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Cultural icon Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was known as much for her philosophy as for her fiction. Her original theory of esthetics, which attacks many "masterpieces" of modernist art, is as combative and controversial as any of her work, but until now has received little serious scrutiny. In What Art Is, the authors demonstrate that Rand's ideas are supported by evidence from other academic fields.
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As independent scholars and critics, we bring to our work a deep love of the arts, cultivated over more than four decades. During that time we have witnessed increasingly disturbing trends in contemporary culture. With a never-ending stream of bogus inventions concocted in the name of art, real art--especially traditionally based painting and sculpture--has been relegated to a marginal status by the cultural establishment. In the process, the very concept of art has been debased, even among philosophers.
It is our hope that What Art Is will help to reverse these lamentable trends. We wrote the book over a period of more than five years, based on a series of articles we had published on the subject in the early 1990s. From the start, we had two audiences in mind: general readers who are puzzled by or skeptical about modernist and postmodernist work, and who seek to deepen their understanding of what is and is not art; and scholars and critics willing to consider a well-reasoned alternative to the artworld's assumption that anything can be art.From the Back Cover:
Randall R. Dipert, C. S. Peirce Professor of American Philosophy, SUNY Buffalo, and author of Artifacts, Art Works, and Agency "This is one of the most interesting, provocative, and well-written books on aesthetics that I know. While fully accessible to the general reader, What Art Is should be of great interest to specialists as well. Ayn Rand's largely unknown writings on art especially as interpreted, released from dogma, and smoothed out by Torres and Kamhi are remarkably refined. Moreover, her ideas are positively therapeutic after a century of artistic floundering and aesthetic quibbling. Anyone interested in aesthetics, in the purpose of art, or in the troubling issues posed by modernism and postmodernism should read this book."
Chris Matthew Sciabarra, author of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical "Torres and Kamhi effectively situate Rand's long-neglected esthetic theory in the wider history of ideas. They not only illuminate her significant contribution to an understanding of the nature of art; they also apply her ideas to a trenchant critique of the twentieth century's advanced art.' Their exposure of the invalidity of abstract art is itself worth the price of admission."
Stephen Cox, Professor of Literature and Director of the Humanities Program, University of California, San Diego "Rand's aesthetic theory merits careful study and thoughtful criticism, which Torres and Kamhi provide. Their scholarship is sound, their presentation is clear, and their judgment is refreshingly free from the biases that Rand's supporters and detractors alike tend to bring to considerations of her work."
What is art? The arts establishment has a simple answer: anything is art if a reputed artist or expert says it is. Though many people are skeptical about the alleged new art forms that have proliferated since the early twentieth century, today's critics claim that all such work, however incomprehensible, is art.
A groundbreaking alternative to this view is provided by philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand (1905 1982). Best known as the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, Rand also created an original and illuminating theory of art, which confirms the widespread view that much of today's purported art is really not art at all.
In What Art Is, Torres and Kamhi present a lucid introduction to Rand's esthetic theory, contrasting her ideas with those of other thinkers. They conclude that, in its basic principles, her account is compelling, and is corroborated by evidence from anthropology, neurology, cognitive science, and psychology.
The authors apply Rand's theory to a debunking of the work of prominent modernists and postmodernists from Mondrian, Jackson Pollock, and Samuel Beckett to John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and other highly regarded postmodernist figures. Finally, they explore the implications of Rand's ideas for the issues of government and corporate support of the arts, art law, and arts education.
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