|Here's the deal:|
Rand's view of the essence of Romanticism was that if an artist believes that man possesses volition, his art will be value-oriented. She held that the essence of Naturalism is that if an artist believes in determinism, his work will have an anti-value orientation. So Romanticism presents man as in control of his life and as seeking or achieving his values, where Naturalism presents man as controlled by external forces and fated to defeat and despair.
In looking at Vermeer's 30+ paintings, especially The Astronomer, The Geographer, The Allegory of Painting, A Woman Holding a Balance, The Music Lesson, Officer and Laughing Girl, The Love Letter, and The Lacemaker, it's hard for me to imagine anyone believing that the characters are not portrayed as choosing to live, learn, love, laugh, think, create and enjoy. There's nothing to indicate that they're controlled by external forces. They're not visions of defeat. They're not anti-value oriented. If A Woman Holding a Balance -- one of the most beautiful, peaceful, optimistic images of judgment and morality ever painted -- is a Naturalistic denial of volition and a journalistic representation of man as a statistical average, then so is Atlas Shrugged.
Rand held the view that Naturalism's method was to present uncritical, journalistic transcriptions of whatever random or average events an artist happened to observe around him -- a view of man as a statistical average. So, in judging Vermeer's art, how did she determine which characters or events were average or exceptional, beautiful or ugly, "real life" or idealized? By what standard and context did she judge?
Did she think it was relevant to have knowledge of what a 17th century Dutch painter's concept of human beauty might have been, or did she expect that his work should have been created to comply with her 20th century Russian-American novelist's tastes? Did she see Vermeer's people as mildly attractive to unattractive, and assume that he did too, and that he therefore intentionally avoided painting great beauty? Did she know that the Dutch were quite independent and had rejected the idea that the contemporary Italian forms were the default or only true ideals, and that they rebelled against any implication that their own physical type was inherently aesthetically inferior?
Was she aware of the styles of dress, the standards of living, and the level of modernity implied by the settings and decor? Would she have been able to tell, just by looking at the paintings, that many of the costumes and coiffure were not contemporary to Vermeer, which implies that many of the scenes are presentations of myths and parables rather than statistical averages of the "folks" of his particular time and place? Did she see the paintings ~within~ Vermeer's paintings and recognize which ones represent love, moral judgment, the travel and distance of a loved one, fame, vanity, patriotism, etc., and what ~moral~ relevance they may have had to the theme of each painting? Or did she judge the paintings inside the paintings as poorly as she judged the paintings, which may have led to her poor judgment of the paintings?
Do we have any evidence that Rand had the visual aptitude and experience to recognize, say, the similarities or differences between A Girl With a Wine Glass and other artists' presentations of the virtue of temperance? Would she have had the slightest inkling that The Procuress was a moral stand against cultural prudishness, and not a random bar scene that Vermeer happened to stumble across? Would she have grasped the careful sense of moral proportion in Vermeer's response to sloth or excess in A Girl Asleep (a painting which, if it had been created by Rand, would have no doubt included Dagny shooting the girl)? Would she have had a sensitive enough eye to suspect that Girl Interrupted at Her Music might represent the awakening of love or conscience? I don't think I need to ask if she would have seen simplicity, strength, and directness as The Milkmaid's virtues.
I know that when objectively evaluating a work of art, knowledge of an artist's life, times and context is an "outside consideration" and therefore an Objectivist Esthetic Sin, but, frankly, I suspect that avoidance of outside considerations is one of the primary causes of chronic Objecti-blindness. I hope that 300 years from now when the world is a century-old capitalist paradise and people read Rand's novels from their completely free, peaceful context, they'll also consider ~her~ context before denouncing her for her Naturalistic view of mankind. Without such context, it might be hard for them to imagine a moral, volition-loving novelist choosing to create a world filled with grubby, collectivist, second-hander, volition-denying, folks next door who deserved to have the motor of their world stopped by a few rare "heroes" who, from a future perspective, might be seen as just good ol' average citizens (if not extremely dopey ones who, although technically adept, were often very slow in responding appropriately to both the evil and good around them). I hope future people don't willfully ignore Rand's context and then gripe that she shouldn't have placed so much Naturalistic importance on turmoil and agony, or that she should have created art more like Vermeer's which didn't portray the overwhelming bulk of humanity as mindlessly, deterministically predisposed to moral grayness and despair.
"There are only two things I can't stand in this world: Intolerance of other people's cultures, and the Dutch." - Nigel Powers
(Edited by Jonathan
on 12/16, 12:32pm)