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Objectivist Theory of Art: Ayn Rand

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The Objectivist theory of art is part of the wider philosophical system propounded by Ayn Rand. Key points she makes relating to art are:

1 Art is as distinctively human as language.

2 Man has a profound need for art.

3 The unique function of art is to present, in concrete form, what is essentially an abstraction. We are accustomed to use a graph to show what the idea of economic growth looks like. In the same way, art performs this function with respect to the most fundamental abstract ideas of all: the elements of a world-view. As the Objectivist Center says on it's website:
"..... a work of art can touch the deepest places in us, feelings we often have trouble defining and making explicit."
4 The different forms of art do this by re-creating reality, selectively representing..... The artist does the selecting, stylizing the scene or the world and presenting it in a certain light, with some things emphasized and others taken away.

5 Part of what makes art "good" is the artist's skill at capturing his world view and essential concerns in his art.

6 In addition to the artist's skill, art can be judged in terms of its meaning.

Ayn Rand's philosophy has a clear view of the importance of art in meeting one of man's deepest needs, the presenting of abstract concepts in concrete form by means of the selective representation of reality. Concepts are only meaningful when grounded in reality so art must be involved in representation. All men have this need to make concrete meaning out of abstract concepts and therefore art has a truly central role to play. What a grand vision of the artist's role in society!

Of course Conceptualists are involved to a certain extent in selection. They do select subjects and ready mades. It is fair to say however in the case of ready mades that their selection function is of a pretty low order, after all, once one has "selected" a shark, for example, no further selection is possible since one has to take the shark in it's entirety...or half entirety, if you decide to saw a shark (or cow) in half.

But the Conceptualists reject representation of reality, selective or otherwise, as a necessary constituent of art. It would appear from their activities that they have no wider philosophy of man within which to anchor their theory of art than entertainment, celebrity status- seeking and shocking the public. Are these what they consider to be fundamental human needs? What a peripheral and empty view of the artist's role in society!

Let's ask an important question: What role should artists be playing in our society? Should we not be expecting our artists to be grappling with important issues and addressing fundamental human needs, in the manner of artists within Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy? Or are we happy just to gawp at the Conceptualists sideshow?

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