The Romantic Manifesto - Chapter 1: The Psycho-Epistemology of Art

JulianP's picture
Submitted by JulianP on Sat, 2006-04-08 05:28

Hi all,

Firstly, thanks to Jennifer for suggesting an online study group on The Romantic Manifesto. This is her idea. Smiling This post is in a sub-forum of the new SOLO Esthetics forum, and its sole purpose is the chapter-by-chapter study and discussion of The Romantic Manifesto.

So this is the kick-off. Anybody who would like to join us in discussing the 12 chapters, please report on deck. Start reading chapter 1, and then post any questions, opinions and impressions in this thread.



Landon Erp's picture

That's true, there might be an octagenarian or two on the site.


Inking is sexy.

There you go! :-)

Lindsay Perigo's picture

So that means about 90% of anything that someone on this site "grew up with" would be out of consideration according to Rand. (and in most cases rightfully so)

99.99% Smiling

Gotta agree with Marcus here

Landon Erp's picture

Rand talks about this several times and each time she mentions something specific she says she's talking about the world pre-WWI. So that means about 90% of anything that someone on this site "grew up with" would be out of consideration according to Rand. (and in most cases rightfully so)


Inking is sexy.

Hey Linz...

Marcus's picture

...given the year (1969) it was written, this statement refers to you Smiling

"It is impossible for the young people of today to grasp the reality of man's higher potential and what scale of achievement it had reached in a rational (or semi-rational) culture. But I have seen it ... it is that knowledge that I want to hold up to the sight of man ... before the barbarian curtain descends altogether ..."

World's Biggest Yawn

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Just dug out my double-CD of Ring highlights with Nilsson. Christ, what tedium! I'm reminded of Gore Vidal's description of Atlas Shrugged as "longer than life and twice as preposterous." Of Wagner it's true. What portentous crap! What boring bombast!

I've switched it off. Repaired to Verdi: Jan Peerce and Leonard Warren. More like it!

Just thought I'd vent. Smiling

Also, in my defense, my

Lance's picture

Also, in my defense, my middle name is Patrick Sticking out tongue

I'm so offended I'm leaving

Lance's picture

I'm so offended I'm leaving New Zealand, please delete my citizenship! Eye


Lindsay Perigo's picture

Gone off you. Can tell you're from Palmerston North. Such a travesty of such a noble name. Only O'Cresswell would crack a more feeble or more ancient joke, but he has the excuse of being Irish. Smiling

(Smiley faces in case your middle name is Maurone Smiling)

Gosh that Ibid was a smart

Lance's picture

Gosh that Ibid was a smart chap, from what I can gather he has written an awful lot, can never seem to find any of his books though. Sticking out tongue

edit: Sorry, I know it's an old and baaad joke, just couldn't stop myself.

Saying it all ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

"I am not willing to surrender the world to the jerky contortions of self-inducedly brainless bodies with empty eye sockets, who perform, in stinking basements, the immemorial rituals of staving off terror, which are a dime a dozen in any jungle—and to the quavering witch doctors who call it art." - Ayn Rand, TRM.

"It is impossible for the young people of today to grasp the reality of man's higher potential and what scale of achievement it had reached in a rational (or semi-rational) culture. But I have seen it ... it is that knowledge that I want to hold up to the sight of man ... before the barbarian curtain descends altogether ..." - Ibid.

Also Aaron

Landon Erp's picture

That tends to be a common misconception (I even fell into it for a while).

The OPAR section on aesthetics is a very good summation of many of the points of the RM, but RM goes into much more detail on all kinds of specifics. There's even a discussion on the nature of dance and another discussion of the difference between "Arts" and "Crafts."

This is really a book anyone who wants to discuss aesthetics from an Objectivist standard should read.


Inking is sexy.

Just read OPAR

Landon Erp's picture

But I read the Romantic Manifesto years before, and have done several times since. Ironically the last time this discussion was started I'd just finished a re-read and now I've been scanning it again.

It's pretty easy to follow opar or not, you just need a basic understanding of epistemology, metaphysics and ethics to really follow it (and even that's debatable).

But more accuartely you might need to be able to make the ocaisional mental substitution for something that was popular around the time the book was written with something you personally have more familiarity with. In my case I tried to think about Chuck Palahniuk (author of "Fight Club") any time she mentioned the style of Sinclair Lewis (his style contains the same elements she was discussing) and the 1960's "Batman" series with Adam West any time she discussed "The Avengers."

But beyond that it's very easy to follow.


Inking is sexy.

I've gone the other route,

Aaron's picture

I've gone the other route, reading OPAR but not Romantic Manifesto. I had a bias going into it that an Objectivist view of art would be an unwarranted attempt to dictate which paintings, music, etc. everyone must like, but was instead very pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong and learn when reading the OPAR section on aesthetics.

Hey Suma! I am no expert on

JulianP's picture

Hey Suma!

I am no expert on Objectivism, but I managed to understand most of what I read in The Romantic Manifesto, without the benefit of having read OPAR. Perhaps somebody else could confirm...?


Reporting tentatively

Suma's picture

I'll buy the book this weekend. This will be my first attempt. Is it necessary to have read OPAR (which I have started many times, but got furthest to around chapter 3)?

Romantic Manifesto thread revival

JulianP's picture

I am reviving this discussion group. Jump back in, ask questions, post opinions. I am starting the Romantic Manifesto from the beginning - again. Smiling

Banned User's picture


Banned User's picture

Art serves a need OTHER than physical---food, shelter and the like:

Human beings have always been spiritual beings by definition, and I use the world ‘spiritual’ in a secular sense. Some thirty to forty thousand years, human beings began making images in caves, as discovered in Southern France, and in other widely scattered areas of the world. The earliest confirmed musical instrument dates from this period as well, as does a recently found stone sculptures. By this point our early ancestors were probably also telling stories as they huddled around fires against the Ice Age chill, stories of glorious hunts and hard winters, tales of gods and tribal heroes.
By this time the first civilizations emerged in Egypt, the Indus River, China. Art was a well-established part of human life. Virtually every culture, at every period, has had some form of painting, sculpture, poetry, epic narrative, music, and dance. The claim that ‘art is a universal language’ is not a vacuous metaphor---it is literally true.
Art is a universal phenomenon---it is a spiritual phenomenon, a human phenomenon. Just like language and mathematics---it is distinctively human. That is why, like philosophy also, art has always existed among human beings and why animals have neither art nor any equivalent of it whatsoever.
I’m not saying Early man had the concept ‘art’, no, I’m saying that human beings engaged in these activities and that they served the same primary psychological function as they have ever since: that of integrating and objectifying experience in an emotionally meaningful way.
As a branch of philosophy, aesthetics asks: what is art? What role does it play in human kind’s life? Why has art been such a pervasive feature in human life? Why did human beings engage in these activities? Unlike tools for hunting, cooking, building, scraping animal skins, and the like, these artefacts have no clear survival value. Why did people, whose daily life was a dire struggle for substance and whose life expectancy was probably less than twenty years, spend time and energy making instruments to produce rhythmic, tonal sounds? Why did they invent stories of things that never happened? Why did they paint on caves representational depictions? What was the purpose of such activities? What needs did they satisfy?
Some anthropologists argue that the appearance of art reflects a significant advance in human cognitive development---the emergence of a spiritual capacity in our species, the final stage in the evolution of the human mind.
Art does satisfy needs that arise from our unique capacity: the ability to think in abstractions. Human kind’s need of art lies in the fact that our cognitive faculty is conceptual. We are aware of the world directly and immediately through sense perception, but we do much of our thinking at the conceptual level, using abstractions, language, and logic. Our concepts and theories have meaning only insofar as they are grounded in reality. But one cannot see a theory or feel an idea, nor can one perceive, in a single glance, all the facts of reality that validate a theory or idea. The wider and more fundamental the abstraction, the more difficult it is to experience it as having the reality of the concrete things we can see and feel in perception.
The unique and vital function of art is to present, in concrete form, what is essentially an abstraction. But abstractions do not have the immediacy, the power, the reality, and the sheer presence of the world as we perceive and react to it emotionally. We can use artistic techniques like pictorial representations or metaphor to show what an idea looks like: this is what a graph of economic growth does, for example.
Art performs this function for the most fundamental abstractions: the elements of a world-view.
The purpose of art is the objectification of values. The fundamental motive of an artist---by the implication of the activity, whether he knows it consciously or not---is to objectivity, to concretize his values, his view of what is important in life. To objectify values is to make them real by presenting them in concrete form. A person’s world-view, his deepest values, his philosophy, are experienced most clearly when represented in concrete form, a work of art can touch the deepest places in us, feelings we often have trouble defining and making explicit.
Many people distain the human capacity to philosophize. True, many of the philosophies that have been offered deserve to be tossed on the trash heap of history, but people dismiss philosophy as such, the ability to think in broad fundamentals. Of course they are dismissing the distinctively human capacity to think in abstractions. They regard abstractions as necessarily ‘floating’---as unreal, as mere relics of a superstitious age. And it is no wonder that art, too, has been mistakenly relegated to a mystical Platonic Realm.
To keep our abstractions tied to the world, we need to re-embody them in concretes, to clothe them in specific forms that unite the universality of the abstraction with the specificity and immediacy—the reality---of the particulars. This is a principle to be practiced not just in art, but also in all area of human thought and endeavour.
Human cultures have invented countless ways to embody abstractions. Rituals, ceremonies, and holidays help us appreciate the meaning of important events in personal life and social life, such as birth, marriage, death, victories, and achievements. Art has performed this function in every culture and religion. Ancient Greek culture, for example, placed a high value on physical beauty, grace, and, in men, athletic strength---as in the sculpture of Polyclitus, whose Doryphorus set the classical cannon for the proportions of the male body.
In all the following eras of history, in all the periods when human hopes and values were collapsing, there was one realm to which people could turn for support, to preserve their image of human worth, their vision of life’s possibilities, to enjoy the gift of laughter and to be awe struck and inspired by the human potential to create. That realm, of course, was art.
Myths and legends give us concrete images of our ideals embodied in the flesh. Every human society has recreated its world in stories and music, in pictures and sculpture, and in derivative forms of art such as theatre and dance.
Examples like this could be multiplied indefinitely. But regardless of the medium or the content of the ideal or abstraction, whether it is religious or secular, rational or irrational, malevolent or benevolent, happy or sad, inspired or horrific---the function of art is to embody the abstract standard in a specific concrete form that has the immediacy and motivating power of direct perception. THAT'S the function it serves---and it's no less important than meeting purly physical needs.

Excellent, Marcus.

Ross Elliot's picture

Excellent, Marcus.

Analysis of one's sense of life *is* difficult but I believe it's part of a psychologically healthy existence. The SOL--emotions--are not causeless and many people are afraid to look within and see where the causality lies. Art speaks to all of that in that it can provide a mirror to our SOLs, for better or worse.

A great and telling moment in Atlas Shrugged is when, during Galt's torture, James Taggart admits to wanting Galt to die. And in that moment he realises that his hatred for Galt stems from his own hatred of Man and life. He looked within--a place he'd avoided all his life and in the process becoming corrupted by the evasion--and saw his own SOL. His mind then snapped and he had to carted off like a rag doll, his hatred now impotent.

Ah, Marcus ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... that's the sort of thing I for one was hoping to read from those reading RM for the first time! Smiling

Chapter Two

Marcus's picture

In chapter one, I asked regarding “sense of life”:

"Are those emotions (if subconscious) - also tangible and changeable?"

In Chapter Two Ayn Rand answers my question:

AR: "A sense of life, once acquired, is a closed issue. It can be changed and corrected – easily in youth, while it is still fluid, or by a longer, harder effort in later years."

MB: That is like receiving good education, the younger - the better.
How does one identify one's "sense of life" though?

AR: "A given person’s sense of life is hard to identify conceptually because it is hard to isolate: it is involved in everything about that person, in his every thought, emotion, action, in his every response, in his every choice and value, in his every spontaneous gesture, in his manner of talking, smiling, in the total of his personality. It is that which makes him a "personality."

MB: SOL could perhaps be called, "the measure of a man". Benevolent or malevolent, rational or irrational, large spirited or small spirited - these are the sort of values she means.

AR: “Introspectively, one’s own sense of life is experienced as an absolute and an irreducible primary – as that which one never questions, because the thought of questioning it never arises."

MB: Not obvious to you? Maybe ask your friends (that share your SOL)? A circular problem, then?

AR: "This leads people to regard sense of life as the province of some special intuition, as a matter perceived only by some special, non-rational insight. The exact opposite is true: a sense of life is not an irreducible primary, but a very complex sum; it can be felt, but it cannot be understood, by an automatic reaction; to be understood, it has to be analyzed, identified and verified conceptually. That automatic impression—of oneself or of others—is only a lead; left untranslated, it can be a very deceptive lead. But if and when…the result is the most exultant form of certainty one can ever experience, it is the integration of mind and values."

MB: Wow! I am up for the challenge!

AR: "Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments. It is the integrator and concretizer of man’s metaphysical abstractions. It is the voice of his sense of life. As such, art is subject to the same aura of mystery, the same dangers, the same tragedies—and, occasionally, the same glory – as romantic love."

MB: Glorious and rewarding Smiling

The Material

Prima Donna's picture

Duncan, I do believe she is speaking of physically tangible ends in this case (and art's inability to provide them). There is no doubt from reading her words that she sees great value in art, but as a source of inner fuel, contemplation and reflection.

(If I'm being Captain Obvious, I apologize, but we have to start somewhere, no? Smiling)

Edit: And what Landon said, which is essentially what I said, further adding color to my Captain Obvious badge.

-- "The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star." Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste

I think Robert answered

Landon Erp's picture

I think Robert answered Duncan's question quite effectivly. It has no material/physical end. It has an abstract end. IT works as spiritual fuel which allows a person to look both within and at the world surrounding him(her).

A work of art strips the world and everyone in it down to essentials as chosen by the artist and in doing so it gives the viewer a new perspective on the things which it essentializes and a world of new information to integrate into the person's own observations of the world and metaphysical value judgements.

(yeah I re-read chapter one last night)


It all basically comes back to fight or flight.

profound observation....................

Robert Malcom's picture

What type of questions does aesthetics deal with, and why is it more profound than politics?


This is not, not should be, considered an idle statement - further, it opens the door to exploring just how this profoundity can be utilized to shift the political mindsets..... indeed, a whole article can be done on this, if not more....


Marcus's picture

"I was simply reminding folk what the point of RM was..."

Yes and this thread is highly important to the mission of SOLO.
Thanks to those who started it, it would be a shame if it ended in apathy or pomo wanking.

I would suggest that people just discuss any part of the book, and then those that have read that part can comment.

Some chapters will definitely be more contentious than others.

Visceral response?

Duncan Bayne's picture


As to questions ... I only have the one:

Rand characterises art as having "no practical, material end" ... but later, describes an hypothetical situation where someone looks to art for "philosophical guidance or confirmation of inspiration" - which is for what it's worth how I treat good art, and especially Rand's literature, and especially The Fountainhead.

But what I don't understand is how that doesn't constitute a material, practical end. Was Rand referring solely to the realm of the physical (e.g. food, shelter, etc.), or was she referring to the perspective of the artist (i.e. that fact that I use art for philosophical guidance or confirmation of inspiration, doesn't constitute a material, practical end for the artist)?


Lindsay Perigo's picture

I didn't claim to be quoting from Chapter One. I was simply reminding folk what the point of RM was, which point was already in danger of being overlooked via wanky diversions re the subtitle, etc.. And possibly because it's the very point of the thing that folk don't wish to confront. Any excuse for a tangent, in my experience.

What's chapter one?

Marcus's picture

"From the comments so far, I've been wondering if anyone's even read Chapter One?"

Indeed, Linz quoted from the introduction Smiling

I made some points about the introduction and chapter one about two weeks ago. Most people here were asleep at the time.

Still alive :)

Prima Donna's picture

Hi all. Sorry for my delayed reply -- swamped at the moment.

I'm re-reading chapter 1 now, and will offer comment in the next few days. Lance, there is no one running the show per se -- we were simply going to discuss a chapter at a time.

-- "The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star." Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste

Good post, Linz. I've been

Lanza Morio's picture

Good post, Linz. I've been reading the thread with interest and have held off on commenting because the scope was already so large. Who is running this show? What's the goal?

I've read it a dozen times

JoeM's picture

I've read it a dozen times in the past, and reread it a few weeks ago. I'm looking forward to hearing other's thoughts on it, but don't have any particular questions about it...
There is one thing I want to say, but it involves jumping ahead several chapters. However, it's very timely, so I'll post it as a blog:

I will have Chapter One read

Duncan Bayne's picture

I will have Chapter One read by the end of Friday evening; I will be picking up my copy tomorrow.

I guess I'll have to

Landon Erp's picture

I guess I'll have to breakdown and reread it tonight. I was on a roll with it a month ago but now I have to play catch up again.


It all basically comes back to fight or flight.


Peter Cresswell's picture

From the comments so far, I've been wondering if anyone's even read Chapter One?

Right on

TRowland's picture


You are absolutely right on and since I think the shoe doth fit me I hereby promise to shut-up. Smiling


Linz, thanks for bringing in

JoeM's picture

Linz, thanks for bringing that into focus. What Rand wrote is just as true today as it was in her time.

I'm wondering ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... just how useful the responses thus far have been to the young 'uns reading RM for the first time. With all due respect to Gary Hull, I think this thread will be more useful if the young 'uns, rather than attempting to supply rote answers to set questions to the satisfaction of someone here, ask their own questions as they proceed. The old 'uns are already jerking off on tangents of their own making, which'll leave the young 'uns perplexed & bewildered, if I'm not mistaken. Why Rand gave RM the subtitle, A Philosophy of Literature, is a sidebar. The primary thing about RM is that it's a rescue mission:

"In regard to Romanticism, I have often thought that I am a bridge from the unidentified past to the future. As a child I saw a glimpse of the pre-World War 1 world, the last afterglow of the most radiant cultural atmosphere in human history ... Its art projected an overwhelming sense of intellectual freedom, of depth, i.e., concern with fundamental problems, of demanding standards, of inexhaustible originality, of unlimited possibilities and, above all, profound respect for man. The existential atmosphere ... still held a benevolence that would be incredible to the men of today, i.e., a smiling, confident good will of man to man, and of man to life. ... It is impossible for the young people of today to grasp the reality of man's higher potential and what scale of achievement it had reached in a rational (or semi-rational) culture. But I have seen it. I know that it was real, that it existed, that it is possible. It is that knowledge that I want to hold up to the sight of men ... before the barbarian curtain descends altogether. ... I am not willing to surrender the world to the jerky contortions of self-inducedly brainless bodies with empty eye-sockets [see any modern-day music video—Linz], who perform, in stinking basements, the immemorial rituals of staving off terror, which are a dime a dozen in any jungle—and to the quavering witch doctors who call it art. Our day has no art and no future. ... Will we see an esthetic Renaissance in our time? I do not know. What I do know is this: anyone who fights for the future lives in it today."

Yup, a rescue-reinstate-&-renew mission. It's a declaration of war on contemporary nihilism in the name of that cultural radiance of yore &, hopefully, of the future which is ours to win. That is why RM inspires. How do the young 'uns, for whom Rand holds out so little hope, respond to that?!

And now, in Chapter One, Rand is introducing us to her view of what art is & what it does, cast in terms of "metaphysics," "epistemology," "psycho-epistemology," normative/cognitive, &, briefly here, "sense-of-life." Again, I'm curious to see what questions the young 'uns, encountering all this for the first time, have! Smiling


Rigorous conceptual process

TRowland's picture

When I said that "all art is conceptual" I meant something very straightforward -- art wouldn't exist and we wouldn't respond to it if we weren't conceptual beings, able to organize our perceptions by means of concepts. Beyond that, I'm not sure what you mean when you say that the creator of an art work goes through a "rigorous conceptual process." As a beginnng writer of fiction and a musician who at one time did a little composing, I simply don't have any idea what I'm doing that you might be refering to.

Your comment about music is right on the money, I think. One no more understands ones response to a piece of music by knowing what key it is in, than one understands ones response to literature by analyzing sentence structure. But...the reason is that neither one of these bits of knowledge contribute to understanding what the artist "was attempting to portray." What DOES help is naming, in conceptual terms, exactly what it is that is being perceived and it's value significance to the observer. Such an analysis can only heighten one's experience of the value (or disvalue) of the perceived work, I'm convinced.

I am at a loss, then, when you say that "the train of movement would cease to be what it is, and cease to evoke your sense of life, if you attempted to unravel it." Taken simply I would say, "sure, whatever the artwork, it is meant to be experienced as a whole first and from the standpoint of your current context." By that I mean that a trained dancer's sense of life is likely to include their knowledge of the structure and correct execution of every step. So the dancer's 'direct perception' is going to be of a "well executed pas de chat" that will thrill, while the untrained observer will see the same movement and be thrilled also.

There is a parallel then between response to an artwork and all other acts of cognition: First, perception; second, identification; third, evaluation. The result of this process is, in both cases, a spiral of knowledge and sense of life response.

Once last set of questions. You say, "to be what it is 'as art' it must be perceived directly." What is the 'it' that must be perceived directly? And do you mean to suggest that there is anything about art that is perceived 'indirectly?'

Ok, since Peter's gone to

Ross Elliot's picture

Ok, since Peter's gone to the trouble of asking, I'll give a couple of these a go.

"The chapter is called 'The Psycho-Epistemology of Art.' In a paragraph or two, explain what the heck Psycho-Epistemology is."

We have a sense of life and it yearns to behold those things that exist within itself; to see those things projected existentially, made real.

Art does this for us. It shows us *that* something can exist (that is, the artist's conception of it) but not the how or why of it's existence. This is the perceptual level and is a conscious thing. Our sense of life is subconscious and automatised from our view of the world, our metaphysical value-judgements. Psycho-epistemology describes the dialogue or interaction between these two cognitive aspects of our minds. It's also the same process that causes us to love or hate, admire or disdain, value or discard.

"Is an abstract ethical treatise, alone, sufficient for moral guidance? Explain."

No. The treatise is the plan, the specification. Art projects the reality of the specification and causes our sense of life to react to it. We either react positively or negatively causing us to see an ethic as proper or untenable.

I believe that those of us who can immediately see the consequences of a certain moral or ethical/political proposition are able to educe a kind of internal projection of it's meaning. That is, we internalise the artistic process. This internalisation reacts with our sense of life (ie, that which we value) and we can determine it's decency or wickedness. Those of us that can do this are Rand's New Intellectuals Smiling


Ross Elliot's picture


"a selective recreation of

Ross Elliot's picture

"a selective recreation of reality in accordance with the artist's metaphysical value-judgements."

Yes, Rand was referring to the artist, for whom art is a rigorous conceptual process. As she also noted, an "embodied abstraction".

But the non-literary arts are prima facie, perceptual. I think this is borne out by the way in which most people have trouble defining why they like an art work or why the don't. (Unfortunately this gives rise to the adage that art is in the eye of the beholder. It can be whatever you want it to be. Of course defining something so loosely (almost an anti-definition) negates the concept altogether.)

It's certainly possible to decode the artwork and explain what the artist was attempting to portray but that comes after the initial perception of the thing. Music is a case in point. You can go on about major and minor keys, etc., but *why* a melody makes you feel such and such a way is almost ineffable. Dance would also be similar in that the train of movement would cease to be what it is, and cease to evoke your sense of life, if you attempted to unravel it. To be what it is *as art* it must be perceived directly.

You don't get the problem to the same extent when people get together to discuss literature Smiling

Will be joining in shortly ...

Duncan Bayne's picture

Just picked up The Romantic Manifesto and Philosophy: Who Needs It? on TradeMe for NZ$25. Picking them up on Wednesday ...

Literature as "most Important"

TRowland's picture

I have to disagree with both Ross and Fred, here. I agree with Ross that Literature, and especially the novel, takes the 'prize' for 'most complete (?) art form' and thus the model from which Rand derived her aesthetics. But this is true only because it is the form that gives the greatest scope to HUMAN ACTION (both physical and mental). All art is conceptual in that it is the product of man's ability to descriminate perceptually and organize conceptually. It is, after all, "a selective recreation of reality in accordance with the artist's metaphysical value-judgements." But it is instructive to note, I think, that the history of art goes from the most perceptual of the forms (painting and sculpture and the most perceptual aspect of music--rythmic accompaniment to human action and mythic tales of tribal history) and developes over time into the full range of art that reflects fully man's conceptual nature. Note also that the Renaissance was the context in which the two most conceptual of the arts (if I can put it that way) -- fiction and music -- made their first real strides to becoming the art forms they are today (yes, the others made strides as well, particularly painting). It wasn't until the glorious 19th century that the two forms most concerned with conceptualizing HUMAN ACTION on a broud scale reached their full development. By the end of the 19th century, I would argue, all of the arts were fully developed as to 'language' and 'form', making it possible to say anything. Now we can take those as 'given' and each artist can have his say. It's a supermarket out there!

Yes, you could take it that

Ross Elliot's picture

Yes, you could take it that way, Fred. Non-conceptual from the point of the viewer but--just to be clear--most certainly conceptual from the artist's perspective Smiling


seddon's picture

You wrote,

"I appreciate the distinction, Fred, but I'm not sure it matters all that much within the context of this discussion" and I think you are right. Perhaps instead of "Painting, sculpture, music, etc. are *perceptual* mediums," it would be more accurate to say that "Painting, sculpture, music, etc. are 'non-conceptual' mediums?" Is that what you meant? This would seem to buttress your claim that literature is the most important art form due to its conceptual nature.

I appreciate the

Ross Elliot's picture

I appreciate the distinction, Fred, but I'm not sure it matters all that much within the context of this discussion.

Tom's stolen my thunder but I'd contend that while a painting or sculpture can be grasped immediately and while music must be integrated over time (ie. the notes of a melody), this temporal difference is not important re the psycho-epistemology of art, perhaps because the integration required is automatised, subconscious, and we become aware of it only as a percept.

Dance could be seen the same way. When you see a couple waltzing on the dance floor you must wait for a sequence of steps to be completed before you can appreciate the beauty of their movement, before it can evoke a sense of life response in you.

Sensation of Tone, Perception of Music, Conception of Object.

TRowland's picture

I don't believe there is any tension between Ross' inclusion of music as a perceptual art and the quote from Rand. Perhaps under the influence of Helmholtz she understood that the first distinction to be made is between 'musical tone' and 'noise' with respect to the individual wave form of descrete instances of each. These are not yet music (despite the unfortunate use of 'musical tone' to describe one of these sensations) as art. The 'musical tones' become integrated into percepts, in the course of listening, by a conceptual consciousness's need for organization. The result is a kind of algebraic X for which the sense of life of the listener supplies the concrete perceptual object. This is why, for instance, Rand describes Halley's concerto as "rising itself, the essense of upward motion." The listener then supplies 'Dominque rising up the side of a building,' 'soldiers rising up the hill at Omaha Beach,'or any other perceptual object.
David Kelley, btw, has a very interesting and relevant discussion of the "wave train" as the object of perception for music, as I remember, in *The Evidence of the Senses* (all of chapter 5, but particularly pgg 159-162)


seddon's picture

You wrote,
"Painting, sculpture, music, etc. are *perceptual* mediums" yet Rand writes that music, "is the only phenomenon that permits an adult to experience the process of dealing with pure sense data. Single musical tone are not prercepts, but pure sensations: they become percepts only when integrated." (59) And even when integrated, we never get a concrete perceptual object like we do in painting or sculpture.


Marcus's picture

Why does architeture not qualify as art?

Why is the underlying philosophy behind Wagner's music not representative of Rand's "sense of life"?


More questions

Peter Cresswell's picture

Okay, here's some more questions on Chapter One, the majority taken from Gary Hull's 'Study Guide to OPAR' (thanks Gary).

* The chapter is called 'The Psycho-Epistemology of Art.' In a paragraph or two, explain what the heck Psycho-Epistemology is.

* How is a work of art similar to the nature and the function of concepts? How is it different? Give an example.

* Why is art a branch of philosophy? How does art differ from aesthetics? What type of questions does aesthetics deal with, and why is it more profound than politics?

* What essential fact distinguishes art from other man-made products? Explain the need of man that art satisfies, and identify the metaphysical issues art encompasses.

* Why must metaphysical value-judgement (MVJs) be made accessible to you at any time, and why must they be available "as a sum"?

* Define "art." How does it provide man with the "sum" identified in the question above? Specifically, what does art condense? Choose your own example of an art work and explain how the artist captures a metaphysical sum.

* Choose a particular art work and show how it "objectifies" metaphysics. What is it about the essence of man that makes objectification necessary?

* Is an abstract ethical treatise, alone, sufficient for moral guidance? Explain.

There, you were asking for questions and the like. That should keep you all busy over Easter. Smiling

Philosophy *is* the

Ross Elliot's picture

Philosophy *is* the skyscraper. And it's form, it's "embodied abstraction" as Rand would say, *is* art.

Edit for Peter's whoopsie, above Smiling

My answer stands Eye The skyscraper (conceptually) is the philosophy and it's embodiment (psycho-epistemologically) is art, in that it presents as a whole, ie. makes directly available for evaluation (perceptually), the philosophy.

I understand Peter's point,

Ross Elliot's picture

I understand Peter's point, so it seems to me that due to it's supremely conceptual nature Rand did indeed regard literature as the ultimate art form and through it she gained insight into the whole aesthetic.

Questions: Philosophic Skyscraper

Peter Cresswell's picture

If you're familiar with Leonard Peikoff's Introduction to Objectivism course, as you should be, you'll know that he gives the analogy of a philosophic skyscraper with Metaphysics in the basement and providing the foundations, on which the superstructure of epistemology and ethcis and the rest are built.

The question is this: Where would aesthetics fit in this skyscraper? And, given that this is a bit of a trick question, is there a better description for the shape of the resulting building than a skyscraper?

Consider your answer by reflecting on these statements: "Art is a shortcut to philosophy." "Art is a concretization of metaphysics." What exactly do those staments mean? You might find it useful in answering to read a piece I wrote a year or two ago, 'Who Needs Great Art?'

WHOOPS! I wrote "where would philosophy fit in this skyscraper" rather than "where would ART fit?" Idiot. Fixed now. Sorry Ross. Smiling

Questions: Definiiton of Art, MVJs,

Peter Cresswell's picture

I'll offer you lot a few questions to ponder.

Chapter 1 is the first time the reader comes across Rand's definition of art, and since that definition has been the subject of much debate (and misunderstanding) it's worth at this point re-reading the chapter on definitions from Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

The question is this. Try to write a few paragraphs analysing her definition by expanding upon it, as she herself does with her explanation of "selective re-creation." So do the same thing with the term "metaphysical value-judgements" (MVJs), and explain to yourelf what they mean,. Think of some examples where MVJs are evident in painting (Michael Newberry has a lecture on this, explaining where Torres & Kamhi are wrong).

And then write a paragraph identifying how the definition's genus and differentia relate in concrete terms.

Consider too why she chose those particular words, and what alternatives she might have chosen and rejected.

Philosophy of Literature

Peter Cresswell's picture

I think we're leaping ahead a little here to Chapter Four, aren't we guys? Smiling

In any case, I think neither of you have hit on the reason for that subtitle. It seems to me that Rand simply used the field of art that she herself knew superlatively well as the primary means by which she came to grips with the science of aesthetics. Put simply, she came to aesthetics through literature, and she said explicitly that was the case by having as her full title: 'The Romantic Manifest: A Philosophy of Literature.'

You'll note for instance that outside Chapter Four, the later addition, there is little talk of other media, and when there is (from memory) it's always primarly through literature that she speaks of them.

In short, and knowing the care with which we know her titles were generally chosen -- think for example of her lengthy explanation of her choice of title of 'The Virtue of Selfishness' -- I think we should take her title literally. That is, that her book is offering what she says it is: a Philosophy of Literature with, since she was a genius, several enormously valuable insights into other aesthetic media from that perspective.

Thanks, Ross.

JoeM's picture

Peter, if we apply Occam's Razor here, your explanation certainly wins out. Still, you don't think there's something to Ross's explanation?

The subtitle may appear

Ross Elliot's picture

The subtitle may appear misleading but it's not. It's clear from The Romantic Manifesto that Rand believed literature--in the form of the novel--to be the most important of artistic forms.

Painting, sculpture, music, etc. are *perceptual* mediums, but the novel, the written word, is *conceptual*. It requires the reader to use their mind in the most focused manner. Ever notice how when you look at a painting or hear a piece of music that your reaction is almost immediate? You judge the book, so to speak, by it's cover. It's gestalten. But with literature you must abstract, albeit quickly, in order to understand. Ever read the same passage over and over before you get it? You have to *think*, not simply perceive.

A Philosophy of Literature

JoeM's picture

That's as good a way to start off the discussion as any, Peter, before we get pistol-whipped...

Rand takes a lot of flack for her theories on art because of this subtitle. How can the principles of literature apply to all the arts? Some people think it's too limiting, yet others still say she does extremely well...I wonder if that's in spite of or because of her theory of literature? Or maybe the subtitle is simply misleading and unneccessary?

Rick, adults are talking.

Peter Cresswell's picture

Rick, adults are talking. Piss off.

If you guys don't want this thread can I have it?

Rick Giles's picture

- "The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star." Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste

What about a new vegitable?

What about a new continent?

What about a new planet full of new vegitables and tasty animals? And that's just the food! I mean, in the long run isn't that discovery better than last year's new sandwitch sensation?

What about the discovery of a whole new star system? Ah, already answered that one.

A Philosophy of Literature

Peter Cresswell's picture

I know I'm repeating myself here, but before diving in to Chapter One do take note of the subtitle to the book, ask yourself why she called it that, and do bear it in mind as you progress through the chapters -- especially through Chapter Four.

And note too that Chapter Four was a later addition.

I betcha say that to all the

Ross Elliot's picture

I betcha say that to all the boys Eye

No, no, not I ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I never said I would steer this thing. I'll come along for the ride, but not in the driver's seat. I'm way too set in my ways. Smiling

Readying something?

Prima Donna's picture

There was no discussion of formalities, but I know a few were getting caught up on reading Chapter 1. Perhaps we should do a chapter per week to keep things organized.

Linz, if you want to kick it off, please feel free.

-- "The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star." Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste

Are we ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... waiting for someone to kick this off? I'm not clear. Is Regina D supposed to be readying something?

How about the Introduction?

Marcus's picture

Don't forget the introduction.

Rand writes, "It is Romanticism's identity I want to transmit to the future."

She means a "modern art" that embodies the "sense of life" of the past "Romanticism", but not specifically Romanticism.

Chapter One.

She is making the case that "art" is a form of communication, but that art "can" be vastly superior than "non-art" in the communication of concepts (ideas and emotions). The role of emotions in art are to portray a "sense of life" - "subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence" (= another specific definition of emotion, sense of life = emotion).

Are those emotions (if subconscious) - also tangible and changeable? My "gut feeling" says "yes".

But she probably has more to say on that later Smiling

Ch. 4

seddon's picture

I, like Linz, am anxious to get to ch. 4.

Bid placed

Duncan Bayne's picture

I've just bid on a copy of The Romantic Manifesto on TradeMe ...

Looking forward to it.

JoeM's picture

Thanks for getting it started!

Just re-read it.

Landon Erp's picture

Found my copy again since the move... Sounds like a lot of fun. (can't wait for "Bootleg Romanticism")


It all basically comes back to fight or flight.

When I was re-reading Chapter 4 ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... the other day prior to posting on PC's Stones thread, something occurred to me that hadn't occurred to me before (this happens sometimes). But I'll leave it till we get to Chapter 4—the music bit, naturally. Smiling


Prima Donna's picture

Julian, this is wonderful. Thanks for embracing my suggestion. I've begun re-reading Chapter 1, so I'll post something in the next couple of days.

I'm really looking forward to this. Smiling Thank you!

-- "The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star." Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste

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