and "objective," to make certain that everyone is speaking the same language, so to speak.

Anyway, Tyler, I did not mean to side track your discussion with J13. I thought that definitions were called for, so I asked. I'll bow out and let you continue your discussion with J13.

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