Over three decades ago, in 1982, I booked a private telephone consultation with an Objectivist philosopher (associated now with the Ayn Rand Institute) on reading The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand’s classic non-fiction work on aesthetics.
At 24, I was both an artist and an Objectivist. A fine art major; I had taken several art history classes including contemporary art theory. At the time, I had just completed the painting Promethia, and even though it was a thematic work, I didn’t understand how one objectively identifies a theme of an artwork. With that in mind, I was excited to be mentored by an Objectivist philosopher.
In our consultation, he pointed to Willem Kalf’s still life painting in the classic art history book, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages.
“How do I discover the theme?” I asked, genuinely.
“The theme of this painting is malevolent because of the dark background!” was the swift and vociferous response.
This was “obvious” — i.e. self-evident — he said. No further reasoning or discussion was necessary.
I ended the session and never consulted him again.
Alas, I had yet to learn how themes work in painting. So I returned to what Ayn Rand herself had written.