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Honoring Ayn Rand: Encountering Objectivism, Discovering Myself

Honoring Ayn Rand: Encountering Objectivism, Discovering Myself

3 Mins
December 1, 2004

I was introduced to  Ayn Rand's work in 1984 by Lou Torres, who had founded Aristos, an arts journal informed by her philosophy of art, two years before. Until then, I had known of Rand only vaguely—and not favorably—as the controversial author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Politically, I was decidedly left of center. Business was suspect in my view.

Government, I believed, was the solution for the world's economic and social problems.

Fifteen years earlier, I had earned a master's degree in art history but couldn't reconcile my passion for the Italian Renaissance with what was passing for art in the postmodernist art world. So I had turned instead to freelance journalism and local activism on issues related to nutrition, maternal and infant health, and education.

At Lou's urging, I began to read Rand, and found her ideas compelling. When I tested them against my own experience, I realized that the classical liberal values she championed—individualism, personal responsibility, and productive work—were, in fact, the core values that I lived by. Moreover, I began to see the manifold ways those values (and the personal and social goods they generate) are undermined by the role for government I had advocated.

Reading the first four essays of The Romantic Manifesto was like a thunderbolt . . .

Rand's ideas on art have, of course, had a particularly transforming effect on my life. Reading the first four essays of The Romantic Manifesto was like a thunderbolt, convincing me

that I was right to feel alienated from the contemporary art world and inspiring me to renew my engagement with art. With a heightened sense of the value of the arts, I began to write about them professionally and eventually resolved, with Lou, to give Rand's theory of art the in-depth critical attention it merits, outside as well as within Objectivist circles.

Perhaps most valuable, however, Rand has taught me to think more clearly and deeply. From her I learned how to look beneath the surface of arguments to discern mistaken premises; to trace ideas to their basis in the reality of experience; and to be more aware of the ways in which emotion can color one's judgment. That said, I have also learned an important negative lesson from her. For much as I admire and am grateful for her intellectual legacy, I strive at every turn not to emulate her often bitter and abrasive style—which, I firmly believe, has kept many reasonable people from appreciating her ideas.

Michelle Marder Kamhi
About the author:
Michelle Marder Kamhi
Art and Literature
Ayn Rand's Ideas and Influence