Overweening Generalist

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ayn Rand's Dippy Art Theory (and some fun schtuff too)

Jillian Steinhauer's "Ayn Rand's Theory of Art," which Hyperallergic ran a couple months ago surprised me, because I would have guessed Rand's ideas about art would be dull, but I had no idea how utterly impoverished they would seem.

A 539 page book that Steinhauer admits she didn't buy and only read in chapter summaries and excerpted bits, I might someday see if I can get my hands on a library copy to see if it's as thoroughly ridiculous as it seems, after reading what Steinhauer gleaned from it.

                                  Kandinsky's Unbroken Line (1923), which is NOT art,
                                 according to Ayn Rand, because it's not representational.
                                 Interestingly, the Nazis had a similar esthetic.

Presented as a "groundbreaking alternative view" of Art, contra the Art Establishment, it seems that Rand only thought representational art in painting, sculpture and drawing was legitimate. Apparently there were other ideas about poetry and novels. But let's learn about what IS NOT art from Rand:

  1. any and all abstract art (remember: it must be representational!)
  2. photography (fuck you, Ansel Adams!)
  3. any sort of crafts from indigenous peoples (why? I'd like to know)
  4. John Cage and Merce Cunningham (big surprise)
  5. James Joyce and Samuel Beckett (it seems likely that Robert Anton Wilson was going around calling himself an Objectivist - before he was finally summoned into Rand's presence and was thoroughly underwhelmed by her, mid-1950s - while he was a budding Joyce scholar. He probably had no idea at the time what Rand thought about Joyce, or her ideas of What Constitutes Real Art in general. That's my guess.)
  6. inscrutable "postmodernist" poetry, like John Ashberry (gosh, I'm shocked)
  7. anything "postmodern" or - seemingly - too cute for Rand: Warhol and Lichtenstein, Cindy Sherman and Chuck Close, Robert Rauschenberg (one of my faves)...you get the point: none of this is true Art, according to our delightful Objectivist
  8. any "art" that comes with a prefix: "visual" or "video" art IS NOT art; "pop" or "performance" or "installation" or "conceptual" art IS NOT art. These are all terms the decadent, socialist, weak moocher Art Establishment has been trying to pawn off as "real" Art to all you saps. Don't fall for it!
  9. finally (yea, I know, you're enjoying this and don't want it to end; sorta like an installment of "Fox and Friends"): anything described by cretinous non-heroic artfolk as "challenging"or "explorational" or "confrontational" or "quirky." See these terms and run, ladies and germs. Get with the Objectivist Program and learn from the amphetamine-addled Aristotelian Ayn herself.
On a lighter note, I had not known that Ayn Rand had had her own cable-access (excuse me: private access) TV show from way back when.

Also: HERE's a link to 10 articles about the brilliant purveyor of "Me" and mean-ness, Ayn Rand.

Reykjavik's Wild Street Art
Check it out HERE.
I have the feeling Ayn would not approve.

More Street Art: Slinkachu's Tiny Worlds in the Street
Check it out HERE.
One strongly surmises Ayn would want to spit.

Shelly Miller's Temporary Sugar Mural, About Sugar: "Cargo"
Appearing as a ceramic, but it's not. It was placed on the side of a building in Montreal, and was made from sugar, something so playful and saccharine Ayn would no doubt want to puke. See it HERE. (Sugar murals, not Ayn Rand's puke.)

Speaking of Street Art: Jon Rafman's Google Street View Images
Found at 9Eyes. I use Google Street View but apparently not often enough! (Ayn is spinning in her grave: just think: images captured...ewwww...photography!) Why do I suspect the tiger in the parking lot is some sorta put-on? Still: pretty cool anyway. And who knows what the story is in the first image?

Yuri Suzuki's London Underground...on Circuit Boards
So cool. Cool enough to enrage Ayn Rand? Yep, the idea that this would be shown to a paying public?
Check it out HERE. And what would she make of nudists having an orgy on a polyimide surface of a semiconductor in an integrated circuit, etched with reactive ions? I do not think she would call this Art.

May K's Protein Strand-Art
How wonderful is this? Vote for her if you like what she's seeing/doing. Getting even smaller, you can get your personal DNA map enlarged and printed out and looking like...something Ayn Rand would not cotton to.

Top 20 from 2011's Nikon Small World Contest
HERE. I find all of these completely wonderful and when I got to the 5th place finisher, the microchip surface, I thought I had my favorite. But then number 20, "Agatized dinosaur bone cells, unpolished," from around 150 million years ago, was my favorite. Oops! It's photography, so for Ayn Rand it's not Art.

Finally: A Nod to the 2012 Election: Marriage Equality Art...
Made from seeds!

I first found out about more than half of the above collections of artwerks via BoingBoing.

I suspect the world I perceive is far far far more open than the more-famous Ayn Rand's was, but then I admit my bias.


Bobby Campbell said...

I never really got the capital "A" reverence people, like Rand, put on the words Art & Artist. Even as someone self selected to live and die by those swords.

As an art school drop out, and current (3 credits away!) English major, I've heard so many useless arguments about this that essentially boils down to "Art is nouns that I like" Vs. "No, Art is nouns that I like.

My own view of what constitutes art is pretty comprehensive. Ever seen a stylish girl get ready for work in the morning? The implementation of craft and aesthetic success is remarkable, and that it all gets washed away without a thought? Remarkable. Or a well presented country breakfast for a large family? Good gravy! The precision of coordination which gives great pleasure to all 5 senses and nourishment besides, and that too all washed away as if it were just a regular thing!

and so on and so on...

Funny how, to me, if we read Ayn Rand's list as "things that don't interest me" instead of "things that aren't art" it becomes more of a revealing character study than a pile of bullshit!

Here are 2 popular art forms that don't currently interest me:

Non-representational sculpture.
(I find this aesthetic occurs naturally anyway and w/ generally better results)

Hyperrealistic paintings which follow exact photo reference.
(Though certainly a remarkable display of talent, if all that happens is that a preexisting image is exactly duplicated, it seems to me an artefactual tautology!)

Eric Wagner said...

Interesting discussion, Doc J. and Bobby. It seems an interesting argument for E-Prime.

I wonder about the fascination Rand's books had for people I respect such as Bob Heinlein. I read almost three of her books back in 1980 - 1981. (I skipped most of the long radio speech at the end of Atlas Shrugged. This shocked some friends of mine, with whom I worked through Quantum Psychology. They liked Bob Wilson but they loved Rand, and they considered that speech the heart of the novel.)

michael said...

@Bobby: my view of art seems quite close to yours: long ago I chose to try to perceive the "maker" qualities in as many "objects" - even ones produced by Nature - as I could. This has made my life richer.

I LOVE your two examples of the stylish girl and country breakfast!

I also like "artefactual tautalogy," although hyperrealism strikes me as having some guerrilla ontological value. I once went to LA's MOCA, and outside there was a guy who was recreating Famous Paintings, in any style, while you stood there and watched him do it. That really fucked me up...in a good way. I found it cosmically hilarious. I still think about how WEIRD that seemed to me.

michael said...

@Dr. Wagner: I can see Rand readers entering RAW via that sort of Libertarianism, but if they continue to read him and don't "get" that RAW has some devastating critiques of rationalism in general, they're probably not very good readers. If they started to smell the empathy for the human race and quit reading and went back to Rand: that wd make more sense to me.

Every person I've ever know who loved Rand struck me as an asshole, but they either didn't know it or didn't care. This is MY perception. I suspect die-hard Rand lovers have a neurological disposition far different than mine, and it probably has to do with the limbic system, mirror neurons, and the ability to empathize with others. (Indeed, this is seen as "weak" by...I'll use RAW's deflationary term: Randroids.)

Heinlein? I wish I had a good take on what he saw in Rand. I don't, but maybe she was new enough at the time that he liked the audacity?

michael said...

RAW and Art content: in a 1988 lecture in Berkeley, RAW guessed that the art world has its own 24 conspiracies: everyone trying to hype their friends and some art-affinity-network. RAW got this number 24 from Leary, so it's argumentative and hyperbolic, but in my experience it's basically true. I see evidence of it at least once a week.

Then there's the Larger Q: if you've chosen Art, how do you pay the rent? Then the 24 Art Cons makes a lot more sense. At least to me...

On some whole other art-level, I just noticed this quote from Fritz Leiber's Our Lady of Darkness, which Dr. Wagner got me to read and it was FANTASTIC!:

All insanity is a form of artistic expression, "only the person has nothing but himself to work with." p.71

RAW told me there are political types, who seek to win you over via coercion, and he wanted to be an artist-type, who seek to win you over with seduction. In the Bauscher interview thought that pattern recognition was where he was at, and he thought that made him closer to an artist than a scientist.

When Duchamp hung his urinal, it was "conceptual," so not "art" for Rand, but she didn't get it: Duchamp was proposing a critique of ideas about art. He was being "meta." Institutional, authorial, managerial...all of these ideas could be undermined.

I bought that, intellectually. And still do.

Ever been to a museum, wandering from room to room, taking it in, reflecting, reflecting on reflecting, and you find yourself staring at the thermostat on the wall as if it was "art" just like the painting 10 feet away? I love that. I want art to alter my consciousness, by any means necessary.

Eric Wagner said...

I known a number of people I considered cool who loved Rand. I remember Heinlein discussed Rand in some of his letters in Grumbles from the Grave, but I don't remember much except I think he liked Atlas Shrugged.

My special topics in literature class has begun watching I, Claudius. I love how Leiber used I, Claudius in Our Lady of Darkness.

michael said...

What do you think the cool people liked about Rand?

Eric Wagner said...

One said, "Her 'to thine own self be true' attitude." I don't remember much else. I haven't talked to a Rand enthusiast about Rand for a long while. I know one fellow, though, a nice man, who paid his son $100 to read The Fountainhead.

I loved the film of The Fountainhead.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I like John Cage, but I don't think her dislike of him is particularly risible; there's been quite a bit of debate over whether he was a fine composer or just a clever guy with a flair for publicity stunts. (I vote for both). I'm more amused that she thought Beethoven was "malevolent" and that Tchaikovsky was her favorite composer:


Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I have known some Ayn Rand fans who were pretty cool. (I have hung out with libertarians for years, so I probably have a larger sample size than Michael). But yes, most of the deeply annoying or asshole libertarians are Randians.

michael said...

I sat in my local library for an hour today (one of my favorite things to do: go in, wander up and down the aisles, and pull out books willy-nilly, anything that looks like it might be of interest, until I have two or three stacks a foot high each, and just browse randomly through them, checking the index for subjects or names...and then at the end I re-shelve them, having worked in libraries for 10 yrs and not being able to help myself) and read Atlas Shrugged, pretending I knew nothing about her. I thought it might appeal to me if I were much younger and wanted "superman"-like characters to look up to.

I have no doubt Tom has seen a larger sample size of Libertarians...but I bet I've hung with more Left-Anarchists.

re: Beethoven: Rand seemed to know NOTHING about neuroscience, either. Admittedly, it was a relatively inchoate discipline when she was around, but the way I've read her: she was so dogmatic about just about everything that her total worldview was quite simple and impoverished indeed. There are plenty of Randians around now, and if they do read neuroscience, I don't think they read people like Damasio, much less understand him...

When I taught many guitar students in my twenties, now and then I'd get some really wild, alienated kid who loved to read Big Books. And they seemed to either go to Nietzsche or Rand. I always tried to ignore anything non-musical in conversation with the Rand kids; the Nietzsche kids - who always wore black, even in 100 degree heat and I remember three such kids - seemed destined to be some sort of genius in whatever they ended up doing, or I got the feeling they wd end up with a serious mental illness. Their parents were never around to talk to; the Rand kids' parents often WERE around, and they never liked me, just from sight. I remember one kid - a good student, very bright - and when I met his mom she blatantly warned me against pushing my politics on her kid: I had never said a word about anything, just noting the kid had premature right-wing views and one day had Atlas Shrugged and asked if I'd read it.

Becky said...

Looks like a good book. I love great books on art. Reminds me of a good one I just finished titled, "The Art Dockuments" by Carlton Davis. A great book full of entertaining and enlightening stories about art theory, and life as an artist.


Anonymous said...

This is quite an interesting cluster
of ideations. I'd like to meet a Rand
critic who hasn't "given it a damnned
good skimming" (fnord illuminati reference. Fritz Leiber was a friend
who had incredible insight buried in
his work, read the creature from cleveland depths and resist the urge
to cast your igadget off a pier.

Most people who are puzzled by Bob
Heinlein read Starship Troopers as
a parody instead of as a serious
examination of why the military
continues to fight even when they
know it is wrong. Ayn Rand possessed courage and stood solidly
behind her ideas through a storm of
criticism that would have crumpled
a weaker person.

Was she wrong? Of course she was,
but she's not unusual in that.

What I find ironic is the CIA had
decided to create USA Art to show
the Euros we were cultured by a
process of funding some horrible
crap and foisting it onto the rest
of us as the latest and greatest.

Is it possible Rand was unkind
enough to point this out, or am I
just being cynical about it.

michael said...

I just now noticed your comment, because Blogger seems to automatically catch anyone who's "Anonymous" as spam.

You make me want to find Creature From Cleveland Heights.

You say of course Rand was wrong, but she had courage. Of course that's a valid reading. The comment of Starship Troopers: that it's a parody to me seemed to me to say that runaway militarization in the US was dangerous.

I find Rand's esthetic theories laughably idiotic, but that's me. I just now wrote an article on a CIA -backed painter of what you'd probably see as "crap," but I find it interesting. And I say WHY.

Blogs are really easy to start, man. Thanks for weighing in on mine. Do you have one? I'd like to check it out if you do.

Anonymous said...

You can find me at tyrbolo on

It is not for the faint hearted
and I don't consider it the ideal
venue for intellectual discourse.

Mostly I spew about what I find
to be interesting, and show off
my shiny scars...GRIN