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Atlas Shrugged, Part I: A Cinematic Go-Cart

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Why not? The population generally has common knowledge of certain people, events and things.

Which population? Modern China? Medieval China? Ancient Egypt? I am writing about aesthetic judgment, and aesthetic norms. Good art like good thinking will have a quality of universality to it. Nobody knows who is the woman depicted on the Mona Lisa and it doesn't matter. The same goes for Girl with a Pearl Earring. The nonreligious can admire Michealangelo's statue Moses (horns and all). Distance, time and forgetfulness attenuate the nonessential. Even people who were once rich or famous or noble are forgotten and their portraits are now judged on artistic merits alone. Someday no one will know who Abraham Lincoln was but if the statue in the Lincoln Memorial somehow survives it will be judged coldly (and put up against Moses) without the benefit of knowing it depicts the "Great Emancipator", and savior and martyr of his country.

Do your rules apply only to the depiction of people, or must other entities, such as, say, places, also be "types" rather than symbols or named individual places? Is it verboten, for example, for a painter to include a fictional version of Jesus, Aristotle or Genghis Khan, but it's acceptable that Rand included real places, such as America, Russia, New York City, etc., rather than inventing imaginary types of places?

"My rules" apply to the judgment not the painting. Nothing is verboten, but if there is no sense to made of the painting without some external text to decode the symbolism, or high regard for the subject is to substitute for lack of skill in the depiction, then the painting is judged to be poor. If the artwork meets its basic responsibility as an artwork to be comprehensible and skillful in itself then extra nonessential flourishes of literary reference or symbolism can add value for people who understand the references.

Everything in a representational artwork imports meaning by reference. That's what representation means. Therefore everything in a representational artwork conveys meaning via "outside considerations" by your standards, no?

It is arbitrariness of the code and the necessity for a secret decoder ring to extract meaning and value from the scene rendered in a private language of symbolism that is objectionable. Representationalism presents its essential meaning via objects as self-evident accurate depictions and is not the same as symbolism where what is essential is hidden and not self-evident.

This is essentially Tom Wolfe's point made in the first pages of "The Painted Word". You can stare at some modern painting or a symbolic work all day and not find the meaning in it because the meaning is not in the painting, it is somewhere else.

edit:

And to relate this back to the topic, this is also my problem with the movie Atlas Shrugged: Part 1. Too much of the meaning of what is on the screen is left behind in the book.

Edited by Grames
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I know this is quite OT but I want to thank you for illustrating the reason I am uneasy with The Fountainhead (and the reason why I think many otherwise "Progressive" educators actually like to teach this book and will do so even without ARI helping them out). It's far too easy for trashy "artists" to point to it and proclaim that they are really Howard Roark, being beaten down by the system. They can justify being different for the sake of being different, which of course we should understand as counterfeit individualism.

I wasn't justifying anyone's being different for the sake of being different. I was recognizing the value of questioning traditional ways of doing things, following one's own vision and exploring new territory.

Of course there are places in the book where Ayn Rand makes it clear that being Howard Roark is not about being different, unconventional, and proud of it for that reason alone, but those are easily glossed over (particularly by those who are already receptive to the incorrect interpretation) and the book can be taught as being an invitation for being arrogant about one's counterfeit individualism.

Yeah, I think I've seen a lot of the type of arrogance and counterfeit individualism that you're talking about. For example, I've seen many fans of The Fountainhead, and of Rand's other works, who have presumed to instruct me on subjects about which I have expertise, and about which they know practically nothing. It's quite common, actually.

Thus far I've sed nothing about Picasso but I'll say this to you. If he's a Howard Roark, prove it. Don't just assert it. If you can't prove it, you are throwing out arbitrary statements.

What would you accept as proof?

I think that a lot of what Rand had to say (incorrectly) about Capuletti is true of Picasso. So, if I were to say that Picasso's work is a tour de force of disciplined power, virtuoso technique and sheer perfection of workmanship, that it employs an economy of means, has passionate intensity, enormous clarity, an irrepressible self-assertiveness and sensual spirituality, would you accept that as proof of his greatness, or would you still claim that I'm "throwing out arbitrary statements"?

What if I were to say that Picasso had similarities to Roark beyond the fact that they both followed their independent visions? I see Picasso as having taken a fresh approach to exploring the relational/compositional and expressive aspects of visual art that painters had always used, but didn't understand very well, or were much more conservative and not as daring as Picasso was. In that respect, I think he explored a facet of the visual arts -- the expressiveness of form and compositional relationships -- that is at the core of architecture as an art form. Picasso broke new ground in advancing mankind's understanding of form, composition and expression. (Btw, I think it's absolutely precious when people claim to be able to find deep meaning in the abstract forms of architecture, but then express the opinion that similar forms, when drawn by Picasso or some other modern artist, are incomprehensible and meaningless.)

J

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Which population? Modern China? Medieval China? Ancient Egypt? I am writing about aesthetic judgment, and aesthetic norms. Good art like good thinking will have a quality of universality to it.

I agree that good art will have "a quality" of universality to it. But that doesn't mean that art must avoid time-specific or culture-specific content. It doesn't mean that art is "bad" if it contains people, events, machines, etc., that would not be recognized or understood by every single human being from every time and culture that has or will ever exist. 

Nobody knows who is the woman depicted on the Mona Lisa and it doesn't matter. The same goes for Girl with a Pearl Earring. The nonreligious can admire Michealangelo's statue Moses (horns and all).

Indeed, that is true of those and many great artworks. But it is not true of other great artworks.

Distance, time and forgetfulness attenuate the nonessential.

Nonessential to whom? It sounds as if you believe that an artist shouldn't freely express himself, but should constrain himself and hobble his work by attempting to take into consideration some distant future society's context. It sounds as if you expect art to be dumbed down to the greatest common denominator.

Even people who were once rich or famous or noble are forgotten and their portraits are now judged on artistic merits alone. Someday no one will know who Abraham Lincoln was but if the statue in the Lincoln Memorial somehow survives it will be judged coldly (and put up against Moses) without the benefit of knowing it depicts the "Great Emancipator", and savior and martyr of his country.

Someday the world might be an Objectivist paradise, and after many generations of peaceful, productive living under capitalism, no one will have a concept of personal irresponsibility, economic envy, large-scale political conflict or of the organized, governmental use of the initiation of force, and therefore no one will understand why anyone would write novels which contain such things. Rand's novels will then be read coldly, and without the knowledge that many people and governments in reality acted in the ways that she portrayed them, and therefore her work will be seen as imagining gratuitously disturbing, unrealistic dystopias which present the bulk of mankind as vicious, except for a small handful of good characters who future readers won't see as heroic, but just as normal, productive citizens, or perhaps as good-hearted citizens who are a bit intellectually and emotionally slow by future standards. They'll ask themselves why anyone would waste their time dreaming up such dreary worlds.

Therefore, Rand's art deals with too many specific contemporary issues and attitudes that aren't "essential" or "universal" to what mankind is, and is therefore "bad" art by your criteria?

"My rules" apply to the judgment not the painting. Nothing is verboten, but if there is no sense to made of the painting without some external text to decode the symbolism, or high regard for the subject is to substitute for lack of skill in the depiction, then the painting is judged to be poor.

Um, I and many others don't need to access "external texts" or "decode" any symbolism when looking at a painting just because you may need to, or because you believe that someone in the distant future might need to. When I see a painting of, say, Jesus or Stalin, I don't need to hit the books to learn what the painting might be about, just as I don't need to look up what apples are when I view a painting of apples.

If the artwork meets its basic responsibility as an artwork to be comprehensible and skillful in itself then extra nonessential flourishes of literary reference or symbolism can add value for people who understand the references.

By what objective standard is something in an artwork "essential" versus "nonessential"? It sounds to me as if you may be proposing the idea that your ability to recognize the content in an artwork is the universal standard for determining what is contained in the art versus what is an "outside consideration."

It is arbitrariness of the code and the necessity for a secret decoder ring to extract meaning and value from the scene rendered in a private language of symbolism that is objectionable.

Who needs a "secret decoder ring" to make sense of a painting which contains a famous person? Where are you getting this "private language" stuff? It's not an act of using a "private language" or a secret "code" when an artwork refers to things or people that are commonly known.

Representationalism presents its essential meaning via objects as self-evident accurate depictions and is not the same as symbolism where what is essential is hidden and not self-evident.

Hidden from whom? If I get a visual reference, but you don't, does that mean that it's "hidden"? When I see a painting of Jesus or Stalin, it is immediately self-evident to me that it is Jesus or Stalin. What's the problem?!?!

This is essentially Tom Wolfe's point made in the first pages of "The Painted Word". You can stare at some modern painting or a symbolic work all day and not find the meaning in it because the meaning is not in the painting, it is somewhere else.

Over the years, I've asked countless Objectivists online to identify the meanings of non-symbolic, non-secret-code, realist paintings, and they tend to not do very well. They do much worse than fans of abstract art I've known. I'm not a huge fan of most abstract art, but even I have had a much better track record of finding meaning in it, including often times the artists' intended meanings (going only by the content in the art and without knowing in advance what their intentions were) than Objectivists have had in finding meaning in realist art. So, sorry, but no, I don't buy the arbitrary assertion that "you can stare at some modern painting or a symbolic work all day and not find the meaning."

How do we know that you, Tom Wolfe, and people who share your attitudes aren't in some way deficient when it comes to certain art forms? I don't accept your implied criteria that when you find meaning in a work of art, it's in the art, but when others find meaning in a work or art which has no meaning to you, then the meaning is not in the art, but is external to it or an "outside consideration." I don't accept your apparent attempt to appoint yourself (and your abilities and limitations) as the universal standard of intelligibility and the internal/external in art.

edit:

And to relate this back to the topic, this is also my problem with the movie Atlas Shrugged: Part 1. Too much of the meaning of what is on the screen is left behind in the book.

Maybe you just weren't capable of picking up on all of the visual information that was conveyed through body language, subtle facial expressions, etc.? After all, you seem to believe that a lot of very obvious, easy-to-identify visual content involves secret "codes" and "private languages."

J

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I agree that good art will have "a quality" of universality to it. But that doesn't mean that art must avoid time-specific or culture-specific content. It doesn't mean that art is "bad" if it contains people, events, machines, etc., that would not be recognized or understood by every single human being from every time and culture that has or will ever exist. 

...

Nonessential to whom? It sounds as if you believe that an artist shouldn't freely express himself, but should constrain himself and hobble his work by attempting to take into consideration some distant future society's context. It sounds as if you expect art to be dumbed down to the greatest common denominator.

"Must avoid" is a strawman, not my argument. Skill requires discipline and judgment in deciding what to omit as well as what to include, i.e. constraint of self, so your appeal to artistic freedom is an appeal to be free of any standard involving skill. Your comment about "dumbing down" would describe appealing to the lowest common denominator not the greatest.

Someday the world might be an Objectivist paradise, and after many generations of peaceful, productive living under capitalism, no one will have a concept of personal irresponsibility, economic envy, large-scale political conflict or of the organized, governmental use of the initiation of force, and therefore no one will understand why anyone would write novels which contain such things. Rand's novels will then be read coldly, and without the knowledge that many people and governments in reality acted in the ways that she portrayed them, and therefore her work will be seen as imagining gratuitously disturbing, unrealistic dystopias which present the bulk of mankind as vicious, except for a small handful of good characters who future readers won't see as heroic, but just as normal, productive citizens, or perhaps as good-hearted citizens who are a bit intellectually and emotionally slow by future standards. They'll ask themselves why anyone would waste their time dreaming up such dreary worlds.

Therefore, Rand's art deals with too many specific contemporary issues and attitudes that aren't "essential" or "universal" to what mankind is, and is therefore "bad" art by your criteria?

Oh no! I mustn't adopt any standard by which Rand might come up short. :unsure:

Who do you think you are dealing with here? That's not an argument, that is a pre-emptive smear. I'm sorry if your dealings with other so-called Objectivists have disappointed you but its unfair for you to burden me with your psychological scars. I am not guilty!

Literature in general, and Atlas Shrugged in particular, has room to explain itself thoroughly within the text itself. Atlas exploits the format fully, even too fully for many tastes, with all those long speeches. There will always be readers that reject the theme and message of Atlas Shrugged and rationalize their rejection in various ways. The foundation of any novel's merit is the integration of character, plot and theme. Atlas does very well on that standard. Whether anybody likes or dislikes dystopias, or Objectivism, or Russian novelists, or has ever heard of Colorado or America, is irrelevant. Such detail as it has (trains, no commercial air travel) do in fact date the work and subtract from its universality even for present-day Americans.

Um, I and many others don't need to access "external texts" or "decode" any symbolism when looking at a painting just because you may need to, or because you believe that someone in the distant future might need to. When I see a painting of, say, Jesus or Stalin, I don't need to hit the books to learn what the painting might be about, just as I don't need to look up what apples are when I view a painting of apples.

Whether it is Jesus or Stalin depicted is irrelevant to the merit of the work on artistic grounds.

By what objective standard is something in an artwork "essential" versus "nonessential"? It sounds to me as if you may be proposing the idea that your ability to recognize the content in an artwork is the universal standard for determining what is contained in the art versus what is an "outside consideration."

Who needs a "secret decoder ring" to make sense of a painting which contains a famous person? Where are you getting this "private language" stuff? It's not an act of using a "private language" or a secret "code" when an artwork refers to things or people that are commonly known.

Hidden from whom? If I get a visual reference, but you don't, does that mean that it's "hidden"? When I see a painting of Jesus or Stalin, it is immediately self-evident to me that it is Jesus or Stalin. What's the problem?!?!

All particular identities (names) in an image are nonessential.

People have differing ability to recognize the external references in an artwork. The only way to come upon an universal objective standard of aesthetic judgment is to discard all such references. A work that relies upon the viewer recognizing Jesus or Stalin in order to work is a genre piece, either religious iconography or political propaganda. Genre works are lesser art forms because they are less universal due to their requirement to be familiar with the conventions of that genre.

What matters is being able to interpret the scene as generic figures. For example in the Picasso above, the meaning of a man and unclothed woman grouped together and embracing, confronting a mother with child is perfectly clear. Picasso could have rendered the scene better but it would not have made the scenario being depicted more clear.

If it were recognizably Elliot Spitzer and his whore confronting Spitzer's wife and child that should not effect the judgment of the work's merit at all (although in this case, if individuals were recognizable that alternate version would unavoidably be drawn better than the one Picasso actually drew). Maybe people who hated Elliot Spitzer would enjoy it more, but hating Elliot Spitzer has nothing to do with the principles of aesthetics. Knowing who Elliot Spitzer is or that he exists has nothing to do with the principles of aesthetics. Knowing what Jesus or Stalin looked like or who they were has nothing to do with the principles of aesthetics. Aesthetics is not history, not even art history.

The painting L'Angélus held at the =3048]Musee Orsay has this commentary

Alone in the foreground in a huge empty plain, the two peasants take on a monumental quality, despite the small size of the canvas. Their faces are left in shadow, while the light underlines their gestures and posture. The canvas expresses a deep feeling of meditation and Millet goes beyond the anecdote to the archetype.

"... goes beyond the anecdote to the archetype". That's just perfectly expressive of what I mean. And it doesn't matter one bit if you hate peasants, farms and praying, and the sight of peasants praying in a farm field turns your stomach, L'Angélus is still one of the great paintings even if you don't like it.

... I don't buy the arbitrary assertion that "you can stare at some modern painting or a symbolic work all day and not find the meaning."
This is not an arbitrary assertion, that actually happens in art museums everyday. The phenomenon has nothing to do with Objectivism, it is the common complaint of everybody outside of the insular "art world".

How do we know that you, Tom Wolfe, and people who share your attitudes aren't in some way deficient
Oh, but they are deficient. Their deficiency lies in their self-exclusion from the pretentious art-clique. They are deficient in the ability to disregard their lying eyes and instead parrot the bullshit fed to them by their alleged intellectual superiors. They are deficient in not keeping up with the avant-garde philosophical movements and leftist political fads implicit in what passes for art these days.
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Oh, but they are deficient. Their deficiency lies in their self-exclusion from the pretentious art-clique. They are deficient in the ability to disregard their lying eyes and instead parrot the bullshit fed to them by their alleged intellectual superiors. They are deficient in not keeping up with the avant-garde philosophical movements and leftist political fads implicit in what passes for art these days.

Well said!

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"Must avoid" is a strawman, not my argument.

It is you argument. Your argument has been that in order for art to be good, its ability to convey meaning must avoid depending on content which you arbitrary label "outside considerations" -- you call things "outside considerations" when you don't recognize them, or when you've decided that people from some distant future society won't recognize them, and you call them "outside considerations" despite the fact that others immediately recognize them.

Skill requires discipline and judgment in deciding what to omit as well as what to include, i.e. constraint of self, so your appeal to artistic freedom is an appeal to be free of any standard involving skill.

No, it's not an appeal to be free of any standard involving skill. What I'm talking about is the freedom for an artist to explore what he knows to be the best way of expressing himself, based on his experience and higher level of knowledge of his art form, as opposed to limiting himself to following rules made up by people who have very little knowledge of his art form.

Your comment about "dumbing down" would describe appealing to the lowest common denominator not the greatest.

Oops. You're right. I began writing "appealing to the greatest number of people" but changed my mind mid-sentence to "lowest common denominator," and in doing so missed changing "greatest" to "lowest."

Oh no! I mustn't adopt any standard by which Rand might come up short.

The point is that any work of art could come up short by your "standards." One simply arbitrarily asserts that certain content is an "outside consideration" because someone, somewhere, from one time or another, doesn't or won't immediately recognize it. One simply concocts scenarios in which one denies that common knowledge of certain people or events contained in a painting are common knowledge, and then claims that the art is therefore a failure.

And one avoids at all costs answering questions about one's qualifications to judge art. When one is asked "How do we know that the art failed to communicate versus that you failed to recognize its meaning?", one must evade the question, wish it out of existence, pretend that it was never asked. etc.

Who do you think you are dealing with here?

I think I'm dealing with someone who doesn't have much knowledge of the visual arts, and who is pretty limited in his ability to understand what's going on in a painting (I'm remembering the difficulty that you had in identifying very basic visual information in the Joan of Arc painting that we had discussed on the "Non-objective Art" thread), yet who feels it's important, for some reason, to pontificate on the subject. I think I'm dealing with someone who appears to feel personally attacked and insulted when others share their enthusiasm for art that he doesn't grasp.

That's not an argument, that is a pre-emptive smear.

No, what is a preemptive smear is your labeling of anyone who appreciates art that you don't as belonging to a "pretentious art-clique." I've met a hell of lot of the people whom you're judging prior to knowing them, and they are usually anything but pretentious. They're nothing but enthusiastic fans of the art that they love.

Your smearing them as being pretentious only suggests to me that you feel threatened by their ability to see and feel things in art that you can't. I see you as expressing anger based in resentment and envy. Why do you take their enjoyment of art as an insult? Despite what you may need to believe, they're not doing it to make you feel inferior.

I'm sorry if your dealings with other so-called Objectivists have disappointed you but its unfair for you to burden me with your psychological scars. I am not guilty!

Me? Psychological scars? Heh. I'm not the one emoting about how others, whom I've never met, are members of a "pretentious art-clique" who "disregard their lying eyes" and "parrot the bullshit fed to them by their alleged intellectual superiors" when they simply point out that they find meaning in art that I don't. I'm not the one who is angry and resentful about others being enthusiastic about art that I don't enjoy. I'm not so psychologically fragile that I need to tell myself that others are lying or brainwashed if they claim to be able to appreciate and understand art forms that I don't.

Literature in general, and Atlas Shrugged in particular, has room to explain itself thoroughly within the text itself. Atlas exploits the format fully, even too fully for many tastes, with all those long speeches. There will always be readers that reject the theme and message of Atlas Shrugged and rationalize their rejection in various ways.

But if they're people from the future living in a perfect Objectivist world, and have never been exposed to Rand's and our context, their rejection of Atlas Shrugged won't be a "rationalization." They'll be quite rational to judge Rand and her novels much in the way that many Objectivists judge horror novels and movies. In their context, AS will come across as a needless wallowing in unrealistic horrors, with only a handful of good, average citizens to drag their feet in standing up to the horrors, and with no real heroes as defined by future standards.

Your personal brand of "universality" in art is really just a rationalization that can be applied selectively depending on whether or not you subjectively or arbitrarily want to condemn a work of art.

The foundation of any novel's merit is the integration of character, plot and theme. Atlas does very well on that standard. Whether anybody likes or dislikes dystopias, or Objectivism, or Russian novelists, or has ever heard of Colorado or America, is irrelevant. Such detail as it has (trains, no commercial air travel) do in fact date the work and subtract from its universality even for present-day Americans.

To the extent that such considerations affect people's judgments of Atlas Shrugged (or any other work of art), it could be as much an indicator of the reader's failure and ineptitude as the novelist's.

So, by what objective standard do we judge a person's qualifications to judge a work of art? How do we objectively determine that an artwork is bad versus that those judging it are aesthetically inept?

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Whether it is Jesus or Stalin depicted is irrelevant to the merit of the work on artistic grounds.

What do you mean by "artistic" grounds? By Objectivist standards, it is quite relevant whether Jesus or Stalin is depicted. In judging a work of art, the Objectivist position is that one must identify the artist's theme and how well he conveyed it. If the artist's theme depends on viewers recognizing Stalin's likeness, then the artist's success will depend on if he successfully depicted Stalin.

All particular identities (names) in an image are nonessential. People have differing ability to recognize the external references in an artwork. The only way to come upon an universal objective standard of aesthetic judgment is to discard all such references.

Then you're discarding representation itself. All objects depicted in a painting refer to things outside the painting. A painting of an apple is no less dependent on external references than a painting of Jesus.

A work that relies upon the viewer recognizing Jesus or Stalin in order to work is a genre piece, either religious iconography or political propaganda.

You're just arbitrarily making stuff up. Here's a painting of Stalin that is not "political propaganda," but anti-propaganda. It is an aesthetic satire of the use of art as propaganda.

Genre works are lesser art forms because they are less universal due to their requirement to be familiar with the conventions of that genre.

What matters is being able to interpret the scene as generic figures. For example in the Picasso above, the meaning of a man and unclothed woman grouped together and embracing, confronting a mother with child is perfectly clear.

It's not perfectly clear to Ed Cline! Therefore it relies on "outside considerations" and is unintelligible and a meaningless jumble of thematically disconnected figures! And you're a member of a "pretentious art clique" because you're claiming to see and make sense of things that Cline can't!

Isn't that be the way that it works by your standards? The person who is the least sensitive to an art form gets to proclaim that everyone who sees and understands more than he does is a pretentious, brainwashed leftist?

Picasso could have rendered the scene better but it would not have made the scenario being depicted more clear.

To whom? Rendering specific, recognizable people, characters and/or events might have made the scene much more clear to a lot of people.

This is not an arbitrary assertion, that actually happens in art museums everyday. The phenomenon has nothing to do with Objectivism, it is the common complaint of everybody outside of the insular "art world".

It happens no less frequently when people who are "outside of the insular art world" look at realist paintings. As I've said, I've asked many Objectivists to identify subjects and meanings in realist paintings, and they don't do very well. Most of them seem to have as much difficulty as Ed Cline had with the Picasso, or that you had with the very obvious visual information in the Joan of Arc painting. Yet here both or you are, pontificating away on the subject.

Their deficiency lies in their self-exclusion from the pretentious art-clique. They are deficient in the ability to disregard their lying eyes and instead parrot the bullshit fed to them by their alleged intellectual superiors. They are deficient in not keeping up with the avant-garde philosophical movements and leftist political fads implicit in what passes for art these days.

Objectivism holds that architecture is a valid art form, and that it is very expressive of thematic meaning, metaphysical value-judgments and senses of life, despite the fact that it "does not recreate reality" according to Rand. Therefore, its aesthetic means must be based in its abstract relational/compositional qualities, which are also the means of the art that you rant against. Architecture IS abstract art. It is the non-mimetic arrangement of abstract forms, textures and colors. So why are you not accusing Rand and other Objectivists of "parroting bullshit fed to them their alleged intellectual superiors" when they promote architecture as a valid art form?

J

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It is you argument. Your argument has been that in order for art to be good, its ability to convey meaning must avoid depending on content which you arbitrary label "outside considerations" -- you call things "outside considerations" when you don't recognize them, or when you've decided that people from some distant future society won't recognize them, and you call them "outside considerations" despite the fact that others immediately recognize them.

No, it is not. It is impossible for a representational painting to be good without depicting recognizable objects with some skill, and that includes faces with enough detail that they will resemble some particular people. If the particular people resembled by their identity add extra layers of meaning to the painting, thats fine. But if that reference by resemblance is the whole of the meaning and merit of the work then you have something more like a political cartoon, a genre artwork.

No, it's not an appeal to be free of any standard involving skill. What I'm talking about is the freedom for an artist to explore what he knows to be the best way of expressing himself, based on his experience and higher level of knowledge of his art form, as opposed to limiting himself to following rules made up by people who have very little knowledge of his art form.
Any artist can paint what he wants. I'll respect and possibly purchase only as I see fit. Any artist can opine about what is best in art, and so can I. What's the problem? Where is the freedom restriction?

And one avoids at all costs answering questions about one's qualifications to judge art.
And you wonder where the "insular art-clique" complaint comes from? It comes from the premise of this question. Since everyone actually does judge art, there are no qualifications to judge. The proper question to ask is "how does one judge", or "what standards are used?"

When one is asked "How do we know that the art failed to communicate versus that you failed to recognize its meaning?", one must evade the question, wish it out of existence, pretend that it was never asked. etc.

Or strike it out.

I think I'm dealing with someone who doesn't have much knowledge of the visual arts, and who is pretty limited in his ability to understand what's going on in a painting (I'm remembering the difficulty that you had in identifying very basic visual information in the Joan of Arc painting that we had discussed on the "Non-objective Art" thread), yet who feels it's important, for some reason, to pontificate on the subject. I think I'm dealing with someone who appears to feel personally attacked and insulted when others share their enthusiasm for art that he doesn't grasp.

No, I keep my feelings of being personally attacked reserved for when I am actually attacked. Demands that I present my papers or be presumed illegitimate, insinuations that I am somehow 'deficient', those are attacks in case you didn't realize what you were doing.

No, what is a preemptive smear is your labeling of anyone who appreciates art that you don't as belonging to a "pretentious art-clique." I've met a hell of lot of the people whom you're judging prior to knowing them, and they are usually anything but pretentious. They're nothing but enthusiastic fans of the art that they love.
I'm sure its all very pleasant inside the clubhouse. I'll take your word for it, I'm not qualified to be in the clubhouse.

Your smearing them as being pretentious only suggests to me that you feel threatened by their ability to see and feel things in art that you can't. I see you as expressing anger based in resentment and envy. Why do you take their enjoyment of art as an insult? Despite what you may need to believe, they're not doing it to make you feel inferior.
No, they do it for their own reasons, reasons that plainly don't have anything to do with artistic merit.

So, by what objective standard do we judge a person's qualifications to judge a work of art?

Never ask that question, ask about the standards employed.

How do we objectively determine that an artwork is bad versus that those judging it are aesthetically inept?

Ineptness is when what is self-evident is missed. When Ed Cline professes not to recognize the significance of the way the human figures are grouped, that is being conceptually inept. To be an adult and author and not recognize a romantic triangle or depiction of adultery despite the cartoonish figures is inexplicable.

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What do you mean by "artistic" grounds?

Integration of theme, composition, technique, subject. Bonus points for clever selection and use of the subject for extra meaning.

By Objectivist standards, it is quite relevant whether Jesus or Stalin is depicted. In judging a work of art, the Objectivist position is that one must identify the artist's theme and how well he conveyed it. If the artist's theme depends on viewers recognizing Stalin's likeness, then the artist's success will depend on if he successfully depicted Stalin.
If the artist's theme is that superficial, he is a political cartoonist. Perhaps a good one, but still...

Then you're discarding representation itself. All objects depicted in a painting refer to things outside the painting. A painting of an apple is no less dependent on external references than a painting of Jesus.

No. An apple is a word for a concept. The meaning of a concept is its referents. A depiction of an object that looks like an apple must be taken to invoke the related concept that identifies it. No one needs to have previously seen the particular apple depicted to identify it as an apple. Proper nouns are not concepts. A person must know the particular face depicted to associate a name with it.

You're just arbitrarily making stuff up. Here's a painting of Stalin that is not "political propaganda," but anti-propaganda. It is an aesthetic satire of the use of art as propaganda.

It is counter-propaganda, still a type of propaganda. It does not work well without recognizing Stalin.

It's not perfectly clear to Ed Cline!
See above on recognizing ineptness.

Isn't that be the way that it works by your standards? The person who is the least sensitive to an art form gets to proclaim that everyone who sees and understands more than he does is a pretentious, brainwashed leftist?
No.

To whom? Rendering specific, recognizable people, characters and/or events might have made the scene much more clear to a lot of people.
Maybe recognizing Sandra Bullock, Jesse James and that tattooed chick would make it clearer to a more literal mentality, but it wouldn't necessarily let them see the world conceptually any better than a news story.

It happens no less frequently when people who are "outside of the insular art world" look at realist paintings. As I've said, I've asked many Objectivists to identify subjects and meanings in realist paintings, and they don't do very well.
And why should they? Many self-identified Objectivists have only a shaky understanding of what they are getting themselves into, and studying Objectivism is not the same as studying technique, composition, etc. It is just as bad when they learn a little metaphysics and then try to be physicists and disprove quantum mechanics in a forum post. Art is more universal than physics, which is why Luc Travers actually has a market for his services and David Harriman not so much.

Architecture, nevermind. Off topic.

What, no commentary on the The Angelus? "beyond the anecdote to the archetype" doesn't strike you as insightful as to what art is about?

Edited by Grames
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But if that reference by resemblance is the whole of the meaning and merit of the work then you have something more like a political cartoon, a genre artwork.

Arbitrary assertion.

Any artist can paint what he wants. I'll respect and possibly purchase only as I see fit. Any artist can opine about what is best in art, and so can I. What's the problem?

The problem is that artists know what they're talking about, where you don't.

And you wonder where the "insular art-clique" complaint comes from? It comes from the premise of this question. Since everyone actually does judge art, there are no qualifications to judge. The proper question to ask is "how does one judge", or "what standards are used?"

Yes, those are also relevant questions, but they don't get to the core of the problem that I'm addressing. The problem is that it really doesn't matter which standards a person claims to be using when he doesn't have any knowledge of the arts that he's judging, and when it's clear that he has difficulty in understanding very obvious information.

No, I keep my feelings of being personally attacked reserved for when I am actually attacked. Demands that I present my papers or be presumed illegitimate, insinuations that I am somehow 'deficient', those are attacks in case you didn't realize what you were doing.

I'm "attacking" you by recognizing that you have difficulty with very obvious visual information?

I'm sure its all very pleasant inside the clubhouse. I'll take your word for it, I'm not qualified to be in the clubhouse.

Do you approach all subjects that way? If you were to hear physicists discussing things that you didn't understand, would you complain that they're just being "pretentious" phonies who are "attacking" you by having more knowledge than you do, and by not taking your uninformed opinions seriously? If they laughed at you after you smugly informed them that their theories have no merit, would you pout that they were not letting you into the "clubhouse"?

No, they do it for their own reasons, reasons that plainly don't have anything to do with artistic merit.

I see no reason to believe that you know anything about artistic merit, and plenty of reasons to believe that you know very little about it.

>So, by what objective standard do we judge a person's qualifications to judge a work of art?

Never ask that question, ask about the standards employed.

I like my question better, since it addresses whether or not a person has much of a track record of employing standards of aesthetic judgment, and whether or not he may have limitations in his ability to understand and use the relevant standards. For example, you, Ed Cline and Luc Travers could talk all day about the various standards that you imagine that you're employing, but it would all really be nothing but hot air if you're incapable of identifying the simplest bits of visual information to which you hope to apply those standards.

Ineptness is when what is self-evident is missed. When Ed Cline professes not to recognize the significance of the way the human figures are grouped, that is being conceptually inept. To be an adult and author and not recognize a romantic triangle or depiction of adultery despite the cartoonish figures is inexplicable.

So, when you recognize that someone's opinions are based in their aesthetic ineptitude, you're being virtuously factual and truthful, but when someone recognizes that your opinions are based in aesthetic ineptitude, they're big meanies who are behaving as if they're part of a "pretentious art-clique"? Sounds like a double standard to me.

J

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No. An apple is a word for a concept.

I think you've confused yourself. An apple is an apple. An apple is not a word, but a fruit that we call "apple."

The meaning of a concept is its referents. A depiction of an object that looks like an apple must be taken to invoke the related concept that identifies it. No one needs to have previously seen the particular apple depicted to identify it as an apple.

One needs to have previously seen apples in order to identify a depiction of an apple. There are people from various times, lands and cultures who haven't seen apples, so, therefore paintings of apples make reference to "outside considerations" by your standards, and therefore such paintings are bad art! Bad art!!

Proper nouns are not concepts. A person must know the particular face depicted to associate a name with it.

And people do know particular faces depicted, and they associate not only names with the faces, but all sorts of knowledge about the persons depicted.

It is counter-propaganda, still a type of propaganda.

Yet another arbitrary assertion.

It does not work well without recognizing Stalin.

Well, fortunately I and lots of other people quite easily recognize Stalin!

>It's not perfectly clear to Ed Cline!

See above on recognizing ineptness.

Why won't you let Ed Cline into the "clubhouse"? Don't be a pretentious art snob! He has feelings too!

And why should they? Many self-identified Objectivists have only a shaky understanding of what they are getting themselves into, and studying Objectivism is not the same as studying technique, composition, etc. It is just as bad when they learn a little metaphysics and then try to be physicists and disprove quantum mechanics in a forum post.

What? I thought you'd side with the arrogant little "self-identified Objectivists" rather than the physicists. After all, physicists are big meanies, and they're "pretentious," and nothing they say has merit because the "self-identified Objectivists" say so!

Art is more universal than physics, which is why Luc Travers actually has a market for his services and David Harriman not so much.

I think Travers and Harriman are pretty much in the same boat: neither has much of a market among people who know their subjects. Their market is pretty much limited to what you call "self-identified Objectivists" who "have only a shaky understanding" of things.

Architecture, nevermind. Off topic.

You seem to be practicing what Rand called "evasion" -- "the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know...the act of unfocusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment." You're so eager to judge people as being "pretentious" charlatans when it comes to their claiming that they find meaning in the abstract forms of modernist paintings, but when people claim to find meaning in the exact same abstract forms of architecture (which "does not recreate reality"), you suddenly lose your passion for judgment and condemnation? And you declare it "off topic"? Hilarious.

What, no commentary on the The Angelus? "beyond the anecdote to the archetype" doesn't strike you as insightful as to what art is about?

The painting L'Angélus held at the Musee Orsay has this commentary

Alone in the foreground in a huge empty plain...

Empty of what? I see lots of things on the plain -- a pitch fork, a wheelbarrow, a basket, grass, furrows, things which look like they might be bushes or hay stacks, etc.

...the two peasants take on a monumental quality...

Peasants? How do we know that they're peasants? Would economically successful farmers of the time dress differently? The only way that we could know anything about the characters and their economic status is if we rely on what you call "outside considerations."

...despite the small size of the canvas. Their faces are left in shadow, while the light underlines their gestures and posture. The canvas expresses a deep feeling of meditation and Millet goes beyond the anecdote to the archetype.

Not all people from all times and cultures would recognize the gestures as symbolizing prayer or meditation, therefore the gestures are "outside considerations." Bad art! Bad art!

Also, future people might see the basket as representing the type of ancient alien communications pods which had been found in their time, and they might see the character on the left as being a woman (women of their future culture wear short hair and pants and men wear scarves and dresses) who is holding a device which is communicating the discovery of the pod to their science expedition landing craft on the horizon. In future body language, the man in the dress isn't a peasant who is praying, but a scientist transfixed by the discovery, and he's rubbing his hands together to express that he can't wait to take the thing apart after they load it into their cart and take it back to the lab.

"Outside considerations" are needed to explain everything about the painting! So it's bad art!

J

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Arbitrary assertion.

The similarity in the necessary method of interpretation, as for example exists between a typical political cartoon or propaganda poster and the painting with Stalin you linked to, speaks for itself. It is self-evident.

The problem is that artists know what they're talking about, where you don't.

Arbitrary assertion.

Yes, those are also relevant questions, but they don't get to the core of the problem that I'm addressing. The problem is that it really doesn't matter which standards a person claims to be using when he doesn't have any knowledge of the arts that he's judging, and when it's clear that he has difficulty in understanding very obvious information.

I'm "attacking" you by recognizing that you have difficulty with very obvious visual information?

Yes. If it were very obvious, and what can that mean but "does not require particular skill or knowledge in the art of (whatever subject) to perceive or comprehend", then I would have seen it. You take as obvious that which is not. Some of what you count as meaning is strictly subjective (referencing statements of the form "this makes me feel..."), and so cannot possibly ever qualify as obvious.

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Yes. If it were very obvious, and what can that mean but "does not require particular skill or knowledge in the art of (whatever subject) to perceive or comprehend", then I would have seen it. You take as obvious that which is not.

No. I don't accept your attempts to arbitrarily assert that your tastes, your level of knowledge, and your limitations are the universal standard for all of mankind for judging what is good or bad, internal or external to an artwork, or obvious or obscure. It doesn't require "particular skill or knowledge" to recognize that a woman in an image is leaning against a tree.

Some of what you count as meaning is strictly subjective (referencing statements of the form "this makes me feel..."), and so cannot possibly ever qualify as obvious.

My statements about the positioning of people and objects in the Joan of Arc painting had nothing to do with my feelings.

But, aside from that, I agree that aspects of my judgments of all artworks are subjective, just as almost everything that Rand had to say about Capuletti, and what his art meant to her, was subjective, and just as the quote that you provided above about the Millet painting is subjective ("The canvas expresses a deep feeling of meditation and Millet goes beyond the anecdote to the archetype"). Everyone's judgments of art include subjectivity. Luc Travers' videos do, and your posts here on OO do as well. Sure, sometimes certain people try to disguise the subjectivity of their statements by depersonalizing them and making them sound more universal -- such as by claiming that "the viewer" feels certain things, or that "one" or "the audience" emotionally responds in a certain way -- but that doesn't really fool anyone.

J

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I think you've confused yourself. An apple is an apple. An apple is not a word, but a fruit that we call "apple."

You may want to familiarize yourself with the Rand booklet Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

One needs to have previously seen apples in order to identify a depiction of an apple.
Agreed. But even without having the concept of an apple prior to seeing one on a painting the object could be conceptually identified as a fruit on the basis of its size, shape and color and context (context meaning it appears on a tree or with other fruits on a table).

There are people from various times, lands and cultures who haven't seen apples, so, therefore paintings of apples make reference to "outside considerations" by your standards, and therefore such paintings are bad art! Bad art!!

Many paintings don't require an ability to identify the particular fruits, such as in a still life. In those cases it is not bad art if the fruits are well rendered, in fact it is evidence of good technique even without having the names at hand. In a bit of religious iconography depicting Eve offering an apple to Adam, it is a requirement to know the biblical Genesis story and the concept of original sin to know the significance of the apple. This is indirect symbolism, or equivalently literary symbolism. The depiction is exact and mimetic in the sense that the story says "apple" and there's the apple, but in the story itself the apple is symbolic. This is an example of a painting that requires a particular external text to understand it. That makes it genre art, and if the story-in-a-scene of a woman offering a man a fruit is not visually interesting, or skillful or dramatic in itself without knowing the biblical reference then it is a work of genre art.

That was yet another explanation of what it means to interpret a painting conceptually in the course of making an aesthetic judgment.

What? I thought you'd side with the arrogant little "self-identified Objectivists" rather than the physicists. After all, physicists are big meanies, and they're "pretentious," and nothing they say has merit because the "self-identified Objectivists" say so!

Physics is a special science requiring special education. Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy, and everyone practices an implicit philosophy whether they can articulate it or not. Making or practicing an art requires as much special training as anything, but not viewing or judging it. If it offends your sensibilities that the masses natter on as if they know what they are talking about, tough.

Empty of what? I see lots of things on the plain -- a pitch fork, a wheelbarrow, a basket, grass, furrows, things which look like they might be bushes or hay stacks, etc.

Peasants? How do we know that they're peasants? Would economically successful farmers of the time dress differently? The only way that we could know anything about the characters and their economic status is if we rely on what you call "outside considerations."

Not all people from all times and cultures would recognize the gestures as symbolizing prayer or meditation, therefore the gestures are "outside considerations." Bad art! Bad art!

Also, future people might see the basket as representing the type of ancient alien communications pods which had been found in their time, and they might see the character on the left as being a woman (women of their future culture wear short hair and pants and men wear scarves and dresses) who is holding a device which is communicating the discovery of the pod to their science expedition landing craft on the horizon. In future body language, the man in the dress isn't a peasant who is praying, but a scientist transfixed by the discovery, and he's rubbing his hands together to express that he can't wait to take the thing apart after they load it into their cart and take it back to the lab.

"Outside considerations" are needed to explain everything about the painting! So it's bad art!

Your insincerity is boring.

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You may want to familiarize yourself with the Rand booklet Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

I'm familiar with it. Rand would agree that an apple is an apple -- that an apple is not a word but an object that we refer to with the word "apple."

If it offends your sensibilities that the masses natter on as if they know what they are talking about, tough.

Hey, I'm not the one whining about being offended. You are. You've been going on and on about how others enjoy art which you think involves some secret "private language" which requires "decoder rings," and about people who are "pretentious" because they understand and like things that you don't. You see them as having an exclusive "clubhouse." So, right back atchya, bud: If it offends your tender feelings that people don't share your aesthetic limitations, tough. Get over it. Others' goal in enjoying art isn't to hurt your feelings. You aren't the center of their world. You're not so important that they've formed a conspiracy to spite you with their tastes in art. M'kay?

J

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No. I don't accept your attempts to arbitrarily assert that your tastes, your level of knowledge, and your limitations are the universal standard for all of mankind for judging what is good or bad, internal or external to an artwork, or obvious or obscure. It doesn't require "particular skill or knowledge" to recognize that a woman in an image is leaning against a tree.

I have given my explanation of how conceptual identification relates to artistic judgment, and it was not arbitrary. I will not shut up, as much as you might like that.

The woman's weight is entirely on her feet, because they are directly under her.

the quote that you provided above about the Millet painting is subjective ("The canvas expresses a deep feeling of meditation and Millet goes beyond the anecdote to the archetype").

The painting uses the crude but effective technique of expressing meditation by showing people meditating. That may be too crass and brutal for your refined tastes, but it is not an example of subjectivity. Perhaps it would have been better to have the painting be a uniform shade of just the right purple?

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The painting uses the crude but effective technique of expressing meditation by showing people meditating. That may be too crass and brutal for your refined tastes, but it is not an example of subjectivity. Perhaps it would have been better to have the painting be a uniform shade of just the right purple?

I think you misunderstood. I wasn't disagreeing that the painting shows people meditating. I was pointing out that that quote's claim that the painting "expresses a deep feeling" of meditation is subjective. It is objective to describe what can be seen in a painting. It is subjective to say which emotions a painting evokes, and how deeply.

J

Edited by Jonathan13
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It is subjective to say which emotions a painting evokes, and how deeply.

On the contrary, this is yet another example of conceptual level identification: the people are meditating, and the other elements of the composition and style do not contradict that meditation as the theme, it is the central integrating principle. Nor would it be subjective to identify a painting of a woman weeping as sad, or two lovers embracing as romantic or erotic.

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On the contrary, this is yet another example of conceptual level identification: the people are meditating, and the other elements of the composition and style do not contradict that meditation as the theme, it is the central integrating principle. Nor would it be subjective to identify a painting of a woman weeping as sad, or two lovers embracing as romantic or erotic.

I see. When I make "conceptual level identifications" of what's in a painting, and describe the emotions that they evoke in me, as well as the level of the intensity of the emotions, I'm being "strictly subjective," especially when people like you, Ed Cline and Luc Travers can't grasp the "conceptual level identifications," but when you make "conceptual level identifications," the emotions that they evoke in you are purely objective, down to the precise level of intensity!

Why, I bet that your emotions, like those of so many other Objectivists whom I've had this same discussion with in the past, are so purely objective that they're a valid criterion of aesthetic judgment, despite what Rand said to the contrary! And when you and all of the other Objectivists who believe that their emotions are objective have conflicting judgments of the emotional content of a work of art, why, that's just proof that they're not as objective as you are! Right?

J

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Question: If a young child (who is being raised and educated to be rational and to value objectivity) has a much smaller vocabulary than I do, and we both read a novel which contains words that he doesn't understand, and which makes references to situations which he doesn't yet have the life experiences to fully appreciate, is his judgment of the novel objective, and are his emotional responses to it rationally justified, where mine are "strictly subjective"? If I explain to him that my vocabulary and life experiences allow me to understand content that he missed, am I just being "pretentious" and referring to a secret "private language" which needs a "decoder ring" to understand?

J

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I see. When I make "conceptual level identifications" of what's in a painting, and describe the emotions that they evoke in me, as well as the level of the intensity of the emotions, I'm being "strictly subjective,"

A conceptual identification is not comprised of everything that may pop into your head upon a viewing. When you associate an emotion with a frame filled with blue, or a shape that is offset from center on an otherwise blank canvass, that is not a conceptual identification. Conceptual identification would be "that's a canvas of a uniform blue shade" or "that is a black circle offset to the upper left on an otherwise blank canvas". It is what it is, and your personal reaction is apart from it.

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Question: If a young child (who is being raised and educated to be rational and to value objectivity) has a much smaller vocabulary than I do, and we both read a novel which contains words that he doesn't understand, and which makes references to situations which he doesn't yet have the life experiences to fully appreciate, is his judgment of the novel objective, and are his emotional responses to it rationally justified, where mine are "strictly subjective"? If I explain to him that my vocabulary and life experiences allow me to understand content that he missed, am I just being "pretentious" and referring to a secret "private language" which needs a "decoder ring" to understand?

J

The question "are his emotional responses to it rationally justified" is invalid because emotions are not the kind of thing that ever can be true or false, or justified or unjustified.

Objectivity is a method, so a child can be objective by adhering to the method for as far as his knowledge takes him. The difficulty a child faces is that he does not know the "public language" of living as an adult causing his identifications to be incomplete and entirely oblivious to some things.

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A conceptual identification is not comprised of everything that may pop into your head upon a viewing.

It's not an issue of "everything that may pop into my head" just because nothing enters yours. My reading the "body language" of abstract shapes and compositional relationships isn't any less valid than your attempts at reading human "body language" just because you're even more inept at the former than the latter. I don't share your limitations in regard to either.

When you associate an emotion with a frame filled with blue, or a shape that is offset from center on an otherwise blank canvass, that is not a conceptual identification.

False. If I see a specific hue of blue as cold and retreating, its level of saturation as intense, its level of value as dark and rich, its texture as slick and uniform, and its compositional scale as dominant, and therefore I see it as having the emotional impact of, say, confident indifference and regality, there is an objective basis for that emotion, as detailed in my earlier links to Kandinsky's and Newberry's very rational and objective (though quite elementary) observations on the effects of color. Did you read and understand the information at those links?

In fact, my emotional associations with a field of blue have a much more objective basis than whatever emotions you get out of the Joan of Arc painting, since you begin by following Travers in misidentifying the positions of the depicted entities and the "body language."

Conceptual identification would be "that's a canvas of a uniform blue shade" or "that is a black circle offset to the upper left on an otherwise blank canvas". It is what it is, and your personal reaction is apart from it.

No, a conceptual identification would also involve describing what actions, characteristics or attitudes, etc., the forms convey. Did you read the Kandinsky and Newberry stuff yet, or are you still resisting learning anything?

J

Edited by Jonathan13
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A conceptual identification is not comprised of everything that may pop into your head upon a viewing.

Btw, by what means do you think that people make "conceptual identifications" of what is contained in architecture? Or would you deny that they make conceptual identifications? When Rand and other Objectivists have spoken of the sweeping, soaring, joyous expressiveness of the abstract forms of a building, would you say that they were just saying any ol' thing that subjectively popped into their heads upon viewing?

J

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