I never get tired of these.

William Brafford

William Brafford grew up in North Carolina, home of the world's best barbecue, indie rock, and regional soft drinks. He just barely sustains a personal blog and "tweets" every now and then under the name @williamrandolph.

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27 Responses

  1. mike farmer says:

    Art, once past a certain level of skill and esthetics, is subjective, so this is really just a disagreement on taste. It’s not like preferring Pee Wee Herman to Peter Sellers.Report

    • William Brafford in reply to mike farmer says:

      Sorry, Mike. The greatness of Bach is objective truth.

      Kidding aside, it is a disagreement about taste. But I happen to think disagreements about taste are important, especially when they involved an author who claimed to have a totally rational aesthetic system.Report

      • I will not always defend Ayn Rand, but I will say this: Her taste in architecture was absolutely not Le Corbusier.

        She favored the work of the later Frank Lloyd Wright and lived in a house by Richard Neutra, of which she was very proud. They too were modernists, but modernists of a very different flavor.Report

        • William Brafford in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          I had always heard that when Rand described Roark’s in The Fountainhead projects she had Wright in mind.

          I also think Daniels is quite obviously wrong about Rand’s thoughts on the relationship between human greatness and market success. Ayn Rand wasn’t trying to argue that the market is “always the source and proper judge of value.” Will Wilkinson covered that pretty well a while back.

          Yes, Daniels is sloppy in his interpretation of Rand. Still, like I said, I don’t get tired of these.Report

      • Yes, I read Rand’s books regarding her ideas on art and love of Romanticism. I admire her attempt to create objective criteria for art, and in a sense she was close, in my opinion — like I say, once past a certain level, which is fairly objective, in that it meets certain accepted requirements, art becomes subjective — some like Hugo, some like Tolstoy, some like Wordsworth, some like Shelley, but it’s easy to tell them from the lesser talents. The canon establishes a differientiation, although there can be disagreement on what should be included in the canon.Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to mike farmer says:

          once past a certain level, which is fairly objective, in that it meets certain accepted requirements, art becomes subjective — some like Hugo, some like Tolstoy, some like Wordsworth, some like Shelley, but it’s easy to tell them from the lesser talents.

          As someone who routinely reads amateur fiction, nonfiction, and verse, I have to agree.Report

          • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Oh, and one other thing — before anyone trashes Victor Hugo, I’d caution them that many widely available English translations are painfully bad. If you’ve read him in French, maybe we can talk. Otherwise, I dunno.Report

      • Louis B. in reply to William Brafford says:

        Sorry, Mike. The greatness of Bach is objective truth.

        Mozart was a red.Report

    • trizzlor in reply to mike farmer says:

      I fail to see how Rand’s distinction is one of taste. She is not saying that Mozart is worse than Tchaikovsky, she is literally saying that his works is not even music; likewise Rembrandt’s work is not even art. And as with most of her statements, there is an assumed claim that those who disagree are mindless and do not deserve to appreciate true art unless they repent. I think it’s pretty valid to criticize a self-proclaimed trend-spotter for saying that Peter Sellers is as bad as Pee Wee Herman, for example.

      Rand dedicated Atlas Shrugged, her philosophical magnum opus, to Nathaniel Branden … and promptly redacted the dedication after he refused to sleep with her. I think that’s about all one can say for the strength of her convictions.Report

      • Rufus in reply to trizzlor says:

        I do think there’s a difference between subjective matters of taste and objective aesthetic judgments. I can say that, personally, I love Ron Howard’s movies (I really don’t), and that’s a valid matter of subjective taste. But, if I say that Ron Howard is one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation, I think it’s pretty easy to show, using widely-accepted objective aesthetic criteria, that that statement is wrong. Not a matter of taste, but a faulty judgment. There’s a difference between taste and cultivated taste, aesthetic opinion and educated aesthetic opinion.

        In other words, I think it’s fairly easy to show that Bach is objectively great.Report

        • William Brafford in reply to Rufus says:

          I’ve been reading Thomas Kuhn and Richard Rorty, so I need to let that settle before I try to work with the objective/subjective distinction.Report

        • Sam M in reply to Rufus says:

          This is really muddying the waters… but is it really that easy to prove that Ron Howard isn’t a great filmmaker? I have no opinion of his work, as I am not much of a movie-goer. But I think there is at least a plausible case to be made for his work on the basis of popular appeal. I don’t mean to say that Britney Spears is better than, say, Miles Davis because she sold more records last year. But his work obviously strikes an emotional chord with a mass audience. And there is something to be said for “speaking to your generation” or representing it in some way.

          The best analogy I can think of is something like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Literary types seem to have concluded, of late, that it suffers when compared to other “great books.” But that depends on a certain definition of what art is “for.” Obviously, “Backdraft” is not an influential anti-slavery blockbuster. But I hope my point stands.Report

  2. Mike Schilling says:

    totally rational aesthetic system

    Which reminds me that Lyndon LaRouche claims to have such a thing, and explicates it in stuff like the following:

    These empiricists, and others of kindred spirit, use a reductionist’s notion of mechanics, as Euler and Lagrange did, as a substitute for actual scientific principle. In other words, they perpetrated a simple sort of intentional fraud, the same kind of fraud practiced by the followers of Rameau and Fux, relative to the work of Bach and his followers.

    I’m not going to link to the SOB, but you can find it on Google easily enough if you want to be amused by the rest of this farrago, which manages to invoke music, theater, mathematics, physics, and philopophy without betraying an understanding of any of them.Report

  3. Rob Quinn says:

    How about Ayn Rand in her own words:

    The formulation of a common vocabulary of music . . . would require: a translation of the musical experience, the inner experience, into conceptual terms; an explanation of why certain sounds strike us a certain way; a definition of the axioms of musical perception, from which the appropriate esthetic principles could be derived, which would serve as a base for the objective validation of esthetic judgments . . . .

    Until a conceptual vocabulary is discovered and defined, no objectively valid criterion of esthetic judgment is possible in the field of music . . .

    No one, therefore, can claim the objective superiority of his choices over the choices of others. Where no objective proof is available, it’s every man for himself—and only for himself.

    The nature of musical perception has not been discovered because the key to the secret of music is physiological—it lies in the nature of the process by which man perceives sounds—and the answer would require the joint effort of a physiologist, a psychologist and a philosopher (an esthetician).

    The start of a scientific approach to this problem and the lead to an answer were provided by Helmholtz, the great physiologist of the nineteenth century.

    The Romantic Manifesto “Art and Cognition,” The Romantic Manifesto, 55.


    The fundamental difference between music and the other arts lies in the fact that music is experienced as if it reversed man’s normal psycho-epistemological process.

    The other arts create a physical object (i.e., an object perceived by man’s senses, be it a book or a painting) and the psycho-epistemological process goes from the perception of the object to the conceptual grasp of its meaning, to an appraisal in terms of one’s basic values, to a consequent emotion. The pattern is: from perception—to conceptual understanding—to appraisal—to emotion.

    The pattern of the process involved in music is: from perception—to emotion—to appraisal—to conceptual understanding.

    Music is experienced as if it had the power to reach man’s emotions directly.

    “Art and Cognition,” The Romantic Manifesto, 50.


    It is in terms of his fundamental emotions—i.e., the emotions produced by his own metaphysical value-judgments—that man responds to music.

    Music cannot tell a story, it cannot deal with concretes, it cannot convey a specific existential phenomenon, such as a peaceful countryside or a stormy sea. The theme of a composition entitled “Spring Song” is not spring, but the emotions which spring evoked in the composer. Even concepts which, intellectually, belong to a complex level of abstraction, such as “peace,” “revolution,” “religion,” are too specific, too concrete to be expressed in music. All that music can do with such themes is convey the emotions of serenity, or defiance, or exaltation. Liszt’s “St. Francis Walking on the Waters” was inspired by a specific legend, but what it conveys is a passionately dedicated struggle and triumph—by whom and in the name of what, is for each individual listener to supply.

    Music communicates emotions, which one grasps, but does not actually feel; what one feels is a suggestion, a kind of distant, dissociated, depersonalized emotion—until and unless it unites with one’s own sense of life. But since the music’s emotional content is not communicated conceptually or evoked existentially, one does feel it in some peculiar, subterranean way.

    Music conveys the same categories of emotions to listeners who hold widely divergent views of life. As a rule, men agree on whether a given piece of music is gay or sad or violent or solemn. But even though, in a generalized way, they experience the same emotions in response to the same music, there are radical differences in how they appraise this experience—i.e., how they feel about these feelings.

    “Art and Cognition,” The Romantic Manifesto, 52.


    • trizzlor in reply to Rob Quinn says:

      Perhaps this isn’t the right thread to start a debate on Ayn Rand’s taste in music, but these statements just seem completely wrong to me. In specifics, I would imagine that most people who look Guernica are fiercely effected by it emotionally well before they understand it conceptually (if they ever do). On the other hand, there’s a lot of jazz that listeners enjoy specifically for it’s conceptual purpose (a play on another work, a borrowed time-signature) rather than it’s emotional weight. I’m particularly curious what she would of thought about the “visual distortions” that were created after Rembrandt: a black square can be as emotional as it is conceptual. Hell, even classicists were more concerned with conveying an emotional beauty than with telling a story. So would Rand classify aesthetic beauty into her dichotomous philosophy? The distinction seems completely arbitrary; she might as well have said “If I see something I think about what means; if I hear something I think about how it feels” and saved us all the trouble. Of course, her solution seems to be to just discount anything that blurs this distinction as pre-art or distortion, which get’s us right back to the original point.

      There’s a comic book I enjoy recently (is it art?!) where the main character was asked what three things he would save in his apartment if it were on fire and his response was “I only think in two’s”. What a bore that must be.Report

    • angullimala in reply to Rob Quinn says:

      Music cannot tell a story, it cannot deal with concretes, it cannot convey a specific existential phenomenon, such as a peaceful countryside or a stormy sea.

      Well, pardon me but that’s just bullshit. It would totally be possible to assign meanings to notes or sequences of notes and then create a composition that, quite literally, “tells a story”.


      Music communicates emotions, which one grasps, but does not actually feel;

      WTF is she on about? Activity in the part of the brain that processes music often stimulates activity in the nearby part of the brain that processes/generates emotion. It may not be identical to the activity triggered directly by experience, but it is fundamentally not different in kind. It is “felt” as much as ANY feeling is “felt”.

      Pardon me, but this is just typical pedantic horseshit which, typically, reads like a typical person who projects her own subjective reactions to things onto the rest of mankind and then tries to rationalize it as some sort of “objective truth”.Report

  4. Freddie says:

    To the world’s great credit and eternal fortune, Ayn Rand’s philosophy never caught on with those capable of really taking over a government. She was a totalitarian and a eugenicist in her heart.Report

  5. mike farmer says:

    and Rosie O’DonellReport