Eamonn made a face. He was looking at an Instagram photo of a sculpture I showed him over dinner, and frowned his disapproval. It was Richard Minns’ sculpture of Pygmalion and Galatea. He had no way of knowing that the photo was of a recent acquisition by our dinner host. The resulting fracas was more feisty than any dinner table disagreement over politics or religion.
Insult a man’s mother, question his manhood, challenge his honor and heads may roll. But somehow questioning someone’s taste in art can seem even more fundamental, more threatening.
Why is that?
Ayn Rand would argue that our relationship with art is so primary and personal that it reflects our view of the world -- and our place in it. Even to devoted Objectivists, Rand’s views on ethics and politics are more familiar than her thoughts on aesthetics, elucidated in The Romantic Manifesto.
But for me it remains one of my favorites, because while I admire Ayn Rand the novelist and philosopher, above all, she is an artist.
Art, by Rand’s own definition, is “a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.”
Value judgements about the basics. Are people generally good -- or bad? What’s more important -- living for today, or for an afterlife? Can we know the world around us, or can we only “see through a glass darkly”?
Just look at the contrast between medieval paintings of demons and debauchery vs. renaissance depictions of architecture or merchants to see how the value judgements of an era influence the arts, which in term informs the culture, and eventually politics of the age.
Rand saw men and women as rational, potentially heroic, deserving of dignity, with the right to live their lives free of forceful interference from others. With talent, creativity, and sheer grit she created worlds populated by heroes and villains who inspired readers to reevaluate their own values, habits and beliefs so fundamentally as to change millions of lives, and perhaps the course of history itself.
Such is the power of art.
And the inspiration for the Atlas Art Contest which we launched earlier this year. Our mission: To win the battle for liberty by creating a safe haven & recognition for young artists to celebrate the values of a free society.
The Atlas Society is a philosophy think tank that promotes both reason and benevolence as fundamentals for living. Founded by philosopher David Kelley over 25 years ago, it has helped introduce young people to Ayn Rand’s philosophy through summer seminars, publications, and graduate seminars.
But Kelly recruited me find a way to match the Atlas Society mission to the exigencies of the present day. So in an age of primarily visual social media, we decided to try something different -- a pilot art contest that has invited young adults to artistically engage with themes such as entrepreneurship, self-reliance, grit, achievement, and self-esteem.
In less than three months we received over 400 entries of paintings, sculptures and photographs that address the theme of The Entrepreneur: Risk and Reward. We recruited a panel of prestigious judges including photographer Judd Weiss, Painters Michael Newberry and Agnieszka Pilat, and sculptor Sabin Howard.
Just last week the Wall Street Journal profiled Howard and his work as the official sculptor for the World War I Memorial, a 75 ft long, nearly 11 ft high wall depicting the horrors and heroism of that conflict.
My mission in life is to promote a more uplifting approach to art—one that highlights the heroic and inspires what is best in man. —Sabin Howard
Another judge, Polish emigre Agnieszka Pilat, like Rand fled the specter of a country devastated by Communism. “Rand embraces individualism and entrepreneurship—the best of America,” she says.
Among the 21 finalists the team chose, Pilat selected Steve Ditko, who submitted this strong, surrealistic work entitled: “May the Best Man Win.”
Explaining her choice, Pilat calls Ditko’s work a “Concise and powerful commentary on entrepreneurship: a black suit (synonymous with business in a visual lexicon), scissors (a rather not so subtle reference to the sometimes cutthroat nature of business) and a vast horizon with a goal in sight, are agreat visual metaphor on what we think of as business in America.”
Here is Ditko’s surreal yet visionary piece (left), as well as another by finalist Suzy Shultz (right).
She told us: “In the theme of “risk and reward/struggle and freedom", I believe this piece expresses that longing, that yearning for the great thing we hope to create, or experience or be, and the acknowledgement that we are not there yet.”
Our judges have done their work. Now we have opened up the contest to public voting, which we’re receiving here in our Atlas Society Gallery.
With the presidential election just days away, many citizens are dissatisfied with their choices of candidates. But politics is a branch of philosophy that grows out of its metaphysical, epistemological, ethical -- and in my opinion aesthetic -- roots.
Help us water those roots, in a contest where your vote counts, by casting your ballot for your favorite artist here.
Jennifer Anju Grossman is the CEO of the Atlas Society.