More Thoughts on Aesthetics

1994-01-21

I'd like to reiterate one point I was trying to make in my introductory essay, because I think I was a little too subtle about it there. Rand makes much of the idea that art is fuel for the soul. And much is made of this point among Objectivists. But I think that the twist that this idea has received in Objectivism is slightly misguided. It seems to me that many understand the "art as fuel" message to imply that you should enjoy only those art-works that re-present your own explicit metaphysical views. Some search for works produced by artists who are also Objectivists on the assumption that works created by Objectivists will be good simply by that fact. But there is a lot of bad art created by Objectivists. Of course, there is good art produced by Objectivists, also. But the simple fact that one is an Objectivist does not imply that the art one produces it good. The same goes for art created by libertarians or anyone else who simply has the right ideas. . . There is much more to art than explicit or even implicit philosophical content (whatever "implicit philosophy" might be). Some Objectivists will praise a certain work simply because of its explicit message, without regard for that work as a work of art. I don't want to get into specific works, because I'm not here to criticize anyone's artistic tastes. But it strikes me that they cut themselves off from the experience of art so that they can experience correct ideas in a different form.

I think that this is tied to a message I was trying to get across about the "creativity" of art. Art stands next to philosophy as an independent way of presenting ideas about man and reality. Scott Capehart made a similar point to me in correspondence. Let me quote from his letter: "I see my difference with [Rand] as an epistemological difference. I think Rand saw art as supporting one's current views, without much potential to challenge those views. While I would agree that serving as a 'fuel' is one of art's most important functions, I do not see it as the only important function."

Much has been made by the avant-garde in the 20th century about the necessity that art challenge the "experiencer", and neither Scott nor I wants to be seen as supporting that kind of thing ("let's challenge the damn bourgeoisie" and all that). But I think art can present something new -- and not just present again in a new form ideas you already know or have or agree with. Perhaps the best example is Rand herself, at least in her early novels. But there are examples from other artists and other art-forms, I believe. Peikoff is right in OPAR to talk of the world of an artist, of the artist as creator of worlds.

A separate point: Scott expressed his difference with Rand in aesthetics as an epistemological difference. The interplay of art and epistemology has received relatively little attention in Objectivist thought on the arts. The Objectivist tradition holds that art is a concretization of metaphysics, not of metaphysics and epistemology. This despite the fact that one of the only metaphysical value-questions that Rand raises in her essay Philosophy: Who Needs It relates to whether knowledge is possible to human beings. Also, Rand connects metaphysics with the subject of an art-work and epistemology with the style of an art-work. Is this too limited? Is epistemology more intimately involved with art than this distinction implies? Since art consists of ideas about reality made perceptible, does the epistemology of perceptual knowledge have anything to say about the arts as "special cases" or otherwise? I don't have the answers, but there seem to me to be important questions here that must be addressed if Objectivist aesthetics is to become fully developed as a theory of the arts.


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