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Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 16

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Epistemology of Art
Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3,…

Chapter 2: Philosophy and Sense of Life
Installment 4, Installment 5, Installment 6,…

Chapter 3: Art and Sense of Life
Installment 7, Installment 8, Installment 9, Installment 10, Installment 11, Installment 12,…

Chapter 4: Art and Cognition
Installment 13, Installment 14, Installment 15,…
… contd.

Music communicates emotions, which one grasps, but does not actually feel; what one feels is a suggestion, a kind of distant, dissociated, depersonalized emotion – until and unless it unites with one’s own sense of life. But since the music’s emotional content is not communicated conceptually or evoked existentially, one does feel it in some peculiar, subterranean way.

Music conveys the same categories of emotions to listeners who hold widely divergent views of life. As a rule, men agree on whether a given piece of music is gay or sad or violent or solemn. But even though, in a generalized way, they experience the same emotions in response to the same music, there are radical differences in how they appraise this experience – i.e., how they feel about these feelings.

On a number of occasions, I made the following experiment: I asked a group of guests to listen to a recorded piece of music, then describe what image, action or event it evoked in their minds spontaneously and inspirationally, without conscious devising or thought (it was a kind of auditory Thematic Apperception Test). The resulting descriptions varied in concrete details, in clarity, in imaginative color, but all had grasped the same basic emotion – with eloquent differences of appraisal. For example, there was a continuum of mixed responses between two pure extremes which, condensed, were: “I feel exalted because this music is so light-heartedly happy,” and: “I feel irritated because this music is so light-heartedly happy and, therefore, superficial.” **

Psycho-epistemologically, the pattern of the response to music seems to be as follows: one perceives the music, one grasps the suggestion of a certain emotional state and, with one’s sense of life serving as the criterion, one appraises this state as enjoyable or painful, desirable or undesirable, significant or negligible, according to whether it corresponds to or contradicts one’s fundamental feeling about life.

When the emotional abstraction projected by the music corresponds to one’s sense of life, the abstraction acquires a full, bright, almost violent reality – and one feels, at times, an emotion of greater intensity than any experienced existentially. When the emotional abstraction projected by the music is irrelevant to or contradicts one’s sense of life, one feels nothing except a dim uneasiness or resentment or a special kind of enervating boredom.

As corroborating evidence: I have observed a number of cases involving persons who, over a period of time, underwent a significant change in their fundamental view of life (some, in the direction of improvement; others, of deterioration). Their musical preferences changed accordingly; the change was gradual, automatic and subconscious, without any decision of conscious intention on their part.

It must be stressed that the pattern is not so gross or simple as preferring gay music to sad music or vice versa, according to a “benevolent” or “malevolent” view of the universe. The issue is much more complex and much more specifically musical than that: it is not merely what particular emotion a given composition conveys, but how it conveys it, by what musical means or method. (For instance, I like operetta music of a certain kind, but I would take a funeral march in preference to “The Blue Danube Waltz” or to the Nelson Eddy-Jeannette MacDonald kind of music.)

As in the case of any other art or any human product, the historical development of music followed the development of philosophy. But the differences in the music produced by various cultures in the various eras of history are deeper than those among the other arts (even the sounds used and the scales are different). Western man can understand and enjoy Oriental painting; but Oriental music is unintelligible to him, it evokes nothing, it sounds like noise. In this respect, the differences in the music of various cultures resemble the differences in language; a given language is unintelligible to foreigners. But language expresses concepts, and different languages can be translated into one another; different kinds of music cannot. There is no common vocabulary of music (not even among the individual members of the same culture). Music communicates emotions – and it is highly doubtful whether the music of different cultures communicates the same emotions. Man’s emotional capacity as such is universal, but the actual experience of particular emotions is not: the experience of certain sense-of-life emotions precludes the experience of certain others.

This brings us to the great, unanswered question: why does music make us experience emotions?

In the other arts, whose works are perceived by the normal cognitive process, the answer can be found in the work itself by a conceptual analysis of its nature and meaning; a common vocabulary and an objective criterion of esthetic judgment can be established. There is no such vocabulary or criterion, at present, in the field of music – neither among different cultures nor within the same culture.

It is obvious that the answer lies in the nature of the work, since it is the work that evokes the emotions. But how does it do it? Why does a succession of sounds produce an emotional reaction? Why does it involve man’s deepest emotions and his crucial, metaphysical values? How can sounds reach man’s emotions directly, in a manner that seems to by-pass his intellect? What does a certain combination of sounds do to man’s consciousness to make him identify it as gay or sad?

No one has yet discovered the answers and, I hasten to add, neither have I. The formulation of a common vocabulary of music would require these answers. It would require: a translation of the musical experience, an inner experience, into conceptual terms; an explanation of why certain sounds strike us a certain way; a definition of the axioms of musical perception, from which the appropriate esthetic principles could be derived, which would serve as a base for the objective validation of esthetic judgments.

This means that we need a clear, conceptual distinction and separation of object from subject in the field of musical perception, such as we do possess in the other arts and in the wider field of our cognitive faculty. Conceptual cognition necessitates this separation: until a man is able to distinguish his inner processes from the facts which he perceives, he remains on the perceptual level of awareness. An animal cannot grasp such a distinction; neither can a very young child. Man has grasped it in regard to his other senses and his other arts; he can tell whether a blurring of his vision is produced by a thick fog or by his failing eyesight. It is only in the field of specifically musical perception that man is still in a state of early infancy.

To be continued…

**I don’t recall Rand mentioning my favorite composer Mozart in any context. No comment. I wonder if she felt him too light-hearted to be taken seriously, like most critics and music connoisseurs. She mentions Rachmaninov, his Second Concerto in glowing terms. I have listened to it and found it dramatic and exalted, grand and triumphant. To my mind it derives its power from that which it fought to escape from. Part of its power derives from its antithesis – as if it needs tragedy as a foundation before it could find and express itself. The natural question then arises: where would it be without its enemies?

Mozart seems to be in a different category, more Randian than Rand if possible. He lived in the thick of religiosity, was explicitly Christian in his upbringing and verbal pronouncements. Yet the world she sought is all there within him, jealously carried within him – and this is how he composed in freedom and joy. His background was equally horrific to our modern eyes, but it was not important enough to make a fuss about. Something to laugh about if he ever stopped to think about it! He consistently sought payment for his work – notwithstanding the fact that neither he nor his father were particularly good businessmen – in whatever form it availed him, in ready cash or stable appointment. Never was it offered for free.

With the purest clarity of mind that Rand or Galt could have wished for, Mozart looked upon those around him as equals in music or not, as able to behave with genial friendship and affection or not and behaved accordingly. He could poke fun at his peers, his superiors, critics and what have you, and still compose shining jewels that inspire diverse cultures such as Hindi film music and now, apparently, a renaissance of Western Classical music in China.

“… When she [Madame Pompadour] set Wolferl [Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart] on a gilt table, thinking to amuse herself with the little mannikin, he bent forward to kiss her. She pushed him away coldly, whereupon he piped, “Who is this that does not want to kiss me? The Empress [Maria Theresa of the Habsburgs] kissed me.”

In another instance, Wolfgang scribbles a postscript to Nannerl his older sister,

“Addio, my children, farewell! I kiss Mama’s hand a thousand times and imprint a hundred little kisses or smacks on that wondrous horse-face of thine!”

In dealing with the little Habsburgs,

…He was particularly fond of seven-year-old Marie Antoinette. One day he slipped and fell on the polished floor, while walking between her and one of her sisters. She picked him up and comforted him while the sister walked on.
“You are good,” Wolferl said, “and when I grow up I will marry you.”
The Empress asked him why.
“Because I am grateful,” he answered. “She was kind to me, but her sister paid no attention.”

On that innate Randian soul:

…Leopold had begun to teach Nannerl when she was seven, and Wolferl, barely three, would not stay away. He would sit on the floor playing with blocks or a kitchen spoon, and at certain sounds suddenly drop his toys, rise, and move almost unconsciously to the clavier. He would stand spellbound, ignored by his father and sister; and after Nannerl’s lesson would reach up and tentatively, delicately touch the keys. his midget fingers found a third; ah! He gurgled, cooed, and touched the next two keys in order; another third! Ecstatic delight. Then his finger moved on, but missed the lower note, struck two together, a discord. The baby stopped, gasped, bawled with disappointment. Next day he could remedy the mistake; a little later, try to pick out what he had heard Nannerl playing. When he was four, Leopold started, half in fun, to teach him too. …

And in defense of his father torturing him from an early age to be a performing monkey throughout European royal courts, Leopold held out an entire year at the least before teaching him. And Wolferl came to the clavier, a precursor of the modern piano, every day, drawn by what the sound meant to the development of his soul. Like Bikram learning yoga from the age of three onwards. In both cases they were put to the rigor of daily lessons only after they had demonstrated their own affinity for a particular mode of epistemological development.

… to find four-year-old Wolferl busy with music-paper, pen, and ink – a great deal of ink. He had dug his quill into the very bottom of the sticky ink-well, and then wiped away the drops shed on his opus by smearing them with the palm of his hand. Leopold … did not scold him for spilling ink … nor tease him for pretending to be grown-up and a composer. Gravely he asked him what he was doing. Without looking up, Wolferl answered:
‘Writing a concerto for the clavier and’ – smearing away another blot – ‘it will soon be done.’
‘Let me see it.’
‘Oh, no, Papa, it is not finished. You cannot tell yet what it is like.’
But Leopold won the gentle argument and picked up the paper.
…Then he began to study the “apparent nonsense,” to note its construction and theme. His eyes widened, filled with tears. Silently he handed the paper to Schachtner [the trumpeter] and called his attention to the details. At last he observed, with an incredulous sigh, “The child has not only written a concerto, but one so difficult that nobody can possibly play it.”
Here Wolferl, waiting patiently to get back his manuscript, chirped, ‘Aber ja, Papa, you are right! It is so hard, that is why it is a concerto. One must practice it until it is perfect, but see’ – He trotted to the clavier, spread his fat fingers, but could only indicate what he meant. He had made it hard purposely; playing concertos and working miracles were the same thing, sicher!

Rand had a particular fondness for the concerto, the piano concerto at that, over the symphony. I always assumed that it was because the former had a dominant instrument leading the composition. But it could also be for its power to draw the best from a musician or a composer.

On the lack of compulsion in Leopold’s tutoring:

…The lesson over, Wolfgang having learned in half an hour to play a minuet perfectly and in precise time, Leopold told him to jump down, run away and play. No sudden joy, no leap for freedom answered this. The child would stay and tease for duets, ask for his sister to play them with him. Leopold said, ‘Nannerl is finished for the day, and you, too! – off with you!’ But first there must be an embrace, for there was no stinting of demonstrative love between this pair. Then Wolferl would seize his father’s cane, straddle it, and turn in a twinkling into the baby he was, prancing through the rooms on his hobbyhorse, and singing, in perfect tune …

Mozart and Goethe:

In one of these audiences sat a beautiful, dark-haired, sentimental boy of fourteen, very much the father to the man that was to be. Johann Wolfgang Goethe already knew French, Italian, Latin, and Greek, but listened, open-mouthed, to the kleiner Hexenmeister in powdered wig and sword. Nor did the memory of the poor little monkey doing his musical tricks in grown-up clothes sway Goethe in maturity from coupling Mozart with Raphael, and placing the two at the head of all achievement, for their “ease and blitheness in art.”

For a better grasp on the world of Mozart and his very clear-eyed assessment of its value to his music, I refer you to “Mozart” by Marcia Davenport.

Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 15

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Epistemology of Art
Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3, …

Chapter 2: Philosophy and Sense of Life
Installment 4, Installment 5, Installment 6, …

Chapter 3: Art and Sense of Life
Installment 7, Installment 8, Installment 9, Installment 10, Installment 11, Installment 12, …

Chapter 4: Art and Cognition
Installment 13, Installment 14, …
… contd.

Gianlorenzo Bernini, Detail of Pluto Abducting Proserpina

Gianlorenzo Bernini, Detail of Pluto Abducting Proserpina

Compared to painting, sculpture is more a form of art. It expresses an artist’s view of existence through his treatment of the human figure, but it is confined to the human figure. (For a discussion of sculpture’s means, I will refer you to “Metaphysics in Marble” by Mary Ann Sures, The Objectivist, February-March 1969.)

Dealing with two senses, sight and touch, sculpture is restricted by the necessity to present a three-dimensional shape as man does not perceive it: without color. Visually, sculpture offers shape as an abstraction; but touch is a somewhat concrete-bound sense and confines sculpture to concrete entities. Of these, only the figure of man can project a metaphysical meaning. There is little that one can express in the statue of an animal or of an inanimate object.

Psycho-epistemologically, it is the requirements of the sense of touch that make the texture of a human body a crucial element in sculpture, and virtually a hallmark of great sculptors. Observe the manner in which the softness, the smoothness, the pliant resiliency of the skin is conveyed by rigid marble in such statues as the Venus de Milo or Michelangelo’s Pieta.

It is worth noting that sculpture is almost a dead art. Its great day was in ancient Greece which, philosophically, was a man-centered civilization. A Renaissance is always possible, but the future of sculpture depends to a large extent on the future of architecture. The two arts are closely allied; one of the problems of sculpture lies in the fact that one of its most effective functions is to serve as architectural ornament.

I shall not include architecture in this discussion – I assume the reader knows which book I will refer him to.

This brings us to the subject of music.

The fundamental difference between music and the other arts lies in the fact that music is experienced as if it reversed man’s normal psycho-epistemological process.

The other arts create a physical object (i.e., an object perceived by man’s senses, be it a book or painting) and the psycho-epistemological process goes from the perception of the object to the conceptual grasp of its meaning, to an appraisal in terms of man’s basic values, to a consequent emotion. The pattern is: from perception – to conceptual understanding – to appraisal – to emotion.

The pattern of the process involved in music is: from perception – to emotion – to appraisal – to conceptual understanding.

Cover Illustration for The Romantic Manifesto, Artist unknown

Cover Illustration for The Romantic Manifesto, Artist unknown

Music is experienced as if it had the power to reach man’s emotions directly.

As in the case of all emotions, existential or esthetic, the psycho-epistemological processes involved in the responses to music are automatized and are experienced as a single, instantaneous reaction, faster than one can identify its components.

It is possible to observe introspectively (up to a certain point) what one’s mind does while listening to music: it evokes subconscious material – images, actions, scenes, actual or imaginary experiences – that seems to flow haphazardly, without direction, in brief, random snatches, merging, changing and vanishing, like the progression of a dream. But, in fact, this flow is selective and consistent: the emotional meaning of the subconscious material corresponds to the emotions projected by the music.

Subconsciously (i.e., implicitly), man knows that he cannot experience an actually causeless and objectless emotion. When music induces an emotional state without external object, his subconscious suggests an internal one. The process is wordless, directed, in effect, by the equivalent of the words: “I would feel this way if…” if I were in a beautiful garden on a spring morning… if I were dancing in a great, brilliant ballroom… if I were seeing the person I love… “I would feel this way if…” if I were fighting a violent storm at sea… if I were climbing up the crumbling side of a mountain… if I were on the barricades… “I would feel this way if…” if I reached the top of that mountain… if I stood in full sunlight… if I leaped over that barrier, as I did today…as I will tomorrow…

Observe three aspects of these phenomenon: (1) It is induced by deliberately suspending one’s conscious thoughts and surrendering to the guidance of one’s emotions. (2) The subconscious material has to flow because no single image can capture the meaning of the musical experience, the mind needs a succession of images, it is groping for that which they have in common, i.e., for an emotional abstraction. (3) The process of emotional abstraction – i.e., the process classifying things according to the emotions they evoke – is the process by which one formed one’s sense of life.

A sense of life is a preconceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence. It is in terms of his fundamental emotions – i.e., the emotions produced by his own metaphysical value-judgments – that man responds to music.

Music cannot tell a story, it cannot deal with concretes, it cannot convey a specific existential phenomenon, such as a peaceful countryside or a stormy sea. The theme of a composition entitled “Spring Song” is not spring, but the emotions which spring evoked in the composer. Even concepts which, intellectually, belong to a complex level of abstraction, “peace,” “revolution,” “religion,” are too specific, too concrete to be expressed in music. All that music can do with such themes is convey the emotions of serenity, or defiance, or exaltation. Liszt’s “St. Francis Walking on the Waters,” was inspired by a specific legend, but what it conveys is a passionately dedicated struggle and triumph – by whom and in the name of what, is for each individual listener to supply.

To be continued …

Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 14

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Epistemology of Art
Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3, …

Chapter 2: Philosophy and Sense of Life
Installment 4, Installment 5, Installment 6, …

Chapter 3: Art and Sense of Life
Installment 7, Installment 8, Installment 9, Installment 10, Installment 11, Installment 12, …

Chapter 4: Art and Cognition
Installment 13, …
… contd.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, "Boy with a Basket of Fruit"

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, “Boy with a Basket of Fruit”

It is a common experience to observe that a particular painting – for example, a still life of apples – makes its subject “more real than it is in reality.” The apples seem brighter and firmer, they seem to possess an almost self-assertive character, a kind of heightened reality** which neither real life models nor any color photograph can match. Yet if one examines them closely, one sees that no real-life apple ever looked like that. What is it, then, that the artist has done? He has created a visual abstraction.

He has performed the process of concept-formation – of isolating and integrating – but in exclusively visual terms. He has isolated the essential, distinguishing characteristics of apples, and integrated them into a single visual unit. He has brought the conceptual method of functioning to the operations of a single sense organ, the organ of sight.

No one can perceive literally and indiscriminately every accidental, inconsequential detail of every apple he happens to see; everyone perceives and remembers only some aspects, which are not necessarily the essential ones; most people carry in mind a vaguely approximate image of an apple’s appearance. The painting concretizes that image by means of visual essentials, which most men have not focused on or identified, but recognize at once. What they feel, in effect, is: “Yes, that’s how an apple looks to me!” In fact, no apple ever looked that way to them – only to the selectively focused eye of an artist. But, psycho-epistemologically, their sense of heightened reality is not an illusion: it comes from the greater clarity which the artist has given to their mental image. The painting has integrated the sum of their countless random impressions, and thus has brought order to the visual field of their experience.

Apply the same process to the paintings of more complex subjects – of landscapes, of cities, of human figures, of human faces – and you will see the psycho-epistemological power of the art of painting.

Johannes Vermeer, "The Milkmaid"

Johannes Vermeer, “The Milkmaid”

The closer an artist comes to a conceptual method of functioning visually, the greater his work. The greatest of all artists, Vermeer, devoted his paintings to a single theme: light itself. The guiding principle of his compositions is: the contextual nature of our perception of light (and of color). The physical objects in a Vermeer canvas are chosen and placed in such a way that their combined interrelationships feature, lead to and make possible the painting’s brightest patches of light, sometimes blindingly bright, in a manner which no one has been able to render before or since.

(Compare the radiant austerity of Vermeer’s work to the silliness of the dots-and-dashes Impressionists who allegedly intended to paint pure light. He raised perception to the conceptual level; they attempted to disintegrate perception into sense data.)

One might wish (and I do) that Vermeer had chosen better subjects to express his theme, but to him, apparently, the subjects were only the means to his end. What his style projects is a concretized image of an immense, nonvisual abstraction: the psycho-epistemology of a rational mind.*** It projects clarity, discipline, confidence, purpose, power – a universe open to man. When one feels, looking at a Vermeer painting: “This is my view of life,” the feeling involves much more than mere visual perception.

As I have mentioned in “Art and Sense of Life,” all the other elements of painting, such as theme, subject, composition, are involved in projecting an artist’s view of existence, but for this present discussion, style is the most important element: it demonstrates in what manner an art confined to a single sense modality, using exclusively visual means, can express and affect the total of man’s consciousness.

In this connection, I should like to relate, without comment, a personal incident. At the age of 16, for one summer, I joined a drawing class given by a man who would have become a great artist had he survived, which I doubt (this was in Russia); his paintings were magnificent, even then. He forbade the class ever to draw a curved line: he taught us that every curve must be broken into facets of intersecting straight lines. I fell in love with this style; I still am. Today, I know the reason fully. What I felt then (and still do) was not: “This is for me,” but: “This is me.”

To be continued …

**Not just the apple, but notice the intense reality of the peach, the cherries, the pear, the grapes, the back of the grape leaves, each of which exudes self-assertiveness, putting to epistemological shade the face and figure of the boy himself. As if to Caravaggio “… a plant has no choice of action …” which makes the job of an apple or a pear easier in attaining full and ripe maturity, but to the young boy holding the basket, “… a being of volitional consciousness …” with “… no automatic course of behavior …” reaching full maturity as a man is a much harder task. No wonder many scholars find the expression on the boy’s face irritating, expressing as it does a young man’s mockery at the adult world around him mingled with his very real longing to be received with deservedly full honors and open arms into that very adult world.

***Vermeer could depend on his servants to execute their activities with intelligence and honesty – notice the steadfastness of the milkmaid’s gaze as she carefully measures the milk into an earthenware bowl – an intelligence arrived at through daily practice at well-understood activities. Her trustworthiness enabled him to illustrate the process of how a man might imbue any task he undertakes with dignity and moral purpose with a rational mind to guide his actions. That same sensibility was lost by the time Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged, prompting her to write, “… We required that you leave us free to … gamble on your rationality, to submit our products to your judgment for the purpose of a voluntary trade, to rely on the objective value of our work and on your mind’s ability to see it – free to count on your intelligence and honesty, and to deal with nothing but your mind. Such was the price we asked, which you chose to reject as too high. …” I see her wish that Vermeer had chosen better subjects to illustrate the theme of a rational mind in this light – the efficacious ordinary man (and woman) was hidden under layers of self delusion and self denial brought about by accepting the code of Original Sin that divided the body from the soul by damning the mind. The only near examples of efficacy visible to her were those with the strongest minds, the geniuses. An ordinary man had given up his mind to the code long ago. I suspect her “wish” for more heroic subjects was really a wish for the world in which Vermeer lived where even an ordinary man could freely exercise his rationality and expect justice, so enjoying the serenity of making and owning his own soul.

Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 13

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Epistemology of Art
Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3, …

Chapter 2: Philosophy and Sense of Life
Installment 4, Installment 5, Installment 6, …

Chapter 3: Art and Sense of Life
Installment 7, Installment 8, Installment 9, Installment 10, Installment 11, Installment 12, …

Chapter 4: Art and Cognition

A frequent question, which the estheticians have failed to answer, is: What kinds of objects may be properly classified as works of art? What are the valid forms of art – and why these?

An examination of the major branches of art will give a clue to the answer.

Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments. Man’s profound need of art lies in the fact that his cognitive faculty is conceptual, i.e., that he acquires knowledge by means of abstractions, and needs the power to bring his widest metaphysical abstractions into his immediate, perceptual awareness. Art fulfills this need: by means of a selective re-creation, it concretizes man’s fundamental view of himself and of existence. It tells man, in effect, which aspects of his experience are to be regarded as essential, significant, important. In this sense, art teaches man how to use his consciousness. It conditions or stylizes man’s consciousness by conveying to him a certain way of looking at existence.

Bearing this in mind, consider the nature of the major branches of art, and of the specific physical media they employ.

Literature re-creates reality by means of language – Painting by means of color on a two-dimensional surface – Sculpture by means of a three-dimensional form made of a solid material. Music employs the sounds produced by the periodic vibrations of a sonorous body, and evokes man’s sense-of-life emotions. Architecture is in a class by itself, because it combines art with a utilitarian purpose and does not re-create reality, but creates a structure for man’s habitation or use, expressing man’s values. (There are also the performing arts, whose medium is the person of the artist; we shall discuss them later.)

Now observe the relation of these arts to man’s cognitive faculty: Literature deals with the field of concepts – Painting, with the field of sight – Sculpture, with the combined fields of sight and touch – Music, with the field of hearing. (Architecture, qua art, is close to sculpture: its field is three-dimensional, i.e., sight and touch, but transposed to a grand spatial scale.)

The development of human cognition starts with the ability to perceive things, i.e., entities. Of man’s five cognitive senses, only two provide him with a direct awareness of entities: sight and touch. The other three senses – hearing, taste and smell – give him an awareness of some of an entity’s attributes (or of the consequences produced by an entity): they tell him that something makes sounds, or something tastes sweet, or something smells fresh; but in order to perceive this something, he needs sight and/or touch.

The concept “entity” is (implicitly) the start of man’s conceptual development** and the building block of his entire conceptual structure. It is by perceiving entities that man perceives the universe. And in order to concretize his view of existence, it is by means of concepts (language) or by means of his entity-perceiving senses (sight and touch) that he has to do it.

Music does not deal with entities, which is the reason why its psycho-epistemological function is different from that of the other arts, as we shall discuss later.

The relation of literature to man’s cognitive faculty is obvious: literature re-creates reality by means of words, i.e., concepts. But in order to re-create reality, it is the sensory-perceptual level of man’s awareness that literature has to convey conceptually: the reality of concrete, individual men and events, of specific sights, sounds, textures, etc.

The so-called visual arts (painting, sculpture, architecture) produce concrete, perceptually available entities and make them convey an abstract, conceptual meaning.

All these arts are conceptual in essence, all are products of and addressed to the conceptual level of man’s consciousness, and they differ only in their means. Literature starts with concepts and integrates them into percepts – painting, sculpture and architecture start with percepts and integrate them into concepts. The ultimate psycho-epistemological function is the same: a process that integrates man’s forms of cognition, unifies his consciousness and clarifies his grasp of reality.

The visual arts do not deal with the sensory field of awareness as such, but with the sensory field as perceived by a conceptual consciousness.

The sensory-perceptual awareness of an adult does not consist of mere sense data (as it did in his infancy), but of automatized integrations that combine sense data with a vast context of conceptual knowledge. The visual arts refine and direct the sensory elements of these integrations. By means of selectivity, of emphasis and omission, these arts lead man’s sight to the conceptual context intended by the artist. They teach man to see more precisely and to find deeper meaning in the field of his vision.

To be continued …

**See John Galt’s Speech: Installment 17, for Rand’s discussion on human conceptual development.

Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 12

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Epistemology of Art
Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3, …

Chapter 2: Philosophy and Sense of Life
Installment 4, Installment 5, Installment 6, …

Chapter 3: Art and Sense of Life
Installment 7, Installment 8, Installment 9, Installment 10, Installment 11, …
… contd.

Since art is a philosophical composite, it is not a contradiction to say: “This is a great work of art, but I don’t like it,” – provided one defines the exact meaning of that statement: the first part refers to a purely esthetic appraisal, the second to a deeper philosophical level which includes more than esthetic values.

Even in the realm of personal choices, there are many different aspects from which one may enjoy a work of art – other than sense-of-life affinity. One’s sense of life is fully involved only when one feels a profoundly personal emotion about a work of art. But there are many other levels or degrees of liking; the differences are similar to the difference between romantic love and affection or friendship.

For instance: I love the work of Victor Hugo, in a deeper sense than admiration for his superlative literary genius, and I find many similarities between his sense of life and mine, although I disagree with virtually all of his explicit philosophy – I like Dostoevsky, for his superb mastery of plot structure and for his merciless dissection of the psychology of evil, even though his philosophy and his sense of life are almost diametrically opposed to mine – I like the early novels of Mickey Spillane, for his plot ingenuity and moralistic style, even though his sense of life clashes with mine, and no explicit philosophical element is involved in his work – I cannot stand Tolstoy, and reading him was the most boring literary duty I ever had to perform, his philosophy and his sense of life are not merely mistaken, but evil, and yet, from a purely literary viewpoint, on his own terms, I have to evaluate him as a good writer.

Now, to demonstrate the difference between an intellectual approach and a sense of life, I will restate the preceding paragraph in sense-of-life terms: Hugo gives me the feeling of entering a cathedral – Dostoevsky gives me the feeling of entering a chamber of horrors, but with a powerful guide – Spillane gives me the feeling of hearing a military band in a public park – Tolstoy gives me the feeling of an unsanitary backyard which I do not care to enter.

When one learns to translate the meaning of an art work into objective terms, one discovers that nothing is as potent as art in exposing the essence of a man’s character. An artist reveals his naked soul in his work – and so, gentle reader, do you when you respond to it.

(March 1966)

Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 11

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Epistemology of Art
Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3, …

Chapter 2: Philosophy and Sense of Life
Installment 4, Installment 5, Installment 6, …

Chapter 3: Art and Sense of Life
Installment 7, Installment 8, Installment 9, Installment 10, …
… contd.

Two distinct, but interrelated, elements of a work of art are the crucial means of projecting its sense of life: the subject and the style – what an artist chooses to present and how he presents it.

The subject of an art work expresses a view of man’s existence, while the style expresses a view of man’s consciousness. The subject reveals an artist’s metaphysics, the style reveals his psycho-epistemology.

Gustave Courbet, "Still Life"

Gustave Courbet, “Still Life”: Courbet displays a state of full focus.

The choice of subject declares what aspects of existence the artist regards as important – as worthy of being re-created and contemplated. He may choose to present heroic figures, as exponents of man’s nature – or he may choose statistical composites of the average, the undistinguished, the mediocre – or he may choose crawling specimens of depravity. He may present the triumph of heroes, in fact or in spirit (Victor Hugo), or their struggle (Michelangelo), or their defeat (Shakespeare). He may present the folks next door: next door to palaces (Tolstoy), or to drugstores (Sinclair Lewis), or to kitchens (Vermeer), or to sewers (Zola). He may present monsters as objects of moral denunciation (Dostoevsky), or as objects of terror (Goya) – or he may demand sympathy for his monsters, and thus crawl outside the limits of the realm of values, including esthetic ones.

Whatever the case may be, it is the subject (qualified by the theme) that projects an art work’s view of man’s place in the universe.

The theme of an art work is the link uniting its subject and its style. “Style” is a particular, distinctive or characteristic mode of execution. An artist’s style is the product of his own psycho-epistemology – and, by implication, a projection of his view’s of man’s consciousness, of its efficacy or impotence, of its proper method and level of functioning.

Predominantly (though not exclusively), a man whose normal mental state is a state of full focus, will create and respond to a style of radiant clarity and ruthless precision – a style that projects sharp outlines, cleanliness, purpose, an intransigent commitment to full awareness and clear-cut identity – a level of awareness appropriate to a universe where A is A, where everything is open to man’s consciousness and demands its constant functioning.

Paul Gauguin, "Riders on the Beach"

Paul Gauguin, “Riders on the Beach”: Gauguin affirms, “It matters little whether the haystack is yellow or purple, we shall paint it red if we wish.”

A man who is moved by the fog of his feelings and spends most of his time out of focus will create and respond to a style of blurred, “mysterious” murk, where outlines dissolve and entities flow into one another, where colors float without objects, and objects float without weight – a level of awareness appropriate to a universe where A can be any non-A one chooses, where nothing can be known with certainty and nothing much is demanded of one’s consciousness.

Style is the most complex element of art, the most revealing and, often, the most baffling psychologically. The terrible inner conflicts from which artists suffer as much as (or, perhaps, more than) other men are magnified in their work. As an example: Salvador Dali, whose style projects the luminous clarity of a rational psycho-epistemology, while most (though not all) of his subjects project an irrational and revoltingly evil metaphysics. A similar, but less offensive, conflict may be seen in the paintings of Vermeer, who combines a brilliant clarity of style with the bleak metaphysics of Naturalism. At the other extreme of the stylistic continuum, observe the deliberate blurring and visual distortions of the so-called “painterly” school, from Rembrandt on down – down to the rebellion against consciousness, expressed by a phenomenon such as Cubism which seeks specifically to disintegrate man’s consciousness by painting objects as man does not perceive them (from several perspectives at once).

A writer’s style may project a blend of reason and passionate emotion (Victor Hugo) – or a chaos of floating abstractions, of emotions cut off from reality (Thomas Wolfe) – or the dry, bare, concrete-bound, humor-tinged raucousness of an intelligent reporter (Sinclair Lewis) – or the disciplined, perceptive, lucid, yet muted understatement of a represser (John O’Hara) – or the carefully superficial, over-detailed precision of an amoralist (Flaubert) – or the mannered artificiality of a second-hander (several moderns not worthy of mention).

Style conveys what may be called a “psycho-epistemological sense of life,” i.e., an expression of that level of mental functioning on which the artist feels most at home. This is the reason why style is crucially important in art – both to the artist and the reader or viewer – and why its importance is experienced as a profoundly personal matter. To the artist, it is an expression, to the reader or viewer a confirmation, of his own consciousness – which means: of his efficacy – which means: of his self-esteem (or pseudo-self-esteem).

Now a word of warning about the criteria of esthetic judgment. A sense of life is the source of art, but it is not the sole qualification of an artist or of an esthetician, and it is not a criterion of esthetic judgment. Emotions are not tools of cognition. Esthetics is a branch of philosophy – and just as a philosopher does not approach any other branch of his science with his feelings or emotions as his criterion of judgment, so he cannot do it in the field of esthetics. A sense of life is not sufficient professional equipment. An esthetician – as well as any man who attempts to evaluate art works – must be guided by more than an emotion.

The fact that one agrees or disagrees with an artist’s philosophy is irrelevant to an esthetic appraisal of his works qua art. One does not have to agree with an artist (nor even to enjoy him) in order to evaluate his work. In essence, an objective evaluation requires that one identify the artist’s theme, the abstract meaning of his work (exclusively by identifying the evidence contained in the work and allowing no other, outside considerations), then evaluate the means by which he conveys it – i.e., taking his theme as criterion, evaluate the purely esthetic elements of the work, the technical mastery (or lack of it) with which he projects (or fails to project) his view of life.

(The esthetic principles which apply to all art, regardless of an individual artist’s philosophy, and which must guide an objective evaluation, are outside the scope of this discussion. I will mention only that such principles are defined by the science of esthetics – a task at which modern philosophy has failed dismally.)

To be continued …

Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 10

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Epistemology of Art
Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3, …

Chapter 2: Philosophy and Sense of Life
Installment 4, Installment 5, Installment 6, …

Chapter 3: Art and Sense of Life
Installment 7, Installment 8, Installment 9, …
… contd.

Since man lives by reshaping his physical background to serve his purpose, since he must first define and then create his values – a rational man needs a concretized projection of these values, an image in whose likeness he will reshape the world and himself. Art gives him that image; it gives him the experience of seeing the full, immediate, concrete reality of his distant goals.

Since a rational man’s ambition is unlimited, since his pursuit and achievement of values is a lifelong process – and the higher the values, the harder the struggle – he needs a moment, an hour or some period of time in which he can experience the sense of his completed task, the sense of living in a universe where his values have been successfully achieved. It is like a moment of rest, a moment to gain fuel to move farther. Art gives him that fuel; the pleasure of contemplating the objectified reality of one’s own sense of life is the pleasure of feeling what it would be like to live in one’s ideal world.

“The importance of that experience is not in what man learns from it, but in that he experiences it. The fuel is not a theoretical principle, not a didactic ‘message,’ but the life-giving fact of experiencing a moment of metaphysical joy – a moment of love for existence.” (See Chapter 11.)

The same principle applies to an irrational man, though in different terms, according to his different views and responses. For an irrational man, the concretized projection of his malevolent sense of life serves, not as fuel and inspiration to move forward, but as permission to stand still: it declares that values are unattainable, that the struggle is futile, that fear, guilt, pain and failure are man’s predestined end – and that he couldn’t help it. Or, on a lower level of irrationality, the concretized projection of a malignant sense of life provides a man with an image of triumphant malice, of hatred for existence, of vengeance against life’s best exponents, of the defeat and destruction of all human values; his kind of art gives him a moment’s illusion that he is right – that evil is metaphysically potent.

Art is man’s metaphysical mirror; what a rational man seeks to see in that mirror is a salute; what an irrational man seeks to see is a justification – even if only a justification of his depravity, as a last convulsion of his betrayed self-esteem.

Between these two extremes, there lies the immense continuum of men of mixed premises – whose sense of life holds unresolved, precariously balanced or openly contradictory elements of reason and unreason – and works of art that reflect these mixtures. Since art is the product of philosophy, (and mankind’s philosophy is tragically mixed), most of the world’s art, including some of its greatest examples, falls into this category.

The truth or falsehood of a given artist’s philosophy as such, is not an esthetic matter; it may affect a given viewer’s enjoyment of his work, but it does not negate its esthetic merit. Some sort of philosophical meaning, however, some implicit view of life, is a necessary element of a work of art. The absence of any metaphysical values whatever, i.e., a gray, uncommitted, passively indeterminate sense of life, results in a soul without fuel, motor or voice, and renders a man impotent in the field of art. Bad art is, predominantly, the product of imitation, of secondhand copying, not of creative expression.

To be continued …

Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 9

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Epistemology of Art
Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3, …

Chapter 2: Philosophy and Sense of Life
Installment 4, Installment 5, Installment 6, …

Chapter 3: Art and Sense of Life
Installment 7, Installment 8, …
… contd.

An artist does not fake reality – he stylizes it. He selects those aspects of existence which he regards as metaphysically significant – and by isolating and stressing them, by omitting the insignificant and the accidental, he presents his view of existence. His concepts are not divorced from the facts of reality – they are concepts which integrate the facts and his metaphysical evaluation of the facts. His selection constitutes his evaluation: everything included in a work of art – from theme to subject to brushstroke or adjective – acquires metaphysical significance by the mere fact of being included, of being important enough to include.

An artist (as, for instance, the sculptors of Ancient Greece) who presents man as a god-like figure is aware of the fact that men may be crippled or diseased or helpless; but he regards these conditions as accidental, as irrelevant to the essential nature of man – and he presents a figure embodying strength, beauty, intelligence, self-confidence, as man’s proper, natural state.

An artist (as, for instance, the sculptors of the Middle Ages) who presents man as a deformed monstrosity is aware of the fact that there are men who are healthy, happy or confident; but he regards these conditions as accidental or illusory, as irrelevant to man’s essential nature – and he presents a tortured figure embodying pain, ugliness, terror as man’s proper, natural state.

Now consider the painting described at the start of this discussion. The cold sore on the lips of a beautiful woman, which would be insignificant in real life, acquires a monstrous metaphysical significance by virtue of being included in a painting. It declares that a woman’s beauty and her attempts to achieve glamor (the beautiful evening gown) are a futile illusion undercut by a seed of corruption which can mar and destroy them at any moment – that this is reality’s mockery of man – that all of man’s values and efforts are impotent against the power, not even of some great cataclysm, but of a miserable little physical infection.

The Naturalistic type of argument – to the effect that, in real life, a beautiful woman might get a cold sore – is irrelevant esthetically. Art is not concerned with actual occurrences or events as such, but with their metaphysical significance to man.

An indication of the metaphysical slant of art can be seen in the popular notion that a reader of fiction “identifies himself with” some character or characters of the story. “To identify with” is a colloquial designation for a process of abstraction: it means to observe a common element between the character and oneself, to draw an abstraction from the character’s problems and apply it to one’s own life. Subconsciously, without any knowledge of esthetic theory, but by virtue of the implicit nature of art, this is the way in which most people react to fiction and to all other forms of art.

This illustrates one important aspect of the difference between a real-life news story and a fiction story: a news story is a concrete from which one may or may not draw an abstraction, which one may or may not find relevant to one’s own life; a fiction story is an abstraction that claims universality, i.e., application to every human life, including one’s own. Hence one may be impersonal and indifferent to a news story, even though it is real; and one feels an intensely personal emotion about a fiction story, even though it is invented. This emotion may be positive, when one finds the abstraction applicable to oneself – or resentfully negative, when one finds it inapplicable and inimical.

It is not journalistic information or scientific education or moral guidance that man seeks from a work of art (though these may be involved as secondary consequence), but the fulfillment of a more profound need: a confirmation of his view of existence – a confirmation, not in the sense of resolving cognitive doubts, but in the sense of permitting him to contemplate his abstractions outside his own mind, in the form of existential concretes.

To be continued …

Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 8

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Epistemology of Art
Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3, …

Chapter 2: Philosophy and Sense of Life
Installment 4, Installment 5, Installment 6, …

Chapter 3: Art and Sense of Life
Installment 7, …
… contd.

The psycho-epistemological process of communication between an artist and a viewer or a reader goes as follows: the artist starts with a broad abstraction which he has to concretize, to bring into reality by means of the appropriate particulars; the viewer perceives the particulars, integrates them and grasps the abstraction from which they came, thus completing the circle. Speaking metaphorically, the creative process resembles a process of deduction; the viewing process resembles a process of induction.

This does not mean that communication is the primary purpose of an artist: his primary purpose is to bring his view of man and of existence into reality; but to be brought into reality, it has to be translated into objective (therefore, communicable) terms.

In Chapter 1, I discussed why man needs art – why, as a being guided by conceptual knowledge, he needs the power to summon the long chain and complex total of his metaphysical concepts into his immediate conscious awareness. “He needs a comprehensive view of existence to integrate his values, to choose his goals, to plan his future, to maintain the unity and coherence of his life.” Man’s sense of life provides him with the integrated sum of his metaphysical abstractions; art concretizes them and allows him to perceive – to experience – their immediate reality.

The function of psychological integration is to make certain connections automatic, so that they work as a unit and do not require a conscious process of thought every time they are evoked. (All learning consists of automatizing one’s knowledge in order to pursue further knowledge.) There are many special or “cross-filed” chains of abstractions (of interconnected concepts) in man’s mind. Cognitive abstractions are a fundamental chain, on which all the others depend. Such chains are mental integrations, serving a special purpose and formed accordingly by a special criterion.

Cognitive abstractions are formed by the criterion of: what is essential? (epistemologically essential to distinguish one class of existents from all others.) Normative abstractions are formed by the criterion of: what is good? Esthetic abstractions are formed by the criterion of: what is important?

To be continued …

Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 7

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Epistemology of Art
Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3, …

Chapter 2: Philosophy and Sense of Life
Installment 4, Installment 5, Installment 6, …

Chapter 3: Art and Sense of Life

If one saw, in real life, a beautiful woman wearing an exquisite evening gown, with a cold sore on her lips, the blemish would mean nothing but a minor affliction, and one would ignore it.

But a painting of such a woman would be a corrupt, obscenely vicious attack on man, on beauty, on all values – and one would experience a feeling of immense disgust and indignation at the artist. (There are also those who would feel something like approval and who would belong to the same moral category as the artist.)

The emotional response to that painting would be instantaneous, much faster than the viewer’s mind could identify all the reasons involved. The psychological mechanism which produces that response (and which produced the painting) is a man’s sense of life.

(A sense of life is a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence.)

It is the artist’s sense of life that controls and integrates his work, directing the innumerable choices he has to make, from the choice of subject to the subtlest details of style. It is the viewer’s or reader’s sense of life that responds to a work of art by a complex, yet automatic reaction of acceptance and approval, or rejection and condemnation.

This does not mean that a sense of life is a valid criterion of esthetic merit, either for the artist or the viewer. A sense of life is not infallible.** But a sense of life is the source of art, the psychological mechanism which enables man to create a realm such as art.

The emotion involved in art is not an emotion in the ordinary meaning of the term. It is experienced more as a “sense” or a “feel,” but it has two characteristics pertaining to emotions: it is automatically immediate*** and it has an intense, profoundly personal (yet undefined) value-meaning to the individual experiencing it. The value involved is life, and the words naming the emotion are: “This is what life means to me.

Regardless of the nature or content of an artist’s metaphysical views, what an art work expresses, fundamentally, under all of its lesser aspects is: “This is life as I see it.” The essential meaning of a viewer’s or reader’s response, under all of its lesser elements, is: “This is (or is not) life as I see it.”

To be continued …

**On the infallibility of a sense of life:

A pencil sketch of a Hindi film actress, drawn in 1972.

A pencil sketch of a Hindi film actress, drawn in 1972.

I drew this sketch when I was eight. I was able to look photographs clearly enough to put them down on paper with reasonable accuracy. Yet I recall an assignment for the course on Moral Science (mandatory for non-Catholic students) where we had to paste pictures displaying the vice of greed. I chose a color photograph showing some white folks eating at a restaurant. My reasoning for the choice was the unaffordability of eating at restaurants for people I grew up with. So I ignored the expressions on the faces that merely showed friends eating out together. I ignored this fact for the greater truth I grew up with – the fact of having been a colony of the British Empire – that the country’s problems were caused by and continued to be caused by our colonial history.

I was put back in touch with the truth of my own eyes when the Moral Science teacher commented on my choice with a smiling face and a disappointed look in her eyes. The teacher was as Indian as I, with the same dark complexion. The school was run by Roman Catholic nuns and the teacher was a Roman Catholic, but not a nun. I never looked at that assignment again with anything but an awareness of a grave error – was I saying that eating out was evil? No. I loved being taken out for the rare ice cream treat by my father. But I was saying that anyone who looked like the British were. This thought didn’t console me like it should have. My eyes told me that the individuals in the photograph had nothing to do with the topic at hand, “greed.” The national history I grew up learning and absorbing told me otherwise. But it couldn’t stand in the face of what I was teaching myself through my obsessive practice of drawing portraits. The skill and awareness I had gained and was still gaining had become too precious a possession to be relinquished so lightly.

It makes me doubt the mysticism of artists such Leonardo da Vinci. His artist’s eye, trained to rely on his own judgment, was precisely what was so valuable about him to his patrons. He may not have spoken or talked or written like a revolutionary, but his work, a source of pride and joy, amply displayed his rational soul to the world around him. As Miss Rand says, “… The road of human history was a string of blank-outs over sterile stretches eroded by faith and force, with only a few brief bursts of sunlight, when the released energy of the men of the mind performed the wonders you gaped at, admired and promptly extinguished again. …”

Where does she say this? In her novel, Atlas Shrugged, she has John Galt the hero say these very words in what I have posted on this website under the title John Galt’s Speech in 29 installments.

***On the automatic immediacy of a sense of life:
The teacher’s comments took hold as quickly as it did because it responded to my sense of life developed so far. Her comments were immediately taken to heart, to ponder in privacy. But the automatic nature of my culture led me to choosing the photograph in question. It speaks to the power of a sense of life that this choice was made after some struggle on my part. This sense developed by looking at Hindi film magazines and listening to Hindi film music that were more Westernized than the explicit teachings of the culture at large. Need I add that the Hindi film world in general is more popular than films of the other 24 official languages in India? I think not.