Follow-up to session #17

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In session #17, we read and discussed Ayn Rand‘s ideas about the meaning and purpose of art, as she expressed them in “The Romantic Manifesto“.

Art expresses the artist’s values. When we see or hear art, we are exposed to those values. Those values are expressed in the colours, movements, shapes, words, sounds, choice of subject matter, etc. Everything in the work of art is chosen by the artist, it is not there by mistake or accident (usually!). What guides the artist’s choice? His or her value system, or system of ethics.

Art affects us emotionally, but also cognitively. Usually, we are aware of our emotional response, but not always aware of our cognitive response.

This is why art is used in propaganda: it is so powerful because it affects people emotionally. Perhaps this is a good reason to teach art in schools: so that young people can learn to not only respond emotionally to art but also consider it cognitively (by thinking).

Finally, Rand considered herself a Romantic (with a capital “R”!), rather than a Realist or Naturalist, and she shared many characteristics with other, earlier, Romantic artists, for example, an admiration for the artistic, energetic individual who is unique and intelligent and creative and free. However, most Romantic artists in the 19th century were against the intellect and logic and preferred emotion and feeling and intuition. In this respect, Rand differed from the Romantics.

The 19th century Romantics were reacting against the earlier Classicism; Rand’s Romanticism was a reaction against the Realism and Naturalism that dominated in the 20th century.

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21 thoughts on “Follow-up to session #17”

  1. Thank you, toypoodle. Your answer cleaned the fuzz out of my head perfectly. Ayn Rand would’ve said “Well done, toypoodle!”

  2. In Atlas Shrugged the parallel silver lines of railroad run thorough , although abruptly replaced by the scene of utopia for a while, as if they suggest physics and metaphysical ideas by Rand.
    Silver lines and silver lining sound similar?!

  3. All my children and I are fans of the animated movie series called “Shrek“. At the end of the 2nd Shrek movie there is a song about a hero. I vaguely remember hearing this song years ago, but I had to look it up on Wikipedia for details. You can read the lyrics here. I think this song qualifies (both in lyrics and in music) as a “Romantic” song by Rand’s definition. (In a long interview on TV, Rand said that society’s principles have resulted in men being unable to be the heroes that women need and expect them to be “and American women are very unhappy”, she said.

    1. I read the lyrics and listened to the music. I like the melody, and the up-tempo rock sounds stormy and cool! I’ve got the same impression when I listen to You Know my Name (Casino Royal title song) by Chris Cornell. I don’t think its cracking lyrics would be qualified by Rand as a “Romantic” song, but I wonder if she’d like it.

    2. The song ” I need a hero” rang a bell.
      Yes. 25 years ago, there was a TV drama serial that gained a great popularity. It was “School Wars”, based on the true story of a teacher and former Japanese international rugby player, who turned his disruptive high school rugby team from also-rans to the cream of the crop. He was a passionate teacher and faced the delinquent students squarely and motivated them to join the team. Seven years later , his team finally won the victory. The song in that drama was ”Hero” adopted from the original “I need a hero”
      My elder daughter was absorbed in that drama, she was in elementary school then, and as we didn’t have video deck , she put the last show on the cassette tape ( I didn’t remember how) and ‘listen’ to the tape over and over till she almost memorized the whole lines.

    3. Speaking of a hero, Rand seems to encourage us that men all have the potentials to be a hero. Everyone has difficulties that often require a great deal of effort and courage to overcome. But is being a hero only about overcoming difficulties? It’s also about believing in ourselves and never giving up our dreams. If we try hard enough and hold on to our dreams, we will be a hero to ourselves. Then we could be a hero to someone who needs a hero. If we are not a hero to ourselves, we can’t be a hero to others.

      There are many unsung heroes in public, appreciated and praised at least in their homes or in their small environment.

  4. 19世紀以前(古典主義)は教会や皇帝が理性の厳しさや哲学原理をもって民衆をおさえつけていた。アリストテレス(前384−前322)は『ニーコマス倫理学』の中で『ものごとの帰結は即ち善だ。善は即ちあらゆる帰結だ。』と主に芸術や学問について語っている。彼は宗教者ではなく政治的にも自由だったがその論理が知的でとても論理的であり優れた物と考えられた為、教会に利用され、その結果、科学技術が遅れた原因のひとつになった。絵画(マリアの肖像画等)や小説(聖書に関係するもの等)は教会の影響をずっと受けてきた。産業革命(イギリス1760−)がおこりブルジョワジーが台頭して大衆が育っていくと彼らは 18世紀後半から 19世紀初期にかけて今迄政治的に抑圧されてきた個人の感情(希望、喜び、悲しみ、憂鬱、不安、苦悩、個人的愛情)、想像、自然、伝統的な民話等を自由に表現する事が出来るようになった。

    Ayn Rand’s “The Romantic Manifesto” を読んで 私なりに感じました。


    1. 社会と接点を失ったのはロマンティシスムのせいではなく、Enlightenment と科学のせいだったと思う。

      # 19世紀以前は教条的になり現実の生きた社会との接点を失っていた。

  5. When I read “Fountainhead” for the first time, I was overwhelmed with quiet but absolute, unyielding sense of life of Roark. I’m afraid my value system has not been secured for my age; I rather draw back from catching that kind of too strong straight ball from him or Ayn Rand.

    But I came to understand that Ayn Rand’s manifesto is a clear, positive, wholesome approach to humanity, encouraging us to live our own lives along with cognitive power. It seems to me that it was made up to get us liberated from something and think about what that something is.

    Though I still find it difficult to incorporate it and carry it out, at least I think her idea, her guidance leads me in the right direction.

  6. Artist put their value system or system of ethics into their works, and we audience have our own ethics, too. So when I saw pictures, I can say I like Monet’s work or Chagall’s work. According to Rand, “if the artist attempts to withhold moral overtones, the work becomes tinged with a deterministic or naturalistic message.” It seems Rand think that naturalism doesn’t contain much moral, I wonder? If Rand disliked trend of naturalistic or realism and mimicry of classicism and got Romanticism, she is very creative in her selection of art, I wonder?

    1. Here is what Rand wrote about Naturalism (in “Romantic Manifesto”,

      Naturalism was dedicated to the negation of art. Instead of presenting a metaphysical view of man and of existence, the Naturalists presented a journalistic view. In answer to the question: “What is man?” – they said: “This is what the village grocers are, in the south of France, in the year 1887,” or: “This is what the inhabitants of the slums are, in New York, in 1921,” or: “These are the folks next door.”

      1. The explanation in the follow-up has made it understandable why Rand considered herself a Romanticist. Still, I have wondered why she denied the attitude of seeing a thing what it is in spite of her ideas that value is based on the facts of reality. After cobwebs in my brain for a while, I’ve come to think that Rand must have thought ideals were much more important than reality, when it comes to an art. What do you think of it? She wrote genuinely ideal people in her novels. While the heroes of her novel act and speak based on the facts of reality, they are larger-than-life, and they look essence of ideals.

        1. Good question, melody. Rand called her philosophy “Objectivism”, and was obviously a strong believer in factual reality, so it does seem strange.

          Rand wrote that, seeing ugly things (which certainly exist) is a suitable subject for scientific study, but not for art. That is because art involves choosing and selection on the part of the artist. What guides the artist’s choice? His or her value system. Thus, although Naturalists claimed that they are only presenting reality as it is, in fact they are choosing and selecting to show certain things and not showing other things. Naturalists chose (for the most part) ugly things: they chose to show mediocre people, weak people, evil people, ugly, sick, deformed, etc. Their “excuse” was that “this is real life.”

          Another reason why choosing such subjects is not suitable for art (according to Rand) is the psychological effect of such art on the person who sees, reads, or hears it. Art (thought Rand) is a concentration of abstractions. Although human beings can think abstractly, most humans find it difficult to think ONLY in abstractions for long periods. That is why many people use diagrams or models to show and explain abstract ideas.

          To see or hear something that shows us what is not, but what could be, can be tremendously inspiring. In this way, human beings can touch and set fire to each others’ imaginations. This is what art can do.

          However, what is the effect on the people who see or hear Naturalist kind of art? Does it expand their sense of what is possible? Does it “set fire to the soul”? Perhaps many people would say, that is not important; but for Rand it WAS important, very important. Rand had a sense of what is possible: she had a sense that human beings can become much, much more than they are now: they can become much freer, more joyful, more creative, more intelligent, more fun to be with! Whether we become that, whether we fulfil our potential, depends on our imaginations. We are only limited by our imaginations. So why look at art that limits the imagination? Why not look at art that expands our imagination, instead?

          1. Very convincing and inspiring explanation. I understand the sensibility or sense of life nurtured by exposing to various forms of “good” arts, ideas, sense of love… could be immune to ugly reality. In some time no one could avoid seeing hearing and passing through what we don’t want to but secured sense of life could be a great help not to let it get the better of us, hopefully.

            One thing I’m wondering is about the relationship with animals; pets.If I understand correctly, Ayn Rand disliked animals. Is that beacuse they don’t have minds?
            The relationship between them is not at all equal? Of course communication style should be quite different from the one between us human beings, but like they say, they enhance our enrichmen program . What do you think?

          2. I didn’t know that Rand disliked animals. Anyway, I don’t think it was for philosophical reasons. Rand did not say animals don’t have minds, but she did say that animals are limited to the level of percepts, i.e. what they can hear, see, smell, touch, taste. Human beings have the capacity to rise above the level of percepts to ever higher levels of abstraction., although not everybody does so.

          3. Sorry, I overlooked Mr. Sheffner’s comment. Actually my statement that Ayn Rand disliked animals is my arbitrary opinion, as is often the case with me. I’d like to take back my words.

          4. (This is a reply to “would-be fledged” saying “One thing I’m wondering is about the relationship with animals; pets.If I understand correctly, Ayn Rand disliked animals. Is that because they don’t have minds?
            The relationship between them is not at all equal? Of course communication style should be quite different from the one between us human beings, but like they say, they enhance our enrichment program . What do you think?” I tried to reply directly to her comment, but I can’t find “reply” mark right now. )

            I don’t know whether Rand disliked animals or not. What I know from my past learning is that Rand wanted to distinguish men from animals in this point; animals live by instinct, while men live by thinking. Man is called a rational animal, which means man has reason to think, but man also has choice to think (activate reason) or not to think. If men give up thinking, men will go the way to destruction because men don’t have instincts for survival like animals. I don’t think I’ve digested her ideas well, but this is what I understand. And these ideas make me think further like this. Supposing we compare animals and humans, humans are superior to animals if we think enough consciously, otherwise humans are miserable creatures below animals because animals have at least instincts for survival. I don’t care which is better, animals or humans, but once I was born as a human being, I’d like to live to my full potentials as a rational being. Man who thinks well lives well, I think. Well, maybe I look off the point. Anyway, I read Rand’s intention is not about inequality among species but about differences.

            I love watching animals in the nature as well as having pet animals. How comforted I feel! Humans and animals are different. When we are together, maybe we can make up for each other? But this is only when animals are tamed. When they are feral they are mostly out of control. They have their purpose to live.

  7. If it’s allowed to say so simply, this image shows us Rand’s ideas on her magnificient two novels: the skyscraper that Howard Roark finaly worked for as memorial of his close friend, Wynand, and the statue that represents spirit of the enterprenours who fought against government for thier will and ability. And above all the image itself is just beautiful.

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