Michelle Marder Kamhi's "Who Says That's Art?"


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I’m not knowledgeable or passionate about art but I have followed many of your conversations with interest. When you  point out the inconsistency that music doesn’t fit her criteria but she called it

LOL. Look at the amount of verbiage you produced when I didn't even cite a passage.  What would I be in for if I did? Ellen  btw, I haven't read any further than the sentence I quoted,

I could, abundant passages, like approximately the whole book. But I don't have the time, and if I did have the time, I wouldn't want to spend it on so frustrating a proceeding - way worse than t

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The first denotes an artist's mind in the final stages of disintegration, I think. Looks like the aftermath of a paintball war.

""Meaning"? I don't do no stinkin' meaning. If you need to ask, you wouldn't get it anyway".

The caveman was the one, truly honest artist here. "This is what is important, what life is, to ME..."

Deanna, Here's the context of the original post. You notice "the caveman", also, 'making a statement' by my same device?

(Which I assume you didn't Google...;))

Sorry you were confused.

Taken in context, there shouldn't be confusion and obviously I did not set out to deceive, which anyone granting me the smallest amount of poetic licence would ascertain.

An abstractionist such as Pollock IS stating - implicitly- what I dared say 'on his behalf' (so to speak) - because he must have known full well that there can't be any explicitly clear interpretation of such a painting ... and it follows that 'meaning' means little to him. He's the experienced artist. The evidence is the picture, itself. If anyone believes they can make sense of it, I haven't yet heard.

An "arbitrary assertion" is neither truthful nor false, bad nor good--it just isn't recognizable as anything.

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Jonathan is one of the people who have leveled the charge Kamhi addresses briefly in the last paragraph.

Actually, the charge that I've leveled involves more than Kamhi's attempting to establish her personal tastes as universal. Her tastes are involved in her assertions, but they are not the core of her standard of judging what is or is not art. Rather, the core is that she is attempting to establish her personal aesthetic limitations as universal -- her lack of response, or lack of depth of response. In other words, if Kamhi gets little or nothing out of a work of art, then she asserts that the work in question is not art for anyone and everyone, not just for her.

She is sensitive to the abstract compositions of sound (music) to the point of having deep feelings and believing that they are communicating deep meaning to her, so those compositions are labeled "art," but when someone else claims to experience the same depth of feeling and communicated meaning in the abstract compositions of visual forms and colors -- be they architectural compositions or abstract paintings or sculptures -- then those compositions are not labeled "art" if Kamhi also didn't happen to experience the same depth.

J

Thus far - I've read most of the first chapter, and skipped around reading bits here and there, in addition to the parts I'd read when I last posted - I see no basis for your assessments.

Ellen

The book's introduction begins with Kamhi describing her disappointment due to her personal lack of response to sculptures by Ellsworth Kelly. That is the basis for "our" need to be concerned about the dysfunction and destruction that modern and postmodern art have wreaked on the world. Since Kelly's work did not make Kamhi feel what she expects to feel when viewing art, it is not really art.

She then moves on to claiming to speak for "many people" and "the public" and "ordinary citizens," all of whom she claims don't experience what she doesn't. Throughout the book, she writes about herself, or some universal viewer who is identical to herself, as not being stimulated or interested in a given image. She has assigned herself to the position of universal standard and limit of aesthetic response. She is the spokesman for all of mankind and the embodiment of what is cognitively normal and proper.

Her position is that no one actually experiences in abstract and postmodern art what she does not. Those who claim to experience something beyond what she does are lying or delusional. She drags out the tired old Objectivish saw that abstract art is like the tale of The Emperor's New Clothes, asserting that fans of abstract art are claiming to see what is not there. They do not really experience what they say, but have been duped by snobby art authorities into pretending to have deep aesthetic experiences through abstract art. In other words, no one can possibly have aesthetic experiences beyond what Kamhi does (and beyond those of the "ordinary citizens" of "the public" that she cites as sharing her own personal limitations of sensitivity).

Now, personally, I don't respond aesthetically to most operatic works. I find them to be dull, tedious, shrill, and lacking in emotion. As do most people I've known in my life. In popular culture, I've seen the same opinion stated quite often. In movies and television shows, on radio programs, and even in certain commercials, the idea of having to attend an opera is thought to be torture for "many people," "the public," and "ordinary citizens."

Should I therefore write books about opera's not qualifying as a legitimate art form? Should I dedicate my life to complaining that it's destructive and that "we" need to educate children and teach them to appreciate valid forms of music and drama? Should I accuse opera lovers of not really loving opera or aesthetically responding to it, but of only pretending to so as to kiss up to snobby music elitists who I think also don't truly believe that opera is aesthetically fulfilling? Or should I curb my urge to be a busybody who tries to tell everyone what to do, and then just avoid opera and anything else that does nothing for me?

J

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Kamhi thinks that architecture shouldn't be included in the category "fine arts," not that it shouldn't be included in the "useful arts" category.

Yeah. We're talking about the fine arts. A "useful arts" category is irrelevant to the discussion.

The description "evil and destructive" is your loaded caricature of the evaluative terminology she uses.

No, the description is not my loaded caricature. Read the book. The art forms that Kamhi doesn't like or respond to are said to be destructive. Things need to be done about it. It's not enough for Kamhi to mind her own business and avoid art that she doesn't like, or art from which she gets nothing. No. She needs to be in charge of what everyone else is doing. She wants to teach people to stop pretending to respond to the art forms that she doesn't respond to. She wants to convince them to think and judge for themselves rather than follow the elite arts authorities, which she believes is what they must be doing. It is not possible that they are experiencing what she cannot. They must be lying. She is the standard and limit. She is the ultimate, universal human being.

She does point to the inclusion of architecture in the fine arts as a harbinger and producer of conceptual confusions.

Shouldn't Rand be identified as someone who was fooled by the elite arts establishment? After all, since Kamhi doesn't experience anything of depth and meaning in architecture, then the depth and meaning are not there, and those who claim to experience it are not thinking for themselves, just like the idiots in The Emperor's New Clothes, and that would include Rand. Rand was only pretending in order to impress someone or to conform?

J

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Edited to add:

The thing I dislike about these art discussions hinges on what Tony is describing as an abritrary notion of a work's meaning made by the viewer. It always comes down to someone insisting that their arbitrary notion is morally superior to someone else's.

I take the point of view with all art, anywhere, that each and every instance - of music, painting, novels - I come upon, is a sovereign individual in its own right (not only, LIKE an individual - IS one). The variants are enormous, but as with individual people, I want to know more about each as a stand alone creation. The permutations and combinations of personality, character, attitude and principle in each instance of artwork, are beyond huge. But there's help at hand, if one can gradually spot, identify and group certain clues or inferences--which ...eventually... settle into the big patterns of identity which are their over-riding concepts.

And a mixed bag ("mixed premises") even those can often be.

The "arbitrary notion"? A "subjective opinion"? No, I think it's an "objective value" which is also "personal"..

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If I were an architect I'd not think of myself as an artist. I'd think of designing a beautiful, functional building. If I were a painter I'd think of myself as an artist. There is no function in art except what goes on in the viewer's (listener's) head. Consumed, art is purely mental. I would not think of a statue or painting or a piece of music* or novel as beautiful. Striking, great, interesting. Not beautiful. But all those adjectives can go with the beautiful building. Does this imply architecture might be art of a higher order than other artistic expressions? Or simply that it is sui generis? If so, why not painting too? And music? and literature? Etc.? And I can grok an esthetics of architecture.

--Brant

I take PayPal--keep this stuff coming

*except for a waltz

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Edited to add:

The thing I dislike about these art discussions hinges on what Tony is describing as an abritrary notion of a work's meaning made by the viewer. It always comes down to someone insisting that their arbitrary notion is morally superior to someone else's.

I take the point of view with all art, anywhere, that each and every instance - of music, painting, novels - I come upon, is a sovereign individual in its own right (not only, LIKE an individual - IS one). The variants are enormous, but as with individual people, I want to know more about each as a stand alone creation. The permutations and combinations of personality, character, attitude and principle in each instance of artwork, are beyond huge. But there's help at hand, if one can gradually spot, identify and group certain clues or inferences--which ...eventually... settle into the big patterns of identity which are their over-riding concepts.

And a mixed bag ("mixed premises") even those can often be.

The "arbitrary notion"? A "subjective opinion"? No, I think it's an "objective value" which is also "personal"..

You've just announced you want to be an esthetician.

--Brant

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Kamhi: "Moreover, if art can be virtually anything, everyday logic suggests that it is then nothing in particular."

False. Logic, everyday or otherwise, makes no such suggestion.

Really?

Yes.

Sounds like you have an Aristotelian idea of "matter," not that of modern physics.

No.

It's an issue of what one means by "X can be 'virtually anything.'" I can paint an image of virtually anything that exists in reality, and it could qualify as art by Rand's definition. Does it therefore logically follow that since realism holds that virtually anything realistically painted can be art, then art isn't anything in particular? No, it doesn't logically follow. Warhol's Brillo boxes qualify as art by Rand's criteria. They re-create identifiable things from reality, just as sculptures and paintings of anything else do. Does it therefore follow that art is nothing in particular according to Rand's theory?

Anyway, in what I've read of the book so far, I am entirely correct in having identified Kamhi as attempting to establish her own personal aesthetic limitations and lack of depth of response to art as the universal standard by which to judge what is or is not art for all of mankind. I'm looking forward to discovering if it ever crosses her mind to consider the possibility that different people have different sensitivities to the arts, and that she should perhaps contemplate how she might measure and gauge such sensitivities, including her own, rather than just arbitrarily and arrogantly assuming that hers are naturally the universal defining standard and limit.

What parts of the book, specifically, have you read? I don't see anything like what you describe in the parts I've read thus far.

Maybe you should read the book from beginning to end, rather than skipping around?

Anyway, her chapter on photography is, so far, the worst that I've read. In addition to trying to establish her personal aesthetic limitations as the universal standard, she tries to limit photography to her own technical limit of knowledge of the subject. The chapter is anything but scholarly. She's quite ignorant of the subject technically, and seems to be completely unaware of its history. She seems to believe that complex, advanced artistic manipulation of photographic images began with the advent of digital software in the 1990s!!! Her entire approach is that of searching only for information and opinions which confirm her predetermined conclusion, and of ignoring or downplaying all other evidence. She has no real knowledge of the levels of selectivity and creativity available to photographers, but instead just imposes her own lack of knowledge as the assumed limits of the medium. She seems to believe that photography is limited to what she can imagine from her state of being uninformed and uninterested.

And she loves to appeal to authority. She cites photographers who agree with her that their photography is not art. So we're supposed to believe that it is therefore logical to conclude that no photograph is art? If I go out and find writers of documentaries and technical manuals who state that the literature that they produce is not art, would it logically follow that no literature is art?

J

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The first denotes an artist's mind in the final stages of disintegration, I think. Looks like the aftermath of a paintball war.

""Meaning"? I don't do no stinkin' meaning. If you need to ask, you wouldn't get it anyway".

The caveman was the one, truly honest artist here. "This is what is important, what life is, to ME..."

Deanna, Here's the context of the original post. You notice "the caveman", also, 'making a statement' by my same device?

(Which I assume you didn't Google...;))

Sorry you were confused.

Taken in context, there shouldn't be confusion and obviously I did not set out to deceive, which anyone granting me the smallest amount of poetic licence would ascertain.

An abstractionist such as Pollock IS stating - implicitly- what I dared say 'on his behalf' (so to speak) - because he must have known full well that there can't be any explicitly clear interpretation of such a painting ... and it follows that 'meaning' means little to him. He's the experienced artist. The evidence is the picture, itself. If anyone believes they can make sense of it, I haven't yet heard.

An "arbitrary assertion" is neither truthful nor false, bad nor good--it just isn't recognizable as anything.

I was not confused, thank you.

The difference there is that Pollock lived in modern times, and there exists a great deal of information about him. There is ample reason for me to have believed that you knew him to have made a specific statement. The caveman, on the other hand, is unknown. I have no reason to believe you could quote him, accurately or otherwise.

Turns out, you can't quote either of them accurately. Therefore, you should not attempt to do so.

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Here's an old post of mine from OO in which I went into some detail addressing ignorant Objecti-assertions on the subject of photography by Dr. Mrs. Dr. Comrade Sonia, PhD. which are similar to some of those in Kamhi's book:

Hsieh went on to say:

"Then you have artistic objects also that are more imitative so there's, the creator has less control over them, and photography would be under that."

It is not true that photography allows a creator less control. Advanced photographic techniques offer more control than what is available to a painter, including techniques that were used prior to the existence of digital imaging. I would suggest that anyone interested in the subject of whether or not photography qualifies as an art form according to Objectivism should familiarize themselves with the techniques used by renowned photographers like Jerry Uelsmann, Man Ray, Bill Brandt, Minor White, and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, such as orthographic masking, projection and in-camera masking, negative/positive film alignment, multiple exposures, time exposures, color, diffusion and distortion filters, and selective dodging and burning. Anything that can be imagined can be produced on film, including realistic likenesses of objects without actually shooting any objects.

Here's a simple example of my own experimental special effects photography that I've posted many times in the past in Objectivist fora:

http://farm1.staticflickr.com/73/212794949_c4a5801970.jpg

It's an image of a flower that did not exist in reality. It was made using the using the techniques that I listed above. No real objects were photographed to create it. It wasn't drawn or painted or cut out, and it wasn't created using any digital technology. It's the result of nothing but knowing how to precisely control light, film and other photographic equipment. In creating it, I exercised more control than what any painter could (I should note here that I'm also a painter).

It may be true that certain people who have very little knowledge of photography are limited in the amount of control and selectivity that they can bring to the art form, but the medium's status should not be determined by their personal limitations. Their limitations are not photography's limitations, and photography should not be rejected as an art form based on their inabilities and lack of knowledge of the medium.

Besides, even without the advanced techniques that I listed above, a single still photograph can create an imaginary world which embodies a fundamental view of existence, just as a movie can (a series of photographs), and just as a painting can.

Here's an example of a photograph which is a staged, fictional portrayal of events in an imaginary world:


http://static.flickr.com/22/96847642_9f52d710d1_o.jpg

Now, in the past, I've heard people argue, after viewing the above image, that a single image cannot convey enough meaning to qualify as art. They say that a movie of the event would qualify as art because it would provide more information through the unfolding of the plot over time, but a single still image can't do that. When I've asked them, in response, why they then allow paintings to qualify as art despite the fact that they also show only one frozen moment in time, they've been unable to offer a coherent reply. Their position appeared to be that a painting that an artist created based on a scene that he staged in front of his canvas can somehow convey enough meaning to qualify as art, but the exact same staged scene somehow cannot convey enough meaning when photographed! Their irrational position was that you could even have an artist who could paint so realistically that his painting of the scene was indistinguishable from a photograph of the scene, and his painting would convey enough meaing to qualify as art where the photograph would not!

Hsieh continued:
"Now this doesn't mean that these things aren't valuable or don't have strongly artistic elements, and sometimes they have more utilitarian or less utilitarian, more artistic, less artistic, but it's okay, like, people often times get really upset if their favorite kind of artistic endeavor is not qualified as art. But, don't be upset about it. It's alright. An object is not less important of less valuable just because it's not art in the strict sense. Again, great pottery's better than a crappy painting. So there's not a kind of moral judgment here, there's not just like denigration here, um, and so, like, just understand that it's a kind of factual distinction between what you consider that's, like, core art, and what you're doing is separating out particularly the utilitarian function and making sure the artist has this immense amount of control over things."

It is not a "factual distinction" that photography is not art due to the belief that a photographer does not have an "immense amount of control over things." It's only an erroneous opinion, not a fact. And I can't speak for others, but I'm not the least bit "upset" about people who know little about photography claiming that it's not an art form. My trying to educate them on the subject should not be taken as my being "upset," and the same is probably true of others who voice their objections to people's assertions that photography is not an art form.

Hsieh continued:
"So, anyway, I hope that's helpful. I just don't think... people do get really upset, like about if whether photography is art or not, and it's just, like, I don't think that it is, but don't get your panties in a bundle about it."

I'd ask, as politely as possible, who is getting their panties in a bundle, and why? I'm a professional photographer, so I think it's understandable that I'd have some passionate, informed views on the subject. But why is the issue so important to people who have no actual interest in the subject? Why do people who have very little knowledge of photography insist on claiming that they are identifying "facts" about the medium which are not actually facts?

J

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I was not confused, thank you.

The difference there is that Pollock lived in modern times, and there exists a great deal of information about him. There is ample reason for me to have believed that you knew him to have made a specific statement. The caveman, on the other hand, is unknown. I have no reason to believe you could quote him, accurately or otherwise.

Turns out, you can't quote either of them accurately. Therefore, you should not attempt to do so.

So you were confused, after all? Now I'm confused.

There are many things I "should not" do but will happily continue doing, I suspect.

(Except I might be more careful to avoid figurative statements, next time).

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To want to know and experience, demands a discipline?

Brant, I don't rightly know what an esthetician does, but it sounds too dull for me.

I take art selfishly: no water, thanks.

- :smile:

Dances! An esthetician dances!

--Brant

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I knew nothing about Pollack's life and had made a flippant comment that it took a lot of dope to see reality like that. It was actually alcohol, and he killed himself driving drunk at only 44 years old. So he was actually quite effective in communicating truth through his "art".

Greg

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Here's an old post of mine from OO in which I went into some detail addressing ignorant Objecti-assertions on the subject of photography by Dr. Mrs. Dr. Comrade Sonia, PhD. which are similar to some of those in Kamhi's book:

Hsieh went on to say:

"Then you have artistic objects also that are more imitative so there's, the creator has less control over them, and photography would be under that."

It is not true that photography allows a creator less control. Advanced photographic techniques offer more control than what is available to a painter, including techniques that were used prior to the existence of digital imaging. I would suggest that anyone interested in the subject of whether or not photography qualifies as an art form according to Objectivism should familiarize themselves with the techniques used by renowned photographers like Jerry Uelsmann, Man Ray, Bill Brandt, Minor White, and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, such as orthographic masking, projection and in-camera masking, negative/positive film alignment, multiple exposures, time exposures, color, diffusion and distortion filters, and selective dodging and burning. Anything that can be imagined can be produced on film, including realistic likenesses of objects without actually shooting any objects.

Here's a simple example of my own experimental special effects photography that I've posted many times in the past in Objectivist fora:

http://farm1.staticflickr.com/73/212794949_c4a5801970.jpg

It's an image of a flower that did not exist in reality. It was made using the using the techniques that I listed above. No real objects were photographed to create it. It wasn't drawn or painted or cut out, and it wasn't created using any digital technology. It's the result of nothing but knowing how to precisely control light, film and other photographic equipment. In creating it, I exercised more control than what any painter could (I should note here that I'm also a painter).

It may be true that certain people who have very little knowledge of photography are limited in the amount of control and selectivity that they can bring to the art form, but the medium's status should not be determined by their personal limitations. Their limitations are not photography's limitations, and photography should not be rejected as an art form based on their inabilities and lack of knowledge of the medium.

Besides, even without the advanced techniques that I listed above, a single still photograph can create an imaginary world which embodies a fundamental view of existence, just as a movie can (a series of photographs), and just as a painting can.

Here's an example of a photograph which is a staged, fictional portrayal of events in an imaginary world:

http://static.flickr.com/22/96847642_9f52d710d1_o.jpg

Now, in the past, I've heard people argue, after viewing the above image, that a single image cannot convey enough meaning to qualify as art. They say that a movie of the event would qualify as art because it would provide more information through the unfolding of the plot over time, but a single still image can't do that. When I've asked them, in response, why they then allow paintings to qualify as art despite the fact that they also show only one frozen moment in time, they've been unable to offer a coherent reply. Their position appeared to be that a painting that an artist created based on a scene that he staged in front of his canvas can somehow convey enough meaning to qualify as art, but the exact same staged scene somehow cannot convey enough meaning when photographed! Their irrational position was that you could even have an artist who could paint so realistically that his painting of the scene was indistinguishable from a photograph of the scene, and his painting would convey enough meaing to qualify as art where the photograph would not!

Hsieh continued:

"Now this doesn't mean that these things aren't valuable or don't have strongly artistic elements, and sometimes they have more utilitarian or less utilitarian, more artistic, less artistic, but it's okay, like, people often times get really upset if their favorite kind of artistic endeavor is not qualified as art. But, don't be upset about it. It's alright. An object is not less important of less valuable just because it's not art in the strict sense. Again, great pottery's better than a crappy painting. So there's not a kind of moral judgment here, there's not just like denigration here, um, and so, like, just understand that it's a kind of factual distinction between what you consider that's, like, core art, and what you're doing is separating out particularly the utilitarian function and making sure the artist has this immense amount of control over things."

It is not a "factual distinction" that photography is not art due to the belief that a photographer does not have an "immense amount of control over things." It's only an erroneous opinion, not a fact. And I can't speak for others, but I'm not the least bit "upset" about people who know little about photography claiming that it's not an art form. My trying to educate them on the subject should not be taken as my being "upset," and the same is probably true of others who voice their objections to people's assertions that photography is not an art form.

Hsieh continued:

"So, anyway, I hope that's helpful. I just don't think... people do get really upset, like about if whether photography is art or not, and it's just, like, I don't think that it is, but don't get your panties in a bundle about it."

I'd ask, as politely as possible, who is getting their panties in a bundle, and why? I'm a professional photographer, so I think it's understandable that I'd have some passionate, informed views on the subject. But why is the issue so important to people who have no actual interest in the subject? Why do people who have very little knowledge of photography insist on claiming that they are identifying "facts" about the medium which are not actually facts?

J

This woman seems desperate to be an authority. Really desperate.

--Brant

I wonder where she studied pottery

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I knew nothing about Pollack's life and had made a flippant comment that it took a lot of dope to see reality like that. It was actually alcohol, and he killed himself driving drunk. So he was actually quite effective in communicating truth through his "art".

Greg

At least through his driving.

--Brant

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This woman seems desperate to be an authority. Really desperate.

Yeah, and she got SO unbelievably pissed off about my response to her views on architecture and photography, which was highly amusing given that she had been so focused on reassuring and encouraging people to not get their "panties in a bundle" over the issue.

I wonder where she studied pottery

Probably at the same non-place that Kamhi hasn't taken hands-on studio courses in the arts.

J

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I knew nothing about Pollack's life and had made a flippant comment that it took a lot of dope to see reality like that. It was actually alcohol, and he killed himself driving drunk. So he was actually quite effective in communicating truth through his "art".

Greg

At least through his driving.

--Brant

That was just a natural consequence of the values by which he lived and died. His values produced his state of mind. and his works accurately communicated his state of mind. So his works would appeal to, and be highly valued by people who live by the same values he did.

Greg

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Um, FF: I was 'speaking for' J. Pollock, here. ;-]

I see. The discussion of an artist's works involves making up statements on behalf of the artist. I'm getting a brand new insight into "Objectivist esthetics."

HAH. There's what I meant by "arbitrary assertion" in abstract art!

You can make up what ever statement you like since you CAN'T know "the meaning", and if the artist knows, he's not telling.

You got it.

So "Objectivist" esthetics is about making arbitrary assertions on behalf of the creator of the art? Since I can't know what Beethoven "meant" by his Symphony No. 5 in C minor, I am entitled to assert that it is about the "malevolence of the universe." More than that, I am entitled to assert that Beethoven said that it is about the "malevolence of the universe."

In this view, uncertainty is the logical basis for drawing conclusions and for putting words into other people's mouths.

Rand's methodology in the arts is becoming clearer by the moment. Keep talking.

Ah, no. You didn't get it.

It is the artist, not me, who is making (what I likened to) an 'arbitrary assertion' - when there are no referents to reality in his picture.

It is normally a verbal statement, but could as well be pictoral, I think.

In response, I - the viewer - can come up with any "arbitrary" notion I feel like, as to its 'meaning'.

"Hey cool, man! This painting is about the cosmos and humans' suffering and confusion...!" (For example)

Rand on the arbitrary:

""Arbitrary" means a claim put forth in the absence of evidence of any sort, perceptual or conceptual..."

"An arbitrary idea is sheer assertion with no attempt to validate it or connect it to reality..."

"Since an arbitrary statement has no connection to man's means of knowledge or his grasp of reality, cognitively speaking such a claim must be treated as though nothing had been said".

FF, if you want AR's "methodology in the arts" go to the source, not my extrapolations of it.

You say there are "no referents to reality" in the picture, but let me remind you that art is not a mirror to reality but, according to Rand, "a selective recreation of reality." Thus Pollock's swirls and splotches of color do not attempt to reproduce reality or provide one-to-one referents--nor should they. His work recreates reality. That is, it takes the materials of this world and uses them to create a new world.

Ayn Rand did much the same in Anthem. There is no reality in which a society without the light bulb is ruled by a World Council. Rand used the materials of this world to create a new one.

Yes, you may "come up with any 'arbitrary' notion" you feel like, as to the picture's meaning. What you are not entitled to do is ascribe your arbitrary notion to the artist--to put words in his mouth. By comparison, I may spin my own interpretation of Anthem, but I am not entitled to speak on Rand's behalf:

"My purpose is writing Anthem was to expose the Illuminati Conspiracy that is attempting to subvert man's freedom in this life, this earth."

If "'Arbitrary' means a claim put forth in the absence of evidence of any sort, perceptual or conceptual," then the burden is on you to show where the artist has put forth a claim.

Is it written on the frame of the painting, on the back side of the canvas, in the exhibition catalog? Unless you can cite a reference, I shall treat your assertion about a claim as just another attempt to misrepresent the artist.

And if your response is that a claim is implicit is all works of art, then prove it. On what holy tablet is it written that painting a picture implies making a claim?

If Objectivist Art Criticism ever hopes to move beyond its cult of true believers it will have to improve its stock-in-trade of unproven assertions and strawman arguments.

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You are entitled to speculate what was in Rand's mind when she wrote her novels if for no other reason than her speculating--not even labelled as such--what is in her reader's mind when they respond to what she wrote. Now, this won't hold up too well on the simple premise of two wrongs not making a right, but apart from that someone contemplating any work of art is quite free to speculate away, for the premise is wrong except perhaps for bad manners. Any self-assured artist, it seems to me, would welcome at least some such speculation, both as what he was up to and what the art unto itself was all about because it would reflect the evocative power of what he had done.

Rand did not react too well to the big bad world she was exposed to when the walls of her "Collective" came down and the hoopla of getting her magnum opus published evaporated, as it naturally would, over time. She was left pretty much hanging until the Brandens created a cultural-intellectual fortress with NBI that was kind of a bigger edifice than her previous world, but both worlds were of the world of Atlas Shrugged. That world is so delusional is so many ways it's not a sane place to live in. It's for thinking, evaluation, contemplating and for the pure alternate reality experience of it all. It has changed uncountable lives for the better, but it can be taken too far. I think most of that too-farism results in a snapback over time, but not for Rand and not for the likes of Peikoff. Nathaniel Branden was so caught up in it he had to be blown out of that context--one he had done more than anyone to create. In response to a solicited emailed question from me some years ago, he said it was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

--Brant

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Um, FF: I was 'speaking for' J. Pollock, here. ;-]

I see. The discussion of an artist's works involves making up statements on behalf of the artist. I'm getting a brand new insight into "Objectivist esthetics."

HAH. There's what I meant by "arbitrary assertion" in abstract art!

You can make up what ever statement you like since you CAN'T know "the meaning", and if the artist knows, he's not telling.

You got it.

So "Objectivist" esthetics is about making arbitrary assertions on behalf of the creator of the art? Since I can't know what Beethoven "meant" by his Symphony No. 5 in C minor, I am entitled to assert that it is about the "malevolence of the universe." More than that, I am entitled to assert that Beethoven said that it is about the "malevolence of the universe."

In this view, uncertainty is the logical basis for drawing conclusions and for putting words into other people's mouths.

Rand's methodology in the arts is becoming clearer by the moment. Keep talking.

Ah, no. You didn't get it.

It is the artist, not me, who is making (what I likened to) an 'arbitrary assertion' - when there are no referents to reality in his picture.

It is normally a verbal statement, but could as well be pictoral, I think.

In response, I - the viewer - can come up with any "arbitrary" notion I feel like, as to its 'meaning'.

"Hey cool, man! This painting is about the cosmos and humans' suffering and confusion...!" (For example)

Rand on the arbitrary:

""Arbitrary" means a claim put forth in the absence of evidence of any sort, perceptual or conceptual..."

"An arbitrary idea is sheer assertion with no attempt to validate it or connect it to reality..."

"Since an arbitrary statement has no connection to man's means of knowledge or his grasp of reality, cognitively speaking such a claim must be treated as though nothing had been said".

FF, if you want AR's "methodology in the arts" go to the source, not my extrapolations of it.

You say there are "no referents to reality" in the picture, but let me remind you that art is not a mirror to reality but, according to Rand, "a selective recreation of reality." Thus Pollock's swirls and splotches of color do not attempt to reproduce reality or provide one-to-one referents--nor should they. His work recreates reality. That is, it takes the materials of this world and uses them to create a new world.

....

If "'Arbitrary' means a claim put forth in the absence of evidence of any sort, perceptual or conceptual," then the burden is on you to show where the artist has put forth a claim.

It's surprising how Rand can be misinterpreted. "A re-creation of reality" does not -only- mean "materials of this world" refashioned into another shape.

(Though, of course they also are. Paint into an image, bronze into statue, existing language (words) into story).

But much further, the "shape" it is given portrays 'another' reality, too -- as the artist sees it --and that is the highest significance (in Rand's reckoning, as we know by her analysis).

As for any painting of unidentifiable squiggles, etc., I don't have to "prove" anything about the artist's "claim".

On what other authority can you assess his work, a visual medium, but on what you see and don't see there? Seeing is believing, as it's said.

This specific artist HAS - implicitly - made "a claim"... by his work.

Which is, he does not consider conveying reality or clarity to his audience as important.

Fine, I take him 'at his word'.

If a man speaks in meaningless gibberish to me, I am entitled to answer in kind, or not respond at all.

The "burden" as you put it, is on the artist, first.

'Anthem' is a specious comparison to make since you and I fully understand the novella's content and meaning. It can't be evaded by any mind, it speaks for itself and cannot be mistaken for an "arbitrary assertion".

Frankly, I don't necessarily care for Big Name artists and Big Money art: I think the reverence shown for some artists and their work, has more to do with extraneous factors than the art itself. This approaches an authoritarian mysticism, to my mind.

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--Brant

...he said it was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

And so it was, Brant. After the fact, it is very clear.

I must say (when perusing other people's bookshelves as is my habit) that I've seen more copies locally of 'Honoring' and '6 Pillars' than I have of Atlas and TF - owned by people who've never heard of Objectivism.

Six years ago this November I took shameless advantage of an offer Nathaniel put up on his webpage for a free phone-in session with him.

I had only a few years before(!) discovered his writings from my friend's girlfriend who raved about him. Though naturally I'd read his essays in AR's books, and realized the two were academically linked.

So, I made an appointment with NB's PA, and phoned one evening. He seemed gratified to know his books were selling here, and of my slightly incoherent admiration for his work. We went onto Objectivism and he asked me if I'd read 'J-Day'. I said no. He asked if I knew about the breakup. No.

Impossible as it seems, I'd been so far out of the loop, that six years ago ('08) I had no idea of a romantic affair and a consequent split. Superficially, I learned about the whole blow-up from NB, himself.

I learned the rest after joining OL.

I believe I can still recall his gentle, amused chuckle at my naive ignorance.

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I think Nathaniel especially liked to interact with people who had read one of his books, such as yourself, and engaged his services for that reason and didn't have any Ayn Rand/Nathaniel Branden way-back-then baggage. Most of his clients must have come to him out of that old context. When I visited him and his wife Leigh (Laurie) a little over two years ago I asked her how they met. Leigh had discovered The Psychology of Self Esteem without knowing anything about the author. Not even a photograph on the back of the book cover. She was blown away. Naturally enough there she was in a bookstore rooting around in the psychology section for more Branden books when someone asked her about what interested her there? She said she was crazy about Branden and suggested reading him. She didn't know she was suggesting that to Nathaniel Branden himself.

--Brant

so they got married :smile:

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That's some tale. Girls especially take to him, that I have seen.

There will be a movie made of his life someday, including this anecdote, I hope.

Yes, it is fair conjecture he responded quite openly to the last person in the O'ist universe who had no idea of past "baggage", to contact him only on the strength of his independent works.

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