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Music: The Greatest Art form and the least proper form of Art according to Objectivism

 

 

To me, personally, music is the greatest form of art.

 

By music I mean melody, tempo, notes, harmonies, loudness etc. independent of story, lyrics, dancers, movies, liner notes etc. just pure music.

 

To my mind the greatest composer that ever was, was Johann Sebastian Bach.  I have many other favorite composers but some of Bach's pieces particularly his Organ works are absolutely magnificent in pattern, progression, harmony, complexity.. etc.  It took a little while to shed the religious associations with the instrument but God is not in the machine... and God did not write that music, a man did.

 

So what typifies the pinnacle of pure music?  It is pure abstraction, pattern, possibly even mathematics and/or its own language.

 

 

Music is sounds but music does not, and is not meant to sound like ANYTHING, it does not sound like birds or dogs, or crashing waves or wind or any thing in reality.  These are synthesized from various instruments, artificial contraptions with strings and blocks and pipes and reeds or drums crafted since the dawn of man. 

 

Music is ineffable, and meaningless (in the literal sense).  There are no concepts in music,  No characters, no plot, no story no message.  There is no "motherhood" in the note of a trumpet or "introspective salesman pondering his father" in the beat of the kettle drum.  There are NO messages in the progression of notes that lift higher and higher... only the sensational feel of being taken higher and higher... in the pureness of the notes, the melody, the patterns...

 

Music then IS purely abstract... it is as abstract as art can get.  It has forms, it has well known schools and practices and well known instruments, chords, structures etc. but the very essence of music is AREPRESENTATIONAL, it as a whole and in any subpart represents nothing.  It simply IS, and it affects me deeply and wonderfully.

 

 

Aesthetics

 

Art according to Objectivism is something which at its core is related to a sense of life and something which serves a need in man to see in a moment or relatively short span of time a sum of all his knowledge and values and philosophy of life (correct me if this is not EXACTLY the need of man) and this only art can do... and presumably what does it must be art.

 

So we see that various forms of literature and paintings and sculpture ought to bring to the fore in the mind of the beholder of the art a sense of life.  If I understand correctly these must have content which is representational of that sense of life.  It must somehow be more than an abstraction which provides mere sensations or emotions, it must include something which interacts with the cognitive faculty in a specific way.

 

Abstract paintings which have color, form, pattern (perhaps fractals even), symmetry, composition etc. but which depict nothing that LOOKS like something in reality, no birds, dogs, waves or even 3-dimensional shapes... which perhaps can convey a mood or inspire a mental state, but does not show a mother or a salesman or anything remotely recognizable ... is invalid as art according to Objectivism.  "Mere smears" 

 

Similarly, a work of literature, where words are not used to represent anything but instead are USED by the artist to evoke a feeling or state in a person, where no bird or dog is described, no mother hood or salesperson, no plot, no theme, no story whatever, this arepresentational form is NOT valid art according to Objectivism even if the author intended the use of words not to convey meaning but to invoke a feeling or state of mind... and even if somehow, this were successful.

 

I will not go on about sculpture.

 

 

I must assume that Art is art. and that there are no rational "exceptions" to the application of Objectivism's standard. 

 

It would be arbitrary to make room for Bach simply because his work is brilliant or because it causes a wellspring of emotion and pattern... or because it is well accepted in society or very much loved by me. 

 

Objectivism does not admit of an arbitrary double standard.

 

 

Pure music itself does not communicate a sense of life... it is meaningless, and purely abstract.

 

 

I conclude:  Music IS the greatest art form... and the least proper form of art according to Objectivism.

Edited by StrictlyLogical
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It has been 20 years or something like that since I read TRM but if I remember Rand specifically said that music was different in that as sound it was abstract and went straight through your emotions.  It skipped reason to directly speak to your sense of life.  Like I said, it's been a while so that is not a quote. 

 

To defend your point however I do remember it being not fully developed as a concept when compared to her critique of the visual arts.  In fact I remember walking away thinking there was a lot more room for future writers to develope the ideas that were in the book.   This is not a critique of Rand I might add, I would suspect an author to have introspected more on the art forms she was did as a living. 

 

More importantly, I completely agree - Music is the greatest art form.

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No, really the onus is on you to show that you have read and understood what Rand said on this.  So far it sounds like you have not.

 

To me it sounds as if StrictlyLogical understands Rand's views on the subject very well. He recognizes that music does not meet Rand's requirement that art must present objectively intelligible subjects and meanings ("As a re-creation of reality, a work of art has to be representational; its freedom of stylization is limited by the requirement of intelligibility; if it does not present an intelligible subject, it ceases to be art.").

 

The onus is on those who make the positive assertion that music qualifies as art according to Objectivism. Specifically, they would have to demonstrate that listeners can objectively identify a the composer's subject and meaning in works of music without having access to "outside considerations" such as titles, verbal descriptions of meaning, or other clues that are not contained in the music. I've actually tested many Objectivists in several different online forums over the years, and challenged them to identify meanings in music. None of them have succeeded.

 

StrictlyLogical, you might be interested in reading this past discussion on the subject:

http://forum.objectivismonline.com/index.php?showtopic=18733

 

J

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"No, really the onus is on you to show that you have read and understood what Rand said on this.  So far it sounds like you have not."
What does this do for the discussion? All SL is asking Nicky is his opinion/thoughts/ideas rather than just saying "Rand didn't say that". Don't turn it into a "who *really* understands Objectivism" discussion, because if you ask me, SL is asking for thoughts and criticisms. The whole OP isn't even a criticism of what Objectivism or evaluation of Rand's aesthetic philosophy. Back on topic...

I wouldn't say music is arepresentational or literally meaningless. The way I take your idea, you're saying music has no semantic content? Sure, music is "meaningless" to the degree it is not a recreation of a concrete. But that isn't the full extent that meaning applies to! Plot, or use of color, or a statue of a person has a concrete semantics to it. Music, and by implication, mathematics, has abstract semantics to it. To make it clearer, semantics is not the form of what you are perceiving, that would be syntax or structure. Semantics is what information you can get from syntax in order to accomplish some understanding of what's in front of you, abstract or otherwise. The fact that you can't grasp music in the same way you do painting is not a reason to say there is nothing there to be understood. Like math, or any abstract field, the manner of grasping doesn't necessarily need to be put into words. Actually, I'd say all art is that way, it's only incidental that a plot is meaning in a linguistic way. There is still a representation of reality, it's just a representation of patterns; Patterns are not any less representational than a concept like motherhood. Arepresentational means lacking representation *entirely*.

I expected to say more, but I'm seeing most of what you're saying follows from your claim that music has literally no meaning. You need to be more specific about "meaning". A lot of abstract art I think should be called art and is representational, just for the record (sometimes "abstract art" is a misused term, though).

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RE: "music is meaningless"

It's not, it communicates emotions (as OP kinda eludes to). Which brings us to what a sense of life is: it's emotion.

 

"No, really the onus is on you to show that you have read and understood what Rand said on this.  So far it sounds like you have not."

What does this do for the discussion? All SL is asking Nicky is his opinion/thoughts/ideas rather than just saying "Rand didn't say that".

She didn't though. She said the exact opposite. And that's the key to the whole thread.

And my hope, when I pointed that out, was that OP would react the way I would if someone told me I was wrong about something: go check right away. That's all he would've had to do. Just check if he's right or wrong about that factual claim.

There is still a representation of reality, it's just a representation of patterns; Patterns are not any less representational than a concept like motherhood.

If you mean that the aspects of reality being represented and communicated are emotions, then sure, I agree. And so does Objectivism. The only gripe Rand has with music is that we don't know how it works, so we can't evaluate the merits of one piece of music over another fully objectively. Sure, you can talk about "patterns that communicate things from reality", but can you sufficiently describe the language being used, so that let's say a deaf person can now start evaluating new patterns based solely on your description?

That's not a complaint against music, that's a complaint against our understanding of how it works.

Edited by Nicky
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To me it sounds as if StrictlyLogical understands Rand's views on the subject very well. He recognizes that music does not meet Rand's requirement that art must present objectively intelligible subjects and meanings ("As a re-creation of reality, a work of art has to be representational; its freedom of stylization is limited by the requirement of intelligibility; if it does not present an intelligible subject, it ceases to be art.").

 

The onus is on those who make the positive assertion that music qualifies as art according to Objectivism. Specifically, they would have to demonstrate that listeners can objectively identify a the composer's subject and meaning in works of music without having access to "outside considerations" such as titles, verbal descriptions of meaning, or other clues that are not contained in the music. I've actually tested many Objectivists in several different online forums over the years, and challenged them to identify meanings in music. None of them have succeeded.

 

StrictlyLogical, you might be interested in reading this past discussion on the subject:

http://forum.objectivismonline.com/index.php?showtopic=18733

 

J

Thanks, I'll check that out.

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"No, really the onus is on you to show that you have read and understood what Rand said on this.  So far it sounds like you have not."

What does this do for the discussion? All SL is asking Nicky is his opinion/thoughts/ideas rather than just saying "Rand didn't say that". Don't turn it into a "who *really* understands Objectivism" discussion, because if you ask me, SL is asking for thoughts and criticisms. The whole OP isn't even a criticism of what Objectivism or evaluation of Rand's aesthetic philosophy. Back on topic...

I wouldn't say music is arepresentational or literally meaningless. The way I take your idea, you're saying music has no semantic content? Sure, music is "meaningless" to the degree it is not a recreation of a concrete. But that isn't the full extent that meaning applies to! Plot, or use of color, or a statue of a person has a concrete semantics to it. Music, and by implication, mathematics, has abstract semantics to it. To make it clearer, semantics is not the form of what you are perceiving, that would be syntax or structure. Semantics is what information you can get from syntax in order to accomplish some understanding of what's in front of you, abstract or otherwise. The fact that you can't grasp music in the same way you do painting is not a reason to say there is nothing there to be understood. Like math, or any abstract field, the manner of grasping doesn't necessarily need to be put into words. Actually, I'd say all art is that way, it's only incidental that a plot is meaning in a linguistic way. There is still a representation of reality, it's just a representation of patterns; Patterns are not any less representational than a concept like motherhood. Arepresentational means lacking representation *entirely*.

I expected to say more, but I'm seeing most of what you're saying follows from your claim that music has literally no meaning. You need to be more specific about "meaning". A lot of abstract art I think should be called art and is representational, just for the record (sometimes "abstract art" is a misused term, though).

 

Some of Bachs works which are my favorite are mostly mathematical, well patterned, logical.  If you've seen a spirograph, the Mandelbrot set, serpinski gaskets, things like these are the closest non musical things that remind me of his works.  The emotion I feel from the that particular kind of music... is not like sadness, happiness, not like anything I feel in relation to people, events, accomplishments, life.  the feelings I get from Bach's best pieces of music are ... unlike anything else in, of, about, life, or my experience of it.   It does not remind me of anyone, anything, any event.. it is its own thing.   

 

It is in the sense of this absence of reminding me of anything else that I use the term "meaningless".  It is important to me, so in that sense music is meaningful... what else can I say?

 

It is like nothing else!

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RE: "music is meaningless"

It's not, it communicates emotions.

No one has supported with evidence the claim that music "communicates" emotions. No one has objectively proven it. The fact that one may feel emotions while listening to music doesn't mean that those emotions have been "communicated."

Communication is the act of conveying specific, intended information from one party to another.

So, as I said in my last post, in order to prove the claim that music communicates emotions, one would have to do much more than just baldly assert it. One would have to scientifically demonstrate that listeners can objectively identify composers' intended subjects and meanings in works of music without those listeners having access to "outside considerations" such as titles, verbal descriptions of meaning, or other clues that are not contained in the music. Every time that I've tested Objectivists in different online forums over the years, and challenged them to identify meanings in music, none of them have succeeded. Ever. And they usually have wildly differing opinions about which emotions they believe the music has "communicated."

Meanwhile, fans of abstract art are often quite consistent in being in agreement with their interpretations of what the expressiveness of the forms and colors mean.

 

The bald Objectivist assertions that music "communicates" emotions and that abstract art is meaningless don't hold up when tested in reality.

J

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So then how does Objectivism say that music is a lesser art form?

The Objectivist position is:

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

Music does not present intelligible subjects. Therefore music is not a "lesser art form" by Objectivist criteria, but, instead, it is not an art form at all.

J

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The Objectivist position is:

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

Music does not present intelligible subjects. Therefore music is not a "lesser art form" by Objectivist criteria, but, instead, it is not an art form at all.

J

 

I have to agree completely.

 

Strict and consistent application of objectivist principles with regard to art inexorably arrives at the conclusion that music is simply not art.

 

The mere fact that Rand and we enjoy music is not enough of a reason to take something which CONCEPTUALLY is "non-art" (as Objectivism defines it) to simply call it "art".  If the Objectivist concept of "ART" is to be coherent and rational and consistent it must exclude music, because in fact EVERYTHING unique, foundational, and essential to the concept of art according to Objectivism excludes music per se.

Edited by StrictlyLogical
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...  the concept of art according to Objectivism excludes music per se.

I'm not sure what main point you're making in this thread? Given that "literature", "painting" and "sculpture" are generally grouped into a wider concept termed "art", are you arguing that "music" belongs in that category too? Is that your primary point? Is that what you wish to discuss? Or, are you interested in discussing the virtue of music and why it is greater than (say) literature, regardless of grouping?

You say music is the greatest, but you don't explain why? You mention it is more abstract, but don't explain why it makes it or more value? Even apart from general value to humans as such, I'm not clear on its personal value to you. Or, was that not your primary point? Were you primarily trying to highlight a problem with the more generalized concept of "art" as used by Rand?

Edited by softwareNerd
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My Point IS: (and I understand why it may seem somewhat contradictory since my use of "Art" is somewhat sloppy)

 

Of all the Arts (as popular culture defines them) the one which I love the most and find the most enjoyable is Music, and it happens to be that this "Art" (as popular culture defines it) is in fact according to Objectivism, NOT art.

 

It's kind of funny, but I personally do not care whether Music falls within the definition of Art according to Objectivism.  I like it just the same.  In fact, I like the culinary arts, VERY much as well... food can be absolutely and insanely rewarding from an experiential point of view... I don't insist that Objectivists call a Black and Blue 3 inch think steak with mushroom and wine sauce Art... no matter HOW much I really cherish it!

 

I believe VERY strongly with Objectivism's general concept of Art, and its function for Man.  I believe that it is self consistent, rational, and absolutely CORRECT.  As such I also do not believe there are any exceptions, Music included (by that I mean music should be excluded from art... it is no exception... you get my meaning).

Edited by StrictlyLogical
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It's kind of funny, but I personally do not care whether Music falls within the definition of Art according to Objectivism.

Well, it really isn't that important. Rand thought music was art, but classifying it differently won't change it.
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Well, it really isn't that important. Rand thought music was art, but classifying it differently won't change it.

 

I DO care about the CONCEPT of Art according to Objectivism, and Objectivism the Philosophy as a whole.

 

The "exception" made for Music does not have a strong rational foundation and unfortunately I think it makes the concept of Art according to Objectivism and Objectivism as a whole slightly "weaker".  To "permit" such an exception (without a strong rational foundation) to simply "sit there" on a basis which seems arbitrary or whimsical... is quite simply wrong... and in some sense goes against the entire philosophy grounded in objectivity and reason and reality. 

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I DO care about the CONCEPT of Art according to Objectivism, and Objectivism the Philosophy as a whole.

Why, though? [Also, a bit befuddled because one post ago you said you didn't care.]

 

The "exception" made for Music does not have a strong rational foundation and unfortunately I think it makes the concept of Art according to Objectivism and Objectivism as a whole slightly "weaker".  To "permit" such an exception (without a strong rational foundation) to simply "sit there" on a basis which seems arbitrary or whimsical... is quite simply wrong... and in some sense goes against the entire philosophy grounded in objectivity and reason and reality.

I'm not sure what exception you're referring to. Rand considered music to be art: squarely in the CONCEPT [all caps ;) ] of art according to her.

More important than Rand's view, why do you think music should be art? Music may be good, even a great value, but what aspect makes it similar to painting or literature, etc.? 

Edited by softwareNerd
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it happens to be that this "Art" (as popular culture defines it) is in fact according to Objectivism, NOT art.

Except that that doesn't happen to be.

It happens to be that, in fact, according to Objectivism, music IS art.

You really should, at some point, stop talking out of your ass and look into this. It's hard to take the one non-trivial question you seem to be raising (on why Objectivists accept music as art, but not paintings or decorations that lack references to visible existents) seriously, until you do.

Edited by Nicky
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No one said that Rand said that.

Objectivism is Ayn Rand's philosophy. Saying that something is so according to Objectivism implies that Rand said it's so.

 

The Objectivist position is:

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

Music does not present intelligible subjects. Therefore music is not a "lesser art form" by Objectivist criteria, but, instead, it is not an art form at all.

J

Please note that you have two assumptions and a conclusion. But only one of the assumptions has a quotation mark around it. The other one is a personal opinion you have that Ayn Rand explicitly disagreed with. Ayn Rand did not consider music unintelligible, quite the opposite:

Music offers man the singular opportunity to reenact, on the adult level, the primary process of his method of cognition: the automatic integration of sense data into an intelligible, meaningful entity. -The Romantic Manifesto

 

Intelligible. Meaningful. Straw man. Comment?

Edited by Nicky
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As an aside, Jonathan, sometime 4 years ago, when you were still speaking for yourself instead of Objectivism, someone named anonrobt explained why you're wrong in a single, short paragraph:

http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=35

Once again, there is a lacking of context, especially when most needed... the abstraction involved in the visual, from a cognitive stance, requires concrete recognition of objects, the perceptual concretes - whereas the abstraction involved in the aural, requires concrete recognition in terms of the aural, not the visual...

To which you replied:

The requirement of "concrete recognition of objects" in visual art may be true of you, Robert, and of others, like Will Thomas, who share your visual-spatial limitations, but it is not true of all, or even of most, people. Millions of people are capable of getting as much or more out of abstract visual art as you are of getting out of music and the other arts.

This shows  that you know what the Objectivist position is. You even claim that Objectivists who don't see your brand of "visual art" as art have an objective reason for it: they are physically not equipped to understand the supposed meaning, while they do understand the meaning in music. Your claims in this thread, about the Objectivist position on music being that it's unintelligible, aren't an error then. That's not even YOUR honest opinion, you in fact agree with Ayn Rand that music does have meaning.

 

P.S. Regarding the response to your claims in the thread I linked to, and the response to the implications in this thread, about there being no difference between music and colorful, unrecognizable shapes on a canvas, that would take way too much research to discuss with any substance. That kind of effort would only be warranted if people expressed an honest interest to explore the issue, instead of just an agenda to indict Objectivism. To be honest, I haven't found such a conversation on any of the Objectivist forums, thus far. 

 

Objectivists seem to be content with noting that there is clear meaning in music, and that there doesn't seem to be any in non-objective paintings (and this latter conclusion isn't just based on us personally not seeing any meaning; it's based on people who claim to see meaning being full of shit, and either copying each other's gibberish, or just openly admitting that the paintings "mean" different things to different viewers: a contradiction in terms)

Edited by Nicky
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Except that that doesn't happen to be.

It happens to be that, in fact, according to Objectivism, music IS art.

You really should, at some point, stop talking out of your ass and look into this. It's hard to take the one non-trivial question you seem to be raising (on why Objectivists accept music as art, but not paintings or decorations that lack references to visible existents) seriously, until you do.

 

 

No need to get personal.

 

 

I respect Rand very much but her definition of Art according to objectivism (which I fully agree with re. Man's need for art) and her assertion of Music as being art are inconsistent.

 

I merely point out the inconsistency.

 

What I see here is a definition (Art according to Objectivism) and an arbitrary exception (Music), and some statements by Rand re "intelligibility" of it.  If there is a rational foundation or argument showing Music itself (not in combination with anything else) is Art according to the definition then by all means present it and we can have a rational discussion of this.

 

All I am asking for is some (excuse the redundancy) "independent thought".

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I respect Rand very much but her definition of Art according to objectivism (which I fully agree with re. Man's need for art) and her assertion of Music as being art are inconsistent.

 

I merely point out the inconsistency.

If one grant's the inconsistency, which side of this do you agree with? Is music art or not?
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