For fans of Atlas Shrugged, January 22 marks the anniversary of the destruction of Rearden Steel. That day, the People’s Manager, having driven out the founder and president, Hank Rearden, and having ground steel production to a halt through a series of anti-competitive labor measures, suspended all operations. That evening, a distraught former millwright set the factory on fire. A writer with an early modernist sensibility might have written the scene as the tragic end to the dream of a fatally flawed man. A late-modernist might have written the scene as the ironic disgrace of a man who overreached. Someone with a Naturalist, or Marxist, or postmodern perspective might attribute the events of January 22 to the dispassionate inevitability of history. Ayn Rand, of course, was a different kind of writer. For Rand, Rearden Steel didn’t burn because capitalism had run its course, nor was the fire, under any circumstances that she could imagine, Rearden’s just deserts. Rand described the scene as an act of revenge. The millwright in Ayn Rand’s benevolent universe was “a sixty-year-old worker” who had worked for and benefited from Rearden Steel. Caught setting the fire, the man confessed his reason: “To avenge Hank Rearden!” The fire was the only form of justice left. It is a solemn scene, full of pathos: The shaft of red smoke that shot to the sky on the night of January 22 and stood abnormally...
A few years ago I read the book What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand  (Open Court, 2000) by Louis Torres and Michelle Marder Kamhi. I was disquieted to read their take on Rand’s definition of art and the meaning of metaphysical value-judgments. What was most surprising to me was that their perspective on the experience of creating or appreciating art, and their interpretation of Rand’s meaning, are the polar opposite of my own.  In a sense, their book has been the catalyst for this analysis. I hope to refute their claims by showing how you can detect metaphysical value-judgments in painting. But, more importantly, I hope to show you how to find and, perhaps, share an artist’s incredible passion that lies just beneath the surface of the paint. In The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand defines art as “the selective re-creation of reality based on an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.” She states that metaphysical value-judgments are the answers to these types of questions: “Is the universe intelligible to man, or unintelligible and unknowable? Can man find happiness on earth, or is he doomed to frustration and despair? Does he have the power…to choose his goals and achieve them…or is he a helpless plaything of forces beyond his control? Is man, by nature, to be valued as good, or to be despised as evil?” The connection between these questions and painting is anything but self-evident, as the authors of What Art Is admit: “It is difficult to...
Editor’s Note: In The Writers Series this month we feature another contemporary novel informed by the ideas and the romantic realism of Ayn Rand. Crosspoints: A Novel of Choice,  is a 2004 novel by Alexandra York. Set in contemporary Greece and New York, the novel depicts a woman at a turning point who uses reason to decide her career and to choose the man she loves. Nautical archaeologist Tara Niforous is working in Greece, diving for artifacts in the Aegean with Dimitrios Kokonas, an accomplished archaeologist that she knows well and respects. Dimitrios is in love with Tara, but Tara thinks of him as a mentor and professional partner. Tara meets the New York-based Leon Skillman, a superstar postmodernist sculptor who pursues her first to win a bet, then in earnest. Tara, who does not know about the wager, is attracted to Leon. She admires his creativity and his connection to the contemporary world of art. Now she must decide between the two men–a decision that will impact her heart, her career, and where she calls home.   In the following excerpt, Spring Flower, Tara, Leon, and Dimitrios meet Tara’s younger brother, budding artist Nicky Niforous, and romantic realist artist Dorina Swing in Dorina’s New York artist’s loft. Nicky is trying to decide whether to pursue a career as an abstract artist or a figurative artist. Leon and Dorina debate the merits of abstract art and romantic realism respectively, and Tara considers Leon’s...
A soul-searching article by exasperated art critic Jerry Saltz. How does the art world live with itself? Great question, and Saltz’s piece is well worth reading. (Thanks to Michael Newberry for the link.) But: The problem is not “Too much money!” in the art world. The problem is bad ideas working with bad character. Money is only a tool, and it is used only according to the ideas and character of those who have it. Suppose you’re an art buyer with a billion in the bank. The money will not force you to buy crap. You will buy crap only if you like crap, or have no idea of the difference between crap and worth, or don’t care that it’s crap and only want to be part of the in-crowd. Or suppose you’re a financially struggling artist: Your desire for money will not make you produce crap. You will produce crap only if you like crap, or don’t know the difference between crap and worth, or have so little integrity that you’ll give up your artistic goals for money. We want lots of money in the art world. If we think money is the problem, then the solution is to remove the money. But taking a few billion dollars out of the art world will not solve anything. A generation ago when the art market was half its current size, the art world had exactly the same problems. And those were the same problems it had two generations ago when the art market was half again...
W. S. Gifford, the president of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, called London on January 7, 1927 to speak with Sir Evelyn P. Murray, the secretary of the General Post Office of Great Britain. It was the first transatlantic telephone call ever made. Gifford predicted that better telecommunication would foster benevolence and trade: “No one can foresee the ultimate significance of this latest achievement of science and organization,” he said. “It will certainly facilitate business. It will be a social convenience and comfort, and through the closer bonds which it establishes, it will promote better understanding and strengthen the ties of friendship.” The importance of the telephone to benevolence and trade was not lost on Ayn Rand, and she used it as a plot device in her novels more than once. The end of Part One of The Fountainhead  is a good example. Architect Howard Roark is waiting in his New York office for the telephone to ring. He has not worked since building the Heller house, and he is running out of money. He has submitted a design for the Manhattan Bank Company building. If he gets the commission, he can stay in business. Instead of hearing about the commission, however, Roark hears from his frenemy, the poseur Peter Keating. Roark and Keating studied architecture together at the Stanton Institute of Technology. Even though his projects were...

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