What Art Is Online

Architecture's Exclusion from
The Ayn Rand Lexicon

by Louis Torres & Michelle Marder Kamhi

Ayn Rand's principal statement about architecture in "Art and Cognition" is fundamentally inconsistent with her theory of art. She claims that architecture "is in a class by itself, because it combines art with a utilitarian purpose and does not re-create reality, but creates a structure for man's habitation or use, expressing man's values" (The Romantic Manifesto, 46). As we have further observed:

Rand had argued at the outset of "The Psycho-Epistemology of Art" that the primary purpose of art is not "material" (i.e., utilitarian), but psychological. "[O]ne of the distinguishing characteristics of a work of art . . . is that it serves no practical, material end, but is an end in itself; it serves no purpose other than contemplation." Moreover, in "Art and Cognition" she categorically maintains that "utilitarian objects cannot be classified as works of art." Architecture cannot combine "art with a utilitarian purpose," therefore, since the two concepts are mutually exclusive, according to her own definition. As Rand emphasizes in her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, "the requirements of cognition . . . forbid the arbitrary integration of concepts into a wider concept by means of obliterating their essential differences." Thus, one must either substantially revise her definition of art or reject her characterization of architecture. [What Art Is, 191]

Further, the omission of architecture from The Ayn Rand Lexicon (edited by Objectivist philosopher Harry Binswanger)--which contains entries on all of the major art forms--is conspicuous, the more so since the editor reports that Rand was able to review the entries under the letter "A" before she died (see What Art Is, p. 419, n. 8).

We implied in What Art Is that either Binswanger or Rand (or both) had fully recognized the contradiction presented to her concept of art by her one major nonfiction statement regarding architecture (cited above) and had therefore decided not to include it in the Lexicon. That supposition was recently confirmed by Binswanger's response to a question following a talk he gave on Objectivism to the Ayn Rand Discussion Group at Columbia University, in the Roone Arledge Auditorium, on November 14, 2000. When asked by Frank Giallombardo--an Objectivist visitor (not a student) who had read What Art Is, and to whom we owe the account of this event--why there was no entry on architecture in the Lexicon, Binswanger replied that, though he had urged that one be included (in view of the importance placed on the subject in The Fountainhead), Rand had answered that it would be better to omit it because on reflection she had decided that architecture is primarily "utilitarian." Binswanger's account suggests that when Rand was faced with the choice of either contradicting her theory of art by including her statement on architecture or, in effect, rejecting her prior claim that "architecture combines art with a utilitarian purpose," she chose the latter.

June 2001

What Art Is Online is a supplement to What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand by Louis Torres and Michelle Marder Kamhi (2000). The remarks above relate to Chapter 10: "Architecture: 'Art' or 'Design'?" Copyright is held by the authors.

|| What Art Is Online || What Art Is || Aristos ||