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Post 100

Monday, December 12, 2005 - 9:59pmSanction this postReply
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J queried: "Since you agree with Rand, would you mind explaining how you think Vermeer could have done better?"

I wouldnít in a million years suggested anything of the sort. The only suggestions on how to make something "better" is to my students, and that is technical only. The subject matter of artworks is the providence of the artistís soul.

"Let's pretend that instead of choosing to paint the naturalistic averageness of the common folks next door, Vermeer wished to transcend his inner conflicts and properly paint idealized, beautiful images of subjects such as serenity, contemplation or other inwardly-directed states. What should he have done differently to make his paintings more in keeping with the tenets of Romantic Realism? How might he have successfully matched his technique to his subject matter in a way which would satisfy his Objectivist critics?"

I donít know. How does one evolve a romantic soul? Is there a prescription for that? Would that work for anyone? But I do agree with your implied criticism: that one should seek what is there in the artwork and leave off what an artist "should" paint. But then I donít see any problem with identifying types, styles, and classifying content. Michelangeloís God Creating the Universe is significant different than Vermeerís Woman in a Red Hat, btw one of my all time favorite paintings.

"Should his characters have been shown leaping and bounding about, displaying godly physical feats of daring serenity? Should they have been shown striking muscular, super-heroic action poses of meditation? Should they have been depicted as sweat-glistened nudes bursting with light and energy beams of calm solitude? Or what?"

I donít think those subjects with those themes would be very successful, ;

Michael


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Post 101

Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - 11:52amSanction this postReply
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Jonathan,

It isnt about identifying a big list of Romantic subject matter. I was defending Rand's description of Vermeer's work. She was quite right in fact. There was no better way to describe it. The evidence of my senses tells me so. This certainly doesnt mean that I would never hang a Vermeer on my wall, I would just rather choose a Bryan Larsen, if I had that kind of money, anyway. I'm egotistical that way.

As for serenity and contemplation, these are good subjects for art. I don't mean to say that they arent. This plays into a lot of the work at the Cordair gallery, for instance. But this isnt the point at all, anyway.

And all that stuff about Larsen's paintings.... Sheesh man, what a stretch! There is nothing in the way his subjects are portrayed, the compositions, or the style or any number of other things to make an honest and more importantly, EGOTISTICAL person think all that. Of course, if you are cynical and angry you may choose to only create a negative idea in your head. But people like that see negativity in everything. One cant satisfy everyone. That isnt the job of the artist.

You come off as if I said that Vermeer was a terrible artist and all his paitings are worthless and ugly. I would never say such a thing and neither did I imply it in my post. I just can't find much evidence to assign concepts to his work where there is no evidence to suggest it.


(Edited by Marnee Dearman
on 12/13, 2:38pm)


Post 102

Wednesday, December 14, 2005 - 11:24amSanction this postReply
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Marnee and Jonathan embody opposing sides in the artistic battleground. Marnee is holding up the heroically good and Jonathan a love of art in general. One for me runs the risk of caricature which is what Jonathan is taking Marnee to task for. While Jonathan is holding up the idea that since art is subjective that all of it is of value. The heroic argument without depth is cartoonish and inquiry without substance is nihilism.

Rand does neither. But interestingly enough you can find substantial answers to the artistic debate, if you know how to glean it from an actual artwork. In 458 B.C. Aeschylus wrote a monumental drama, The Oresteia, in which he placed his heros in unbearable ethical situations, beautifully developed the story, and ended dramatically on the setting of the sunlit renewed Athensí Acropolis in which persuasion and the judgment of peers led the way to a glorious new vision.

I dare to comment that both Marnee and Jonathan could learn a lot from Aeschylus.

Michael

(Edited by Newberry on 12/14, 1:38pm)


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Post 103

Thursday, December 15, 2005 - 7:25pmSanction this postReply
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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.

J

"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)


Post 104

Thursday, December 15, 2005 - 8:34pmSanction this postReply
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The glass is half full.  I challenge you Jonathan,  take Vermeer's "30-plus" paintings, and do a poll with them.  Ask people questions about them.  Why they like or dislike the pieces.  I bet in this poll Rand will outshine you as a judge of art.

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Post 105

Thursday, December 15, 2005 - 10:28pmSanction this postReply
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J,
I should call you a nihilist more often. Enjoyed your post. Wonder if Marnee will come up to bat as well?
But implying that Vermeer is a romanticist is like implying that having tea is like an orgasm. BTW, in art historical terms, Vermeer was a close contemporary of Rembrandt, a radically different type of painter, and the style that Vermeer is associated with is genre painting, which my online dictionary defines as:
"A realistic style of painting that depicts scenes from everyday life."
I concur with that assessment.
But I canít figure out why you are trying to put a square peg into a round hole.
M


Post 106

Friday, December 16, 2005 - 4:30amSanction this postReply
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Do you also think that Beethoven was malevolent, Jody and Michael?

Ellen

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Post 107

Friday, December 16, 2005 - 7:21amSanction this postReply
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Ellen asks: "Do you also think that Beethoven was malevolent, Jody and Michael?"

Dear Ellen,
Does any of my writing suggest that? Or are you suggesting that I don't have an independent mind? Or are you suggesting that Rand cannot have insights in art at all? Or are you hanging on to a pet peeve? Did I give any indication that I have a problem with "A realistic style of painting that depicts scenes from everyday life."? Do you not find a difference between the David and the Astrologer? Or are they simply in saying the same thing? Would you have a problem with that they are wildly different?
Sorry, I didnít answer your question. No. I love Beethovenís sense of action, beauty, drama, and of his glorious resolutions.
Rand made a combination of insights, principals, and opinions in the Romantic Manifesto. It is enlightening on many fronts but that is not a replacement for anyone not thinking and evaluating for themselves. I wonder if you had been one of those or had empathized with those that bought into Objectivism lock, stock, and barrel and then fighting for your independence by latching onto any fault of Rand's so you could break away?
Sincerely,
Michael


Post 108

Friday, December 16, 2005 - 10:47amSanction this postReply
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Ellen-

Do you also think that Beethoven was malevolent, Jody and Michael?

I'm not sure where this question is coming from!?!  Have I called anyone malevolent, and have I mentioned Beethoven?  What's he got to do with this?


Post 109

Friday, December 16, 2005 - 11:35amSanction this postReply
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I'm guessing she's talking about how art often gets channeled into malevolent or benevolent in O'ist world. It's either on or its off.

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Post 110

Friday, December 16, 2005 - 12:11pmSanction this postReply
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"A realistic style of painting that depicts scenes from everyday life" does not imply naturalism. There is a huge difference between the paintings of Vermeer and those of some of the photorealists, who really copy indiscriminately from nature. If you think that is what Vermeer did, you're quite wrong.

Anyway, I prefer Vermeer to Frank O'Connor.


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Post 111

Friday, December 16, 2005 - 12:35pmSanction this postReply
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Jody wrote,
"The glass is half full. I challenge you Jonathan, take Vermeer's "30-plus" paintings, and do a poll with them. Ask people questions about them. Why they like or dislike the pieces. I bet in this poll Rand will outshine you as a judge of art."

Been there, done that. Well, I didn't actually take a poll, but I have been exposed to a very, very large sampling of opinion about Vermeer's work while observing direct responses to the original paintings. Ten years ago this month my wife and I spent two days visiting the National Gallery's once in a lifetime exhibition of Vermeer's work. I chatted with some of the thousands of people who attended, and overheard hundreds of other conversations about the style, content, and joy of the images. If Rand had lived long enough to attend the exhibition, she would have been laughed out of the building had she even hinted that Vermeer's characters represented defeat, despair, lack of volition, metaphysical bleakness or anti-value orientations.

Oh...or by polling "people" did you mean polling just Objectivists? If so, yeah, I wouldn't be surprised that Rand's views would poll better than mine.

J

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Post 112

Friday, December 16, 2005 - 12:41pmSanction this postReply
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Michael,
As I mentioned in a previous post, I agree that some of the ~characters~ and ~settings~ in Vermeer's paintings could be called "everyday." My primary point has been that ~characters~ and ~settings~ are not the same thing as the ~subject~ of a work of art. Had Rand merely said that some of Vermeer's ~characters~ were folks next door to kitchens, I wouldn't have a problem with it. But she said that Vermeer's ~subjects~ were the folks next door ("subject" as in "abstract subject" or "subject-meaning," not as in mere "subject matter" or "physical entities depicted"). She meant that Vermeer presented man as a statistically average, volition-lacking plaything of external forces who was fated to despair and defeat.

She was wrong. If a Romantic scene of love, creativity, moral judgment or deep contemplation taking place in a castle on a cloud is suddenly moved to an "everyday" location, such as the music room, kitchen or studio of a private home, it doesn't magically become a work of Naturalism. It is irrelevant if an artwork's characters are kings, industrialists, "everyday" couples, or raggedy orphans living in ditches. If they represent the seeking or achievement of values, the art works which contain them are Romantic by Rand's definition.

Also, just because some artists may have used scenes from everyday life to present visions of despair doesn't mean that all scenes of everyday life are visions of despair. An artist who stages his art in a certain type of setting isn't necessarily borrowing the bleak metaphysics of those who had previously used a similar setting in a different way.

My other point has been that many of Vermeer's characters and settings are ~not~ "everyday." In fact, some of them are extraordinary.

If there is a conflict between Rand's concept of Romanticism and the concept of genre painting, and if Vermeer's work is categorized as genre, than either genre has to be redefined or Vermeer's work has to be removed from the category. Either way, Vermeer's work is not ~Naturalistic~ in the Randian sense.

J

Post 113

Friday, December 16, 2005 - 1:29pmSanction this postReply
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The question is a fishing expedition, Michael. I'm trying to find out to what extent
you accept Rand's categorizations of art. (Rich is on the right track re what I'm curious about.) I'm not sure if even Jonathan in this discussion is buying the break-down -- or if he's attempting to point out that IF one accepts Rand's categories, then, per her own definitions, the description of Vermeer as "Naturalist" doesn't hold together.

Ellen

Post 114

Friday, December 16, 2005 - 2:00pmSanction this postReply
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I'll tell you one thing, it's pretty darn likely that even the most prolific, consistent, beloved and recognized artist is very darned likely to put out both "benevolent" and "malevolent" art under this kind of filter.

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Post 115

Friday, December 16, 2005 - 2:35pmSanction this postReply
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"The question is a fishing expedition, Michael."
 
Then, go fish, Ellen.
I.e. get up at dawn, get all your stuff organized, get your up-to-date bate, charter a boat and course, and look for good spot before you hurl your line; be careful or you might get lost at sea or, perhaps, be out of your depth.
 
I.e.2, go deep and authentic and we'll get along fine.
 
Michael


Post 116

Friday, December 16, 2005 - 6:29pmSanction this postReply
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It is encouraging to see how well this thread always comes back, on point, compass-like. Clearly, it has a stronger immune system than many others. I haven't bothered to review all the twists and turns, but for sure it survived a tiny lynch mob ( A prudent decision was made to relocate the proposed event, and they seem to be wanting to do something different with the gallows construction, and perhaps even the actual hanging date; I think it's locked up in committee, but it hard to say. In any event, one thing I got out of it for sure, looking out of the little trap where they slide my food and slop bucket in and out is that they clearly opened their kimono to the occasional virtues that pragmatic decision-making affords. You didn't hear it from me. Please.) Front row seats are still available, I only ask that you make a small donation to my church, we are trying to pay down our mortgage. 

I believe I have lost the ability to objectively determine the strength of this mob, because the cavalry came in very quickly. Still, in a word, I found them, well, "pissy," and for the most part they remain such. Pissy, I can handle, though it sorely annoys me to do so.

But I digress, as occurs when I feel the need to make light of what is, of course, a very serious topic<tm>.

I suppose the easiest way for me to get this across is to return to the origin of the thread. In simple, it was presented thusly: Here is art that is (of course) good for man, and, here is art that is (clearly) antithetical of what has been established as "good," "benevolent," "life-affirming," and so on.

This was the proposition. Well, actually, it was more of a statement of fact. Calling it a proposition would assume the possibility that the one selling the idea treated this all as a negotiation. That was not the case, it was more of a pedantic thing. Something that would make things clear for the young pups, the rookies. Some mentoring.

Now, I do not know (I have not checked, to be honest) if this proposition of artistic value-determining (good/bad) was brought forth by someone who is actually active as an artist. That is an interesting question, and no, a few engagements in college or whatever doesn't count, at least not much.

See, that is where my soreness comes from, because I am an artist in the form of a musician and composer.  Meaning, I have a body of work, I am active, I have been doing that hard and mean for about thirty years of my life, if not more. I was doing it last night. I do it every day.

I know artists very well, and they are about the things I'm about. They are reasonable, they are reverential, and they love freedom. Even the real whack jobs have most of that intact. Anyway, here's the deal: artists tend to defend other artists, even if they don't care so much for their work. Any artist I know worth diddly squat and able to prove it would, if given the proposition that started this thread (and while the example of Frida Kahlo was regrettable, being front loaded with an out of context piece and being ignorant of who she was where she came from etc. etc. ad nauseum to the point of saying she was a "Gothic") would look at the person making that proposition, that good and evil proposition, and tell them to take it, roll it into a neat little tube, and quietly place it somewhere where there is no sun. Call it performance art, with a little naturalism.

This kind of statement, the one that came out of the blocks, is something artists deal with regularly.

Am I being equivocal? Am I saying that all artists are equal because they work on their craft? No, but I love he who loves to work. Generally, the kinds of problems that trouble artists are narcissim, depression, drugs, and the whole financial challenge. The grace that all that provides is the tendency to make them very strong, on one level or another.

I could show the first post of this thread to virtually any artist anywhere (whether I know them or not) and the range of reply will 99 percent be somewhere between "Tell him to go fuck himself" and "That makes me sad he can only see it that way."

rde
Fuck Art, Let's Dance
     -The Adults, 1977


Post 117

Friday, December 16, 2005 - 6:48pmSanction this postReply
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Rich-
If I were an artist, I would be quite pissed that you assume to speak for "Artists" and say that all of them are too fraternal and too "reverential" to pass judgement.  Indeed, you seem to think that judgement of art is some hobgoblin of the uninitiated.


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Post 118

Friday, December 16, 2005 - 7:43pmSanction this postReply
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Sorry, but I have a big enough sample. The onus is on you. It is all presumption. You said it yourself: "if"

As in, "I am not".

Yet you seem to think you have authority to tell us how to be.

It is true that there is a dynamic between audience and artist, but we haven't even gotten to that place. You are dictating.

I do not speak for all artists, but I am very, very confident. Are you?

rde
woulda, shoulda, coulda, and "if"


Post 119

Friday, December 16, 2005 - 7:48pmSanction this postReply
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I think I got a fairly informative reply, Michael, in
relationship to what I was curious about. You see, you
answered in terms of "yes" or "no." The answer I'd have
liked to have gotten would have been along the lines that
you don't consider the categorization of "senses of life"
into benevolent/malevolent meaningful.

Another question, this one asked from ignorance (I haven't
nearly the background of knowledge of the language used in
art history that I have of that used in musicology and
literary criticism): Are "romantic" and "naturalist"
terms which are typically used by art historians to
categorize styles? ("Naturalist" of course isn't used
in musicology, though "Romantic" is, but by contrast
to "Classical." And the usage of "romantic" and
"naturalist" in literary criticism isn't defined the
way Rand thought of that classification.)

Ellen


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