"Romanticist Art" Is Not The Essence Of The Objectivist Esthetics


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I'm taken aback at how complicated a "sense" or a "feel" can be made to be. Ellen, my "powers of discernment" are no more than a human emotional reaction. Emotions are what they are, aren't they? I might stand looking over our garden in the morning light. Or, I enter a decrepit and dark alleyway, mangy stray cats, garbage, washing overhead. To each scene, like anyone, I experience something in the range of the "pleasure-pain mechanism".

The intensity of emotion when such scenes are portrayed in art, by a man for contemplation by mankind, are multiplied many times - because of one's subconscious expectations from art, I guess. The immediate, automatic appraisal is one of approbation, or rejection (or stages in between, I think). According to the sense of life portrayed AND to one's own sense of life (per Rand). For example, I don't believe I have the most up-beat and integrated sense of life, but I know what I feel when I see Munch's 'The Scream'; conversely, I know what I sense viewing Degas' 'Blue Dancers' and the charm of his Bath Scenes.

I can never emotionally, subconsciously, sense "The Scream" with anything but dismay followed with rejection -- or: "THIS is not what life means to me". No matter how celebrated the painting is supposed to be.

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And here, Tony, I thought your disingenuousness was hard-wired into your brain. If "sense of life" was just a "sense" or a "feel" what are we fighting for? there'd be nothing to discuss.

--Brant

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And here, Tony, I thought your disingenuousness was hard-wired into your brain. If "sense of life" was just a "sense" or a "feel" what are we fighting for? there'd be nothing to discuss.

--Brant

Precisely. What's the fuss about?

I've no clue what you mean by the rest, but this is what Ellen and I have quoted before.

"A sense of life is ~not~ infallible`. [...]

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 namimg the emotion are: "THIS is what life means to ME". [p.35]

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Did you miss the post above, Tony?

While you're answering, you might also get around to answering about the painting I asked you about here * and about the paintings Jonathan asked you about here. **

*

Dali_CorpusHypercubus1954.jpg

**

frankoconn.jpg

moist-dance.jpg

NotGuilty.jpg

cpnu230l.jpg

(I left out the two examples Jonathan included which don't contain human figures.)

Ellen

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[...] I know what I sense viewing Degas' 'Blue Dancers' and the charm of his Bath Scenes.

Do you sense "volitional consciousness" viewing those paintings?

Ellen

I "sense" (which you know is invalid) a majority of Naturalism in Degas' pictures, honest naturalism - and I sense a terrific sense of life. Candid cameos of life. That he didn't try to sentimentalize his subjects (as dancers and nudes are often treated) is actually to his credit, I think.

Are we returning to school tests and grades, again? There must be a large amount of give and take in honest discussion, no more so than on the extremely personal topic of art. For me, it's damned if I do, and damned if I don't - whatever I opine will be 'shown' to fail the tests either by Rand's, or by the doubters' standards.

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*

Dali_CorpusHypercubus1954.jpg

**

Ellen

Taking the opportunity to comment on Corpus Hypercubus -- although I have more questions than potential answers. But it is endlessly absorbing, and whatever one's approach to art it's likely one knows this is a great artwork, that one won't be soon tired of thinking about.

First and most striking is its grandeur. A perfect physique of a man dominates the frame, selectively illuminated from above. The other (woman's) figure is oddly (but deliberately)reduced in perspective.

In the artist's choices of style and substance, far above the ordinary, man's spirit is exalted here I think.

Despite its Christian connotations, I think this is purely symbolic and it should be treated as a-religious and a-mystical. The Cross, I think, symbolises human sacrifice, worship and a means of liberation to better things. In secular terms then, sacrifice by whom? Liberation from what? Is the patiently and adoringly waiting woman holding the man's cloak (I presume), a clue? Is she sacrificing him to her love, while he, face averted from her, looks over his shoulder to fresh horizons? Does she represent the homely and comfortable contradistinction to adventure and seeking knowledge? Mostly speculation, of course.

One wishes one could know the expression on his face: resolute; thoughtful; anguished; prideful; peaceful? One feels, since he's not physically bound to the cross, and his body displays little tension, that he could descend any time he wishes. Or- that he mentally transcends any physical constrictions.

But what of any possible symbolism of the repeated cubic and square shapes ? Perhaps simply an aesthetic device to severely contrast with the human body. What about the stones clenched in his hands? (...?)

(I realise that Rand admired Dali's painting, btw.)

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For me, it's damned if I do, and damned if I don't - whatever I opine will be 'shown' to fail the tests either by Rand's, or by the doubters' standards.

That made me laugh, considering the way anything said by those disagreeing with you is too-this or too-that by your cloudy and shape-shifting standards of whatever the moment in which you're replying.

Re "volitional consciousness" in the Degas paintings you mentioned and in Dali's "Corpus Hypercubus," may I take "no" for the Degas and "yes" for the Dali as your answers?

What of the other examples in post #405?

Ellen

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Why do you use the term "concept" as the classification of "sense of life"? Granted, you say it's "really just a hunch of Rand's" and you describe it as "a messy concept." But why do you describe it as a "concept" at all? Rand's presentation isn't that of a "concept," by her own meaning.

Ellen,

I used the term "concept of sense of life."

I agree that there is the thing, sense of life, which is not a concept. But there is a concept we form of it so we can discuss it.

I'm sure a definition can be arrived at using the genus/differentia system Rand borrowed from Aristotle. Let me give it a shot based on Rand's own words:

A sense of life is a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence. It sets the nature of a man’s emotional responses and the essence of his character.

Long before he is old enough to grasp such a concept as metaphysics, man makes choices, forms value-judgments, experiences emotions and acquires a certain implicit view of life. Every choice and value-judgment implies some estimate of himself and of the world around him—most particularly, of his capacity to deal with the world. He may draw conscious conclusions, which may be true or false; or he may remain mentally passive and merely react to events (i.e., merely feel). Whatever the case may be, his subconscious mechanism sums up his psychological activities, integrating his conclusions, reactions or evasions into an emotional sum that establishes a habitual pattern and becomes his automatic response to the world around him. What began as a series of single, discrete conclusions (or evasions) about his own particular problems, becomes a generalized feeling about existence, an implicit metaphysics with the compelling motivational power of a constant, basic emotion—an emotion which is part of all his other emotions and underlies all his experiences. This is a sense of life.

My shot (going from the top of my head--and I admit it could be improved):

Sense of life: An appraisal of humanity and existence that is preconceptual, emotional, subconsciously integrated from the entire sum of a person's conclusions, reactions and evasions and governs a person's emotional responses and character as an automatic, underlying, psychological background.

Genus = an appraisal of humanity and existence.

Differentia = that is preconceptual, emotional, subconsciously integrated from the entire sum of a person's conclusions, reactions and evasions and governs a person's emotional responses and character as an automatic, underlying, psychological background.

I could probably twist Rand's own words and nothing but Rand's words into this form, but I believe it would be open to all kinds of doubts and quibbles. (For instance, the phrase "equivalent of metaphysics" is more a metaphor than mental state. And so on.)

Thus, a sense of life is not a type of concept. It is essentially a long-term mood with qualifications, but there is a concept defining what a sense of life is.

That is what I meant when I said: "The more I study the concept of sense of life, the more I have a huge difficulty with it."

I could have just as easily said: "The more I study the idea of sense of life," or "The more I study the mental state Rand called sense of life," or "The more I study sense of life."

But my problem rests in the definition. I don't believe one's outlook on life is totally based on conclusions, reactions and evasions. I believe these inputs do exist and are important, but there is also a part that is made up of biology and unaware conditioning.

Put it this way. The prefrontal neocortex (where our awareness resides) uses an enormous amount of energy to produce an action. The basal ganglia (where a lot of automation occurs) uses far, far, far less. (This is way oversimplified and there are many other areas and processes of the brain involved, but it is true enough to serve as an illustration.)

There is a crapload of stuff that the basal ganglia performs that come from growth, secretion of hormones, experience that creeps in under the prefrontal neocortex radar, and God knows what all else. And there is the way the basal ganglia just is in terms of humor development, like a tall person or a short person just is in terms of physical development.

All this exists.

And all the stuff Rand said exists, too.

The prefrontal neocortex can alter some of the stuff down in the basal ganglia, but it has to use a lot of energy to do that. So that makes conscious attempts temporary. They have to come in short bursts, so to speak. Then the prefrontal neocortex has to rest and replenish energy before it can perform a new burst. Thus a lot of top-level energy-hogging repetition is needed to make changes down in the basal ganglia. Don't forget, the basal ganglia is where the sense of life resides.

What's worse, the basal ganglia is not exactly conversant in rhetoric. :smile:

I could go on about this stuff all day. My point is Rand's concept of sense of life is restricted to the input of very few mental operations and it leaves out all the unaware development part.

This is an example of that scope problem I keep attributing to Rand. Her concept of sense of life is true within a small scope as part of the situation, but not as the whole enchilada.

Michael

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Jonathan,

Why do you use the term "concept" as the classification of "sense of life"? Granted, you say it's "really just a hunch of Rand's" and you describe it as "a messy concept." But why do you describe it as a "concept" at all? Rand's presentation isn't that of a "concept," by her own meaning.

I agree with what MSK just said in post 411:

"Thus, a sense of life is not a type of concept. It is essentially a long-term mood with qualifications, but there is a concept defining what a sense of life is."

The same is true of any concept: A car itself is not a concept, but our "mental integration" of cars via "a process of abstraction" and uniting them with "a specific definition" is a concept; a vague sense of doom in itself is not a concept, but our mentally integrating the state that we're referring to when discussing vague senses of doom is a concept, etc.

Also, again, where do you see anything "deterministic" in Rand's notion of "sense of life"? Although she gave varying descriptions of how "sense of life" is formed, in each description the particulars she cites as resulting in a person's "sense of life" are those of the person's mental activity or passivity, effort or non-effort - i.e., results of the exercise of volition.

Her notion of sense of life sounds deterministic because it is "pre-conceptual," it is "emotional" and "subconscious," and it is formed "long before" a person "is old enough to grasp such a concept as metaphysics." In other words, it is not chosen. It merely happens to people, apparently at a very young age, and then it becomes "a habitual pattern" and an "automatic response to the world around him." It becomes a "compelling motivational power" that "underlies all of his experiences" and influences all of his future values and decisions.

J

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Ellen,

I agree that there is the thing, sense of life, which is not a concept. But there is a concept we form of it so we can discuss it.

What thing? There needs to be a something to form a concept of that something. What is the "something" which Rand supposedly identified?

Granted, one can have a concept of an imaginary something, such as a "unicorn," but even there one has some referents which one can specify which are being put together to form an idea of an imaginary entity.

Rand wasn't saying that "sense of life" refers to an imaginary something. She was claiming to refer to a real something, but on what basis? Her say so, that's the basis, since the only observations she indicates provide no grounds for what she claims a person's "subconscious" proceeds to do.

Ellen

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See my reply to Michael re the "concept" issue.

Also, again, where do you see anything "deterministic" in Rand's notion of "sense of life"? Although she gave varying descriptions of how "sense of life" is formed, in each description the particulars she cites as resulting in a person's "sense of life" are those of the person's mental activity or passivity, effort or non-effort - i.e., results of the exercise of volition.

Her notion of sense of life sounds deterministic because it is "pre-conceptual," it is "emotional" and "subconscious," and it is formed "long before" a person "is old enough to grasp such a concept as metaphysics." In other words, it is not chosen. It merely happens to people, apparently at a very young age, and then it becomes "a habitual pattern" and an "automatic response to the world around him." It becomes a "compelling motivational power" that "underlies all of his experiences" and influences all of his future values and decisions.

J

The subconscious (mighty) mechanism which Rand states produces one's "sense of life" just integrates and coughs up a "sum," but what she says gets integrated to produce that sum - the programming input - is one's volitional activities of effort<-->non-effort.

She also says that one's sense of life can change over time, depending on one's volitional activities, although with increasing slowness and difficulty as one gets older.

Ellen

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Repeating in case Tony missed these questions the first time.

[....]

Re "volitional consciousness" in the Degas paintings you mentioned and in Dali's "Corpus Hypercubus," may I take "no" for the Degas and "yes" for the Dali as your answers?

What of the other examples in post #405?

Ellen

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What thing?

Ellen,

The underlying pervasive mental state Rand described, claiming all people have it.

Kind of obvious, isn't it?

(Not that I agree with what she claimed it was.)

EDIT: On thinking this over, your objection could be applied to "concept" itself. Is concept a thing? In my meaning of thing it is, but maybe in your meaning of thing it is not. I'll have to wait to see what you say.

Michael

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Sense of life is a concept. It's an undemonstrated and undemonstrable inner-life supposition given almost the status of an axiom. Frankly, I find it self-glorifying and confining, the heroic Ayn Rand running out of room. By this I mean how could she not be a Randian hero too--is that not possible? Her real heroism was not the heroism she imagined in her heroes whose perfection is reflected in what they do. Real heroes are not perfect and real heroism is not perfection; that's statuary. Or, Ayn Rand elevated her art and the world she made above herself and she was determined to keep it there up in the clouds--clouds as down in the earth, even if she had to pretend so much she really believed her own book.

--Brant

all the heroism in Atlas Shrugged needed the bad guys so the good guys could be heroic--until they got their hands on John Galt he wasn't heroic, but he was a pretty good god, and after heroically rescuing him all the heroes flew off to early unheroic retirement

AS: a great novel created out of a great, screwy idea redeemed by its brilliance and the real need of its readers to figure out what is really going on and why, both in the book and in their heads and in society at large--the transition Rand never made for she was AS

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Repeating in case Tony missed these questions the first time.

[....]

Re "volitional consciousness" in the Degas paintings you mentioned and in Dali's "Corpus Hypercubus," may I take "no" for the Degas and "yes" for the Dali as your answers?

What of the other examples in post #405?

Ellen

Yes.

I will point out that I have no duty to answer to these schoolmarmish tests, especially if they are asked in poor faith.

I observe that you apparently apply empiricism with art. And I think that it's necessary in art reflection to understand and recognize the existence of one's subconscious and "the implicit" (which both you have disdained). And that when it comes to art and the mind and existence, "objectivity" does not mean "impartiality".

Because art is first and last, selfish. Well before Rand -and without her thinking on the matter- art was forever as much about individual consciousness (and subconsciousness), as it was concerned with (an individual's) portryal of existence--art builds the bridge between the two.

Without elevation of the "Me", one cannot state "THIS is what life means (or doesn't mean) to ME!"

Good art or fiction requires and fosters boldness and certainty, Ellen, not such timidity and skepticism.

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I will point out that I have no duty to answer to these schoolmarmish tests, especially if they are asked in poor faith.

Great use of the standard Objectivish tactics, Tony! People are imposing "duties" on you by challenging your silly ideas and asking you to back them up with substance. And doing so is an act of "poor faith"!!!!

Hahahahahaha!

J

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Repeating in case Tony missed these questions the first time.

[....]

Re "volitional consciousness" in the Degas paintings you mentioned and in Dali's "Corpus Hypercubus," may I take "no" for the Degas and "yes" for the Dali as your answers?

What of the other examples in post #405?

Ellen

Yes.

Ok, that gets us somewhere. Can you now say what characteristic(s) the paintings in post #405 have which all Vermeer paintings lack such that you see "volitional consciousness" in the former group and only "voluntary action" in Vermeer's paintings?

I will point out that I have no duty to answer to these schoolmarmish tests, especially if they are asked in poor faith.

You aren't obligated to answer questions. I will point out, however, that the questions aren't asked "in poor faith" but instead from curiosity as to what if anything you can actually specify which differentiates "volitional" from "voluntary" action in visual art.

Ellen

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What thing?

Ellen,

The underlying pervasive mental state Rand described, claiming all people have it.

Kind of obvious, isn't it?

(Not that I agree with what she claimed it was.)

EDIT: On thinking this over, your objection could be applied to "concept" itself. Is concept a thing? In my meaning of thing it is, but maybe in your meaning of thing it is not. I'll have to wait to see what you say.

Michael

Michael,

What isn't obvious to me - in fact, I don't think it's true - is that Rand was describing something which exists.

Ellen

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