Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"What Art Is" Two by Matthew Scherfenberg

Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and the subject of two recent biographies, was both a literary artist and a philosopher. Defining art as "a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments," she was a champion of a heroic view of man and a keen critic of nihilism, obscurantism and the dilapidated edifice of modern art. She wrote a collection of essays on aesthetics, The Romantic Manifesto as well as producing lectures on writing which also deal with aesthetics and cognition which were edited and published posthumously as The Art of Fiction and The Art of Non-Fiction. These three works provide a unique look into the nature of art, mind and communication. There is also a valuable in depth and critical collection of essays on Rand's aesthetic ideas entitled What Art Is by Louis Torres & Michelle Marder Kamhi.

Rand explained that "Man’s profound need of art lies in the fact that his cognitive faculty is conceptual, i.e., that he acquires knowledge by means of abstractions, and needs the power to bring his widest metaphysical abstractions into his immediate, perceptual awareness. Art fulfills this need: by means of a selective re-creation, it concretizes man’s fundamental view of himself and of existence. It tells man, 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,” The Romantic Manifesto, p 45)

Rand considered painting, literature, dance, music and architecture to be high art, but she excluded photography. Her inclusion of architecture as high art has been controversial since, except perhaps for monument building, it is inherently utilitarian. Her exclusion of photography has been challenged as ignoring the fact that it is not at all limited only to utilitarian, rather than strictly contemplative. She writes:

"A certain type of confusion about the relationship between scientific discoveries and art, leads to a frequently asked question: Is photography an art? The answer is: No. It is a technical, not a creative, skill. Art requires a selective re-creation. A camera cannot perform the basic task of painting: a visual conceptualization, i.e., the creation of a concrete in terms of abstract essentials. The selection of camera angles, lighting or lenses is merely a selection of the means to reproduce various aspects of the given, i.e., of an existing concrete. There is an artistic element in some photographs, which is the result of such selectivity as the photographer can exercise, and some of them can be very beautiful—but the same artistic element (purposeful selectivity) is present in many utilitarian products: in the better kinds of furniture, dress design, automobiles, packaging, etc. The commercial art work in ads (or posters or postage stamps) is frequently done by real artists and has greater esthetic value than many paintings, but utilitarian objects cannot be classified as works of art." (“Art and Cognition,” The Romantic Manifesto, p 74.)

While I do understand Rand's point, it seems just a bit too much of a reach to exclude all photography from consideration as high art. You may be familiar with the black and white nature photography of Ansel Adams or the work of the photographer husband of Virginia O'Keefe, Alfred Stieglitz. (In the middle of the page is his "Snapshhot: Paris.") I think looking at the two modern color photographs reproduced here by the photographer Matthew Scherfenberg say more about the selective and non-utilitarian nature of art photography that any thousand words can.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"V" Beware Lizards Bearing Gifts

The 1980's science fiction mini-series "V" was a smash hit, and it looks like the remake, by the producers of The 4400, will be just as thrilling and just as topical. The series premiers tonight at 8:00pm Eastern on ABC. According to wikipedia: "V generally got favorable reviews, scoring 71 out of 100 on Metacritic. E! Online rated the pilot episode "on a scale of 1 to 10, we give it an 11. V is the best pilot we've seen in, well, forever." The website Seat42F rated the pilot episode an A+, applauding its cast and effects and naming it one of the best pilots in years. USA Today's Robert Bianco put V on his list of the top ten new shows, stating that the remake is well-made and "quickly establishes its own identity." King Features' entertainment reporter Cindy Elavsky calls V: 'the best new show on television, by far. The special effects are feature-film quality; the writing is intelligent and time-relevant; and the acting is first-rate. The first five minutes alone will hook you for the entire season.'"

Here are some comments from Glenn Garvin (of Reason Magazine) at the Chicago Tribune:

"Imagine this. At a time of political turmoil, a charismatic, telegenic new leader arrives virtually out of nowhere. He offers a message of hope and reconciliation based on compromise and promises to marshal technology for a better future that will include universal health care.

"The news media swoons in admiration -- one simpering anchorman even shouts at a reporter who asks a tough question: "Why don't you show some respect?!" The public is likewise smitten, except for a few nut cases who circulate batty rumors on the Internet about the leader's origins and intentions. The leader, undismayed, offers assurances that are soothing, if also just a tiny bit condescending: "Embracing change is never easy."

"So, does that sound like anyone you know? Oh, wait -- did I mention the leader is secretly a totalitarian space lizard who's come here to eat us?"

Here is a trailer: