[ExI] Art and myth as systems thinking of a sort

Dan dan_ust at yahoo.com
Wed Jul 15 16:34:20 UTC 2009

--- On Wed, 7/15/09, Natasha Vita-More <natasha at natasha.cc> wrote:
> I am not sure when this thread started,

Notthat it's directly relevant to the rest of your post, but I believe it started with Emlym posting on systems thinking.

> but I will pick up here where Dan wrote:
> "You might be right about that... And this goes for adults
> too. This sounds
> similar to the ideas of Bruno Bettelheim, especially as
> given in his _The
> Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy
> Tales_.
> "Regarding adults, too, might this function be served by
> art? I know Rand
> has been trashed (and defended) on this list, but look
> soberly at her ideas
> on art. She sees art as concretizing certain types of
> abstractions. This
> seems akin to a systems view of the world. E.g., one
> doesn't draw out chains
> of reasoning when thinking of, say, Othello or Ahad.
> Instead, one seems to
> have a sort of image one can draw on of just what it means
> to be obsessed.
> (This can also go awry -- as in stereotypes.)"
> Rand is a weak example of scholarly, knowledgeable thinking
> about art or the arts.
> Her rigid interpretation concerning art holds little
> value, if any at
> all, in the arts and humanities.

That's, of course, a conclusion that would have to be proved.

> Her arguments are weak, at best, and are
> used to support her philosophical views.

Another conclusion that would have to be proved. I will say, though, that Rand at times appears aware of certain problems and then sloppily ignores them. Of course, one problem is that she didn't really do a book length treatment of the subject. Her _The Romantic Manifesto_ is a collection of essays, some of which treat esthetics on an abstract level, but others that are more culture criticism and other more focused or timely issues, and a short story. This is not to escuse her sloppiness or inconsistencies here, but merely to put them in context -- especially in case anyone reads the book with the intent to merely find flaws.*

> I may not agree with Foucault,
> Danto, Lyotard, Dickie or Sontag, but they are far better
> examples of deep
> investigations on abstraction, systems, and art.

In some of these cases, not to apologize for Rand's mistakes or other problems here, these thinkers were far more focused on esthetics or art, whereas, for Rand, it appears that esthetics is merely a piece of the puzzle. (Granted, this plays into your criticism that she's merely using her esthetic theory "to support her [broader] philosophical views.")

> This not meant to trash, as you say, Rand.  I value
> her fiction as being
> superb.  Yet, this does not excuse her inability to
> understand art and the role of the artist.

My wonder here is whether she really fails to understand these -- or if you merely disagree with her view on both.

> Just read the Romantic Manifesto! 
> Yee gads!  I mean,
> who cannot understand modern art as it is situated
> historically.

I'm not sure exactly what you mean, but I think there are two major comments one can make here. One is that her basic theory of esthetics could be excised from her other views on art. In other words, one could look at her core view of art, of sense of life, and such and then apply this to Modern Art, etc. to see if one would arrive at the same conclusions as her. You might disagree with her core views here, but I hope you're willing to entertain that she might not be applying her theory correctly in all cases.

The other comment is it does seem to me that she was trying to situated Modern Art historically and culturally. A lot of her criticism of it is dedicate to just such, though you might disagree with this. And, heck, she might be wrong here, but it's not that she was thinking, "Modern Art can't possibly be placed. It just plopped down from the sky and we have to deal with it -- specifically by trashing it and anyone who likes it."

(As a side comment, I imagine people who sternly disagree with Rand might think of this as an example of systems thinking gone amok: she has here fundamental views of "life, the universe, and everything" and systematically applies them to art, politics, history, etc. without regard to anything but preserving her fundamental views. I don't completely agree or completely disagree with this. The bane of the systems builder is, of course, coming up with a grand system that shoehorns all reality into the system a la Procustes. And I do think she does this on occasion.)

> Rand tried
> to concretize the hell out of everything to suit her point
> of view, which
> she does with amazing articulation that few possess. 
> But that does not
> excuse her trying to put a label, chain and stamp on
> everything she could
> not grok because she simply did not have the wherewithal to
> do so. Maybe it
> was her upbringing.  Maybe it was because she was a
> woman in a man's world.
> Who knows. 

Well, where she does this I think it's a matter of her being a systems builder, so it's a general flaw of system building which she suffered from. But I also feel there was some personal arrogance on her part -- some of which drove away any intelligent but sympathetic critics. And I also think that since she was trying to make her system she was just bound to make some errors, especially as she tried to have a view on everything from ontology to pornography.



* One of my efforts in this direction is "Architecture: The Missing Art Form" online at:


This is clearly an inconsistency on her part; pointing it out required no great familiarity with esthetics in general or architecture in particular, but merely noticing her definitions clashed.

Not get into an orgy of self-promotion here, but see also my "Romanticism — Beyond Rand" at:


This one has more scattered criticisms of Rand that do depend on some familiarity with art history, criticism, and esthetics -- though, to be certain, nothing on a deep, scholarly level. Cf., my "Response to David C. Adams on Rand's View of Romanticism" for rejoinder to one critic. That's online at:


I'm not sure if Adams' critique is online anymore.


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