In #10 I had posed the sort of challenge that Bill Brewer posed in his paper. Taking the three still-life paintings that Harry Binswanger displayed as example of different views of existence: Between these paintings, what are the differences among the metaphysical value-judgments cast in them?
Robert asked in #17: “Are these different from the ones postulated by myself and Newberry (independently of each other) regarding the nature of the universe between the walls of the canvas, from a metaphysical valuating standpoint?”
What are those postulations? Do they include statements of sample metaphysical value judgments that are more specific than the one’s Rand gave?
The examples of metaphysical value judgments that Rand gave in “The Psycho-Epistemology of Art” (1965) were judgments of whether the universe is intelligible, whether man can find happiness on earth, whether man’s power of choice is efficacious, and whether man is to be valued as good. She took these judgments to form the foundation of all one’s moral values. She reiterates this view, and sample metaphysical value judgments, in “Philosophy: Who Needs It” (1974).
Rand took rational ethical prescriptions to be tied to knowledge of what is the fundamental nature of human beings, including their cognitive powers, and what is the fundamental nature of the world in which humans act. Art brings that knowledge into a form for immediate, perceptual awareness. Art tells one, “in effect, which aspects of his experience are to be regarded as essential, significant, important. In this sense, art teaches man how to use his consciousness. It conditions or stylizes man’s consciousness by conveying to him a certain way of looking at existence” (“Art and Cognition” ).
Continuing in that essay, Rand writes that art is produced by a conceptual consciousness and is addressed to a conceptual consciousness. The visual arts make perceptually available entities “convey abstract, conceptual meaning.” The visual arts deal with “the sensory field as perceived by a conceptual consciousness. / . . . The visual arts refine and direct the sensory elements of these integrations. By means of selectivity, of emphasis and omission, these arts lead man’s sight to the conceptual context intended by the artist. They teach man to see more precisely and to find deeper meaning in the field of his vision.” Rand goes on to discuss still-life paintings and their capability for making a painting subject seem “more real than it is in reality.” No subject in real life looks like that. Rather, the artist has created a visual abstraction, which is an isolation of essential, distinguishing characteristics of the subject, characteristics integrated by the artist into a single visual unit. People carry in mind a vague, approximate image of an entity. Then they encounter it displayed in a still life. “The painting concretizes that image by means of visual essentials, which most men have not focused on or identified, but recognize at once.”
Rand had remarked in “Art and Sense of Life” (1966) that the entire cohort of elements of painting, “such as theme, subject, and composition, are involved in projecting an artist’s view of existence.” One element is style. She takes the style of Vermeer to project “the psycho-epistemology of a rational mind. It projects clarity, discipline, confidence, purpose, power—a universe open to man.” When Rand comes to “confidence, purpose, power . . .” she has delivered the promised metaphysical value judgments alleged to be contained in paintings that are art.
I have seizures (now controlled by medicine) called complex partial seizures. In my episodes, I could not complete a thought—associations lead away and away too fast—and I did not know the names of things. I would tell Walter “I’m not right now.” He would sit me down and bring my Vermeer book and talk to me about details of the pictures as we viewed them. This would calm me and make me less afraid while we waited for the episode to pass.
Rand thought that the heightened sense of reality that one can experience in looking at a painting brings order to the visual field of one’s awareness (A&C). Surely a painting can bring me to an order, not only in my dream-like episodes, but in normal intelligent viewing. Brewer’s question goes to the further thesis of Rand’s: a determinate set of metaphysical value judgments are cast in a painting. Rand contrasted “the radiant austerity of Vermeer’s work to the silliness of the dot-and-dashes Impressionists.” Suppose one comes up with metaphysical value judgments cast in the paintings of Seurat, and suppose they are different than those Rand discerned in the paintings of Vermeer. That makes two sets of metaphysical value judgments cast in paintings. Isn’t the pool of possible metaphysical value judgments Rand has articulated too small to provide a distinctive set of metaphysical value judgments for every distinctive type of painting?
We should, of course, ramify Rand’s basic set of metaphysical value judgments through the different elements of painting, not only style. Combination multiplies. Moreover, Rand’s basic set does not seem to be a collection of discrete units, and that bodes well for formulating a distinctive set of metaphysical value judgments cast in the work of different painters. Well, enough for gauging possibilities. Better to provide analyzed cases.
I expect a really persuasive array analyzed according to Rand’s proposal would have to be constructed somewhat as I constructed the comprehensive Subject Index for Objectivity. I came up with subject categories and subcategories for the first article in the journal. I added to those and revised those as I worked through the second article. And so forth. That is the process pattern I’d expect to follow in analyzing the three still-life paintings selected by Binswanger or in trying for a wider variety of paintings.
Mindy, I hope to follow up for Prof. Green soon.
Ted & Teresa & . . .: thanks.