What Art Is:
The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand

by Louis Torres and Michelle Marder Kamhi

Review: Choice (April 2001)

In this first book-length discussion of Ayn Rand's philosophy of art, originating in Aristos, Torres and Kamhi show an encyclopedic knowledge of twentieth-century art. They summarize and critique Rand's four major short writings on art, and explore the consequences of applying her definition to what has been labeled art in the twentieth century. The result is disastrous! Her definition "Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgments" eliminates about 95 percent of new forms of art: abstract art, conceptual art, op art, photography, decorative arts, avant-garde music and dance, postmodernist visual arts, etc. Appendixes list a hundred forms of nonart claiming to be art [Appendix A] and attack the "promiscuous" use of the term in The New York Times [Appendix C]. This treatment of the degeneration of twentieth-century art into outrageous forms of nonart is at times screamingly funny. A proposed alternative to the [arts education component of the] "Core Knowledge" program of E. D. Hirsch, Jr. [Cultural Literacy, reviewed in Choice, July 1987] gives us a good idea of what the authors think a revision of the term "art" would entail [see "Teaching the Arts to Children" in Chapter 15 of What Art Is]. Dogmatic followers of Rand will resent their fair-minded criticisms, but their devotion to Rand's basic ideas is unquestioned. Well-documented, a major addition to Rand scholarship, and a humorous debunking of twentieth-century art, museum exhibits, and art theory. [Recommended for] All academic levels [and] general readers. --Richard E. Palmer

Richard E. Palmer (1933-2015) was Professor of Philosophy at MacMurray College. He lectured and wrote widely on philosophic theories of interpretation and understanding (hermeneutics)--particularly on the work of the leading contemporary German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, in which the arts play a pivotal role.