Thursday, April 19, 2007

What the other six OMOM covers would say

If it were financially feasible, I'd have had Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide published with half a dozen different covers: one aimed at tourists, one at New Yorkers, one at Objectivists, one at art lovers, one at historians, one at librarians, and one at insatiable readers like me, who have been known to read books completely outside their field of interest if they offer new perspectives on how to think, rather than information guaranteed to be useful within the next week. My most recent find in this category was Haffner's Defying Hitler. Although I have no immediate application for further knowledge about Nazi Germany, Haffner's style is riveting and his description of the behavior of himself and his compatriots was fascinating - an excellent supplement to Peikoff's The Ominous Parallels, which discusses the philosophical causes of Nazism in detail. This is off the supposed topic of this blog entry, but I liked the Haffner book so much that I wanted to recommend it highly before I forget about it. For the blurbs that would appear on the other covers, see the Forgotten Delights website.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Why Ayn Rand's esthetics is the basis for my writing on art

When discussing the theory of art in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide, I cited only Ayn Rand's esthetics. An early reader suggested I "balance" the presentation by mentioning other writers on esthetics. But here's the problem: no one surpasses or even equals Ayn Rand in the field of esthetics. Rand treats art with the same rigor she applies to metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics. She begins her discussion by stating what art is and what purpose it serves for human beings. Her definition, "a selective re-creation of reality based on an artist's metaphysical value-judgments," indicates that an artist chooses his subject and style based on what he considers important, and creates something recognizable so that others will see it and grasp his message: "This matters - pay attention to this." Rand lays out the fundamentals of the field of esthetics. Using her definition of art plus her theory of knowledge (see Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology), one can determine what is and is not art: driftwood, paint splattered on a canvas, the Parthenon frieze? One can determine the esthetic requirements for good art: Is a portrait by Rembrandt better than one by Picasso in his Cubist phase? One can even explain why people often react so violently to works of art: "It repulses me but I can't turn away!" I have read hundreds of books by art critics and historians, many of whom have an encyclopedic grasp of their subject and descriptive abilities that make me wildly jealous. Not one of them offers a proper definition of art. The fifth edition of Janson's widely used History of Art, for example, says a work of art is "an esthetic object" and that "esthetic" means "that which concerns the beautiful." The term is, he promptly admits, unsatisfactory, but "will have to do for lack of a better one." When I'm visiting a gallery or reading a novel, I can and do revel in art without first subjecting it to rigorous esthetic analysis. I've found, though, that I can extend my enjoyment if I think about a particular work as well. For purposes of thinking about art and conveying my ideas to others, a proper definition is indispensable. In that respect, I have found Ayn Rand's essays on esthetics in Romantic Manifesto, Art of Fiction, Art of Nonfiction, and Ayn Rand Answers (the esthetics section) invaluable and irreplaceable. This entry appears on the Forgotten Delights site FAQ page, with further references.