Ayn Rand/Objectivism Sightings
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'The basic purpose of Art is NOT to teach, but to SHOW - to hold up to man a concretized image of his nature and his place in the universe. Since a rational man's ambition is unlimited, 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. Art gives him that. 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.' - Ayn Rand
One of the problems in dealing with aesthetics is that it is not usually taught as part of art courses. Indeed, it seems to usually be frowned upon, and the advice given an artist-to-be is to render as one feels. Then there is the turning to techniques as if that basically were all there was to the whole thing - leaving the aspiring person often to flounder in mediocre works for lack of understanding of the fundamentals behind any rendering... composition is the 'order of the day', as it were, with 'scenes' being the most one is expected to do - unless, of course, there is the divulging into propaganda and similar 'message' works... the most a conscientious artist could, then, expect to do in the way of 'more' to the work is to invoke a 'sense of life' about the renderings, and leave it go at that... but while 'sense of life' is a good aid to crystallizing some of the general viewing of what to render, it does not satisfy the one who seeks a full clarity about the works at hand...
What is a 'sense of life' ?... it is the psychological form in which is expressed the artist's FUNDAMENTAL views of importance, the form in which they're integrated and retained... it is, as such, the emotional response to the way one looks at oneself and how one sees that self relating to the world around... the problem with just using it is that a sense of life doesn't answer 'why'... an emotion is, as Rand pointed out, not a tool of cognition - you don't gain knowledge with it, only an appraisal, which may OR MAY NOT be correct... and having emotions about things without really knowing WHY those particular emotions for those particular things leads to an inability to express the best within the artist... there is a fuzziness and ambiguity involved which dilutes the concentrated effort to creating a great work, as opposed to ordinary or mediocre works... what, then, would be better?
One of the major problems most persons have is their unknowingness at the true importance of thinking... it is, most often, given the sense that it is a 'necessary evil' which is to be used only when and where it's absolutely having to be... otherwise it's 'on the shelf', and the emotions are given so-called free reign... unfortunately, this does not work for being truly human, for it disavows the very means by which one knows - one's reasoning power, that ability to think... consequently, the sense of life suffers in its integratedness, having gathered within itself a conglomeration of odds and ends which have no bearing on the pro-humanness necessary for creative consistency... as a result, while an artist can put forth composed scenes to work on, there is a lack of enough focus to make it difficult, if not impossible to understand WHY those scenes were chosen - what it was that made them seem important, at least important enough to bother with the effort of rendering them... along with this is the styling involved, with that same lack of focus parlaying itself into the means by which these scenes are visualized - their clarity, for instance... their color arrangements, for another... even their compositional structuring - the emphasizing of this over that, or from this angle rather than that one, or that one... to fully understand what it is that one is doing when involved in rendering, there must be something more than merely sense of life - it just isn't enough, if great works are to come about...
Thinking is the fundamental aspect of being human... no, not emotions - all the higher animals have emotions, as that is a consequence of neural organization, an enhancement of the pleasure/pain mechanism, a selectivity enhancement that allows more variation to reactions... thinking, being rational, is uniquely sapient, uniquely human, the defining characteristic without which humans simply would not exist - for it is impossible to survive without its use, either personally, or via someone else... noncognitive beings are hardwired such to survive to the extent their perceptualness allows... but cognitiveness requires volitionality, no robotiveness here, and cognitiveness requires self awareness in order to be able to make those choices involved in volition... this does not remove the fact that, like every other living organism, humans have a specific nature by which their survival is optimimly operative - but it does require thinking to discover that nature... that is the beauty and challenge of human life... and the importance of thinking...
One of the prevailing notions around is the one which has emotions pitted against thinking... this is to say the idea that if a work is examined, the emotions of it evaporate... rubbish... a human being is a biological being - meaning that a person is as inherently integrated within itself as is any other biological being... it has to be, else it could not long survive... an emotion, far from being an opposite to reason, is actually a result, a consequence, an effect of a personís reasoning or lack of... every person has a capacity to emote, and certainly does - as said, it is the consequence of neural organization - but WHAT the particular emotion is expressed towards is dependent on something else, the degree of use of the rational faculty of the person... since emotions are as such EFFECTUAL relationships, to understand the emotions, a person must be come aware of the reasons underscoring those emotional reactions... otherwise, the artist's result - the rendering - has no choice but to be haphazard and inconsistent, depending on the degree involved of the awareness of that underscoring reason... why is that? ...it has to do with the fact that reason has two basic functions - cognitive [discovering what things are], and evaluative [discovering the relationship of things to oneself in terms of beneficial or harmful]... what an emotion does is to provide a very quick appraisal of this beneficial/harmful - ness... it is a value-response, a psychosomatic form in which is experienced this beneficial/harmful estimate of some aspect of reality to oneself... furthermore, it is based on the context of the person's knowledge and values [or lack of them] - that is, the reasoning faculty..
As said at the beginning, according to the philosopher Rand, the primary purpose, the fundamental purpose, of a work of art is but one - contemplation... "a work of art - ANY work of art," she said, "is NOT the means to any other end; it is ITSELF its own end: to SHOW, for its own sake, what the artist considers fundamentally important, and what the viewer who enjoys the work sees as an affirmation of his/her own view of life... that is what makes a work of art so PERSONAL - why one likes a work and another dislikes the same work - the affirmation or non-affirmation of the viewer's own sense of life..."... and because PERSONAL MEANS NON-SOCIAL, this requires a different manner of approaching Art than other disciplines...
To begin with, one must note that in Jane Jacobs' SYSTEMS OF SURVIVAL, she observed that there were only two ways for humans to be able to survive: to take or to trade, and that these two ways are the choices only humans make - all the rest of the animals have only the one, to take...furthermore, she showed that these evolved into two fundamentally different worldviews... while she presumed both were viable in terms of human survival, in fact they paralleled another set of fundamental worldviews - the one pointed out so forcefully by Rand: the primacy of consciousness versus the primacy of existence... the first, the essence of Platonism, with all its tribalist configurations, that consciousness is primary, that what one thinks [or presumes] determines what it is, is - not surprisingly - the ground-base giving support to the notion [first expounded by Bell in early 20th century] that something is Art simply because a supposed expert proclaimed that it is... it is also the source for the notion of Art's purpose as being for the social or tribal usage - that is, whatever the group involved says it is for, that is what Art is considered as being for...
But, as also has been noted, creativity is an act of an individual... it is by its nature a NON-SOCIAL activity... this conflict has been at the heart of artistic endeavor since before recorded history... much of this is because it has only been recently that there has come an understanding of the mind - how it operates, and its importance to the wellbeing of the person, and indeed, its nature... throughout most all of history, it has been considered something mysterious, even though Aristotle had justly labeled it as the essence of being human... it was much simpler to accept a belief as truth, to let an authority to proclaim what was and what wasn't right - than to contemplate on one's own...
Having a belief about something is quite different from knowing something... a belief is a concept considered as truth by an act of faith - that is, the act of claiming truth by negating the use of reason... but REASON is that faculty which every human possesses which perceives, identifies, and INTEGRATES the materials provided by your senses... that is the function of your senses: to put you into contact with the world around you - and THAT IS ALL THAT THEY ARE THERE FOR, nothing else... ALL of your KNOWLEDGE, however, is acquired by the use of REASON - that is ITS function, its purpose, why you have it...
Contemplation is an aspect of a person's consciousness, of a specific kind of consciousness - CONCEPTUAL consciousness...reason operates as conceptual consciousness... and this is where Art comes in, for Art is DERIVED from the fact that a person's kind of consciousness is conceptual [and, as an aside, why only sapients have or can have Art] - and that it is for the continuance of this conceptual consciousness that Art serves the need of, a PSYCHOLOGICAL need... the acquisition of knowledge, and the means of deciding specific directions of action, come not from perception, as is found in other animals - but by means of abstractions, concepts... as a consequence, the best way - indeed the only way - tp truly understanding what Art is and how to improve the practicing of it is thru keeping in mind the nature and function of concepts...
Rand defines a CONCEPT as 'a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated by a process of abstraction and united by a specific definition'... she further defines a PERCEPT as 'a group of sensations AUTOMATICALLY retained and integrated by the brain of living organism'... according to her theory of concepts, humans get the most direct form of information about reality thru our senses in the form of percepts, that at a conscious level only percepts, not sensations, can be retained by the mind... it is because concepts are automatically retained that the concept of objectivity comes in... 'objectivity' arises because concepts are formed by a specific process, and consequently bear a specific kind of relationship to reality...
While all knowledge is acquired thru the use of the reasoning faculty, however, this does not make irrelevant intuitiveness - there are many levels of awareness which are receptive to sensory input, and indeed it is the subconscious which has the task of assimilating while the conscious is occupied with more immediate and perhaps important matters... still, it is the conscious reasoning, by way of introspection, that takes the subconscious input and give validity to it where it is warranted, by identifying and integrating the facts therein... the error of Platonism is the inability or unwillingness of its adherents to FULLY grasp the difference between a person's inner state, and the outer world - between the perceiver and the perceived...
The primacy of existence, however, is THE fundamental axiom: existence exists... and all attempts to refute it necessarily involve using it... as such, it is not an act of faith, but the recognition of the irreducible fact of reality - that it IS... moreover, it is the recognition that to be is to be SOMETHING, to have a nature, to have IDENTITY... and, in addition, there is a third aspect involved, a very crucial one which corrects the Platonic problem of the perceiver and the perceived - that the act of grasping that 'existence exists' implies two corollary axioms, 'that something exists, which is perceived' and 'that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists... if nothing exists, there can be no consciousness - a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms... a consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms - before it could identify itself as conscious, it had to be conscious of something... if that which is claimed to perceive does not exist, what is possessed is not consciousness' [Ayn Rand, from ATLAS SHRUGGED]
As said before, the purpose of a work of Art - any work of Art - is to show, to present to the world what the artist considers of fundamental importance... but if the work is to be of any worth for contemplation, it must reflect VALUES... Rand defined a value as 'what you act to gain and/or keep'... in order for a person to be able to figure out which values are best desired - and why [that is, to be able to cognitively justify them], there is this need of having an all-inclusive view of existence... furthermore, there is a need to be able to figure out which of these world viewpoints is correct - because a value, to be of any usefulness, must reflect reality, not fantasy...
But this all-inclusive view is so vast that no person could possibly be able to hold it within conscious awareness... there is just too much of it - way too much of it - for the conscious mind... yet, in order to provide yourself with a groundbase for placing your values by which you guide yourself, for INTEGRATING these specifics into the sum and whole, it is essential that you have SOME means of being able to bring this all-inclusiveness to your conscious attention...
that is what Art is all about - and THAT is the nature and true importance in being an artist... it is also what allows for a complete definition of Art, an objective, all-inclusive definition based on the nature of a human being:
Art is a selective re-presentation by the artist of aspects of reality according to how the artist fundamentally views reality...
This is why it is important to have a correct view of reality, of existance - the correct metaphysics [which is simply the term used for studying the fundamental nature of reality]... to do less is to be doing a grave dis-service to yourself as an artist, and to your viewers who seek from you examples of affirming their sense of life... as Rand pointed out, Art takes the abstractions of metaphysics and makes them into specifics, the concretes - presenting them as images... in other words, it brings the immense concept of metaphysics to the perceptual level of your consciousness, allowing you [and the viewer] to comprehend them AS IF THEY THEMSELVES WERE PERCEPTS... a faulty view of existance, therefore, a faulty metaphysics, would bring forth false images of viewing the world - including the notion that images are not needed at all...
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